Join Me on My New Page!

Hello All!

I wanted to thank you for following Casa Festiva and to ask you to join me on my new (and hopefully improved) blog page. Just go to and enter your email address and you’ll be notified when a new post goes up. While you’re there, you can check out my latest post about my adventures with shishito peppers and hornworms.

See you all at the new site!

Sun’s Out, Let’s Get Cookin’!

Mini loaves of banana bread cooked in the solar oven.
Mini loaves of banana bread cooked in the solar oven.

It really can’t get any easier. You put your food in a container, put the container in an oven, and point the oven towards the sun. That’s basically all you need to know to start solar cooking.

As I noted in a recent “Local Flavors” column about solar cooking for the Tribune newspaper, “… this cooking method captures the power of the sun. It’s a passive process, accomplished simply by a combination of reflecting, concentrating and absorbing.”

That article will give you a good overview of solar cooking, and includes information about classes in the San Luis Obispo area. What I didn’t talk about too much in that piece are the impacts of solar cooking on developing countries, especially women in those countries.

With solar cooking, there are no fuel costs, no open flames, and no carbon emissions. Beyond the obvious benefits of free energy and better air quality, this cooking method also means that women (who, let’s face it, are usually the ones tasked with meal duties) don’t have to leave the safety of their homes to search for increasingly scarce firewood, don’t spend hours inhaling smoke and particulates, and don’t need to worry about children getting burned by a cooking fire.

That’s not to say solar cookers don’t get hot. You will definitely need oven mitts, and sunglasses are highly recommended too. Even rudimentary cookers will get hot enough to sterilize water (making them a great thing to have on hand for emergencies), and my “Sun Oven®” routinely gets over 400 degrees F.

You can really cook almost anything by this method, and very few recipes need to be changed at all. About the only things that aren’t an option to cook are grilled meats and deep frying, though there are oven setups that will get hot enough to fry food.

I especially like my solar oven for long and slow cooked recipes that would otherwise take a lot of energy. Soup stocks, briskets, and anything dehydrated are perfect examples, and a favorite trick is to throw some dry-rubbed baby back ribs in a cooker for even a couple hours and then finish them on the grill.

I first started solar cooking with an introductory CooKIT – just a piece of cardboard coated with reflective material that folded into a parabolic shape. (You could make one of these on your own; plans for these and more involved solar cookers abound on the internet.) It worked wonderfully, but I wasn’t entirely keen on the need for a plastic bag to contain the heat and steam, and I wanted more consistent and hotter temperatures, so I graduated to the Sun Oven®.

As with any new toy, I went a little crazy when I first got the new oven, and embarked on a solar cooking spree! Here’s a list of what I cooked in the first three weeks — hopefully, you’ll get inspired to cook with the sun as well!

— Katy Budge

Potatoes, carrots, and leeks with garlic
Potatoes for potato salad
Whole wheat bread
Eggs (the only epic fail, but I would try them again)
Chicken stock and corn chowder stock
Chicken/corn soup made with above stock
Peach/plum crisp
Brown rice
Caramelized onions
Stuffed bell peppers
Melted butter (well, duh!)
Poached pears
Pulled pork
Beans (lovely Rancho Gordo™ brand heirlooms, I’m looking at you!)
Mac & cheese
Pasta/pizza sauce
Quinoa & triticale (both ancient grains)
and that Banana Bread!


Cook Abalone at Home for a Sustainable WOW Factor!

Barely "teenage" abalone on the left, market size abalone about four years later on the right. (Photo K. Budge at The Abalone Farm in Cayucos)
Barely “teenage” abalone on the left, market size abalone about four years later on the right. (Photo K. Budge at The Abalone Farm in Cayucos)

Every so often, it’s fun to do a chef profile for my Local Flavors column in the Tribune newspaper (San Luis Obispo County, California). I ask the chefs to pick a local and/or seasonal ingredient, explain why and how they’re using it in their menus, and how cooks at home might approach the product. Most recently, Chef Leonard Gentieu of Onboard Nautical Events in Morro Bay choose abalone!

Chef Leonard uses pre-tenderized product from The Abalone Farm, located just up the highway in Cayucos. Granted, this is a pricy product (figure about $100/pound, about $55 for four tenderized steaks), but if you realize the intensive, hands-on aquaculture that goes into raising these mollusks to market size, you’ll understand why.

As I wrote in an earlier column about The Abalone Farm, “The five-year process starts with a controlled spawning, after which the larvae are moved to special tanks where the water is changed twice daily. After that, the tiny abalones spend several months in hatchery tanks. When they’re about the size of a thumbnail, they’re moved to different tanks, and when they are about an inch in size, they get moved again to the final harvest tanks. The whole process takes five years before the abalone reach a viable size – about 3- 1/2 to 4-1/2 inches in length — thanks to their diet of locally harvested California kelp and a rich seaweed variety grown on-site at The Abalone Farm.”

(Above) That "dirt" you see in the bottom of the tank are baby abalone. As they grow, they're moved into larger holding tanks (below) until they finish growing to market size in outdoor concrete tanks. (Photo K. Budge at The Abalone Farm in Cayucos)
(Above) That “dirt” you see in the bottom of the tank are baby abalone. As they grow, they’re moved into larger holding tanks until they finish growing to market size in outdoor concrete tanks (shown below). (Photos K. Budge at The Abalone Farm in Cayucos)


Although this sounds like a process that might not be environmentally sound, farmed abalone is a sustainable aquaculture process and is listed as one of the “Best Choices” on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch List. Though I’m partial to California or U.S. sources, country of origin doesn’t matter as much as the farming method, which should be in contained systems, not farmed on the sea floor. The latter has a fairly destructive method of razing the ocean floor for the abalone seeds.

(Here’s a link to a good read about California’s abalone history and current aquaculture efforts.)

Abalone are also pretty low maintenance in terms of inflows and outflows. In California, the abalone are typically fed kelp harvested from just offshore, plus maybe an additional supplement such as algae or dulse, a sea vegetable similar to kelp. In terms of “outflows,” let’s just say that abalone are inherently very clean creatures.

Perhaps because it’s just an expensive product, many chefs are tempted to throw the cookbook at it, but Chef Leonard prefers a simple preparation of just crushed saltines, clarified butter, and lemon juice. Luckily for home cooks, that’s also an easy way to wow your guests. Just make sure you have everything ready ahead of time so you can essentially flash sauté it – you DON’T want to overcook it!

— Katy Budge







A Line on Sustainable Seafood in Morro Bay

The original version of this article appeared in my “Local Flavors” column in the Tribune newspaper on April 9, 2015. In light of what recently happened with the West Coast sardine fishery (closed because the population has crashed), this is a look at a fishery that not only came back, but is now rated sustainable by Seafood Watch and the Marine Stewardship Council.
This article also opened my eyes to a pretty surprising statistic, which South Bay Wild notes on their website: “Currently, 90% of the fish harvested in the U.S. gets shipped overseas, while we import 80% of the fish we consume!”

By Katy Budge

If you want a line on locally caught, fresh from the boat, sustainable seafood, check out the catch from the Seitz family’s South Bay Wild.

The fish that Rob and Tiffani Seitz sell are considered West Coast groundfish. Among the species are Petrale Sole, Dover Sole, Rock Fish, Lingcod and Black Cod (aka Sablefish or Butterfish), none of which were considered sustainable a decade ago. However, thanks to years of dedicated efforts, the entire West Coast groundfishery was certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council in June, 2014, and all the species within it were recently rated “Best Choices” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

In 2000, numbers of West Coast groundfish had plummeted so far that the entire fishery was declared a federal disaster. Severe restrictions were put in place as the challenging process of rebuilding the populations back to a sustainable level began.

One of the possible solutions that emerged was a catch share program, which put a quota on the total number of fish each fisherman can catch annually. In 2006, amid concerns that those shares might be scooped up by large corporate interests, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) stepped in and bought quota rights from several individual California fishermen who wanted out of the collapsed fishery.

TNC then leased those quotas back to fishermen willing to employ methods aimed at getting the fishery back on its fins. With the aim of also keeping the local fishing industry sustainable, TNC transferred some of its quotas to the non-profit Morro Bay Community Quota Fund (formed in 2013), which makes them available to local fishermen.

Last year, the Seitzs took advantage of this program to purchase both a quota share and their F/V (fishing vessel) South Bay. Captain Rob — a commercial fisherman in Astoria, Oregon from 1992 to 2011 — and crew work the boat out of Morro Bay, using a sustainable trawling rig to catch the groundfish. Also onboard is a federal observer, who must be present at all times to monitor methods and catch sizes.

Several local restaurants source fish from the F/V South Bay, including Artisan in Paso Robles, Foremost Wine Company in San Luis Obispo, and Dutchman’s Seafood House and Giancarlo’s in Morro Bay. Individuals can purchase fresh fillets from the South Bay Wild booth at farmers’ markets in Baywood on Mondays, Paso Robles on Tuesdays, and Morro Bay on Thursdays. (One customer at the latter market explained that her husband was also a local fisherman, and remarked that “when a fisherman’s wife buys fish from another fisherman – you know it’s good!)

Only fillets are sold at the markets, but with an advance order the Seitzs will sell whole fish that they’ll break down for you. In addition, they’re setting up a web-based system that will allow you to “purchase” product as soon as it’s caught – essentially putting emailed dibs on the fish.

Overall, South Bay Wild’s business model is a “triple bottom line” approach, but that doesn’t refer to fishing lines. It’s an inclusive philosophy concerned not just with sustainable environmental practices, but also social and economic benefits.

“We’ve all worked very hard over the last decade to make this a sustainable fishery,” said Tiffani, and “we want to keep as much of our product going to locals as possible.” That approach helps keep dollars within the community, and represents South Bay Wild’s own effort to buck the surprising statistic noted on their website: “Currently, 90% of the fish harvested in the U.S. gets shipped overseas, while we import 80% of the fish we consume!”

For more information on South Bay Wild, or to sign up for their fish updates, go to

For more information about sustainable fish choices for consumers, go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s listings at or the Marine Stewardship Council’s website at

Rob Seitz was also featured in the 2014 annual report The Nature Conservancy in California (digital pages 8-9).

Basil Up!

If it's basil, it must be springtime! (photo by K. Budge)
If it’s basil, it must be springtime! (photo by K. Budge)

(A version of this piece originally appeared in
the Spring 2015 edition of the Solstice Green Directory)

By Katy Budge

A popular culinary herb throughout the world, Ocimum basilicum – aka basil has a long and intriguing history.

Native to India and cultivated there for over 5000 years, basil was considered sacred, a status that helped garner its “basilicum” moniker in the Western world. The word comes from the Greek, meaning “king” or “royal.” Throughout the years, basil was also used as a method of determining chastity, as a love token to place on the gravesites, as a way to clear your brain, or to make scorpions grow in your brain. Thankfully, these days, we know it as a wonderfully flavorful ingredient.

Belonging to the mint family, basil is a water lover that likes to stay wet. As such, the best way to grow it is in a pot with a generous saucer underneath so that the plant can actually sit in the water and soak up every last drop of that precious resource.

When harvesting your basil, make your snips low on the stalks, and right above where at least two leaves are branching out from the main stalk. Those will then grow into two separate stalks, which you can trim in the same way when they get bigger, and ensure that you’ll have basil throughout the growing year.

One of the most popular uses for basil is pesto. Make extra, spoon the remaining into ice cube trays, and pop it in the freezer so you’ll have it on hand for pasta, pizza, and bruschetta. If you leave out the cheese and even the pine nuts for freezing, it becomes an even more versatile dollop of delight — for pistou, salad dressings, marinades, etc. — and you can always add the cheese and nuts after it thaws.

San Francisco Treats

Whenever I go to a city, my cultural exploration always revolves around food, and recently I got to indulge that passion in San Francisco. There’s always a theme when my besties and I go out and about in this wonderful city (this time it revolved around SF Beer Week), but a continually underlying theme is also “old school” spots, especially those on the SF Heritage Legacy Bars & Restaurants list. This trip I got to visit a couple on that list, plus check off a couple more places I’ve been wanting to try for a while. Here’s a rundown!


Finally got to Swan Oyster Depot (a Legacy spot, founded in 1912), a tiny, tiny, 12-seat tiny spot on Polk Street on Nob Hill. It’s really just a countertop, and most days the line will snake out the door and down the block. We lucked out and only had to wait a few minutes – a minor miracle. Once you slide into your seat, you take a gander at the myriad menu boards on the wall and go from there. One of several guys will take your order—it’s a very casual operation—and when you’re though, you tell them what you had, they write it down on a napkin and tell you what you owe. We opted for some Kumamoto oysters, a cuppa chowder, bay shrimp cocktail and Anchor Steams. Yummy! Next time, going for the roasted crab.




Speaking of crab … two words … Thanh Long. Also a Legacy spot, it was founded in 1971 and is considered the first Vietnamese restaurant in the city. There are no doubt plenty of tasty things to order on this menu, but we went straight for the roasted crab with garlic noodles, and did almost everybody else. You’ve gotta love a restaurant where most of the diners are wearing bibs and furiously licking their fingers. The crabs were roasted in butter, garlic, and secret spices, and were the biggest and meatiest I’ve ever seen. Yes, there was a lot of garlic going on … suffice it to say we were all safe from vampires that evening!


The Rebel Within (right) and a gougere.
The Rebel Within (right) and a gougere.

The Rebel Within is a savory muffin. Let me rephrase that … The Rebel Within is a savory muffin WITH A SOFT BOILED EGG IN IT! I’ve been eyeing this little gem from Craftsman & Wolves in the Mission for quite some time, but rarely get over to that part of town early enough. The bakery staff (whose baker/owner, William Werner, was just nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award) only makes 75 on weekdays and 140 on weekends, and once I found out how they make it, I can see why. I did finally prevail, however, and it was worth it, especially because the muffin batter also has crème fraiche, asiago, parmesan, scallions and sausage in it, and they give you a little vial of Tabasco salt to sprinkle on it! Oh, and the gougère was pretty darn yummy too.

missionchineseIf you didn’t know about Mission Chinese, you would scurry right past it. It’s located at what seems to be a rundown restaurant with a dingy yellow marquee that reads “Lung Shan Restaurant” on it. Chef/ower Danny Bowien (a twice nominated and once winner of a JBF “Rising Star Chef Award) has created an intriguing menu with such dishes as pork dumplings with pea tendrils, chicken wings with beef tripe, and hangar steak chow mein. We went for the beer-brined pickled Chinese cabbage with peanuts and the stir-fried pork jowl with radishes that still had their greens attached.

And to “tap” it all off … one of my favorite breweries!

A Lagunitas tap takeover at Zeitgeist!
A Lagunitas tap takeover at Zeitgeist!

Orange is The New Wine?

The 2011 Coenobium Ruscum, an Italian blend of three white varietals. Very dry, as you’d expect from a wine left on the skins.
The 2011 Coenobium Ruscum, an Italian blend of three white varietals. Very dry, as you’d expect from a wine left on the skins.

The impetus for this posting started when my cousins sent me a bottle of 2011 Coenobium Ruscum, an Italian white blend of Malvasia, Trebbiano and Verdicchio made by the Monastic Order of Cistercian Nuns in Vitorchiano, Latium, Italy. Certainly this needed to be a special occasion wine, and this past Thanksgiving seemed the perfect time.

Not knowing quite what to expect in terms of food pairing, I decided to open the bottle as an apéritif before the big meal. I poured the wine into my glass, and it was a deep straw color. Two thoughts went through my head: “This is like a Sauternes,” and “Oh no – I waited too long to open this wonderful gift!”

Turns out I was wrong on both counts. This was what’s known as an “orange wine,” obviously so named for the color. Technically, orange wines are white wines … but they’re made like red wines. During pressing, white wines are typically pulled off of the skins as soon as possible so they don’t get any color or tannins from the skins. The opposite is the case with red wines, where you want both the color and tannin. Orange wines are white varietals left on the skins to extract both color and tannin. That makes orange wines odd birds in the wine world.

“Any wine with tannin will dry your tongue out, it’s almost an abruptness, and people just aren’t used to white wines having tannin,” explained Ali Rush Carcasden, a certified sommelier and owner of 15 Degrees C Wine Shop and Bar in Templeton. “When you think of white wine, you think acid, minerality, crispness, balance – not tannin.”

Obviously, this method of winemaking changes the characteristics of a varietal, and for Carscaden, “that’s the reason to do an orange wine – it adds depth and complexity to white wine.” She added that because of the tannins, orange wines are a great match with foods that have fattiness and creaminess such as cheeses and even rich meats.

Though orange wines date back thousands of years, they’re only recently enjoying a resurgence, but it’s far from widespread. These are confusing wines for consumers to wrap their palettes around, in part because your eyes tell you you’re going to be tasting something very different from what you taste, and because they do indeed change the varietal. When you order a regular Pinot Grigio, you can be fairly sure you’re going to get a certain set of flavor profiles. However, you could order five orange Pinot Grigios and they’re all going to be different depending on the winemakers and how long they decided to leave the wines on the skins.

That said, the process of making orange wines offers yet another tool for winemakers, perhaps even a way to carve out a new niche for their label. I doubt these wines are ever going to be flying out the door, but they provide a fun challenge for anyone looking to expand their palette and knowledge of wine.


In between a standard red and white wine is a 2010 Radikon Slatnik, an orange wine made from Chardonnay grapes -- very lean, certainly not what you’re used to a Chardonnay!
In between a standard red and white wine is a 2010 Radikon Slatnik, an orange wine made from Chardonnay grapes — very lean, certainly not what you’re used to a Chardonnay!

Some A-Bee-C’s about Bees

marthahive_0914Usually, my job as the food writer for my local newspaper involves pretty straightforward interviews, but sometimes it’s a little more interactive. Such was the case when I got to talk with Martha and Curt Van Inwegen, the owners/operators/apiarists of TheraBee Culinary Honey.

Martha had hoped I’d be able to help her relocate some bees that had dropped in at one of her empty hives, and thus had me don a hat equipped with a mesh veil. (It’s really not a good look for me, btw.) Alas, the bees had already moved on, but I still got to check out a couple beehives up close and personal, and I also got to learn quite a bit about bees and honey.


  • Raw honey is a rare food in that it never spoils – ever! As noted in my article …
    That indefinite shelf life is because “anything bees produce (honey, royal jelly) absolutely has to be naturally anti-bacterial because of the climate inside the hive,” explained Curt. “It’s a constant 92-96 degrees F inside, regardless of the outside temperature, and it’s humid — it’s like a gym.”
    “A lot of people think that if honey crystallizes, it’s gone bad, but honey never goes bad — unless you’ve raised that moisture content,” explained Martha. To get rid of any crystallization, by the way, just gently warm the honey in a pan of warm (not boiling) water or even on a warm windowsill — but never in a microwave.
    (Honey should never be fed to infants under a year old, by the way. The honey can contain botulism bacteria that the infant’s immune system can’t deal with. Even foods such as honey graham crackers should be avoided.)
  • If a bee flies through airborne pesticide spray, it won’t be allowed back into its own hive because the other bees will now regard it as contaminated.
  • Honey is a hive’s food source. In a year like this on the Central Coast, where our record drought has severely reduced both food (flowers) and water supplies for bees, a hive that’s lacking in resources will turn into marauders and raid another hive for its honey.
  • Bees may look like they’re just flying around randomly, but if you take the time to notice, bees have very deliberate flight patterns. That dramatically changes right before they’re going to swarm; they start doing a very distinctive dance that’s a dead giveaway to experienced beekeepers. Once they see that behavior start, they know the bees will be swarming within minutes.
  • A swirling, buzzing ball of bee swarm can be a daunting vision that elicits primal fear and visions from any number of “B-movies.” However, there’s usually absolutely nothing to worry about. Typically, the bees swarm because they’ve outgrown their old hive and need to establish a new one with a new queen. There’s already been a lot of detailed advance work done by the bees’ scouts, so they know exactly where they’re heading. If you do have a bee swarm land that camps out in a place you’re not crazy about, “Stay Calm and Call the Beekeeper.” An experienced apiarist (beekeeper) can safely and easily relocate the swarm to another location where it can be happy and thrive in its important function as a plant pollinator.
  • Speaking of which …. bees are responsible, make that RESPONSIBLE for pollinating the vast majority of our food crops. It’s estimated that one in every three bites of food come directly from plants pollinated by bees and other pollinators. To imagine a world without bees, take a look at the photo here – it shows what our supermarkets would look like if all the bees died off.

No More K-Word Limes!



I recently got an email from a food/wine/lifestyle company I freelance for, and was pretty shocked by its contents. Effective immediately, all writers and editors were to cease using the term “kaffir” – and that is the last time I will use it in this piece.

As many of you may know, that term refers to a type of lime typically used in Thai food, but it has also become an “it” flavor in everything from vodkas to spice rubs. However, what most people DON’T know is that this term is the derogatory, racist equivalent of the “N-word” in many parts of the world, especially Southern Africa!

Various reasons why this word came to be such a racial slur are explored in a piece by Slate’s L.V. Anderson. To paraphrase, the Arabic spelling of the word with one “f” originally referred to non-Muslims, but it evolved (devolved?) as a way for white colonists to derogatorily describe black Africans (but not any other people of color, for which other equally offensive words were devised). By the 20th century, the k-word – now spelled with the two “f”s — was a pretty powerful insult, and you can imagine how that ferocity must have escalated in the inflamed social context of apartheid South Africa.

That said, the K-word is to this day an acceptable and inoffensive description of a certain ethnicity of Sri Lankans, who proudly describe themselves as such. Botanical references to a k-word lime found in Sri Lanka date back to 1910, and there are references to a “caffre” lime in an 1888 book about the citrus of India and Ceylon. Technically, then, it’s probable that the original reference to the lime came about quite innocently … but, then again, so did a lot of words that offend people. “Cafre,” in fact, is still a derogatory word in Spanish, implying someone of low class who is rude, boorish, uncouth, savage, brutal … you get the idea.

Sticks and stones notwithstanding, words can indeed hurt, so whatever the origin of the name, it deserves to be sidelined.

So what, then, are we to call these limes? The newly accepted term seems to be “makrut lime.” Indeed, that’s the word used by the people of Southeast Asia whom arguably make the best use of the limes in their cuisines and cultures – particularly in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. While the very acidic juice is rarely used in food, the rind and especially the leaves are widely used, especially in curry pastes and tom yum (yummy!) soups.

Besides being a unique contribution to cuisine, the makrut lime proves to be a very versatile fruit for a number of other uses. The list includes: shampoo, cleanser/stain remover, deodorizer, and insecticide, as well as for medicinal purposes, dental hygiene, energizing aromatherapy, and beneficial digestion. The limes are even used in Cambodian religious services and most Thai families have a tree planted at the entrance of their property to ward off evil spirits.

So then, out with the K-word and in with the Makrut!

(And while we’re on the subject of name changes, and since it’s the start of the NFL season … yes, I am a lifelong fan of “the Washington team,” and yes, I think we need to change the name … or change the logo to a potato.)

— By Katy Budge