Tassajara Natural Meats in Carmel Valley

A meadow scene with several black cows standing on a hill with the partly cloudy sky above.

Ahhh, taking a stroll through the hills above Big Sur, watching the waves crash onto the shore and feeling the breeze on your face: this is heaven. No silly! Not for you, but for the cattle raised by Tassajara Natural Meats. They raise healthy, happy cattle, fed on the natural grasses that grow locally on the Central Coast hills and meadows. Using these traditional, natural methods is not only much more humane to the animals, but produces beef which is healthier to humans, according to many Nutritionists and Doctors. Grassfed beef has more beta-carotene, Vitamin E and Omega 3′s than commercial farm raised beef. Tassajara Meats sells their cuts of superb quality dry-aged meat at the Monterey Peninsula College Farmer’s market every week. You may contact them directly if you need large quantities or a special order. 

Tassajara Natural Meats         Website        Facebook

Thorn Street Brewery in San Diego

Several beers of differing colors on a wooden tray with Thorn St. Brewery written on the wood.

The idea behind this brewery was to bring a neighborhood feel to a pub where everybody knows everybody and you stop in for a quick drink anytime as you chat about your daily minutiae. And somebody might even listen to you! In days gone by, pubs had distinctive brews because they were all made onsite; there was no world wide quality control and generic flavors of huge conglomerates. Thank goodness for the renewed interest in craft brewing. Thorn Street Brewery makes several beer flavors to suit your needs in a variety of strengths and colors: Santos Coffee Stout, Castaway Coconut Porter, and Golden Hills Pils are just a few. Homebrew classes are offered if you feel like creating a beer of your own. Here’s a fun catch: food trucks rotate outside the tap room, so on any given night you can eat a different food. Check the calendar for the truck schedule.  So to summarize… great beer paired with unique foods and a friendly-homey atmosphere. I see zero downside. 

Thorn Street Brewery         Website       Yelp     

Zena Foods in Seaside

A smiling man in a yellow tee shirt waves in front of a banner.

Mediterranean food items made by Ahmed and Josie and sold at farmer’s markets have a loyal following. Caterers often rely on Zena foods as well so you may find these flavors while you are out and about. Artisanally made hummus in several flavors when accompanied by freshly made pita chips is a tasty, healthy alternative to the nutritional wasteland of potato chips. Many cultures from the North African Mediterranean region depend on harissa as a seasoning, while us Americans may know little about it. Made of peppers and olive oil, it can be flavorful with or without a heated kick at the end. Stir it into many foods for a peppery burst of flavor. Olives, salads, cookies and other regional foods are available. Pay a visit to the booth when you see them next and have a tester to see what you are missing. 

Zena Foods     Website      Yelp       Facebook

​McVicker Pickles in San Francisco

 Three small bowls of pickled vegetables with plastic spoons in each.

You can take the girl out of Kansas, but you can’t take the Kansas out of the girl! Kelly McVicker, said Kansas girl, learned the art of pickling from her two Grandmas, and when she came to California she found she didn’t want to leave that part of her behind. Starting McVicker Pickles in 2012, Kelly uses traditional recipes with new, modern flavor blends to make award winning pickles and mustards. She artfully makes Dilly beans, several Beets of a different color, and carrots which are great toppers for salads and  colorful side dishes on your dinner plate. Pickled grapes for martinis are a tangy-sweet edible addition to replace the basic olive. Available creations are listed on her site, and are available at Pig & Pie in the Mission District. You may also order online at GoodEggs.com. If you feel culinarily inclined, classes in pickling are offered, and are a fun and educational way to spend a few hours with friends. 

​McVicker Pickles          Website          Facebook


Valencia Creek Farms in Aptos

Close up picture of olive tree branches with ripened olives hanging from the branches.

Valencia Creek Farms makes local gourmet olive oil and other oil based products from their local orchards by local people. Once ripened to the correct level for specific flavor choices, the olives are gently hand picked to reduce bruising and enhance flavors. These healthy little orbs are then crushed in a double store mill to extract their beneficial oil. The award winning oils are stored in large vessels until it is necessary to transfer to kitchen sized bottles as it keeps a better flavor in bulk form. They always use dark green glass as light and heat are no friend to olive oil. Note to self: move olive oil to a cabinet that is not over the stove! Chocolates that incorporate olive oils instead of heavy creams are created here and have a unique taste. Olive Oil based Castile soaps give your skin moisture while cleansing, leaving you soft with delicate scents like lavendar, lemon verbena and almond. Find these products at select few local retailers, farmers markets, or download the order form, call or email. 

Valencia Creek Farms       Website      Facebook

Pensi Pasta in Marina

Numerous tubs of colorful pasta sauces on a table with samples in front.

Homemade papperdelle pasta in a rainbow of colors.

Sold only in local farmer’s markets, Pensi Pasta has gathered quite a following for pasta that puts dried grocery packages to shame.  They specialize in fresh ravioli pillows stuffed with salmon, butternut squash and more.  Fresh pasta comes in many shapes and colors. Homemade sauces to top your plate of noodles are natually full flavored and come in several varieties. Add a hearty meatball if you want! Roasted elephant garlic is pungent yet popular; olive spreads add oomph to your bread while adding healthy oils to your diet. The calendar of markets is listed online. Make it a point to stop by, visit with the friendly staff and grab some dinner. 

Pensi Pasta         Yelp         Facebook 

Cowboy Sausage and Chili Company in Marina

The logo for Cowboy Sausage and Chili company in brown tones with a smiling man.

Butch Francis, sausage “king” of Cowboy Sausage, insists on using only the highest quality, all natural pork for his products. Incorporating other unique ingredients like fennel, butterscotch and chocolate add subtle nuances to each variety. Heat levels vary to please both meek and bold diners. Be careful if you have delicate taste buds; some of the spicy ones can be pretty intense. His flavorful sausage is just the beginning to his famous chili, which tends to win lots of ribbons at local cook-offs. The links are available at farmer’s markets in take home packs, or on a bun to eat right then. You can also get your fix at a few select restaurants. Special order? No problem, you may email requests any time.

Cowboy Sausage and Chili Company      Website       Facebook

​Riley’s Jerky in Greenville

Five jars of Riley's jerky in a row with strips of each flavor on a table.

Sitting astride a tall, strong horse, a hungry rider reaches for his pouch of jerky as he takes a rest and gazes at the mountain vista. This old west vision may seem antiquated, but good jerky is still a treat that nourishes all modern cowboys with protein. It’s great for camping when refrigeration may not readily available and lasts for months if necessary. Not that it will ever be around that long once you taste it. Riley’s jerky is ALL hand cut of solid pieces of meat, not ground and re-formed into edible “meat-like” strips. Sometimes jerky can be a tough chew, but it always softens up as you take your time and gnaw away at it. Tip: This can bring quiet to bickering youngsters on a long car ride and peace to grateful parents in the front seat. Flavors include peppered, jalapeno, cajun, and more mild teriyaki, Hawaiian and original. Grab a bag at several local mountain locations, or pre-order online for your next adventure. Even if your style is aerobic tv binge watching on the couch, it’s a worthy snack. 
​Riley’s Jerky       Website          Yelp

2 English Ladies in Chico

claireandmom I saw the 2 English Ladies booth at a Mountain View Art and Wine festival. Before I compliment the curd, it was great to see around 600 booths and a nice sampling of artisan food. What first impressed me about the 2 English Ladies booth was the number of people available to chat and sell product. I understand when one person stands solo in a booth that it’s not typically affordable or logical to have 4+ folks selling. However, at this particular festival it was the group in the booth that made the difference. There were enough people standing in front of 2 English Ladies my plan was to take a peek. The tall, kind gentleman in the booth would not let me slip by and politely offered me a side conversation and taste of curd. It was delicious and he did a stellar job of sharing a little about the product and business without fanfare. I’m impressed. The curd was fabulous too, light and refreshing. 2 English Ladies in Chico make their curds fresh every week and use no preservatives or artificial additives or coloring. They personally prepare, blend, stir and cook the curd to exactly the right consistency – by hand. Curd flavors include Orange, Lemon, Lime, and Apple cinnamon.

lemon-curdI noticed bags of scone mix as well as their version of Royal Cream and shortbread. Well done mother, daughter team Pat and Claire.
royal-cream-img scone-mix

2 English Ladies website | FB

​Alvarado Street Brewery in Monterey

Two happy young men holding a tray holding four different beer samples.

Historic building in downtown Monterey California that houses the Alvarado Street Brewery.

I consider myself fortunate to live near coastal Monterey, full of history, natural beauty, and great food. Alvarado Street Brewery takes this area to the next level, making local craft brew as yet another reason to visit. These West Coast style beers come in several popular varieties including Doc Brown: a Belgian style Brown ale, Bixby Blond: a refreshing pale ale, and Grains of Wrath: a rustic farmhouse ale. There are many other brews made here; please check online or at the pub for which ones are on tap on any given day. Pair your adult liquid refreshment with items off their gourmet pub food menu which emphasizes seasonal, local, sustainable ingredients. Located in downtown Monterey’s renovated Regency Theater turned tap room, you can soak up historical ambience as you drink up some modern brews. 

​Alvarado Street Brewery         Website      Facebook