I don't know about you, but whenever I contemplated a trip to the Bay area it involved a Cost Benefit Analysis. Was the reason I was going worth the $10 in tolls, the $30 in gas, and the parking? Going to San Francisco can easily cost $50 just in the transportation! So I'm all for the new Megabus just on principle!

Megabus is a company that runs direct bus routes between major cities for a REALLY cheap fare. As low as $1! The earlier you book your seat, the cheaper it is. Book it the day of (if there are any seats left) and you could be paying a decent, but still cheap, amount.

Megabus has been running this style service mostly on the east coast. But in late December they started two routes for Sacramento. One goes to downtown San Francisco, the other to Reno. Both depart from Old Sacramento. For the first month there were special promotional coupon codes so you could go for free! That's what I used to book my trip last week.

Even though I had a free trip, I had some scheduling dilemmas and it looked like I would need to switch days. I booked another trip on a Tuesday just to cover myself. I made the booking on the Thursday before and it was still only going to be $3 each way!

The Megabus features double-decker buses. There is a restroom in the back on the lower level. I had to use it and it was a much nicer experience than Greyhound's bathrooms! 

There is also wi-fi. This I was not too happy with. It would keep kicking me off. After going on and off over and over again a few times you get frustrated and just give up. Hopefully that is not a normal occurrence. There is also supposed to be power outlets, but I couldn't find any.

The upstairs has nice skylighting windows that make it nice to look at scenery going by. The downstairs has a couple of tables should you have a group where your friend doesn't mind facing backwards.

My trip last week had me leaving at 8 a.m. and arriving in SF at about 9:40. I opted for the last bus home, leaving at 7 p.m. and that arrived back at Old Sac at about 8:40.

All in all, Megabus is a GREAT deal. I can see myself going to SF a lot more frequently now. Yay! 

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

Sacramento is often seen as a great demographic area to try out new things. New movies, new grocery stores, new restaurants. Last year we got the first Fresh Market in Northern California and now we get the first Seasons 52 restaurant in Northern California.

This Seasons 52 is located in Arden Fair Mall where the old Fresh Choice used to be. It opens Monday. The area is beautifully remodeled and looks very high class with a Frank Lloyd Wright Crafsman look to the design - lots of wood with distinct lines. There are two private dining rooms that can be combined and have all the electronics for presentations. The outdoor patio area is attractive with comfortable seating and fire pits. In the bar area there is a entertainment every night of the week with a piano player situated in the center of large surrounding bar.  (See slide show below.)

a true Chef's Table located right off the kitchen
Seasons 52 is part of the Darden family of restaurants. More familiar to most Americans are their Red Lobster and Olive Garden chains. Move at least two notches up the dining scale and you get Seasons 52

Every December there are the countless articles from publications reviewing the past year’s food trends and trying to predict the food trends for the coming year. They should be waiting until January as this is the month that the food industry descends on San Francisco for the annual Fancy Food Show at Moscone Center.

The Fancy Food Show is put on by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) and is only open to people directly involved with the food industry. The show presents thousands of food and food related items that are often the precursor to what will be seen in supermarkets or at eateries in the near future. The exhibitors are generally food manufacturers or new startup companies that are trying to get the attention of the attendees: retail purchasers, restaurants and caterers, marketers and distributors, and the press.

$30,000 worth of saffron
Often times a good percentage of booths will be manned by new food startups. Food is the number one entrepreneurial area, especially during a bad economy. For many people who can’t find a job or are tired of what they’ve been doing, creating a food brand is an attractive way to a new career. The Fancy Food Show gives these entrepreneurs an opportunity to get their product in front of thousands of potential customers. Retail giants such as WalMart, Whole Foods and even QVC are scouting the aisles for the next big thing.

An example of the road from concept to grocery shelf is a product spotted a few years ago at the show. Many cooks are familiar with old school bouillon cubes used for recipes requiring broth or stock. The next generation came in the form of jars of concentrated stock pastes. The latest incarnation, seen at the Fancy Food Show in 2011, was concentrated stock in small, pre-measured, liquid pouches. Now Campbell Soups has taken the idea and you can find Swanson Flavor Boost pouches on your grocer’s shelves.

edible sprays
One trend that showcased the food entrepreneur was creating new versions of products already commonly found at the store. If a consumer wants to avoid all the chemical ingredients found in many items such as ketchup and frostings, then there were many new brands willing to fill that niche. A Sacramento area example would be The Frosting Queens out of Folsom. They made their first appearance at the 2011 show and this year they were joined by at least four new frosting companies. Annette, one of the sister owners, said that over the last two years they’ve changed their package sizes and flavors to better appeal to the mass market and to attract the major grocery retailers. Ketchup and other condiments were also found at a few booths.

I am very proud of the wonderful assortment of food bloggers in Sacramento. We consist of a group of go-getters. Food bloggers who take their passions and create events or organizations around them. One of these people is Amber Stott, from Awake at the Whisk, who created the California Food Literacy Center only two years ago. It has grown by leaps, bounds and influence and last month Amber was even named one of Sacramento's Top 40 Under 40! Now Amber will be commenting that this post is supposed be about the California Food Literacy Center, and it is. But you can't have it without the creator and so I had to start there.

No, this post is to let you know of a way that you can make a difference in the area of food education for children in a way that won't take too much of your time, but it will make a huge difference in the lives of children and yourself. So let's start with a little background on the organization first.

The mission of the California Food Literacy Center is "To inspire change today for a healthy, sustainable tomorrow through enduring community food education." They do so by educating children on making proper food choices and helping them to learn about food and where it comes from. 

Ceviche is such an easy and healthy dish that I love to make it, especially when my grapefruit tree is in season. It's also blood orange season and that got me thinking about putting that into my ceviche. Finally, I was at the Yolo farm stand and grabbed a bulb of fennel. Would that work in a ceviche? After all, it works well with citrus.

I really didn't see any reason why it shouldn't. After all, I like some crunch to my ceviche from the red onion.

I also had this beautiful piece of Chilean sea bass form Certified Steak & Seafood. While some might argue about cutting it up into cubes when you could bake or grill it, I would argue that the better quality of fish makes a better quality of ceviche. Their lovely sea bass is vacuum sealed into 8 ounce servings. This recipe, therefore, is for one. Just multiply it out for more servings, keeping in mind that this is a recipe that calls for your own tweaking. If you like more or less of an ingredient, go ahead and adjust! 

Certified Steak & Seafood still has their coupon running until the end of February, so definitely try out this beautiful sea bass yourselves. 

Certified Steak & Seafood

If you are unfamiliar with how to segment an orange (or any citrus), then here's a video for you:

One last thing. I like jalapeno in my ceviche and so that's what you see in the photo above. But it really detracted from the flavors of this version with the fennel, so now I leave it out.

Blood Orange & Fennel Ceviche

1-2 blood oranges
1/4 cup fresh fennel bulb, chopped
1 grapefrut
1 lemon
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
8 ounces of sea bass
fennel fronds for garnish 

Begin with segmenting one of the blood oranges and chopping the fennel and onion. Scoop all into a small bowl. Juice one half of the grapefruit, the lemon, and the other blood orange. Add juice to the bowl of fennel, onion,  and orange segments.

Cut up the sea bass into 1/2 inch cubes. Add to the bowl. Toss all ingredients together. Cover and place in refrigerator for two hours.

Serve using fennel fronds as garnish.

Disclosure: This sponsorship is brought to you by Certified Steak & Seafood Company who we have partnered with for this promotion.

Comfort food. We all love it. So when I saw an opportunity to taste test some and get a gift card for doing so, I signed up.

Whole Foods Davis is conducting Food Forums to try out new foods for their deli counter and grab-n-go items. So far they have had two and there are two more this week on Wednesday (23rd) and Saturday (26th). 

I started by talking to my friend, Cyn Leo, the Store Team Leader for the Davis location. My visit was for the Food Forum, but also to drop off posters for the Sacramento Food Film Festival. Prior to Davis, Cyn had been at the Sacramento store and I had worked with her on SactoMoFo 1 and the film festival. 

Each store has it's own personality to fit in with its neighborhood. Cyn explained that she had been going by and seeing the same food every day at the deli. She wondered if the dishes really fit in well for the area and neighborhood they were in. The Food Forums are a way to let the customers help shape the menu at the store.

The Food Forums are themed differently. I was there for comfort foods, but Wednesday will be proteins, both meat and non-meat, and Saturday's is salads and sides. There are about eight sessions of 20 minutes for a group to taste and then rate the different foods. Our items were Southern fried chicken, mac n cheese, and a vegetable pot pie. After you've finished rating the items you get a $10 gift card as a thank you gift.

Yes, I wanted the best of both worlds, put together in a single, delicious bar. I combined a blondie bar with a brownie to make this layered treat. 

I did adjust my regular brownie recipe so that it would better match the consistency of the blonde layer. I normally like a gooey brownie, but the blonde layer would have been cooked long before the brunette layer. So I used only two eggs instead of my normal three. In this version I also used bittersweet chocolate and a bit less sugar.

I like crunch, so I put cacao nibs in the blonde layer and macadamia nuts in the brunette layer.

Verdict: The guys at my meeting last night seemed to enjoy them! I think they came out great!

Blonde Recipe

1/3 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, beaten
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt. 
cacao nibs (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9x9 pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper and spraying/greasing the sides and paper with oil.
In a small bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside. In a small pan or bowl, melt the butter. Mix in the brown sugar and add vanilla. After the mixture has cooled, mix in the beaten egg. Mix the wet mixture into the dry ingredients. Add optional cacao nibs. Press mixture into the bottom of the 9x9 pan and set aside.

Brownie Recipe

5 ounces of bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspon vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of flour
1/3 cup of chopped nuts of your choice (optional)

Place butter and chocolate in a microwave bowl and microwave for 1 minute on high. Stir. Add an additional minute if needed to fully melt the chocolate. Mix thoroughly and set aside to cool. When room temperature, add vanilla and beaten eggs and blend together. Add sugar and mix thoroughly before adding flour and optional nuts. Mix to incorporate. 

Pour the brownie batter over the blonde batter and spread evenly. Bake in oven for 30 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.

A couple of weeks ago when I did my truck update, I didn't catch up with Andrew from Drewski's Hot Rod Kitchen. I got a chance to talk to him yesterday and he gave me a couple of updates.

Drew had been talking about buying a second truck for the last year. He's finally found one, bought it and says it should be ready in about 6-8 weeks. When I asked him if it would be the same menu or a new concept, Drew said he didn't know yet.

He also told me that he's opening a deli location out in Folsom. It's going to be off Iron Point Road in a business park. So you folk on the eastern end of town can finally get a Drewski fix.

Speaking of Folsom, many often ask why they don't get any of the trucks coming their way. The reason is that the City of Folsom has a truck permit that costs as much as Sacramento County's. Most trucks balk. Why pay the same amount to a city that they pay for a whole county? But it is possible to get a day permit for $25. So if you are interested in having trucks for an event, they are always willing to talk about it.

Mayahuel Tequila Museo on Urbanspoon

For most part, January is not a big dining month in the restaurant world. The holidays are done and people are starting their resolution diets. Not so in Sacramento. We have Dine Downtown, which runs the 9th through the 18th, and the it is followed almost immediately by Baconfest, running the 20th through 27th. We are in a good month for eats!

I've been lucky to be asked each year to preview a Dine Downtown restaurant. Sponsored by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership to boost January dining, restaurants put together a 3-4 course meal for the prix fixe price of $30. This year 29 restaurants are participating. 

I usually ask to try a place that I haven't been to before. This year I asked for Mayahuel. My first experience with Mayahuel was when I had some samples at the Christian Brothers fundraiser last summer. They had my favorite bite (or sip) of the event - a chile poblano soup. It was so fantastic that I knew I had to go to the restaurant. I did a few weeks later to get that soup! I sat at the bar and ordered a cup of soup and the appetizer combo. But I still hadn't had dinner. 

I didn't become an American until about 20 years ago. I'm Canadian born and used that as an excuse for many years to ignore politics. This is explains why I tend to be a bit naive on the political process. Back in August things had looked rather rosy for the food trucks. We were going to go to the Sacramento City Council and hopefully have a few changed ordinances for the fall. These hopes were all reflected in a post back in August. You've probably noticed I've been pretty silent since then on food truck stuff. Oh, I had a post at the end of September about the proposed food truck pod, and then nothing. I was silent for several reasons but figure that as we move into 2013, it's time to do a little catch up. Thing is, this food truck stuff is ever changing.


Back in August I was happy because we had come to some compromises with the City and restaurant owners so that trucks would be able to operate downtown for longer than the 30 minute limit we currently have. Then we took our compromise agreement to the City's Law & Legislation Committee in September and that's where it stopped. 

Food trucks are primarily covered under State vehicle code. The only laws that local governments can make regarding food trucks have to do with health and safety. That means they are not supposed to make laws that tell the trucks where they can park and for how long. This doesn't make restaurants happy as they want laws that keep them far away and keep them from parking for long durations. Such ordinances in other cities have been taken to court by food truck advocacy groups and the cities have lost. 

We in Sacramento had worked hard to find a suitable compromise. The Sacramento trucks were willing to abide by some ordinances as long as they were fair. Problem is, there are others in the State and the nation who don't want Sacramento to compromise. After all, we are the State capitol and for us to compromise sets a bad precedent for other cities.