We all scream for Shuffle's

Hands down, ice cream is my favorite dessert. And Shuffles's Magical Ice Cream Shoppe is one of my favorite places to grab a scoop of ice cream in Santa Rosa.

Shuffle's Ice Cream in Santa Rosa store sandwich boardIf you're walking in for the first time, there is a chance you might not know what to make of it. Part ice cream parlor, part entertainment venue, and part magic shop, Shuffles Ice Cream in Santa Rosa really has it all. On the wall to the right are cases and displays with instruments of magic. Once you walk past some old-school video games and pinball machines, you'll see the sparkling glass ice cream counter. Behind that, a rich purple velvet curtain, covering a stage.

Shuffle's Ice Cream magic suppliesIf it is slow, the counter clerk might do a few magic tricks for you. Some of the staff come to Shuffles's already active in magic, others pick it up from the surroundings. The first time we came in, the owner, JP, showed us some tricks. Over a year later, I'm still confused by how, exactly, he turned one ball in my husband's hand into three - without touching. I just don't get it!

Shuffle's Ice Cream in Santa Rosa flavorsI may not get magic, but I'm well versed in high-quality and delicious ice cream. And JP is a master. He makes everything fresh in-house. When one batch of a flavor is gone, he makes another, often trying new concoctions. At our most recent visit, the selection included standards like strawberry, but also fun flavors like chai, green tea, apple pie, sweet potato, and eggnog. The young magician helping us said his favorite was blueberry cheesecake, but the most popular flavor is grasshopper, made from chocolate mint ice cream with chocolate oreo cookies.

Shuffle's Ice Cream in Santa Rosa chocolate on a spoonShuffles's provides traditional ice cream fare: floats, sundaes, malts, and of course, multiple sizes of scoops, which are some of the most affordable in the county. After sampling several flavors, (using tiny real metal spoons! No plastic crap here!) I decided on a half scoop of sweet potato and a half scoop of apple pie. Both had an underlying flavor of brown sugar that was delicious as they combined in my glass ice cream bowl. My husband's choice was less adventurous, but equally as delicious: double chocolate fudge and strawberry.

Shuffle's Ice Cream in Santa Rosa, empty dishesWe have yet to make it to one of their magic shows (Friday nights at 8:00, $5/ Kids Show Saturdays at 10:30am, $10 w/ice cream), but hope to make it to the improv comedy night this coming weekend.

Make sure to follow them on Facebook for event and the latest ice cream news:https://www.facebook.com/shufflesicecream


What's Nut To Love About Free?

It's time to channel your inner squirrel, as fall in Santa Rosa signals walnut foraging season.

I live on the cusp of one of the historical districts in Santa Rosa, the West End, and its streets are lined with huge walnut trees. I love walnut trees because they are pretty, but mostly because I love walnuts. I frequently use them chopped into a salad or pasta, or paired with apricots, goat cheese, honey and thyme for an amazing hors d’oeuvre. Every fall, I make sure to wander the neighborhood with a bag and forage for the fallen nuts. What's not to like about free, nutritious and hyper-local food?

IMG_1161Likely planted in the early 1900's as shade trees, walnut trees are a prominent feature in historic neighborhoods. They can be messy, though, when it’s time to drop their fruit. If you don’t know how to identify a walnut tree, just look down – the sidewalk below will be littered with both old shells and new fruit.

IMG_1081There are two types of walnuts you'll find when foraging in Santa Rosa: English and Black. Both nuts come in velvety green husks, which split open as they become ripe. Often the nut will fall from the fruit, and you can gather up the whole shells, or sometimes the husk and the nut will fall to the ground together.

English Walnut

English walnuts are the variety most commonly found in a store. These trees can be identified by 5-7 wide oval leaflets, and smooth grey bark. The nuts are relatively easy to crack open with a hammer or a nut cracker, and will split open to reveal 2 halves of walnut-meat.  Black Walnuts can be identified by deeply grooved dark, almost black bark. Its leaves have 15-20 narrow leaflets. The nuts are smaller and more round, and ridiculously hard to crack open. The shell grows intertwined with the fruit, making it very difficult to remove the nut meat. Black Walnuts have a stronger flavor and some say they have a higher nutrient level than the English variety and they are also the preferred walnut for natural dyes.

Black Walnut

Because Black Walnuts present such challenges, English Walnuts are the preferred nut for culinary use.  Locate a tree based off its leaves, not tree bark. Almost always, English Walnuts have been grafted onto Black Walnut rootstock. The English variety produces a more desirable fruit, but they are more susceptible to Walnut Blight and have a weaker root system and so have been grafted in most cases on the native, more resilient Black variety. Depending on how well the tree is maintained, you often find Black Walnut branches come from below the graft.

IMG_1150When foraging, just walk around town and collect off the sidewalk and the gutter. Going after a windy day is the most productive. Don't forage on private property or go into people's yards, but don’t be afraid to knock on their door and ask if you can collect the nuts. Black walnuts can also be found along the creeks and in many of our parks.

Happy foraging!IMG_1164

The Pure Food Movement Arrives


tower2Last week was once again the glorious time of year where our county fair grounds are filled with piles of squash, long haired sheep, and weird shaped tomatoes.

People from all over come to gaze at the wonders that the National Heirloom Exposition has to offer, and to hear leaders in the sustainable food industry speak. Unlike any other fair you’ve been too, this “World’s Pure Foods Fair” is a celebration of heirloom produce and livestock, and I make sure to attend every year.

theifmakingThis year was hot, but the 100-degrees didn’t keep thousands of people away from this not-for-profit event. I started my day off with checking out the heirloom animals. I loved learning about the American Guinea Hogs, and how they were once a staple on the homestead to keep a safe zone around the house free from snakes. Now, they are critically rare, like many heirloom animals.

IMG_0448The Sebastopol Goose, with its fancy backwards feathers, made me wonder about what evolutionary benefit that feature gave it, other than obviously always being appropriately dressed for a wedding.

IMG_0461Always a favorite, the Hall of Flowers is transformed into rows and rows of produce displays, with the giant squash and gourd tower looming in the middle. As I wandered between the tables looking at all the different colors, shapes, textures and sizes of tomatoes, melons and squash, I am always overwhelmed at just how many different varieties there are. This year, I was really inspire by the Blue Gold Berries cherry tomatoes and the Galeux D’Eysines pumpkin, and hope to grow them in my homestead garden next year.

tacosAfter sampling about 8 different types of watermelons, and hearing Toby Hemingway’s inspiring talk on building community with urban permaculture principles, I wandered though the food vendors. There are no fried oreos or the like at this fair, only local or organic vendors who take pride in their products. After picking up a wood fired pizza or a pork belly taco, fair goers sat in the shade and listened to bluegrass music while discussing all the amazing things they were inspired by.

IMG_0473New this year was the fair’s dahlia show. It was literally impossible for me to pick out my favorite, but the bright red and curvy “Ms. Scarlett” is certainly close. I left the hall overwhelmed by all the beauty and wanted to plant every single variety in my garden!

cinnamonMy last stop was the vendor hall, where I wandered around tasting chocolates, perusing books, and talking with heirloom seed vendors. I bought a mint colored coffee mug from a ceramicist visiting from New Mexico, and we chatted about the other heirloom festival that Baker Creek Seed Co. puts on in the Spring in Missouri. I also couldn’t resist bringing home 6 saffron crocus bulbs- after all, they don’t need summer water! After a delightful conversation with a seed collector from Guatemala about amaranth, I headed home full of inspiration!

To make sure you don't miss next year's Exposition, follow the fair on Facebook: facebook.com/HeirloomExpo
Or visit the website: theheirloomexpo.com/

Berry Me At Farmer Lao's Fruit Stand

If there was ever a cult following for a Sonoma County food, it may just be the strawberries grown by Farmer Lao.

IMG_8092And rightfully so. These berries are amazing. Always perfectly ripe, refreshing and juicy, they will fill your kitchen (or car on the way home) with the sweet, fruity smell you can only experience with high quality produce that was picked at its peak.
If you've driven West on Highway 12, you've seen the stand. Its an unassuming white plywood structure in a dirt lot, just outside of the city limits. When it opens for the season depends on the berries, and the hours are more or less inconsistent. But while it's open, you'll likely see a line of people and a lot full of cars. A few years ago, a facebook group started, allowing Farm Loa strawberry devotees to crowdsource if the stand is open. You can often find cherries and stone fruits available as well, which Loa brings from his brother-in-law's farm in Lodi.
IMG_8094Now is the perfect time to stock up the freezer and get your preserves made. The berries are plentiful and perfect. As the season continues, he gets so busy and berries often get rationed, allowing only one basket a person. At only $3 a basket, they are a perfect snack to bring home. My favorite way to eat them is sliced and tossed with just a drizzle of honey for a divine and simple dessert, or topped on toast with fresh ricotta cheese.
These berries are a cry away from stiff and cardboard-like ones you can get at the supermarket. And forget about the pesticide-loaded ones sold on street corners! Even the beautiful berries found at the local markets don't seem to be quite as amazing.
I have yet to figure out exactly what the secret is. While not certified organic, Farmer Lao says he doesn't use pesticides. Perhaps his fruit is so great because he treats the plants with respect. Maybe it is a special variety he's developed for just himself. It could be they are picked at the perfect moment. Regardless of his methods, I'm glad Farmer Loa is here to share them with us!