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Illustration: Hayley Doshay

Mention the word "water" in California right now, and you're asking for heated opinions. Nearly every aspect of our thirsty lives depends on the ever-limited liquid, from the trees we grow to shade our homes to the dishwasher that runs at our favorite restaurant. The biggest use of water comes from our everyday diets.

When it comes to saving water through our food choices, there are a number of factors to consider. On a scale of human priorities, water itself demands attention along with factors such as nutrition and jobs. If we consider the absolute best use of our precious water resources, these issues should be measured together—and they often point to a diet that includes more veggies.

Read more: The Drought-Tolerant Diet: How Eating Your Veggies Positively Impacts Health, Environment & Economy



Illustration by Annie Tsou

It happens every year. I go out to the greenhouse to check on my seedlings, and in the seedling flats I find rows of tiny excavations where the seeds had been. A mouse has been in the greenhouse, digging up the seeds.

The mouse doesn't bother with the tiny seeds, like tomatoes or onions or snapdragons; she goes for the bigger seeds—squash, cucumbers and melons. Some of the hybrid melon seeds that I grow are outrageously expensive, and the mouse's humble meal costs me more than dinner for two at Chez Panisse. And so the situation demands action, and in the past that action has been to set mousetraps.

Read more: Mice in the Greenhouse



Ten large, shiny tanks stand near the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at UC Davis, holding more than a year of rainwater and the key to processing food and drink during a drought. The water tanks, and the teaching-and-research winery they support, are showing students and winemakers throughout the world how to reduce processing costs, improve wine quality and protect the planet's dwindling natural resources.

Read more: Environmental Winemaking 101: UC Davis Demonstrates Model for Sustainable, World-Class Wine


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Danna Cao, an instructor and Chinese tea expert at the Confucius Institute at UC Davis, is quick to note that tea drinking is on a big upswing in the United States. And loose-leaf Chinese tea is a big part of the trend.

"I cover all different categories of tea," she says. And while it's getting more popular in this country, she adds, tea drinking is already big everywhere else. "It is the second-most-consumed beverage worldwide, after water."

Read more: Confucian Wisdom: Tea Nourishes the Mind, Body & Soul

De Vine CoverShot


"The people I love to work with are the great storytellers: the restaurants that are having so much fun with it. They're not taking themselves too seriously, they're confident and they are making their food about beauty, texture, brightness, freshness and a celebration of market-driven ingredients."

Read more: De Vine Inspiration: Seasonal Ingredients as Cocktail Mixers


Buffalo beer

Old-meets-new: Buffalo memorabilia is on display at New Helvetia Brewing Company. The bottle opener was used as the inspiration for the shape of outdoor bike racks.

Two of Sacramento's historic beer brands are back on tap as part of a craft beer resurgence that has the city "swimming in beer again," according to food expert Darrell Corti.

"It's a new product, even though it has a historic name," Corti said. "And the beers are actually good."

Read more: Tapping into History: Ruhstaller and New Helvetia

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The 2011 James Beard Foundation Publication of the Year Award: EDIBLE COMMUNITIES PUBLICATIONS

The publications produced by the Edible Communities company are "locavores" with national appeal. They are locally grown and community based, like the foods, family farmers, growers, retailers, chefs, and food artisans they feature. The company's unique publishing model addresses the most crucial trends in food journalism; the publications are rooted in distinct culinary regions throughout the United States and Canada, celebrating local, seasonal foods with the goal of transforming the way we shop, cook, and eat. Their underlying values speak to today's spirit of shared responsibility: every person has the right to affordable, fresh, healthful food on a daily basis.

Read more: Edible Communities 2011 James Beard Award for Publication of the Year


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We make no sleight of hand—we are priests presiding not magicians—bones to broth, fat and flour to roux, onion, celery, and carrot a firm beginning to soup. And here we are again talking transformation. It doesn't matter what we claim we believe what we do here—with fire and water and heat—what we do here says everything.

— Amanda Hawkins


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From left, Chefs Peter Selaya, David LaRoche, Ed Roehr, Veronica and Marisol Hermacillo, Oliver Ridgeway, N'Gina Kavookjian, Michael Sampino, Eric Alexander, David English, and Keith Swiryn

Preparing food in a restaurant kitchen is a fast-paced, high-stress orchestration of physical movement, basic knifery, cooking and plating skills, speed, cooperation, multi-tasking and flavor ventures. And it's all under the baton of the menu's maestro, the head chef.

I talked with a sampling of top-notch chefs in the region to get their unvarnished takes on what they look for in a cook, a sous chef, and the art of flavoring dishes to an affirming "Oh, wow, that's good!"

Read more: Ask a Chef: What Makes a Great Cook?


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Ask a few dozen chefs for a list of the 10 best books on food, and the results will be quite diverse. But there is one title that will be on every list: Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen.

And if you inspect the chefs' copies, you will find them bristling with yellow sticky notes, thumb-printed and gravy-stained, with the corners of pages bent down where desperate chefs tried to understand why their mousse wasn't setting up, or why their hard-boiled eggs smelled sulfurous.

The subtitle—science and lore—indicates the two sides of the book. What you learned about cooking from your grandmother is lore. "Always beat egg whites in a copper bowl—it makes them lighter," she tells you. McGee gives us the science behind it: The copper of the bowl bonds to sulfur atoms on the proteins of the egg, preventing tight cross bonds that make the foamed whites grainy and dense.

If the idea of a science-minded book about food makes you groan with anticipated boredom, allow yourself to be corrected. McGee's prose is lucid and engaging, and even the most science-phobic reader will find the science accessible. Moreover, the subject is inherently fascinating. Not everyone cooks but all of us eat, and you can open to any page and find yourself engrossed in etymology, history, culture, anthropology and the science of food.

Read more: Review of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking