Cecilias Pot

Our first two years in Topanga, we lived in a large trailer on a thirteen acre property. It wasn’t easy living in a trailer, but we had the advantage of being in nature, right close to the creek, with the enchanting sounds of frogs at night, and so much space to roam. There were about 10 other living spaces around, like a little village. It was a dream come true to finally live in Topanga, and raise our son Zane there. He was only 3 at the time, so though our living space wasn’t comfortable, we had a fun and inspiring environment amongst friends. Most importantly, we were surrounded in nature. We were living amongst a group of people who loved to garden, cook, create, dance, dress up, swing on a flying hoop in the main living room, and encourage and inspire each other.

Zane was having nightmares, and I was at a loss for how to stop them. I remembered a time when my little brother was having bad dreams. I shared a room with him and he used to talk in his sleep, so I knew the nightmares were very intense. One night, my mother attempted to stop them. She put herself into his dream in order to pull him out of it. While Zane’s nightmares were not as bad as my brother’s, they were still going on.

 

A member of our village invited a Chumash Medicine Woman named Cecilia to stay on the land a couple months. The Chumash were the original inhabitants of this part of the California coast, from San Luis Obispo to LA County. She offered gifts of healing and nature walks, where she taught us about the local plants- what plants could be used as food, and what plants were medicine. Every day was a wonder with her. I valued the time I got with her, and treasured every lesson she taught me.

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When Cecilia was staying on the land, nature responded. It was like the land was glad she was there. One day we went outside to be blessed by a rain of ladybugs. One fell on my lip and bounced off. I can still remember how it felt. One morning, a deer came to her door and knocked on it with it’s antlers. They went for a walk. In one of our sessions, a blue tailed lizard came to assist us with its lizard medicine.

 

Cecilia had a magical pot. During her sessions with people, she made concoctions with herbs that she had chosen and harvested. When I told her about Zane and his nightmares, she concocted a special brew for him, and told me to simmer it on the stove overnight. She said it would clear out old energy, and invite the good spirits in. I brought it home and turned on the stove to simmer, the faint blue light in the dark room echoing the moonlight on the Topanga hills outside. Then I went to bed.

 

In the middle of the night, I woke up in the in between state. Everything was alive and vivid. I saw a few big, tall, bright spirits walk in the door. Good spirits, the invited ones. They looked almost like people, but more cartoony. I remember their smiles, so big, so alive, so colorful. When I’m in this in between state, my body feels weightless, and sort of buzzed. They were so kind, and I welcomed them in before fading back into deeper sleep again.

 

I did not see what spirits they evicted, but they must have done something, because after that, Zane’s nightmares stopped.

 

In time I developed more awareness about wild herbs, and worked my way up to hiking every day, and foraging with my skilled foraging partner. I had the luck of having gardens where I could experiment with different heirloom vegetables and herbs, that brought great inspiration to my life and food. My magical forest creature friends in Topanga have guided me in this experience, in unusual and beautiful ways, which led me to being called the Soup Sorceress. I often feel like I’m in a Miyazaki movie, surrounded by magical flora and fauna while I create with my hands, pulling ingredients of spirit into a space of creation that heals my heart in a new way every time, and creating new flavors I never heard of before.

 

And I remember Cecilia’s magical pot of herbs, and the graciousness of the spirits, during times I need soup for my soul.

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Stop and Smell the Chamomile

I quit drinking caffeine, I think it’s been about 10 months now. A lot of people have asked me how I survive without it. My body became so sensitive to caffeine, it felt like it was killing me (pardon the extremity). I’m surviving better without it. Although I really miss jumping up in the morning, getting excited, grabbing the yerba mate from the fridge, and expelling a ton of energy in a few hours, getting wildly creative ideas, sewing, business dealing, writing, and cooking at the same time, and then falling hard asleep for two hours, then waking up very hazy and sick, and often times crying by the end of the night. I don’t miss all of that, just the good parts.

When I quit caffeine, I used the method of cutting it out slowly, and doing different teas, then coffee, then decaf coffee, then chocolate drinks. After that, I had no chocolate and really worked at cleaning myself out, no sugar, bread, meat, or dairy, except when I snuck a tiny bite of butter. Hehe….. maybe a little pasture raised bacon fat too…and ok, just a couple little bites of bread form Ceor Bread at the farmers market. Tiny bites!

So about a month ago I thought I would give chocolate a try again. I just love chocolate so much, so I made chocolate drinks every morning. I was sort of ok with it, until recently, when I became more aware of what I was doing to myself. “It’s just a little tablespoon of chocolate, this has to be ok” I thought to myself every morning.

Then recently, I visited a friend. I knew it was going to come up… he asked me why my hand was shaking.

“It’s the chocolate. I can’t drink it anymore.”

Sadly, it’s just not working. I’m quick to be nervous and jumpy, which takes away from being centered, wise, and considerate. So being sensitive to my sensitivity after having a soup I made, he suggested some kava kava, valerian, or St. Johns Wort. He was right, except that I had to figure out some other calming herbs, for a few reasons. For kava kava, because I think that I need to strengthen my liver first before I start taking that. Valerian, when I tried it as a kid, used to give me an interesting type of headache. To test that out, I recently held a bottle of it at the store to see if I could feel the energy of it. Just in case it would be a good idea. I felt that strange knock out headache, plus relaxing feeling. Which is what it’s good for. It wasn’t bad, but I needed to think of something else to use. I never felt called to use St. Johns wort, but I might be willing to give it a try, that’s another story.

At the farmers market, I picked up two big fresh bunches of chamomile. I realized, that was my synchronistic, temporary answer, for a fresh and calming herb, that I could add to my morning smoothies. I also had some idea that I was going to make a purple potato salad with chamomile, thai basil, and amaranth. Instead I made this soup for Mimosa Cafe, so others can share in this chamomile experience while it’s in season. A centered, calm, mineral rich, full of nutrients, and nice flavor, experience.

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Recipe

2 cups chopped cucumbers (I peeled the skin, but if I had Japanese or Armenian cucumbers I wouldn’t peel them.)

2 cups chopped heirloom tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped onions

1/4 cup laver seaweed (from Main Coast Sea Vegetables)

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp spirulina

10-20 chamomile flowers.

salt and white pepper to taste

Blend it!

(I opt for white pepper because it’s healthier then black pepper, but you can use black pepper)

The seaweed is there for health reasons, but I also did a batch without the seaweed, and the taste was really nice, so it’s all an inspiration and a choice anyway.

Some day maybe I’ll get to have some fun all night adventure, road trip, and I’ll take some caffeine then, but when I drank it every day, I fell apart. I love being busy and handling a lot of things at once, but at this time in my life, within reason to what is healthful.

Recently, I’ve been making a banana smoothie in the morning with chamomile, pumpkin seeds, vanilla, and spirulina.

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Pickled Quail Egg Salad

There are various ways to flavor and color pickled quail eggs. I used turmeric for a pretty yellow color. This was used as an appetizer for the Topanga Mountain School fundraiser, and it was gobbled up real quick. I also added pickled, turmeric english peas, which I’ll explain how to do as well. I have a new vision for this, which is to make cashew cream sauce and drizzle that all over.

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This is how I do it, for 2 dozen quail eggs. The picture above is 5 dozen quail eggs.

Start with the brine, because it needs time to cool down.

~ 1.5 cups of apple cider vinegar. (you can you rice vinegar if you want)

~1/2 cup of water

~ 2 tsp black pepper

~ 2 tsp. sea salt (I use real salt brand)

~ Fresh Turmeric Root, approximately 1/8 cup, or a little more, diced. (if you chop them a little bigger, it’s easier to spoon out the eggs, without getting little raw pieces of turmeric root with it.)

You can use 2 tsp. of ground turmeric powder if you prefer. 

Put all ingredients into a pot, and get it to a boil. I boil it a couple minutes, to make sure the turmeric is cooked a little, and the salt is dissolved.

Put the brine aside. If you want it to cool down faster, put it in the fridge or freezer, just don’t forget about it if you put it in the freezer!

Then cook the quail eggs. 

I searched a lot on cooking quail eggs, perfect for pickling, and there are a few answers to this, but I chose this way and it works.

Gently place 2 dozen quail eggs in cool water in a little pot, and bring them to a boil. Boil for 4 minutes exactly. Sometimes I’ll do 10 seconds less.

Make sure you have a bowl of ice water ready before they’re done boiling. After 4 minutes, not a bit longer, quickly and gently scoop the eggs with a spoon and place them into the cold water.

They’ll cool down pretty quickly and then you can start peeling the eggs gently. They’re easy, just be gentle.

Put the eggs into a clean mason jar.

Once the brine is cooled down, pour the brine in the jar with the eggs. Close the jar and shake a little. Then put it in the fridge. Wait 3 days to a week before eating them so they’re nice and pickled. The eggs should last a month from the time you bottled them.

The pickled turmeric english peas:

It’s basically the same thing, but you’ll pour the brine HOT in the jar with the peas in them. That way it blanches it a little. It’s a perfect little sour, crunchy, turmeric pea, flavor burst!

You can use a lot less brine, depending how many fresh peas you feel like shelling.

Top the salad with little greens, radishes, pickled peas, and whatever else you like.

 

Soupe De Potiron

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When I was in High school, at Hollywood High Performing Arts Magnet, I started a petition to try to change the School lunch program into something healthier.

I realized pretty quickly that wasn’t going to happen so fast, or from a petition. I consider it a step in the right direction, when I visited there this year, and saw several benches were torn out where we used to hang, and were replaced with garden beds.

Less then a decade later, my Son, Zane Allister, was in Kindergarten at Topanga Elementary, and I wanted to do something about lunches. I realized at some point, that if it was illegal to donate and create a salad bar for the lunch program, but Parents were allowed to bring cupcakes inside the class on their kids Birthday, then I could bring salad anytime I wanted. Often my son would walk out of class with a cupcake loaded with high fructose corn syrup, from a Birthday celebration. I tried not to make a thing about it, but I wanted to donate vegetables for the kids.

I asked the teachers each year if I could, and once in a while I donated to the class. I washed fruits and veggies, shaved the carrots, cut the celery, prepared cucumbers. Simple fruits and veggies, direct from local, organic farms, to provide the kids with some extra nourishment in the middle of the day, inside the classroom. The Teachers were happy about it, and the kids walked out of the class with eyes wide open, thanking me.

Once my Son was in 5th grade and wanted to be a part of the play, I was asked to be the Assistant Director, which also gave me the opportunity to provide organic fruits and vegetables for after school snacks.

Today, Zanes in 7th grade, and it was my turn to make lunch for the school at Topanga Mountain School, where he attends.

Two days ago, I sent a picture on instagram, of the 2 surprise Snowball Pumpkins that popped up in  the middle of a sweet baby pumpkin field at T & D Farms. My Aunt made the comment….

“Soupe De Potiron”??? (also called “Potage Aurore” or “Dawn Soup”). A wonderful blend of pumpkin/potiron and tomato with thick cream, dash nutmeg, according to cookbook written by my grand-mother La Mazille…she was a big time “Bonnes Soupes” maker.

My Aunt Isabelle was the wife and muse of My Great Uncle (by blood), and one of my favorite artists, Judson Huss. So I was pretty happy to see her comment about soup art.

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I gathered anything the farms that I already buy from weekly, were willing to gift to the School. I normally don’t ask farms for donations because I want them to receive more, but in this case, we were all happy about this possibility.

I realized, even though I had a different type of winter squash, I pretty much had the ingredients for the soup she mentioned.

Which squash did I have!? The coolest one, of course! It’s name is, “Sweet Candy Roasted Georgia Squash”. From “The Garden Of” farm.

 

IMG_1056Some people like more or less cream, some like leeks, some don’t, some want a few fresh tomato chunks, some are willing to try my side of fermented salsa. The point is, I don’t have a measured recipe for this soup, but you’ll know what to do for your own. Here’s my current version of “Soup De Potiron”. It couldn’t be a better time of season for a blend of heirloom tomatoes and pumpkin. Tomatoes will be out soon, and winter squash will still be in. So if you wanna do this later, freeze some tomatoes from Tutti Frutti farm! You can get #2 heirlooms, for $10 per 10 pound box, best deal for incredible tomatoes!

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~Heirloom Tomatoes

~Sweet Candy Roasted Georgia Squash

~Raw Organic Pastures Cream or Nut Cream

~Cilantro

~Leeks

~Himalayan Salt

I laid it out for the kids, so that they could pick out their own toppings, and mixings. Most wanted the cream! Some didn’t, so it’s good to give them the option. Same with the squash, some just wanted plain tomato soup, not squash, tomato soup.

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The squash was roasted in chunks.

The heirloom tomatoes, were pureed and then simmered. I lost two liters while simmering, and stirring, so that it would be less watery. I only added rice vinegar and himalayan salt.

Sautéed leeks on the side, sautéed some corn, cut fresh tomatoes, and basil from home greenhouse. The kids just grabbed the toppings they wanted, and all seemed happy and nourished with the lunch. If they wanted cream, they could just stir some in.

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Seasonal Sipping Broths

I created different flavors of vegetable broths, that you can drink cold or warm, or flavor your own soups, stews, chilis, or stir fried veggies.

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After a year of a tough and painful healing journey for my son, and myself, one of the things that came out of all of it, is this drink. I really looked at what I could drink that would provide me with the nutrients my body was asking for. I researched like crazy, experimented, cooked, listened to the answers that were coming to me, looking for the healing I needed. While, spending every day helping my son through his challenges, which lead us to a Chiropractor that changed our lives.

I had to break away from drinking organic yerba mate cold teas. I thought I could handle it, since I ate healthy. However, when my emotions were struggling, and I crashed hard in the middle of the day, and woke up dizzy and hazy, it was time to quit all caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. The sugar was easy, because I never liked it, the caffeinated teas took me some time.

I made a vegetable broth with medicinal mushrooms, turmeric, and other medicinal spices and herbs. From plants that were in my garden, to foraging, and from our local farms.

Many large organic suppliers aren’t fully trusted as much as small organic farms. When it comes to a fully integral food product, I want it sourced from the farms that I love, directly! This is a challenge for other large food suppliers, but I can get into that later.

The broth is such a great flavor, I love drinking it cold or warm. It’s great to flavor vegetables soups, stews, chilis,  and stir fried veggies.

My life has guided me to this piece of art in a way I couldn’t have dreamed up. It’s been a wild and dynamic journey.

For years I have walked down the super market shelves frustrated that most, if not all large food suppliers are using the same ingredients all the time. That doesn’t fit into supporting small, local, farms and eating in season. I was also frustrated with the amount of coconut drinks, and maca, when there are so many medicinal foods we have that grow here! Fresh herbs from small farmers, medicinal mushrooms harvested in California, and even simmering onion skins are said to be medicinal.

Here’s some examples of flavors.

Chaga, Curry and Turmeric. Jujube, Honey, and Cardamom. Shitake and Curry. Lions Mane Mushroom and Shitake. Reishi and Nettles with Beets. Cocoa and Spicy Peppers.

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Papa’s Guacamole

I have a vivid memory of my Papa’s guacamole during a super bowl party when I was a kid. I don’t know who it was that I can actually credit for making it, but I credit my Papa because he brought people together. A friend of his caught eye of my young, captivated attention, directed into the bowl, and let me ask him questions. I’ve been trying to make guacamole that good ever since.

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It was 7pm and I was rustling together a few things to be sure I had the proper foraging gear, while finishing a soup with pickled rainbow carrots, making my Cousin a leather wrist cuff for her Birthday, and feeling like, “Am I really doing this?”

YES! I’m on a mission to find medicinal mushrooms!

Magically, a friend showed up at our door and agreed to stay and watch our cat. He helped me make soup for my Aunt, and ate the soup I had left over in the fridge. By 8pm, my son and I were on the road to San Mateo (about a 5 hour drive up North), leaving the house a bizarre looking mess. Between the biggest storm we just had, in which we had to bring in boxes of stuff from outside to the living room, and the ridiculous amount of mess it takes to create one big soup and a leather bracelet, it looks like a storm in my house.

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(Horse salad for some Topanga horses, from left over scraps making the soup.)

We arrived at 1:30am, fell asleep. My son made breakfast in the morning, as I anxiously waited for him to finish, so I could get on a trail and search for mushrooms in the forest. My body was so ready to move and explore after a long drive.

zanesbreakfastZanes breakfast. French toast logs with chocolate hazelnut spread filling. They were worth the wait.

My Aunt Caroline came with me, and did a really good job at pointing out little side areas off the trail, that I should go look. She exercised the trail, while I got deep in the redwoods. Which led me to finding a little bit of several different varieties, until I got lost, and eventually found her again.

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This is witches butter. It’s a squiggly yellow fungus, and feels slimy.

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When we got back, my friend Joseph, who was staying at our house, sent me a text. “Your food is magical….You make medicine soups.” He was enjoying my vegan borscht with chaga mushroom powder. It gave me some encouragement.

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Last minute, we asked my Aunt Gretchen and Uncle Paul to come over for dinner. My Aunt Caroline, who’s always kind and supportive, was happy to let me cook for everyone.

The Teenagers, my three Cousins, all had their own thing going on that night, so it was just us Adults and  my son,  Zane, who will almost be a teenager.

I quickly went to Draegers Market to pick up stuff for Tacos. On my way, my Aunt Caroline reminded me to make guacamole.

Doing my best to keep a big dinner at a reasonable cost, I wanted to buy only exactly what we needed, and not go over the top. I looked at the $50 a pound chanterelle, and morel mushrooms for a moment, wishing, and then grabbed some little $6 yellow ones.

I had my Papa’s guacamole in my mind while I shopped.

I was worried about not having enough tortillas, so I bought too many. I didn’t know who would want corn tortillas and who would want flour tortillas. When I brought everything to the kitchen counter, spread out, my Uncle Graham (who always walks in the room full of charisma and energy) came in the kitchen asking, “how’s it going?”.

“It’s ok, I think I bought too many tortillas though”, I said nervously. I didn’t know how any of this would turn out, only that I cared deeply that everyone enjoy the dinner, and no one left hungry.

While we ate tacos, Uncle Paul, who has a lot of cool things to say about foods he’s enjoyed; talked about a guacamole contest he went to. He said everyone agreed this one Woman who won, had the most insanely best guacamole. He described her as very shy, while everyone hovered over her guacamole, going nuts over it.

“What was in it?!”, we all wanted to know.

I know the secret ingredient now, I don’t want to share it yet. Actually, I want to have a Topanga town guacamole contest.

Although, there wasn’t a farmers market that day, and I was 6 hours away from my walk in fridge of produce, I found a few variety of vegetables that made me happy to work with.

I charred shishito peppers with olive oil, salt and topped it with a little truffle oil. Fried the mushrooms. Made skirt steak , shrimp with chili powder, mango salsa with orange heirloom tomatoes. Sliced watermelon radish, soaked in lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. A cabbage salad with sliced fennel, little bit of watermelon radish, lemon juice and oil. The guacamole was put together by my son, who was the best sous chef. He even cut the shrimp and the mango perfectly. We sliced some heirloom tomatoes and used torpedo onions in the guacamole, some lime juice and salt.

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My Aunt Caroline said, “green onions are healthier then regular onions”. I guess anything that’s green is healthier. She also told me that when cooking garlic, slice it and leave it out for 10-15 minutes and then cook it. For some reason, that’s how to do it when you want to keep it’s medicinal properties if you’re  cooking it. The book “Eating on the Wild Side” explains it in depth.

My Uncle Paul, seemed interested in what I was doing in the kitchen, which made me feel like I was doing something right. I didn’t know if they would like the shishito peppers, or the watermelon radish. He said they were some of his favorite things. My family knows good food.

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My Uncle Graham and Zane, talked numbers, and Zanes career plans, while my Aunt Gretchen and I talked about the importance of small farming. She said something like, “I’m old enough to have lived in a time, where it was the norm, everyone knew their farmer, and then farming became industrialized….” She has a wealth of information, and ability to clearly explain it all to me. I just said, “I wish I was recording this.”

After we ate, my Aunts and I were in the kitchen, and I told them I just learned yesterday, of a mushroom called, Laughing Mushroom, that makes people laugh uncontrollably. The night ended with my Aunt Caroline  saying, “that’s my favorite song!” While singing the Mary Poppins song, “I love to laugh”, as three ladies burst into laughter!

That’s medicine!

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We were on our way home at 10pm. I didn’t get hungry the whole ride.

Maybe the teenagers will join us next time,

if they don’t have something cooler going on. 🙂

Topanga Chili Cook Off 2016

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I didn’t enter the chili cook off in 2015, because I knew how to make chili. I didn’t have some special chili recipe, or make it very often.

One day I pureed some cooked beets with fresh tomatoes, and then cooked mushrooms and various veggies in the puree with fresh chili peppers, and it was a beautiful pink color! So when the chili cook off came around, there was a vegetarian category, I thought, “That’s a good idea to help promote my veggie business”.

I was young and enthusiastic, and really into the vegetables.

“You’re not putting kale in that are you?” my friend Sean said, who put American cheese in his chili. It made me think of all the times I had been made fun of and it encouraged me to do something better. I lost that contest. It just wasn’t a chili; it was a spicy soup.

The next year, I won second place for making a bison and beef chili topped with fresh strawberries and habanero lime whip cream. It was a chili no one could forget. The kids especially loved it.

I also bent the rules a little and used a tactic where, I kept a couple kids around by feeding them strawberries. It turned out really well for me because they helped me taste test and balance flavors. We also had loads of fun together, which was the whole point anyway. The “chili” was like a habanero, chili curry covered strawberry lollipop with fluffy sour, spicy whip cream.

That year the contest categories were confusing. Although, most people thought I would win 1st place, I was put in the traditional category, when everyone else thought I should be in the non traditional category. I was too happy to care, I was having so much fun with my community.  At the end, a judge walked up to me and brightly exclaimed, “everyone agreed, you had the best chili! the best!” I said, “but he won first place.” and pointed at Trevor. She silently walked away. It was a peculiar, and very Topanga moment.

2016

They came up with a new description for the other non – traditional category. If you were doing something strange (me again), and using different meats other then beef you were in the Champion Chili category. I was placed in the right category!

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Here’s what I used.

~Grass fed beef stewing meat and ground meat, and pasture ground pork from Harvest Gathering Farms.

~My own pork bone broth. Roasted the bones, and simmered for 3 days with curry leaves, apples, onions, coriander seeds, and maldon smoked sea salt.

~Fresh pureed heirloom tomatoes

~Artichoke hearts (thanks to the kids helping me cut fresh ones and scooping out the hearts!)

~Pomegranate Molasses

~Dark Chocolate

~Vanilla

~Cherry bomb peppers, spicy lemon peppers from Erewhon in Calabasas. Habanero peppers and chili peppers from my garden…. It was surprisingly not too spicy.

~Volcano red Wine from Volcano Winery in Hawaii

~Onions

~I topped it with butter mixed with diced crispy garlic, and lime rind.

~I sliced SunChokes really thin, cooked them through and crispy around the edges, and put those in towards the top.

~The best part was adding finger lime pulp on top, also called lime caviar. The judges loved the little lime squirts in the mouth. I got those at the Topanga Farmers Market the day before.

I believe the reason I won 1st place this year, is that I get kids to hang around, who bring in some extra magic to the pot from just being awesome. I also worked exhaustingly hard at it, and go way out of my way to source every ingredient from farmers I know. I was also placed in the right category this year!

 

Sasha, with her second place ribbon for her delicious strawberry pie!

 

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The kids happily wrote some of my ingredients on my chalkboard.

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Chili goggles.