Monday, July 21, 2014

Progress To Report!


After all this time, I finally have some serious progress to report!  Things were happening before and progress was being made, but raw drywall or exposed wires don't make for a very appealing photograph. Now that we have actually decided on some materials, it's getting to be a lot more fun.

The first photo is of our choices for the kitchen and living/dining room. The gray wood floor will be laid throughout. The dark gray/black (that's a shadow across it, not two colors) with shiny and coffee-with-cream speckles is the working countertops, an engineered quartz stone that should stand up to many years of use. We will also add a complementary natural stone countertop for accent - its colors are the same as the working countertops but the reverse - it's gonna be snazzy! 

The blond alder is for our kitchen. I had to insist to get mitered corners on the cabinets (everyone else thought another kind of construction would be easier but I didn't want easy, I wanted beautiful) and I'm glad I was firm - they look just as I had hoped. They should arrive at the end of next week.

And the gray paint for the walls looks different in the picture on my monitor than it is in real life - it's actually toning toward the taupe, a nice warm color to complement the rest and to tone with the browns in the wood floor. Were aiming for a "refined but natural" look, and I think we scored!

Needless to say, I'm super excited! Not only for the progress but also because I love the choices we made.


My Beloved took this second shot of the back of his car when he went to the paint store to pick up the paint for living/dining/kitchen and the glass blocks that will form one wall of our shower stall. Each day, we either go out to survey choices or bring back things we have chosen, a joy when all the invisible work has been done and the fun choices we will live with for years start to show up. This is an amazingly involving process.

So, now you are up to date!  We expect the whole project to come together around mid-August and I'm already looking forward to showering in our splendid new bathroom and cooking in my fabu new kitchen, not to mention sleeping in my own bed when our furniture comes back from storage.

So exciting when there is real progress to report!



Friday, July 18, 2014

Baby Food


Even before Chilebrown reminded me that one can use a Weber grill as an oven, I had decided to try roasting more than a chicken in mine. Chilebrown is my teacher for all things Weber, and he is truly an oracle - he knows Webers! 

I wanted to make kabocha squash soup for new mother Katie and her support team who are helping her and new father Andre through the first weeks of parenthood. Happily, they have a long list of female family members, experienced hands who are happy to come and assist for the reward of a smile from Katie and a cuddle with young Miles. Not having been born with the mothering gene, I can at least cook for them, right?

Armed with my biggest knife, the junior machete my Hawaii brother gave me, I halved my squash, then placed the two halves cut side down on a square of doubled up aluminum foil, and placed those, not over the coals but off to the side of my Weber grill. It got pretty hot in there with the lid down - my thermometer registered 450 degrees F at one point, so the squash was done in about half an hour. I tested it with a sharp knife that slid right in.

Then, I loaded up a wicker basket with the squash, an onion, some thyme, organic chicken broth, a bottle of olive oil, two white nectarines, and salt and pepper. No, not a picnic; rather, a trip next door to borrow a big kettle and some flame from my neighbor's wonderful Wolf stove. Doreen doesn't mind if I mess up her kitchen for a good cause - and she has wonderful cooking vessels!  Her stove is a dream - I'm hoping mine will be as wonderful once it arrives!

While I softened the onion and nectarines (skin and all) in olive oil with the thyme, Doreen and her tiny mother Doris regaled me with stories of movies they had recently seen and a fashion show of the clothes they had just bought for Doris. Then I added the soft squash and the chicken broth, a little s&p, and let it all simmer together for about 20 minutes before zizzing it smooth with Doreen's stick blender. 

We each tasted the resulting soup; Doreen liked it so much that when I offered her some, she had her storage container out in record time. It was a bright golden yellow with little flecks of dark nectarine skin and pepper - very pretty! The rest went into the fridge until I was able to deliver it to the new parents the next day.

I like the idea that I made baby food. From me, into Katie and, thus, into little Miles. I may not be the ideal caregiver for a baby but I'm glad I could contribute second hand.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Movie Night Chefs


We are not big movie goers, usually preferring to hunker down at home after a long day, but last Friday My Beloved said, on the spur of the moment, "How about a hot dog and a movie?"

He knows his audience; the promise of a hot dog will always get me up and out.

So, we scrolled through the movie listings and found one, "Chef," that seemed to have a light appeal (we are movie wimps - no violence, no drama, no unhappy endings, please!) so we jumped into our jeans and went. Fun movie - two thumbs up if you're looking for light, fun fare.

After the flick, we decided to grab a burger (no hot dogs on the menu, so I get a rain check on that) at Marin Joe's, an institution in Corte Madera. They have booths and tables but they are always busy so we grabbed two stools at the counter and found that they were the best seats in the house. 

While we waited for our dinners, we watched meats and fish, including our burgers, being grilled by the most amazing grill cook I have ever seen. Talk about a chef! The grill is a real charcoal grill at Joe's, with glowing coals under the grates - the heat even reached our seats so I was surprised at how cool and unflappable the chef was. The photo I took is of his receipts of the evening, showing how many perfect dinners he had turned out, so many that they overflowed his cup and spilled out onto the counter.

Every move he made was efficient, choreographed, and leisurely, and yet he turned out at least a dozen meals just while we were watching, and still found time to josh lightly with the waiters, take a break during the cooking, timing his return exactly. As we watched, he watched each burger, brochette, steak, butterflied trout, and filet of salmon to perfection. He never touched them - no poking to decide if they were done - he just looked and could tell. Given the heat of that grill, I was sure our burgers, which were on for fully 15 minutes, would be well done even though we had asked for rare and medium rare. When they arrived, however, they were each perfect.

They were also enormous and served on French rolls with a side of nicely crisp French fries with soft, almost custardy centers, just the way we like them. He even gave us a wink as he slid the plates across the counter - I think he knew I was worried and his wink was his gentle way of saying, "Honey, I've been doing this a long time and I know what I know."

The prices at Marin Joe's are assertive, but I have never left there feeling I didn't get my money's worth. And next time I will choose to sit at the counter again, to enjoy watching a real chef do his thing.


Monday, July 14, 2014

More Celebrations

Amongst the many trips to the paint store looking for exactly the right shade for living/dining room, and multiple outings in search of glass blocks, we have managed to slip in quite a lot of celebrating recently.  

For example, last Thursday we took at least two and possibly three passes into the Benjamin Moore paint store, purchasing different shades that all ended up being close to what we envision but not quite, and definitely not ones we could live with for the next many years. Choosing the colors to try isn't a problem but standing around while they mix the paints is a pain.

However, while waiting, we discovered that the world of house painting has come up with some rather clever little helpers. One that we have used a good deal is a square of white cardboard primed so you can paint a piece roughly the size of an 8"x10" sheet of paper; much easier to evaluate a color when it is larger than the 1"x1" sample strip they give you. They also have diminutive, single-use, 2" foam rollers that come in a blister pack in which the plastic "blister" becomes the roller pan!  Very helpful!  We have about 10 different boards all in shades of gray, none of which was perfect. 

However, coming home deeply discouraged one day after a trip to yet another paint store, lo! and behold! one of our samples had dried to a beautiful soft, warm gray color!  Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

It was also our 15th wedding anniversary, so My Beloved already had a celebration planned, but it was doubly joyous with the idea that we are finished with paint stores for the foreseeable future!

We drove about an hour out to Forestville, CA to a new-to-us restaurant called Farmhouse Inn.  The setting is lovely and the dining room very nicely appointed. They lost our reservation but were able to seat us anyway, big relief!

We were a little amused by the preciousness of the menu descriptions of such things as "parched summer vegetables," "broken tomatoes," and "sunflower seed strewn farro," but when our choices arrived, we forgave the chef any pretention, as the food was fantabulous!  For my appetizer, I chose the squash blossom stuffed with crab that was the perfect size, a single blossom filled with a rich crab mixture that was mostly, happily, crab. My Beloved had the roasted quail appetizer and, when he was finished, all that was left were some very tiny bones lined up neatly along the edge of his plate - he loved it!

For a main course, I had a heritage breed pork chop that was simply amazing, brined and cooked to palest pink perfection and served with smoked ricotta gnocchi that were light as the long summer evening and braised Swiss chard to cut some of the richness. Easily, hands-down, the best pork chop of my long and happy life.

My Beloved chose their signature dish, Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, poor old Bugs prepared three ways - bacon-wrapped loin, roasted rack, and confit leg - all with wonderful accompanying mustard sauce. He gave me a bite of bunny, my first taste of rabbit, and it was really lovely.

The service was good, friendly without being familiar, and the only flaws in the whole experience were the ringing cell phone at the next table, which played loudly the first several bars of  Pharrell Williams's "Happy" before the embarrassed owner could fish it out of her purse and silence it, and the overly loud woman at a facing table who had to be very discreetly "shushed" by the maitre-d.

Since it was a fancy date, we also sprang for the wine pairings, so the sommelier brought us each special wines chosen to complement our various dishes. She was very knowledgeable, telling us a bit about each wine as she served it and explaining why she had chosen each one. It was a fun experience for two who like wine but are not particularly savvy about it.

That we got all the way to dessert before I remembered to photograph for Zoomie Station should give you some idea of how focused we were on the tastes on our plates. We decided to share the cheese plate and the fruit and berry tart. The cheeses were carefully selected and very good but the "market tart," as they call it, was truly spectacular. The thinnest, crispest imaginable crust on the bottom was topped with a tangy "cheesecake" custard, then covered with ripe fresh fruits, each at the peak of flavor. My grainy cellphone photo does it no justice. The edible flowers made the whole thing so festive and lovely that I wished there was room for another one but, alas!, we were filled to the brim.

We marvel that fifteen years could have gone by so quickly and that we feel we are still somewhat in that giddy honeymoon stage of married life, trips to the paint stores notwithstanding. In a way, they have been like the feast we enjoyed at the Farmhouse Inn - unexpectedly delightful and very, very satisfying.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Celebrating New Life


When our first two grands were born, we celebrated with champagne - I think almost any good news deserves champagne - so when Miles came safely into the world, we did the same, this time in a restaurant since our "kitchen" is no fun to cook in and they make better food at Rivoli in Berkeley than I do, even in a good kitchen.

We called on the spur of the moment and found that we could get in early, our favorite dining time, anyway. Win-win!  As we sat enjoying our drinks and the view of the lovely garden outside the windows, the place filled up table by table until it was humming with conversation and good spirits. Not only is Rivoli decorated for calm enjoyment, the tables are well spaced so each party can have their own private conversations.

We started with a pink champagne (or I suppose more properly a prosecco) from Italy, sipping it all through the meal. It was round and fizzy and comfortable, just right with our dinners. When she heard we were celebrating a new grandchild, the waitress brought some little shiny balloon confetti to sprinkle on the table to enhance the celebratory atmosphere.

I started with Dungeness crab bisque, a velvety smooth and richly flavorful soup redolent of the sea. It had a marbling of creme fraiche on top of the coral-colored bisque that complemented the crabby richness with just a hint of a tang. Delicious!



Because I can't slow roast anything in my current kitchen, I was tempted by the pork loin that had been hours in the oven. Sometimes (and almost always when I attempt this at home), the pork is tender enough but very dry. Not at Rivoli. The slices of pork were nothing to look at but, man, were they ever delicious with a goozle in the bottom of the plate that was like pure, clear essence of pig and lots of rosemary for added zest. The meat required only a gentle pressure from my fork to fall apart into bite-sized pieces. To give the dish a little extra texture, the chef had added little chunks of crisp pork crackling to the plate. There were roasted Italian broad beans and a wonderfully light and fluffy sort of corn pudding/soufflé to accompany. While the plate didn't look overly full, I had to take half of it home, so rich and satisfying it was.



The waitress (and by the way, the wait staff there is excellent, always pleasant and present when you need them but never obtrusive) asked if we wanted dessert and the answer was an emphatic "yes!" but we were too full, so we asked for their berry pudding to go, and ate it later that evening. It tasted as if the berries had been concentrated in some magical way so that it was a fresh as a newly-picked berry but even better. Not very sweet, it still had a tang and a little bite, but loads of ripe berry flavor.

If you have new life to celebrate, or just want a reason to feel celebratory, I can recommend Rivoli, where every visit feels like a quiet party to me. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Miles


Grandparenthood, for me, has been an unexpected pleasure. Everyone said it would be fun, but I was doubtful. You see, I'm not a normal woman; I don't just adore babies as most women do. I don't generally gush and coo whenever I see a baby, even a particularly cute one. They are fine in their way but pretty self-centered, if you ask me. They are demanding of time, attention, caution, sleeplessness, and caring. It's all about them. And, almost inevitably, they cry when I pick them up.

I ascribe this indifference to babies to the fact that I was given too much responsibility at an early age for my younger brother who was born eight years after me. My sister Nancy and I were fascinated by him and she was an excellent caregiver at age 10, but I had a series of mishaps that taught me early on how delicate babies can be. For example, the bathwater that seemed just right to my leathery, eight-year-old, Hawaiian-tanned hide was too hot for a small fry - he screamed his indignation, bringing my mother and sister to the bathroom on the run. It only takes a few incidents like that to convince a little girl that baby care is best left to others.

Oh, I have loved certain babies. My sister's son Rob was one of the few babies I actively enjoyed, and I was almost immediately smitten by my friend Wendy's two children (my Fairy Godchildren), but as a general rule, I'm content to leave babies in their mothers' arms and admire them from afar. And, never having had children of my own (don't feel sad, it was a choice I contentedly made), I had no reason to get over my baby aversions.

So, you can imagine what a surprise it has been to so enjoy My Beloved's grandchildren, Mia and Owen, the children of his older daughter, Sarah. They are beautiful kiddos - always a bonus - but they are nice kids, too. Mia is as loving and sweet as a child can be, but with a dash of spirit and stubbornness that I find endearing. She is a snuggler and is never happier than when sitting on someone's lap. Owen is bold and mischievous, with a rebellious spirit that baffles us one moment and a smile like the dawning of the sun that charms us the next. He loves books about garbage trucks and runs to the fence in the back yard to wave every time he hears the fire engines. He is into ice hockey, even though he's too small to play - he knows all the players on his favorite team (the Boston Bruins) and most of the ones on the opposing teams, too.

And, now, just a few days ago, we have Miles, a beautiful son born to My Beloved's younger daughter, Katie. It remains to be seen what Miles will be like but, for now, he's a pretty mellow fellow. He even let me hold him for ten whole minutes without crying - a lifetime record for me.

Grandparenthood is perfect for me - lots of joy without much responsibility for the well-being of these little guys. I can recommend it.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Up From The Ashes


My cooking lately has consisted almost exclusively grilling. Even when the weather is so windy that it's hard to get the charcoal started, I'm out there on the deck amongst the blowing sparks. It's worth it for the flavors of summer that I can't get on my little, two-burner countertop stove.

So, we've had whole chickens cooked under the dome on my Weber grill, steaks briefly sizzled over coals, and lamb chops that flare dangerously when the fat hits the fire. Corn cooks to lightly blackened perfection in just a minute or two on the grill, asparagus improves its nuttiness when exposed to the flames and, just yesterday, I had the idea to try smoking some fruit to see how that would taste.

Our friend, Jeanne, had sent us some cedar grilling papers in a little care package last week, and I thought they'd work to impart some smokiness to the fruit while still protecting it from the heat of the charcoal, so I wrapped some dark, sweet cherries in one packet and some just-ripe white nectarines in another.

The instructions said to soak the papers for a few minutes in water and that was good advice. Even over the hottest coals, the papers did no more than blacken along the edges to produce that divine smoke. The packets were strong and pliable going on the grill but crisp and delicate coming off.

And the contents did get that sweet smoke flavor! They also became soft as silk, literally melting in the mouth, and concentrated with sweetness. The cherries stained the inside of the cedar paper a brilliant red, and I was able to pour out a drizzle of dark, sweet juice as well. The cherry pits slipped easily out and the nectarine skin softened to velvet, just barely firmer than the melting texture of the fruit.

We had roasted a turkey breast on the grill along with the fruit, so we used the cherries and nectarines as a kind of fresh "cranberry" sauce for the meat. We got the smokiness from the turkey as well as from the fruit garnish, and the combination was a memorable one.

What shall I wrap and grill next? Any ideas? Maybe cheese, for a smoky appetizer? What do you think?

Friday, July 4, 2014

A New Twist On An American Theme


I'm a huge fan of planking, as you may know.  Stick just about any kind of fish or poultry on an untreated cedar shingle, set it over a well-lighted stack of coals on the barbecue, put the cover down and, in just about 20 minutes, you've got a delicious dinner. The smoke generated by the plank gives wonderful flavor while protecting the food from the heat of the direct flame.

Knowing this, our friend Jeanne sent us a care package for our construction cookery, when we have a barbecue grill and little else. These are cedar wraps, almost as thin as a sheet of paper, in which to wrap your food for the barbie. A fun new twist! I tried them last week with some wild silver salmon, some sea scallops, and a handful of asparagus. The fishmonger at my market warned me that the silver salmon is not top grade salmon, even though it is wild-caught - I was interested to see what the wraps could do with salmon that cost me about 2/3 less per pound than my usual choice of wild king salmon.

The instructions said to soak the cedar paper and the included kitchen string in water for five minutes before wrapping your choice of food and tying it up. I made four bundles - salmon with asparagus, salmon by itself, scallops with asparagus, and asparagus by itself as a test. I set the corn straight on the grill. 

Like planking, this technique protects the food from the heat of the fire, so the texture of all the fish was tender and just barely cooked in 20 minutes. Another time, I would cook it just a tad longer. I might also omit the soaking stage as my wraps never did begin to smoke and it's that sweet smoke that adds so much flavor. Having said that, My Beloved scarfed up his scallops and enjoyed them very much. 

My salmon, despite being a lower grade of fish, was actually quite good, milder in flavor than the other kinds of salmon and closer to trout even though it is an ocean-run fish. The mild cedar flavor was noticeable but not overwhelming.

The vegetables needed a few more minutes, but were otherwise fine. I guess I like them grilled directly a little bit more, but it was an interesting experiment anyway.

Jeanne sent us a nice supply of the cedar papers, so I'm going to try smoking some fruit next - I think nectarines and perhaps cherries would make a killer dessert. Just imagine that smoky, sweet, concentrated fruit - can't wait to give them a whirl! 

And what could be more American on Independence Day than to grill something? Maybe I'll even stick to red cherries, white nectarines, and blue berries.

Happy Fourth of July!  For all it's faults, we are still lucky to live in a fine country.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bubbles


Bubbles. I do love bubbles. I enjoyed playing bubbles with my Fairy Godchildren when they were young. I had bottles of bubbles instead of rice at our wedding. My Dad's pet name for my mother was "Bubbles," although I never knew why. I have, at one time or another, owned every single kind of bubble wand from a small silver bubble necklace, to my favorite plastic bear that raises a wand when you gently squeeze his belly, to a giant wand that made 4 foot long bubbles. 

Even this past weekend, when we were babysitting our grands while their parents had an overnight getaway to celebrate a significant birthday, we brought along a foot-long bubble wand that delighted not only our grands but all the kids in the neighborhood. What is it about popping bubbles that kids love so much? We did a good job of wearing them out running around after the bubbles - bedtime is smoother when kiddos have had a good romp.

Anyway, when we went to the tile store for the umpteenth time, looking for something to cover the bathroom floor, what should we notice but a floor called "Bubbles!" Small, different sized circles of marble set into a silvery grout. Gotta have it! 

Things are starting to take shape, not in the house as yet, but in my imagination. Yaaay!



Monday, June 30, 2014

Best Cooking Tip Of The Week


I have a blogging friend, Pat, whom I only see rarely, but she's cool so I follow her on Facebook in between visits. We don't live that far apart, just over one bridge, but our lives are busy and we are each seasoned enough to know we can't "do it all." So, we enjoy this FB friendship to keep in touch.

This week, she posted the following article on Facebook and the idea was just brilliant, so I wanted to share it with my other blogging pals, especially Katie Z, since she has an extensive herb garden. Maybe you already knew this, but I'm tickled pink to learn this trick and will be using it with all my delicate herbs from now on.  With only two of eating fresh herbs, sometimes they go to waste. How much smarter to freeze them in oil or butter to preserve that wonderful, fresh garden flavor!

http://www.organicgardening.com/cook/herbs-all-year#.U69o84_ItUU.facebook

You're welcome.