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Press  August 21, 2008: Ventura County Star    
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Slow Food LA treks the Southland in search of and creating delectables

By Eva Smythe
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Reprinted with permission of member Timmie High

Photos by Rob Varela / Star staff From left, Cameron Hughes of Pasadena, Anne Vicari of Simi Valley, Trish Bohan of Culver City, Maxine Pollack of Encino and Timmie High of Oak Park swap jellies.


Rob Varela / Star staff Trish Bohan of Culver City samples Cameron Hughes' fig cherry jam during a Jelly Swap in Simi Valley. Members of Slow Food LA say food is the only thing.

They came. They saw. They ate.

To Slow Food LA, a group of devout souls dedicated to the science of gastronomy, food isn't everything — it's the only thing.

Once a month they gather at different locations in and around Los Angeles — including Ventura County — for various food-themed events. In July it was their much-anticipated Jelly Swap, a showcase of jams, jellies, preserves and chutneys.

They exchanged recipes, sampled new creations and just generally celebrated life. It was sweet, it was delectable, and it was free.

The group takes life at a slow-cooker pace, savoring food in all its tastes, textures and subtleties, discovering new ways to prepare and share food with family and friends, and luxuriating in the richness of nature's bounty.

So it was that, on a recent Saturday, they came from across the Los Angeles Basin to the Simi Valley home of Anne Vicari, each happily answering the call to bring four samples of their wares for swapping and tasting.

They shared a certain social consciousness, including a passion for shopping at local farmers markets and supporting local produce merchants.

Cameron Hughes, a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, came with a supply of cherry fig jam.

Something of a latecomer to the craft, Hughes said he took up the culinary arts upon completing his undergraduate studies at UC Santa Barbara. He adjusted his diet and began looking for ways to "make food taste better." So he started experimenting and has become a celebrity of sorts on campus for his weekend dessert fest that runs the gamut from pies to cookies and cakes.

Although baking seems far removed from physics and the rest of his academic agenda, Hughes enjoys the freedom cooking and baking provide.

"Cooking offers an artistic element," he said. "It's so different than what I do during the week."

The 27-year-old student also enjoys the camaraderie that cooking affords. "It's good to meet people who love to do what I do," he said.

Mom's Pickles — I Think'

Simi Valley residents Vicari and Bridget Baskin, co-hostesses of the event, have been friends for some time, and Slow Food LA has provided an outlet for their culinary talents.

The duo collaborated on a peach chutney that offered an exotic blend of peaches, garlic, shallots, sugar, brandy, cider vinegar and a jalapeño pepper.

Baskin's spoon cake, made from three kinds of berries, and Vicari's ricotta and honey ice cream, apparently were so delightful that no one stopped to ask about calories or carbohydrates.

Baskin's mother-in-law, Timmie High, from Oak Park brought jars of "Mom's Pickles, I Think," which offered an interesting twist on dill pickles.

This was High's third event, and she enjoyed listening to the tales her fellow culinary enthusiasts shared.

Last year, she said, she planted vegetables in her rented 10-by-20-foot parcel at Oak Park Community Garden. Her organic yield included a bumper crop of tomatoes.

"It's the great joy of gardening," she said.

Wendell Mazer Doell of Hollywood Hills came to support the cause and spend time with her friend Vicari.

Doell said she enjoys cooking and has been concentrating on jams for the past five years. Based on her peers' reactions, her imaginative pluot jam provided just the right amount of sweetness.

Then there was Trish Bohan, a customer service manager for an internet company and part-time private chef, who has become one of the faithful — looking to uncover uncommon recipes and meet people who share her passion for cooking.

Bohan, who hails from Dublin, Ireland, has been in the U.S. for nearly 13 years and occasionally shares some of her family recipes.

She recently experimented with a recipe to develop a version of her parents' raspberry jam. She also has been toying with various Indian chutney concoctions with their exotic mix of sweet and spice that are best enjoyed weeks after preparation, which allows the flavors to blend thoroughly.

Her apricot chutney with Nigella seeds was an unofficial favorite, a complex mingling of flavors with a sweet and spicy overlay.

Indeed, this was a time for communing with soul mates, culinary free spirits.

For those who want to share the gastronomical adventure, visit the group's Web site at http://www.slowfoodla.com.

Here's a taste of what was served up in Simi:

Trish Bohan's Peach, Cherry and Ginger Chutney

1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 ounces jaggery
2 bay leaves
5-6 whole cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 cups water
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and julienned
1 pound dried white peaches, cut into 1/4-inch strips
4 ounces dried cherries

In a nonreactive medium saucepan, bring vinegar, sugar, jaggery, bay leaves, cloves, cayenne, turmeric and water to a boil. Cook over medium heat until a light syrup forms, about 8-10 minutes. Add ginger and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Add peaches and cherries and cook, covered, over low heat until the fruit softens and absorbs the flavors, about 25-30 minutes.

If chutney becomes too thick, add no more than 1/4 cup of water at a time. The chutney should resemble a thick preserve.

Remove bay leaves, cool, and pour into clean jars.

Makes 3 1/4 cups.