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From 405 Magazine: The colorful spirit of Oaxaca and the magic of mezcal

From second-story balconies, families watch and wave as I step into the Oaxaca night – A frenzied parade of colorful skirts, twirling giants and brassy horns fill through narrow cobblestone streets. Wherever such a kaleidoscopic parade goes, an exponentially larger fiesta will begin. To read more from this story, click from 405 Magazine HERE.Jimedor

costa rica, hot springs, tabacon, costa rican vacations, NAMU, tourism, travel, wildlife, waterfalls, arenal, volcanoes, national park, volcanoes national park

From 405 Magazine: Tabacon Hot Springs, Best hot springs resort in Costa Rica

Tabacon, tabacon resort, tabacon hot springs, hot springs, costa rica, arenal,volcano, vacation, costa rican vacations

howler monkey outside Tabacon Hot Springs

Tabacon Thermal Hot Springs and Resort, at the base of the Arenal Volcano and Arenal National Park is one of the most beautiful and unique resorts in the world. The best thing to do when you are at Tabacon? Take a walk. Read about it here in my most recent article from 405 Magazine! Tabacon, Hot Springs and Resort, Costa Rica

Hot Springs at Tabacon, Costa Rica

Hot Springs at Tabacon, Costa Rica

Smash the Opossum: Life on the Farm, Night One

“Just smash it over the head…” reasoned my fiancé Meg as I stood over the writhing, miserable outline of an opossum wheezing under a trash bag. “Hurry!”

My gaze shifted from the opossum outline over to our dog Jasper, who watched curiously at a distance, his tail wagging madly with the tiniest hint of blood dabbed on the corner of his triumphant snout. Only an hour ago, I had made it to our new home on a farm just outside of Edmond, Oklahoma and already, I was seconds from my first mercy kill.

Smash the Opossum

Smash the Opossum

 

After fifteen years living in the competitive chaos of Los Angeles, life on a farm sounded wildly appealing. Each morning, I imagined waking up and sitting down to write. I’d look out over the bucolic rolling hills toward the little fishing hole where bass leaped after dragonflies. The dogs would play in the front yard and cardinals and chickadees would gather at the strategically placed bird feeders.  Perhaps a solitary deer might wander across my periphery, offering friendly wink and a smile as inspiration poured out from my soul and onto the page. Meg would bake pies while studying for her Masters and at sunrise each morning, we’d hop on our respective steeds and ride from pasture to pasture as bluebirds dipped and weaved to the cadence of Morning Mood.

In Los Angeles, we had lived in a tiny house on a busy street. Our landlord, a high strung, but cheerful man named Massoud who managed always to have at least one visible booger and never stopped wearing gloves, lived in a shed in the backyard with his friendly but terrifying pit bull Bo-bo. While Bo-bo was nice to humans, Bobo was rather territorial so our dogs, for the two years we lived in that house, were left with a tiny piece of fenced front yard to call their own. A great space for a Chihuahua but a far cry from enough space for a German Shepherd and Jasper the little brown dog to have any kind of life. Now though, life on the farm would not only be better for Meg and I but better for the dogs as well.

The night of our arrival to Oklahoma was enchanting. A skunk skittered away as we pulled into the long driveway for the first time and as we stepped outside the car after a fifteen hundred mile drive, the silence felt as infinite as the millions of stars twinkling overhead. While our house, spare a bed and a table, was completely empty, there was an undeniable magic about returning home with a woman you love after fifteen years of delaying adulthood in sunny southern California under the guise of chasing your dreams.

Once unloaded, we moved to the back porch to take in the night and celebrate the arrival to our new life. Sandy the German Shepherd disappeared to the fence line and Jasper found himself drawn to the woodpile.  Meg got up to go to the restroom and for a moment, I sat on the porch to consider how enormously my life, in the last few months had changed. I’d walked away from Hollywood and a city I’d called home for fifteen years. I’d traded in an ocean for horse pastures and for the first time in many years, had no idea what was going to happen in my life, but more so, for the first time in many years, I felt at peace. Life on a farm was going to be good.

Jasper and the woodpile

Jasper and the woodpile

For only a moment, I basked in this new sense of well being, when from behind the woodpile, was a horrific blend of bark, scuffle, a hiss and a half dozen thuds. I rushed around the corner to find Jasper the little brown dog now standing proudly over a not quite dead, rasping opossum. The fiendish looking critter’s beady eyes went from Jasper to me, back and forth as blood dripped from its fanged mouth, wheezing like a tea kettle. I pulled the dog back from the demon opossum. I did the only thing I knew to do…

“MEG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

She didn’t answer and now Jasper was lunging forward to play with his new and dying best friend.

“Meg!!!!!!!!!!!” I screamed again.

Meg came running out from the bathroom as I wrestled Jasper back into the house.  “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Jasper just tried to kill an opossum,” I said wide-eyed.

 

We stood over the opossum for a couple of minutes, dumbstruck. “Maybe it will just crawl away,” I reasoned as the opossum sputtered.

Meg examined the critter as it slowly inhaled and exhaled. “It’s in pain,” she said in a manner both clinical and compassionate. Now Jasper watched, tail wagging, from the living room window and Sandy licked her chops.

“I mean, they don’t call it playing ‘opossum’ for nothing,” I said hoping the situation would just end and I could go back to imagining bluebirds and sunrises. “Its probably fine. We should just leave it.”

 

Meg shook her head. “You have to kill it,” she said.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Me?!?”

“Yes!”

“It’s going to die anyway!” I protested.

“But it is in pain,” she said now close to tears.

“Then you kill it!”

“No. You have to do these kinds of things.”

Another angry opossum

Another angry opossum

“I don’t kill things!”

She looked at me with grave concern. “It is the best for the opossum.”

“It’s not the best for me!” I said, thinking of the guilt I’d felt with the coot and the mockingbird. “How am I supposed to kill it anyway? It’s not like we have a gun.” Meg’s eye wandered to the woodpile the opossum once called home. I knew exactly what she was thinking.

“Please no.”

The log felt off balance in my hand as I stood above the opossum, now mercifully covered by a trash bag.  I try talk myself through it. “I wanted to live on a farm, so now I live on a farm… I’m a man, after all and I’m doing this thing a favor. Plus, opossums aren’t cute. They are devil things!”

“Make sure you hit it on the head,” Meg said, interrupting my internal pep talk. “Hard.”

“This was supposed to be a romantic, special night, you know!” I said, annoyed.

“Hard!” she reiterated.

“I know!” I said, trying to stay calm. “I got this.”

“It is for the good of the opossum,” she said.

“It’s for the good of the opossum!”

And with that, I lifted the log mightily above my head, said a small “opossum prayer” and brought down the mighty log with authority.

The once passive, feeble opossum fired to life. It hissed, casting us an evil glance and sprinted away from us as quickly as dying opossum could. While I had brought the log down with thunder, I had missed the opossum almost entirely, hitting it just enough to piss it off and send it running for safety.

“What did you do?” Meg screamed at me.

“I hit it over the head with a log!”

“You barely even dropped the log!” she fired back as the opossum moved toward the fence.

“I tried!”

The opossum took off into the black void of the yard as my heart raced.

“I Did the best I could,” I stated weakly.

“You barely hit its tail!”

“At least I hit it!”

“You were supposed to smash it until it was dead!”

Smash it!?!?! Like more than once?”

“Yes! Repeatedly! Until it is dead!”

Meg picked up the trash bag and took off toward the opossum now hiding in the corner of the yard.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to take care of this,” she boldly said leaving me standing there trembling like the soft city boy I had always been.

“Do you want the log?” I asked.

Thirty minutes later, we walked to the edge of the woods, the opossum now squirming wildly in the trash bag. With a few sticks, a lot of swear words and some frayed nerves, we had managed to scoop the thing up into the trash bag and decided that instead of clubbing it repeatedly over the head, that perhaps it would be better to set it free into the woods. It had been wounded but neither of us were vets. Perhaps, in a couple of days, the opossum would recover and tell his friends about the time he outsmarted a dog and a dumbass with a log. That was, at least, what I would tell myself.

The Opossum sunrise

The Opossum sunrise

As the opossum’s bustling through the woods finally settled, we stood there for a moment staring into the darkness of the forest. With a two-day drive across the country my life had changed forever. Morning would come in a few short hours and I would wake up to the quiet and calm of the country, my childhood home only twenty-five miles away. A life I’d known for fifteen years a million miles away. The lights from our new house glowed behind us. I was far from a country boy but I was now, I was certainly in the country.

“We need to get a gun,” I said finally.

“A gun?” Meg asked incredulous.

“You know, in case something like that happens again.”

“You don’t know how to shoot a gun,” Meg fired back.

“I’ve shot a pellet gun before.”

Meg turned toward the house and began to walk.

“I killed a mockingbird… And once I killed a coot with a golf ball.”

When we got back to the house, the dogs were thrilled to see us. It was like we’d been gone a lifetime. The house was empty but already we’d piled on a memory. The empty house was becoming a home. It is amazing how quickly it happens. I stepped outside and once again, the yard was quiet.  Life was certainly different now. In the sky, a million stars. Meg came out beside me.

“You wouldn’t have smashed that thing either, you know,” I said, searching for some kind of validation.

“Of course not,” Meg said. “That’s why I have you.”  While I had failed to kill the opossum, something about her faith put me at ease for my shortcoming.

“You think it is going to be okay?” I asked.

“It’s all gonna be good,” she said. “Let’s go to bed.”

Oaxaca, Mexico, El Silencio, and the spell of mezcal

Shortly after 8pm, in an amiable haze, I leave the first of many Mezcalerias I will visit over the next three days and step out into the dry air of colonial downtown Oaxaca, Mexico. Immediately, I am swept into a percussive, frenzied parade of colorful spinning skirts, twirling giants, and brassy horns playing traditional Mexican music through Oaxaca’s narrow cobblestone streets. Caught in the spirit of mezcal and all things Oaxaca, I join the candlelit procession of reds, yellows and greens, having faith that wherever such a kaleidoscopic parade ends, an exponentially larger fiesta shall begin….

Oaxacan parade

Oaxacan parade

From small second story balconies, families watch and wave. At every intersection, more Oaxacans join us. The Latin-infused melody of spritely horns and buoyant tubas repeats, growing louder and drums beat with greater intensity as we make our way toward the town square. There, in front of La Iglesia De Santa Domingo, we will join with other celebratory processions from other parts of town in one massive mezcal-infused celebration that can only be described as Oaxacan.

Famous not only for mezcal but for its cuisine, the state of Oaxaca itself, is an underrated cultural Mexican destination. Famed for Oaxacan cheese, complex moles and seasoned grasshoppers, Oaxaca is one of the world’s best-kept culinary secrets. Oaxaca City, located in the state of Oaxaca, is a day’s drive through agave-covered mountains to the beach.

La Mezcaloteca, Oaxaca

La Mezcaloteca, Oaxaca

crickets and worms

crickets and worms

Lining the perimeter of the square, under a full moon, vendors hawk fruit juices and balloons. Elderly women sell tamales, an exotic variety of worms and grasshoppers while the men cook arrachera (skirt steak), over an open flame, chopping the meat and filling tacos and tortas until late into the night. While it is easy to fear gastro-intestinal problems, my greater fear is missing out on some of Oaxaca’s finest street foods, so I eat and then it is time for more mezcal.

Mezcal, known for its soulful properties, is an ancient agave-based spirit, exclusive to the state of Oaxaca. Unlike its cousin Tequila, also an agave-based liquor made only by one type of agave, Mezcal is strictly artisanal. Mezcal is made from more than 30 different kinds of agave, and is always locally grown and distilled by fire, hand and horse. Mezcal’s passionate, leathery, uplifting flavor is subject to change based on how it is cooked and what agave is harvested. No matter the method of preparation, Oaxacan mezcal is as enchanting as it is ever-present throughout the Mexican state.

carne asada

carne asada

Mezcalerias, like La Mezcaloteca, are small local family owned bars that can be found throughout Oaxaca. These intimate Mezcalerias have limited seating; serve only, and I mean only, mezcal and the bartenders are extremely well versed in the roots of their particular brand. While La Mezcaloteca and the rest of the Mezcalerias are inviting, given the artisanal nature of the spirit, if I want to truly grasp the spirit, I’ve got to curb my consumption for the evening and then extend my visit outside the city limits into the high Sierra Mountains to the distilleries and the agave fields

Fausto and his team of jimadors

Fausto and his team of jimadors

where the process begins.

Forty-five minutes outside of Oaxaca City, I come to the modest village of San Baltazar Guelavila. Here, Los Angeles based entrepreneurs Fausto Zapata and Vicente Cisneros, distill El Silencio, their increasingly popular brand of mezcal that began as a simple passion project and has quickly begun to appear in some of the premiere cocktail lounges in the United States.

It is here, at a small Palenque, or mezcal distillery, where El Silencio uses more than fifty local hires and a horse to ensure that their product makes its way from the rattlesnake-infested agave fields, to the distillery, and into the bottle before being shipped to the United States. All of this is done under the watchful eye of Master Mezcalier Pedro Hernández, a ninth-generation “Maestro Mezcalero.”

Harvested agave at el palenque

Harvested agave at el palenque

If the previous night parade was an example of Oaxaca’s urban hysteria, the perilous trek into the Sierra Madres could only be described as rural pandemonium. Along with several Jimadors (the men who harvest agave), their machetes and various other impossibly sharp tools, I load up in the back of well-worn flat bed and we begin to zigzag along sinuous ridgelines and narrow, rocky mountain roads.

With little to hold on to, it is easier to stand for balance in the back of the truck, which teeters and totters along an ever-narrowing road. I keep my eyes open for tree branches crossing the road ahead. The tree branches are heavily spiked, home to spiders, and while we are moving at less five miles an hour, no amount of mezcal, no matter the quality, could fix an unanticipated tree branch to the face.

As the last bastions of tire tread give way to an irrationally rocky, unmarked, Martian-like path toward the agave fields, we still have almost an hour to go. As we make a turn, the truck nearly capsizing, I learn the real meaning of the word sideways.

The sun is merciless and the bottle of water I brought may soon simply evaporate. All I can think of is death, an impeding crash into a cactus-lined ravine followed by dehydration induced hallucinations brought mercifully to end by the bite of a poisonous rattlesnake.

Mature agave, a jimador, and the truck

Mature agave, a jimador, and the truck

I consider the mezcal I consumed the previous evening and then the Jimadors who risked their life to harvest it, and for a moment, I feel guilt. Then notice them with all the cajoling and careening, they are laughing and having the time of their life… So what’s my problem?  I guess it’s all worth it for the drink.

Any semblance of humanity has now vanished. A duo of buzzards circle and I’m scratched up. Having narrowly avoided death, I am also invigorated as we make our way from small agave plants along a hillside to the mature ones.

Agave when ready for harvest is between ten and twelve years old. With the agave’s spiny leaves, a blazing arid sun and armed militias of angry bees, removing the thick leaves is a laborious, dehydrating, often painful process. Not to be shamed, take off my sunglasses, grab a machete and, bees be damned, go to town on some agave leaves.

Under the watchful eye of the El Silencio donkey staked a few yards away, the thick agave leaves are hacked off and discarded until all that remains of the once six-foot succulent, is the giant pineapple at the core, also known as the piña. This is then extracted, rolled and loaded onto the back of the truck and taken back to the distillery.

Jimador cooking the agave

Jimador cooking the agave

The labor-intensive process repeats until the Mexican sun finds repose and the tumultuous ridgeline ride back to El Silencio headquarters begins. Before we take off, Fausto pulls out a bottle of El Silencio and we taste a drink. With my foot on an agave pineapple, as it burns its way down my throat, I look out forever into the Sierras and taste a lot more.

Back in the truck, and having survived the first trip up the mountain by simply standing and ducking branches there is now the added challenge of an eighty-pound agave pineapple rolling around as we traverse our way back to civilization, but with a little liquid courage, the ride is far less daunting.

We return to the Palenque, ax-wielding employees hack furiously dense, sticky pineapples into quarters. Once the harvest is appropriately hacked, the pieces are loaded into a hand-dug hole filled with volcanic rock and burning mesquite wood. The choice of wood dictates the mezcal’s flavor. Once the pineapple pieces have filled the smoldering hole, the pile is covered with a tarp, then three inches of soil and left to cook underground for seventy-two hours.

Upon completion, the pieces are moved into another pit to extract the cooked sugars. A scrappy horse pulls a giant

El Silencio bottling process

El Silencio bottling process

grinding stone in circles, crushing the pieces of pineapple until the charred remains of wood are merely a sticky pulp. The pulp is then mixed with spring water and fermented, turning it into an agave wine at which point, it begins making its own alcohol.

Finally it is distilled. The alcohol is vaporized and ultimately twice distilled and held to an intensive taste test done only by the Maestro Mezcalero to make sure that it meets the El Silencio standard. Once it has passed the test, it is bottled on sight by local women, boxed and put in storage where it waits to be shipped to the United States.

Under the shade of the Palenque, we join the villagers and the team from El Silencio for carne asada and a variety of several moles so complex that each is worthy of it’s own story. The village is alive, as it has been for centuries with the spirit of mezcal.

As I marvel over the spread and slow sips of mezcal, I notice that the sun is setting, and as I look out into the Sierras as Mexican sol dips away, I also realize that somewhere out there, under the watchful eye of the El Silencio donkey and the fledgling agave plants of mezcals to come, are my sunglasses.

The following night, there is no parade. The streets of Oaxaca are emptier, and though they are, now there is so much more there. We make our way to a rich mole dinner to close out the day. I’m sunburned, dehydrated and elated. As we walk, I look into the Mezcalerias and watch as mezcal is poured. That night, poolside, as we toast the successes and the journey of the day, I know that the mezcal with which we toast has had a journey of its own… But it’s not just a journey. It’s a parade… A giant, timeless, parade. And where that parade ends, the fiesta begins.

El Silencio, poolside

El Silencio, poolside

 

Matthew Kenney’s RAW Cooking Intensive: A carnivore’s journey into the world of meatless cooking

The kitchen at Matthew Kenney Culinary School, a raw cooking school in Santa Monica California is well lit and immaculate. Each workstation is a testament to sterility and function.  In front of me, in addition to an assortment of stainless steel mixing bowls, chopping devices and measuring spoons is an avocado, a grapefruit, and a bulb of fennel, some fresh mint, macadamia oil and some coriander. When assembled, this grapefruit fennel salad will be the forth dish I will learn to make on my maiden voyage into the world of the culinary arts.

Matthew Kenney's RAW Intensive

Matthew Kenney’s RAW Intensive

What makes this otherwise, overly equipped teaching kitchen capable of producing dozens of dishes most interesting is that despite having enough gadgetry to make Sur La Table green with envy, there is no stovetop or oven. There is neither a Crockpot nor a Dutch oven. In fact, unless a fellow student at this weekend intensive is a smoker or a Pyromaniac, one is as likely to find the tooth fairy in this kitchen as an open flame. Matthew Kenney’s Culinary School, associated with his acclaimed restaurant MAKE, located next door, is completely raw. Not vegetarian. Not vegan… Raw.

All his innovative dishes are made up of organic fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and in order to protect precious nutrients and enzymes from breaking down due to exposure to heat, nothing served will ever reach a temperature of more than 118 degrees.

And while this kind of culinary experience may have appeal to those already committed to an organic diet free from anything that has ever walked, swam or otherwise consumed oxygen, wrapping my meat loving brain around this idea was a struggle. Especially because I come from the school of thought that you could consume four score and seven pounds of veggies but without a piece of chicken or a pork chop, you’d just had the salad course.

Even the boldest and most well executed dishes where soy attempts to masquerade as a rib eye ultimately feel like a feeble attempt to pass off an animatronic cocker spaniel as the beloved family pet.  Many times, I’ve left vegan restaurants marginally satisfied, but never have I left proclaiming that the “not-fish” fish dish tastes better than the fresh seared tuna that I could have had at the Santa Monica Fish Market right down the street.

RAW workstation

RAW workstation

And building on my marginal disdain for such a drastic lifestyle modification, might I add that rarely have I had a conversation with an individual fully committed to any of the half dozen or so variations of a plant based diets where when the conversation ended, I didn’t feel like I’d just parted ways with the altruistic, health obsessed version of fully committed doomsayer. Not to say that all plant-based eaters want to convince you that their way is better, but many do with a Scientologist’s certainty.

So naturally, the idea of indulging on a complex multi-course meal made up of a creative arrangements of nutrient dense, fresh nuts and vegetables, served raw and never prepared at temperatures higher than 115 degrees seemed slightly off-putting. That said, back when Pearl Jam was releasing their first album if you had told me that I would eat tongue, I would have said you were insane and now, as I write this, just thinking of a lengua taco from Ruben’s Taco Truck makes my mouth water so I figured, let’s give this rabbit food a dance.

Two hours later, after eating at MAKE, my attitude toward this type of meal changed entirely. So much so in fact, two months later, having never taken a cooking class before in my life, I committed twelve hours of a weekend to learning the process….

Fennel and Grapefruit Salad

Fennel and Grapefruit Salad

Our instructor is named Sean. His focus is to teach the small class how to make as many varying types of dishes using the greatest variety of organic ingredients as possible. Within an hour, I have created chocolate brownie dough from scratch and watched almonds, after being blended, turn in to milk, then used to make a smoothie. The milk, in our case made from almonds, is then flavor balanced to taste (something else I learned!) with a pinch of salt, dates for sweetening and a hint of vanilla. Coconut oil can also be added not only for flavor but because it adds healthy fat, which in a raw diet, just like any other, is important as it helps the body absorb other essential vitamins.

As the day goes on, we are introduced to different fruits and vegetables as well as kitchen equipment and terminology. Juicers, blenders, food processors and dehydrators all play important roles in constructing our dishes. As do knives, mandolins and various chopping techniques. Rather than making raw food, if you had told me my day would involve the terms chiffonade (a chopping technique) and that I would be using a mandolin (tool for slicing), I would have envisioned a bluegrass festival. And yet, here I am making a zucchini tartare, touched up with a touch of agave and a hint of lemon juice, and enjoying myself.

Chipotle Kale salad

Chipotle Kale salad

While Sean’s dishes look like masterpieces, mine look like a toddler with a box of crayons got impatient with a coloring book but I am proud none-the-less. Having eaten each and every dish I made, I am beginning to feel like I am capable of making something beyond a steak or a ham and cheese sandwich. Not only that, and perhaps most shocking of all, despite only eating uncooked things that grew from the soil of the earth, I’m also starting to feel full.

By the intensive’s end, I have made beet ravioli, zucchini tartare, a grapefruit fennel salad, a gazpacho, multiple salads, brownies, tarts, smoothies and juices among other things. Narry a dish trying to pass itself off as a steak or seafood dish anything else but what it is.  Healthy and delicious. My body feels clean and I’m more comfortable with a kitchen knife. While I have no intention passing on the ribs next time someone invites me to a barbeque, I know that if it is a potluck, and there is already enough meat, I’ll be able to make something a lot healthier and it will blow some minds.

For more information on Matthew Kenney’s RAW weekend intensives, go to http://matthewkenneycuisine.com/education/santa-monica/weekend-intensives-enroll/

In the meantime, here is a recipe from the Intensive for Heirloom Tomato Lasagna from the Intensive….

MACADAMIA RICOTTA

1 cup soaked macadamias

¼ cup water

2 teaspoons nutritional yeast

½ teaspoons lemon juice

¼ teaspoons salt

Blend all ingredients until completely smooth.

PISTACHIO PESTO

1 cup basil leaves

¼ cup spinach leaves

¼ cup pistachios

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon lemon juice

Pinch of freshly ground pepper

Pulse ingredients, except olive oil, in a food processor until well combined but still slightly chunky. Gradually add oil last while food processor is running.

RED PEPPER MARINARA

½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked 1 hour

1 medium tomato, de-seeded and roughly chopped

½ shallot, chopped

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons olive oil

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoons red chili flakes

½ red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

Squeeze out excess water from sundried tomatoes.  Combine everything in food processor except oil. Gradually add oil last while food processor is running.

ASSEMBLY

1 zucchini, ends trimmed

1 heirloom tomato

2 baby heirloom tomatoes

fresh thyme                                

fresh basil

olive oil

salt

black pepper

Cut zucchini in half and slice lengthwise 1/8 of an inch thick using a mandolin or sharp knife. Toss zucchini strips with a pinch of salt, black pepper, olive oil, and thyme. Set aside while gathering other components.

Cut 2 thick slices of heirloom tomato and set aside.

Place 3 strips of zucchini on a plate, forming a square. Spread a layer of marinara on top of the zucchini slices. Place 2-3 dollops of pesto and ricotta on top of the marinara. Cover with a tomato slice. Place 3 strips of zucchini on top of the tomato slice. Repeat the previous steps for the second layer. Garnish with halved baby heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil leaves.