Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Road Trippin' to Big Sur for INDYpendence Day {Edible Monterey Bay}

This piece hit the Edible Monterey Bay blog this morning. Click here to read it there...or read below.

Road Trippin’ to Big Sur for INDYpendence Day
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

This month – on Independence Day – the ‘First Thursday’ INDY event hit the road and set-up in Big Sur. Initially, in 2012, the INDY was a mélange of farmers peddling their produce, artisans showcasing their foods and creations, and vintners pouring their libations in a dynamic, spirited marketplace. Having built a loyal following, the INDY was re-imagined earlier this year as a pop-up dinner hosted on the first Thursday of each month. There is still a mini-marketplace of local foodsmiths, but the central focus is a feast, served family-style, with live entertainment and a whole lot of community-building. People pass plates, swap stories, and revel in the festive atmosphere. And like the INDY marketplace before it, a portion of the ticket proceeds from the INDY pop-ups benefit a local non-profit. This month’s recipient was the very spot in which we were dining: the Henry Miller Library.

If you’re never been to the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, it’s a non-profit bookstore and arts center championing the late Big Sur resident, writer, and artist Henry Miller. Founded in the early 1980s, the bookstore is nestled beneath towering redwoods in the former home of one of Henry Miller’s friends.

In his 1939 novel Tropic of Capricorn, Miller wrote:  “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” His namesake library is a stunning venue with a relaxed vibe. It’s perfect for an INDY par-tay – a place to live, be aware, be joyous, be serene, and be drunk…as long as you’re not the designated driver for this lil’ road trip.

Thirteen months of working in and learning to cook in Rome, rendered me something of a pizza snob. I’m particular about the crust and even pickier about the toppings. Toppings need to be fresh, with flavors that just pop in your mouth. Danica Alvarado, the force behind Tricycle Pizza, absolutely nailed it. Tricycle Pizza is less than a year old, but Alvarado has her family working alongside and took her mobile wood-fire pizza and catering business full-time in November. While I chatted with her, her mom was tossing dough, her sister topped them, and her dad was slicing the pies as they came out of the oven. 

They served three different kinds of pizza – goat cheese and arugula, pepperoni and parsley, and pesto with chicken. After experimenting with different kinds of wood, Alvarado settled on apple wood which imparts a subtle flavor to her pizza and burns consistently for the duration of cooking. She explained that she brings the oven up to 1000 degrees, lets it cool to around 800, and the pies cook in a little under three minutes. The crust was perfectly crisp with a slight char on the rim. And the toppings were deliciously paired for a flawless presentation.

Another newcomer to the Monterey County food scene is Pop Culture Beverage owned by Drew and Elske Daigle. How new? you ask. Brand new. “We just moved here on Sunday,” gushed Elske. Formerly based in Santa Barbara, Pop Culture's Premium Artisan Beverages begin simply as fresh pressed fruit. They don’t add any color, flavor or artificial sweetener. Talking to them was like talking to a vintner who carefully selects the fruit before production begins. The Daigles aim to celebrate and retain the fruit's true flavor profile, using the juice from perfectly ripe fruit before gently carbonating and bottling their creations. They were pouring their Obamagranate, made with pomegranates from Madera, in the Central Valley. It was the perfect antidote the hot, summer sun.

Other vendors were set up throughout the garden. The PigWizard – John Roberts –  was slinging bacon, sausages, and jars of his Hog Scald Barbeque Sauce; The Drink Mixtress – Vanessa Share – was pouring grilled peach margaritas with fresh sage, citrus, and organic tequila plus an equally innovative lemon-cucumber mojitos made with yerba buena and organic rum; the ladies from Planet Love Funk set up a table with everything from chocolate confections to jarred spices for making chai; and there was a wide selection of veggies from Esalen’s Harvest Garden and beers from Post No Bills available for purchase.

Along with the pizza, Local Catch of Monterey Bay steamed clams and mussels in Tricycle Pizza’s oven. Todd Champagne, the Independent Marketplace co-founder and owner of Happy Girl Kitchen, presented piles of his Sour Garlic Pickles that had been sitting in brine for ten days. Chef Matt Millea, formerly of Sierra Mar Restaurant at Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn, manned the grill, serving poblano peppers sprinkled with Big Sur sea salt, fresh ears of corn still in their husks, and chunks of sea bass on a bed of tomatoes topped with fresh hollyhock petals and a drizzle of herb aioli. “Yesterday, these were two thirty-five pound sea bass in our bay. Today, they’re this,” quipped Champagne from the stage, gesturing at the platters circulating the garden.

Entertaining the sold-out crowd was Songs Hotbox Harry Taught Us, a seven-member band based in Big Sur. In fact, Magnus Toren, who strummed his guitar, sang, and drank beer simultaneously, acts as the Henry Miller Library’s Executive Director. Songs Hotbox Harry Taught Us performed some original songs and some classics, some old school rock’n’roll and some rockabilly, a fusion genre that infuses the rock of the 1950s with some blues and country. While all their tunes were enjoyable, Tracy Chesebrough’s rendition of the 1966 Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman” was delightful.

Woke up this morning with light in my eyes
And then realized it was still dark outside
It was a light coming down from the sky
I don't know who or why

Must be those strangers that come every night
Those saucer shaped lights put people uptight
Leave blue green footprints that glow in the dark
I hope they get home all right

Hey, Mr. Spaceman
Won't you please take me along
I won't do anything wrong
Hey, Mr. Spaceman
Won't you please take me along for a ride

July’s INDY was a wild success, bringing mom-and-pop artisans to a crowd who rejoices in the local, the handcrafted, and the creative. Some were perennial favorites and some were new to the Monterey Bay foodscape. Either way, I now have some new favorites and will seek out their goodies wherever I can. Thanks to the organizers of the INDY First Thursday events for taking us along for a great ride. I’ve already penciled in the date for next month’s party: August 1st.