“From Rum to Roots” author Lloyd G. Francis and his family – wife Leanne, an elementary school teacher; and sons Marley, 12, and Waylon,9 — live in San Francisco. They visited Sacramento for two days last week.
“I wanted to introduce my sons to the history in their state capital,” Francis said. “And that interactive tourist map you made about hotels and kitchenettes and farmers markets made me want to shop, cook and eat in Sacramento.”
After arriving in Old Sacramento on MegaBus, the Francis family shopped for produce at a farmers market near the state Capitol. They picked up provisions at Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op. They checked into Sacramento Hostel and invited me to cook with them in the historic hostel’s newly renovated, fully-equipped kitchen.
My San Francisco visitors were impressed Sacramento’s bounty and the prices – and they’d shopped at one of Sacramento’s smallest farmers affairs, the Thursday market on the east end of Capitol Park.
“The quality and prices were amazing,” Lloyd Francis said. “I spent $25 on all this food – okra, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, plums, watermelon, peaches, big bag of pistachios. Back home? Twice as much, half as good.”
A first-generation Jamaican-American, Lloyd G. Francis traveled with his own curry powder and other island spices. Our summer supper in Sacramento was a farm-to-fork family feast, Jamaican-style.
The chicken was already marinating when I arrived Friday night. My contribution to our dinner was peach cobbler; the stone fruit came from the Francis family trip to the farmers market the day before, and the ingredients for the crust were mostly local – almonds, honey, olive oil, plus all-purpose flour, which wasn’t local but was a fitting ingredient as the Victorian house we were cooking in was built by the owner of a Sacramento flour mill.
While I focused on grinding almond meal for the cobbler crust and melting brown butter to coat the peaches, the Francis family cooked:
Lloyd made chicken curry with potatoes, okra, sweet peppers, onion, tomato, zucchini, garlic and the curry powder he buys in Jamaica.
Meanwhile, Lloyd’s sons, Marley and Waylon, shucked corn. Leanne Francis kept our kitchen clean and organized.
“The hostel’s kitchen was inspiring,” Leanne Francis said. “It’s spacious and well-organized. I felt totally inspired to cook an elaborate meal.”
We rounded out our meal with boiled corn on the cob and yellow Swiss chard sauteed in butter and garic.
We ate dinner on the hostel’s patio – a tree-shrouded, brick-paved urban oasis with a small trickling fountain. Music from a concert in Cesar Chavez Plaza 1 block away drifted across our summer supper.
At age 52, Lloyd Francis is a retired photojournalist who covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “From Rum to Roots” is his first novel. Francis will return to Sacramento in the fall to read from “From Rum to Roots,” which Kirkus Reviews calls "an emotionally charged narrative shaped by the main characters’ pasts and by Jamaican history."
“One of the other reasons I visited Sacramento with my family was to look into the I Street Press," Francis said of the Sacramento Public Library’s print-on-demand book machine.
Check out RumToRoots.com for updates.
Meanwhile, Sacramento Hostel is among a handful of Sacramento lodgings where out-of-town visitors can cook their own farm-to-fork feasts. Check out my interactive guide to hotel kitchenettes, farmers markets and local provisons at FarmToForkCapital.com.
Lloyd Francis’ Chicken Curry
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
12 chicken thighs
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
½ pound okra, chopped
4 medium potatoes, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2-3 sweet peppers, chopped
3 tomatoes, diced
1 zucchini, chopped
4 tablespoons Betapac Jamaica curry (See note)
2 teaspoons allspice
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
1 teaspoon salt
In a large bowl, combine diced onion and 2 cloves minced garlic with 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt and 2 tablespoons curry powder. Stir in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Coat chicken with mixture. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Heat 4 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet. Working in batches, brown chicken thighs and reserve the onions and remaining spice mixture in bowl. When all thighs are browned and set aside and let cool, enough so that you can cut the meat into bite-sized chunks.
Add 4 tablespoons olive oil to the pan. Add 2 tablespoons curry powder, 2 cloves minced garlic and the reserved onions and remaining spice mixture to the heated oil. Stir to combine. Cook 1 minute.
Add can of coconut milk. Add vegetables. Simmer over low heat for 1 hour.
Add tomatoes and zucchini to the stew 10 minutes before serving.
Serve over rice.
NOTE: Betapac is a brand of Jamaican curry powder. It’s available online. The chicken currry Lloyd G. Francis made from Betapac yielded a mellow curry with rich, deep flavors. Want spicy curry? Francis said Jamaicans toss in a scotch bonnet, aka habanero, pepper.
Ed Murrieta’s Peach Cobbler
FOR THE FILLING
6 to 8 yellow peaches
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup honey
1 stick butter
Slice peaches in half. Slice each half into 4 wedges. In a bowl, toss peaches with vanilla and honey. Let stand.
In a small sauce pan, melt butter over low heat. Skim off solids as butter melts. Continue cooking until butter takes on a golden-brown color. Remove from stove, pour butter over peaches and mix well.
FOR THE CRUST
½ cup almond meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup olive oil
¼ cup honey
½ teaspoon vanilla
Working in small batches, grind about 1 cup of whole almonds in a coffee grinder. Measure ½ cup of almond meal and reserve the remainder.
In a small bowl, whisk ½ cup almond meal with flour, salt and baking soda. Add olive oil honey and vanilla. Mix to form dough.
Press dough into 9-inch pie plate or 8-inch baking dish. Prick the surface of the dough several times with the tines of a fork. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Sprinkle a layer of reserved almond meal on the unbaked pie shell. Fill shell with peaches. Sprinkle remaining almond meal atop peaches, if desired.
Bake 25 minutes in a pre-heated 350-degree oven.
Remove from oven. Let cobbler cool before cutting and eating.
NOTE: If you omit the butter, this dessert is vegan. I was pleased to find Bariani olive oil sold in bulk at Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op. If you forget to buy a 2-ounce sampler of the Sacramento Valley olive oil at a farmers market, you can buy Bariani olive oil in any amount you need at the co-op. It’s right next to the local honey urn. Food geeks, chew on this: Almonds and peaches – two of the best local crops in America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital – are botanical cousins. Crack open a peach pit; the inside looks like an almond.