From frosty beer & NY pie to organic salad – Santa Barbara, a town of contrasts…

Many places on this beautiful planet are well-known for a particular culinary style. Whether this descends from the people who live there now or the historical & geographical references of a specific locale, there’s often one dish or type of food that you can be guaranteed to find. So far on the trip we’ve had amazing re-inventions of classic dishes in Seattle, street food to mow down your own best friend to get to in Portland and a burrito that was a credit to it’s south-of-the-border roots in San Francisco.

Now here’s the thing about Santa Barbara…after 24 hours in this college-student-come-eye-wateringly-rich-residents town, I have no idea what it’s traditional or local food is because, frankly, you can get whatever you want, pretty much whenever you want it. That’s true of lots of places you might say and yes, to a point it is, but even in places like London, New York & Paris where the food offerings are diverse, there is also something in each place to call a culinary trademark. Here in this pretty Spanish Colonial styled town, we dined twice, we dined well and we dined in two places that could not be more varied in their menu, their environment and their specialties.

Let’s start with the one we all have a craving for now and then…pizza. I’m not talking one you pop in the oven on a Friday night and watch hungrily through the glass fronted doors as cheese bubbles & makes a break for freedom over the side of your baking tray. I’m not even talking the really naughty one that you order from Papa John’s when nothing but a hot, crispy, doughy, cheese smothered disc of deliciousness will do. I’m talking New York style pizza – a vast expanse of thin crust (unlike its chubby Chicago cousin) which is coated with the ripest, sweetest tomato sauce and smothered with creamy mozzarella. I’m talking Uncle Rocco’s NY Pizzeria on State St.

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Down & dirty & utterly delicious donuts for grown-ups…

Well hello lovely blog browsers! The warmest of welcomes back to Portland where I’m afraid we need to get right down to business and that business is donuts. Donuts that, frankly, are not for kids.

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See? Told you.

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A cake to please your soul…and your skinny jeans…

When the cast of ‘Oliver’ exalted their love of food, glorious food and longed with waifish eyes for indigestion, I think the foodie inside us all agreed with them. Not about needing the Pepto Bismol perhaps but about the sentiments that food can trigger; the boys’ hot sausage and mustard might take you to a warm and cosy autumnal fireplace supper as the rain lashes down outside while cold jelly and custard may transport you back to your youth and Sunday lunch at your nan’s house.

And cake? Well it may not have been sung about by roguish scamps armed with a cheeky Cockney twang and a light fingered touch, but cake is responsible for triggering a multitude of sentiments. Often presented to mark a celebration or special occasion, cake is definite treat food. Think about it – most other foods have some health benefits. I mean you can even tout anti-oxidants as the reason behind your clinging onto a glass of Pinot Noir and a bar of 70% Green & Blacks if you feel the need but cake? Hard to justify the physical well-being that comes from a marriage of butter, sugar, eggs and flour.

Good thing then that we really don’t care! That’s right, we don’t even try to justify it because – just to clarify – we don’t care! Cake is good for the soul. It’s good for the spirit. It makes you happy be it dark, rich and fudgy chocolate layers, tangy, bright and crunchy-topped lemon muffins or a glossily iced and whiskey-scented fruit loaf and here’s a new one for the repertoire – a damply more-ish lemon blueberry yoghurt cake.

I promise I’m not going against everything I’ve just said and deliberately trying to be healthy here by hiding fruit in the batter – I’m just branching out with my baking tins, spatulas and whisk.

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