May 12, 2015

California

Statehood: September 9th, 1850 (31/50)

If the states were high school students, California would probably have been the most popular girl in school and, no doubt, the prom queen, too. At least that's how movies, television, and music make it seem... that the ultimate in cool is The Golden State where it's always sunny, uber fashionable, liberal, and progressive. At least that's how it appears 3,500 miles away when you're younger and live in a mostly cold, mostly lower to middle class state in northern New England.

But then you grow up and - if you're lucky - travel to CA and realize that it's not MTV's The Hills. Mickey Mouse is only one part of the state's obsession. Not everyone knows how to surf. Not everyone eats In-N-Out burgers. And it's extremely difficult to find where the Tanners from Full House lived (you may literally spend your whole last day in SF walking up hills to find it, only to end up disappointingly gnawing on sourdough bread in the airport when you can't.. not that this has happened to me or anything).

In actuality, California is...

... wild herds of American bison on Catalina Island after they were imported - then left there indefinitely - for a film being shot there in the 1920's. They now are tended to by the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy. The Golden State also raises the most turkey of any other state, and they have a Bunny Museum located in Pasadena, too.

... full of natural wonders including - but not limited to - both the highest (Mount Whitney at 14,495 feet above sea level) and lowest points (Bad Water in Death Valley is 282 below sea level) in the continental U.S. And have you ever seen photos of the Lava Beds National Monument or Big Sur? They will take your breath away.

... a wine lovers' dream. CA produces more than 17 million gallons of wine each year and accounts for almost 90% of the countries wine production. And they make a lot more than just merlot (ohhhhh, c'mon, I had to!).

And that's barely scratching the surface. But this blog is an ode to their food, so...

After kindly complimenting your culture, Californians, t's time we cut our canines on your crops!

(Side note: So in 2013 when Governor Jerry Brown was on a trade mission to China, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom took that authority he temporarily had to designate the artichoke, avocado, almond, and rice as official state foods.)


State Vegetable: Artichoke

Casroville, CA calls itself the Artichoke Center of the World. In 1948, the very first honorary Artichoke Queen was crowned... her name was Norma Jean (later known as Marilyn Monroe). CA produces around 99% of the countries artichoke crop, so it's only fitting it would be California's state vegetable.

Lemon and Artichoke Dip
Makes: 1 9x9 pan full

Ingredients:
1 16-oz bag of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 14-oz can of artichokes, drained and torn apart
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup crumbled feta
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
3 cloves garlic, minced

Method:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together the chopped spinach, ripped up artichokes, mozzarella, cream cheese, sour cream, feta, lemon zest, and garlic in a large bowl. Then spread out into a 9x9 pan.

Bake for 60 minutes.

Serve with your favorite tortilla chip or veggie (like carrot sticks!).


State Fruit: Avocado

Avocados are definitely associated with California where they're grown year round and almost 90% of the U.S. crop is from here. There's a lot more you can do with the fruit then just guacamole - you can make "fries", you can bake an egg in the center, or you can smash 'em on toast (which is my current favorite way to eat them).

Smashed Avo With Egg
Makes: 4 toasts (dinner portion for two people)

Ingredients:
4 slices of multigrain bread
4 eggs
1 Tablespoon veggie oil
2 avocados
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil

Method:
Toast bread to your liking. While it's toasting, fry eggs to your preference.

To assemble: smash half an avocado on each slice. Dust with cumin and salt. Top each slice with an egg. Then drizzle a little olive oil over everything.


State Nut: Almond

California is also know for almonds, where it's the only place in North America that commercially produces them. Almonds are definitely a super healthy food, so I apologize now for celebrating so scandalously. But, the first cocktail I ever learned to make was a Toasted Almond. I thought it would be fun to try and recreate them here!

Roasty, Toasty Almond Cocktail
Makes: 1 drink

Ingredients:
2 ounces of Kahlua
2 ounces of Amaretto
2 ounces of coconut creamer (like from Trader Joe's)

Method:
Pour the Kahlua, Amaretto, and coconut creamer together in a glass over ice. Or blend with ice!


State Grain: Rice

According to the California Rice Commission, the crop is worth about $5 billion each year and is the primary source of the countries sushi rice. Today we're celebrating with a California Burrito - not super Mexican, but definitely super filling.

California Burrito
Makes: 2 burritos

Ingredients:
1/2 15-oz bag of frozen french fries
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
1 10-oz bag of Gardein Szechuan Beefless Strips
2 brown rice tortillas
6 Tablespoons shredded cheese
3 Tablespoons sour cream

Method:
Cook the french fries according to the package.

Saute the Gardein Szechuan Beefless Strips in the olive oil in a pan on medium heat. It usually takes me around 15 to 20 minutes to cook them, flipping every four or five minutes so that each side gets golden brown and crispy.

To assemble the burritos: place half the Gardein Szechuan Beefless Strips on a rice tortilla. Top with half the french fries, half the cheese, and half the sour cream. Repeat to make the second burrito. Enjoy with a nice cold beer!


Sources:
Los Angeles Times. "Artichoke, avocado deputized as official California produce. Celebrate with 21 recipes!" 4/22/13.
The Packer. "CORRECTED: Artichokes, avocados state foods of California" 4/10/13.