This Blog Nominated for CAL Award

CulCol among three Colorado Authors’ League finalists in blog category.

CAL-logoI’m thrilled and honored that this blog is one of three finalists for a 2014 Colorado Authors’ League Award in the blog category. I steeped myself in Colorado’s constantly changing culinary scene while researching and writing Culinary Colorado, a food-oriented guidebook to what I considered this state’s best restaurants plus bakeries, retailers specializing in kitchen implements, farmers’ markets, wine specialty stores, cooking schools, food and wine festivals and more.

I conducted the research in 2002, and it was published in 2003. It won a 2004 Gold Award from the Society of American Travel Writers in the guidebook category, but the publisher wisely decided that remaining current would be impossible in the rapidly changing (and rapidly improving) Colorado culinary scene.

Wanting to keep writing about restaurants, wines, wineries, food, cooking, local agriculture, I launched this blog in October 2006 and named it after the book. Nearly1,650 posts are archived here, and from the beginning, it has been Colorado-oriented but not Colorado-exclusive, so I write posts about the food aspects of my travels as well.

Guidelines for Growing Your Own Veggies

Urban Farm Company helps locals plant right & harvest lots

UrbanFarm-logoIf you are a Front Range gardener planning to grow some or even all of your own produce this summer, tap into Urban Farm Company of Colorado’s wisdom. They have developed guidelines on what to plant where in your garden (including which veggies tolerate shade), reminding us that crop rotation is a beneficial practice.

Did you know, for instance, that because of Colorado’s strong UV, the company says, “We’ve found that five hours is more than enough to grow almost every vegetable that we offer. Because UV is strongest in the middle of the day, a 2-3 hours of sunlight in the middle of the day is better than 3-5 hours of light in the late afternoon or early morning. With locations that receive less than five hours of light per day, we suggest planting Low-Light Crops.”

Take a look at their visual about these crops.

low-lightUrban Farm has available blog posts about the most problems with Colorado garden soils and how to deal with them, composting, mulching, watering, garden pests, why your tomatoes aren’t turning red and more.

The company is not just dispensing free advice but is in business too. They will set up backyard gardens for maximum yield and then let home-owners take it from there to harvest their own fresh veggies all season long. Click here for pricing, or FoMoInfo, call 970-658-0667.

Westword Lists Best Food & Drink in Denver Area

Denver-based weekly picks its favorites for 2014.

Westword-logoIn previous years, I’ve conscientiously typed a list of Westword‘s annual Best of Denver selections for restaurants, bars, food carts, etc. and added links for each honoree for the blog. But the weekly’s list has gotten so long that I’m disinclined to do it yet again this year. But if you are interested, as I always am, click here and read it all for yourself.

A-Basin: Go for the Snow; Stay for the Food

High-elevation chef creates really good ski area fare.

A-Basin-logoSome friends and I recently went to Arapahoe Basin — the Colorado high-elevation ski area with the longest season and some of the most stunning views in the state. I became tired and hungry well before they did, so I said whenever the were ready, they’d find me at the Black Mountain Lodge — an on-mountain restaurant with a warm interior and a spacious deck with generous tables. I didn’t have a camera with me, so these images are not mine. But the experience was mine, and I’m happy about it.

Super views, big picnic tables and good food at A-Basin's Black Mountain Lodge. Photo: Visit Colorado via Flickr
Super views, big picnic tables and good food at A-Basin’s Black Mountain Lodge. Photo: Visit Colorado via Flickr

The menu board displays the usual selection of soups, salads, sandwiches and such, but the food itself is anything but ordinary. As I was trying to decide what to order, I watched a procession of skiers and riders carrying trays with steaming soups and chili, piled-high sandwiches, juicy burgers, fresh-looking salads and fries — robust waffle fries being the most intriguing, whether leaning in to a sandwich or on a plate by themselves. I kicked in my willpower since I’d quite skiing early and instead of those mouth-watering fries, ordered a spinach-and-more salad — and it was as crisp, fresh and carefully designed as it looked.

Without a camera, I'm posting a Black Mountain Lodge image from Flickr -- just to give you an idea.
Without a camera, I’m posting a Black Mountain Lodge image from Flickr — just to give you an idea.

When I finally got around to taking the A-Basin trail map out of my jacket pocket, I finally looked it over and noticed that Chris Ryback is A-Basin’s executive chef. I seem to remember that he was executive chef at one of the fining restaurants down the road at Keystone, Colorado’s first resorts to emphasize really good food. Now, I’ve got another good reason to ski A-Basin more often — and that’s the eating reason.

Black Mountain Lodge on Urbanspoon

Boulder Valley School Lunches Honored

Boulder makes another “top 10” list.

BVSD-logoBoulder chefs, restaurants, mixologists, sports and lifestyle are often lauded on “top 10” and “best” lists. Here’s yet another for the budding foodies in my health-conscious town. The Boulder Valley School District’s lunches have made it onto “The 10 Best School Lunches in America” on The Daily Meal, a food-oriented site, which wrote:

“In the past several years, this Colorado school district has revamped its offerings to include burgers and nachos made with hormone- and antibiotic-free beef, locally sourced bratwurst and tamales, buns from Whole Foods Market, and an international array of dishes. Scratch-made items include lasagna, Szechuan beef and broccoli stir-fry, cheesy polenta with veggies, and oven-fried chicken. Students are allowed to hit up the salad bar as much as they want (and get unlimited skim or organic 1 percent milk and fresh fruit).”

Boulder Valley School District lunch tray. Do they all look this good? Photo: Facebook/BVSD.
Boulder Valley School District lunch tray. Do they all look this good? Photo: Facebook/BVSD.

Boulder is number 10 on that list, which includes other entire districts (Seattle, Berkeley, Burlington), schools where pupils grow their own food (New Orleans’ “Edible NOLA program” in designated First Line schools, where youngsters learn to grow and harvest food, and also such prestigious private schools as Dalton, Calhoun and Sidwell, which First Daughters Malia and Sasha attend). Then there is someplace called the U B U Lounge, which (if the link is correct) seems to be more about entertainment than a school.

Vote Now for ‘Food & Wine’ People’s Choice Award

Steven Redzikowski is sole Colorado chef in the running for Southwest honors.

Steve Redzikowski. Photo: Justin Leigh.
Steve Redzikowski. Photo: Justin Leigh.

One of the highlights of the annual Food & Wine Classic at Aspen is the introduction of the magazine’s selection of the year’s 10 best new chefs from all over the country. They appear on the magazine’s cover and are spotlighted when they prepare food for the hungry, fussy attendees, and the honor gives them bragging rights for their entire careers.

The voting is now open for a people’s choice award for regional chefs. I think they have done  this before, I’m afraid I didn’t write about it. The editors’ introduction for on-line voting reads, “At F&W, we name America’s 10 most brilliant up-and-coming chefs every year. Now we want to know who you think is the most talented new chef in America.

Considering that Food & Wine magazine has sponsored this event in Aspen for a quarter of a century, you’d think they’d have found more than one Colorado chef to nominate. But the list of nominees, whom F&W calls “contenders,” for their people’s choice for Best New Chef honors in the Southwest comprises eight Texans, one Salt Lake City chef and one, just one, from Colorado. That’s Steven Redzikowski chef/partner of Boulder’s Oak at Fourteenth and Acorn, its offspring in The Source in Denver. I have no idea why not a single chef from Arizona, New Mexico or Nevada is on their list.

I’m campaigning here for “the Colorado kid.” Click here to vote. Let’s show those Texans.

Olive & Finch a Mid-Day Delight

Fab & fresh lunch offerings at Mary Nguyen’s casual Uptown eatery.

021I’ve been intending to try some of Mary Nguyen’s much-praised food since she opened Parallel Seventeen (or P17, as the sign reads). I still haven’t been there or to Street Kitchen Asian Bistro in Denver’s southern reaches. But the other day, I had lunch at Olive & FInch, an Uptown neighbor of P17, and Nguyen’s newest eatery + bakery + café + mini-market for specialty items.

After just one visit, and I understand what the acclaim for her fresh, healthy farm-to-table approach has been all about. Olive & Finch is a busy bistro — at least by day. I suspect it operates at a more relaxed pace at dinner time than in mid-day.

From the juice bar,  I started with “Just Beet It,”  a healthy and refreshing combo of juiced beets, grapes,   carrots and oranges.   Beside the tall glass is an Olive & Finch wooden block.
From the juice bar, I started with “Just Beet It,” a healthy and refreshing combo of juiced beets, grapes, carrots and oranges. Beside the tall glass is an Olive & Finch wooden block.
This is the soon-after-lunch scene at Olive & Finch. At noon, I would have had to stand on a chair to snap a photo.
This is the soon-after-lunch line at Olive & Finch. At noon, when it is much more crowded, I would have had to stand on a chair to snap a photo.

Fortunately, my friend, who had arrived well ahead of our noon lunch date, snared a table, because by the time I walked in the door, the line of people waiting both for take-out and for tables filled the little bistro’s entry area. We sat across from each other at one end of a hefty wooden table for six. Two other people occupied the other end of the table, and while we were eating, two other parties of two slipped in between us to take the two middle seats, finished eating and got up to leave. The amazing thing about Olive & Finch is that there was enough ambient noise so that we couldn’t really hear out tablemates’ conversions but we could easily hear each other. I don’t know how they do that, but it’s a nifty trick.

Loved the detail of soft cotton print napkins that were simply hemmed with a running stich.
I appreciated such touches as soft cotton print napkins that were simply hemmed with a running stitch rolled around the flatware.

Nguyen is one of the growing number of Colorado chefs and restaurateurs who walk the walk when it comes to using as much natural, organic, sustainable and locally grown/raised food as possible. And she puts those fine, fresh ingredients together into attractive and delicious dishes. I happen to like leafy greens, fresh fruit, nuts, cheeses and other wholesome dishes, but while I’m not much of a meat-eater myself, carnivores and omnivores alike have Olive & FInch’s Rueben, Cubano and Greggers in the sandwich selection.

Quinoa salad  with cranberries, honey-roasted carrots, almonds and goat cheese looks sort of like a mixed salad, because a lot of fresh arugula shows when it is presented. The citrus-herb vinaigrette tied everything together.
Quinoa salad with cranberries, honey-roasted carrots, almonds and goat cheese looks sort of like a mixed salad, because a lot of fresh arugula shows when it is presented. The citrus-herb vinaigrette tied everything together.
Mary Nguyen herself came out with the beautiful and filling Milano, a breakfast/brunch dish of hash made with potatoes, onions, Prosciutto, roasted tomatoes, spinach, mozzarella and basil pesto, served in a small iron skillet and topped with two sunnyside-up eggs and a thick slice of toasted bread. It can optionally be ordered as a breakfast burrito.
Mary Nguyen herself came out with the beautiful and filling Milano, a breakfast/brunch dish of hash made with potatoes, onions, Prosciutto, roasted tomatoes, spinach, mozzarella and basil pesto, served in a small iron skillet and topped with two sunnyside-up eggs, a couple of thick slices of toasted bread and a bit of fresh fruit. It can optionally be ordered as a breakfast burrito.
The Bennett is a veggie sandwich with eggplant, sweet peppers, onions, spinach and pesto on ciabatta, served in a paper-lined square baking pan with a pickle and chips alongside.
The Bennett is a veggie sandwich with grilled eggplant, sweet peppers, onions, spinach and pesto on ciabatta, served in a paper-lined square baking pan with a small salad, a pickle and some crunchy chips alongside.
The dessert case is filled with sweet temptations. This lemon tart, easily big enough for two to share, was topped with little puffs of whipped cream topped with lime zest.
The dessert case is filled with sweet temptations. This lemon tart, easily big enough for two to share, was topped with little puffs of whipped cream topped with lime zest.
A baker's rack hear the door features some of Olive & Finch's wonderful house-made condiments and other items.
A baker’s rack hear the door features some of Olive & Finch’s wonderful house-made condiments and other items. How about a custom gift basket for a friend?

Olive & Finch serves breakfast, lunch and early dinner. Once the weather warms up, I’ll bet the outdoor tables will be in demand. Take-out business is robust, what with a St. Joseph’s Hospital and City Park nearby. There’s also the drive-by option. Order in advance, stop at the curb and pick up your food and proceed to, say, the park or the Denver Botanic Garden.

Price Check: At breakfast and lunch, breakfast items (served with fruit), $6.50-$9.25; soups, $4 for a cup and $6 for a bowl; salads, $7-$8.50 for a half-order and $10.50-$12.50 for a full order; sandwiches (served with chips and pickle), $9.50-$11.25.

Olive & Finch on Urbanspoon

Claire Walter's Colorado-oriented but not Colorado-exclusive blog about restaurants, food and wine events, recipes and related news. For address of any restaurant, click on the Zomato icon at the end of the post.