Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Jacques' Covid Kitchen

In case you haven't yet discovered it, Jacques Pépin has been giving great little five-minute cooking lessons on Facebook all during the Covid shutdown. He takes whatever he finds in his fridge and makes some magic nearly every day. You can tell he's stuck at home, too, as his hair keeps getting longer and he sometimes repeats the same shirt - as we all do on Zoom these days. His recipes are really simple and his delivery is, as usual, warmly charming. If you haven't "friended" him on Facebook, I think you'll enjoy his lessons.

I certainly am. Last week, he made a version of a famous regional dish from Lyon where he grew up called "Poulet au Vinaigre" or Vinegar Chicken. I had heard of this dish a long time ago and tried to replicate it without success, so I was surprised that M. Pépin would give even a shortened version of it at a time when we don't have a lot of ingredients around.

I need not have worried - his preparation was simple and the result was quite tasty. Give it a try and I expect you, too, will be adding M. Pépin to your Facebook friends.

Poulet au Vinaigre from Jacques Pépin 

You will need a small non-stick sauté pan with a lid. Serves 2.


2 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in

3 cloves of garlic (1-1/2 Tbs approximately), crushed and finely chopped

3 Tablespoons wine vinegar (I used red wine vinegar as I couldn't see which kind he used)

2 Tablespoons ketchup

Salt and pepper


Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken thighs and cut with a sharp knife along both sides of the bone on the under side of each to flatten a bit.

Place the chicken thighs, skin side down, in the cold sauté pan and place over medium-high heat. No fat is necessary, the chicken skin will release enough fat to complete the dish. Cook without turning until the skin is richly browned and crisp. Don't allow the fat to burn - it should be nicely brown, too.

Once the skin is browned, cover the pan (still no turning) and cook with just the steam from the meat for about 20-25 minutes, until the meat near the bone is no longer pink and the meat is tender. Remove the thighs to a serving dish, skin side up. The skin should be crisp.

Crush the garlic cloves under the flat blade of a knife to remove the peel, then finely chop (or you could use a garlic press). You should have about 1-1/2 Tablespoons of garlic.

Add the garlic to the rendered fat in the sauté pan and fry for about 20 seconds, then add 3 Tablespoons of vinegar, swirl the pan to incorporate the juices, and cook until the pan is almost dry - this step will dissipate the sharpness of the vinegar. 

Add 2 Tablespoons of ketchup to the pan and stir. Add salt to taste, and pour over the chicken and serve. If you aren't serving right away, pour the sauce around the chicken rather than over it, so the skin stays crisp.

I am certain that this recipe isn't "classical" French cooking, but it's homey, quick, and delicious - who could ask for more right now?  In these crazy days/weeks/months when we rely so heavily on social media, I was happy to find an old friend cooking away in his kitchen, preparing food for his beloved Gloria, and making recipes he remembers from his childhood in Lyon.

Sunday, November 15, 2020


For the past eight months, I have had time on my hands. 

We do keep busy delivering for our local Meals on Wheels chapter, delivering a week's worth of frozen entrées to our clients every Monday. We are, of course, masked, and we deliver the food, ring the bell, and back off at least six feet as we wait for our clients to come to the door to retrieve their food. We enjoy a short visit with each person on our route. If these safety protocols seem excessive to you, remember that these dear clients are often very much at risk with pre-existing conditions. We would feel terrible if we brought the Corona virus to their homes.

Because we are in our 70s, we also need to be careful for ourselves and the few friends and family with whom we interact (at a distance). It feels strange to always be assuring people, even in print, of how careful we are but one of the most noticeable features of this strange time is the differing levels of risk-aversion we encounter. Some of our contacts are pretty casual, willing to come to our house to eat food prepared in our kitchen and served on our china, but draw the line at hugging. Others are okay with visiting outdoors, as long as we keep the six foot distance. Still others will meet outdoors as long as we are all masked and distanced. One couple, both attorneys that we adore, actually came up with a four-page contract outlining what is acceptable behavior for visits, including a dire threat of ostracism if the guidelines are breached. And some dear friends have asked us not to visit them in person at all, depending on Zoom and the like for their social contacts.

We also do our own grocery shopping but we limit that to stores that have good safety protocols, insisting on masks, sanitizing carts, limiting the numbers in the store. 

But, a few hours doing Meals on Wheels and another hour grocery shopping does not begin to fill the days. I tried jigsaw puzzles and even completed a very challenging 1,000+ puzzle but after that one, I was toast. We are trying to limit television (except My Beloved's auto racing programs) to the hours after dinner, so we don't usually turn on the television during the daytime. I have taken to walking a mile or so in the early mornings just after dawn. We have leisurely mornings with the newspaper and coffee stretching past 10am. During the warm months, I spent nearly every afternoon with a good book on our street-facing deck where I could safely greet neighbors as they walk by and watch the birds coming to my birdbath and sunflowers.

And, still, there is plenty of time. Plenty, plenty, plenty.

One of my occasional pleasures is painting. I'm not good at it - I make no bones about that - but I do enjoy the colors, the decisions about what to try, and the variety of things on which one can make marks. I made a set of napkins and painted them with Black-eyed Susans. I decorated a bird house for cousin Jan, who livens her weathered back fence with multi-colored bird houses of all different shapes and sizes. I potato-printed some note cards to give as gifts. I have tried still life and landscape, both with disappointing results - I seem to be better at decorative than fine art.

So, when the days seem longer than usual, I get out my paints. My Beloved's younger daughter gave me some lovely papers that she was not using, so I sometimes use those, although I feel slightly guilty at using such nice materials for such sad failures. Time spent painting goes by faster - I wonder if the Theory of Relativity encompassed painting time?

So, around here, it's not unusual to find newspapers splotched with color. Maybe I should just frame them and call them art.










Saturday, November 14, 2020

Chili Days Are Here Again


My favorite part of Facebook is the memories part where they present things that you posted or saved from years ago. I love scrolling back and remembering all the adventures we have had that I posted for friends to see over the years. It also helps to remind me when I saved a recipe that sounded good at the time - sometimes, they are no longer appealing but this time I hit the jackpot.

My friend Angela had posted this recipe for a vegetarian chili from What's Gaby Cooking, saying that her children loved it. I'm always looking for good vegetarian recipes as we try and try again to reduce our meat consumption. We will never make it to full-on vegetarian, and that's okay, but it's still good to change things up.

So, what's not to like about Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili?  There's a video of this preparation if you want to do a search for it under that name, but it's pretty simple so you likely won't need it. I made some changes to Gaby's recipe based on what I had at home. It makes a pot of chili large enough for four adult meals, but not such a huge pot that you are eating it for days on end. In my book, that's a win.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili, from What's Gaby Cooking?


1 sweet potato, peeled and diced

1 red onion, chopped

1Tablespoon olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbs chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt to taste

1 cup vegetable stock (or I used chicken stock because I had it on hand)

1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (or I used a small box of crushed tomatoes, again, what I had on hand)

1 can black beans, drained

1 lime, rolled, cut and squeezed

Toppings: your choice - chopped avocado, cream, grated cheese, chopped cilantro, and we usually like to eat a few tortilla chips with chili for more texture and crunch. You can also add hot sauce if you like more spiciness.


In a large, heavy pot add the olive oil and heat. Add the sweet potato and onion, and stir. When the onion starts to smell good, add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and salt to taste and stir them all together. 

Add the stock, tomatoes, and black beans, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the sweet potato is tender and the sauce is as thick as you like it, about 20 minutes, give or take.

Ladle into bowls and top with your favorite toppings.

The Lucky Ones

 Well, here I am again. A couple of years have passed since I last wrote a blog post but everything in our lives for the past six months has changed due to the Covid pandemic, and the addition of dangerous levels of smoke from the many fires in California, Oregon, and Washington have finally brought me to my knees. 

The lockdown caused by the virus wasn't too bad - I missed things like riding lessons at my stable and not seeing my grandchildren frequently and always at a distance, but I counted myself amongst the lucky ones who weren't worried about losing a job (I'm retired) and my income (pensions, thank heavens), or trying to homeschool young children. My Beloved and I even continued (masked and distanced) to deliver for our Meals on Wheels clients, so we got out of the house once a week to do something rewarding. As I said, we were the lucky ones.

Then, the fires began and, again, we were still amongst the lucky ones. The fires were not close to our house and no one we knew was threatened, at first. But the heavy smoke blew all over California and turned, for a least one day, the sky a dull orange color, darkening the sky so much that our automatic headlights came on as we delivered at noontime for Meals on Wheels. Each day since has come with gray smoke in the air and a layer of ash falling like dirty snow over everything. That snow represents peoples' homes, and cherished mementos, and livelihoods, not to mention their very lives. That recognition has weight, even for the lucky ones.

That level of smoke meant that it was advisable to stay indoors as much as possible. One of my small pleasures during the Covid lockdown has been to sit outside on our deck to read in the afternoon. I would take a magazine or a book out there, with a glass of ice water, and spend a few hours under the sunshade either reading or chatting with neighbors who stopped by, carefully distanced, or strangers who found their way down our small street. So, when the smoke came, I had to come indoors.

Yes, I can still read inside. But it got harder to feel lucky, much harder. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Quiet Dynamite

It's not often these days when I post something new here, as most of my favorites have been posted long ago, and recently I just make up dinner from what I have in the fridge. But last week, I took leftovers to an all-time high and I can't resist bragging on them.

Several magic ingredients went into this dish of lemony, garlicky white beans with zucchini and yesterday's lamb. The first was the beans themselves - I learned an important trick when I had cooked in chicken broth 'way too many beans for the two of us and went online looking for more recipes. I didn't find a great recipe but I did discover that one can FREEZE the extras for another day! Oh, heaven!  So, I bundled up three two-cup packages and stuck them in the freezer, just the right amount for us two.

One of the packages came out to make this dish. I also had about 1/2 of a cup of chicken goozle (juices I saved from a previous roast chicken and defatted after refrigerating them), four small zucchinis, four fat cloves of garlic, a sprinkle of dried thyme, and a thinly sliced lemon.

I started by cooking the minced garlic briefly in a little olive oil, then adding the thyme until it smelled like heaven, then mixed in the rest of the ingredients, including the skin-on lemon slices and simmered over medium-low heat until the zucchini chunks were losing their integrity and the beans were starting to add some of their starch to the "gravy," about 20-30 minutes.

Then, there is nothing to do but divide it in two in deep bowls and top it with slices of left over lamb loin still pink and lovely from a day or two before. The beans gently warm the lamb but don't over cook it, and the strong lemon flavor really jazzes up the beans. The thyme and garlic add layers of richness. 

Quiet dynamite.

Monday, June 4, 2018

It's Not About the Scones

It's not about the scones. Even though they were studded richly with ripe Rodriguez strawberries. Even though they were made from my favorite recipe for cream scones. Even though they were presented on the pretty pale blue glass cake plate that I bought years ago at an antique fair. With all that going for them, it was still not about the scones.

It was about the day. A pure, warm, clear Northern California morning, bathed in sunshine so bright I needed sunglasses and a hat. Now, you may think, "Sheesh, she lives in California!  Isn't every day like that?" But asking that would prove to me that you are from anywhere else. The Chamber of Commerce would like to sell you that vision, but the reality is that it exists almost exclusively in the southern part of California, not up here where our famous fog makes it far more likely to have a clammy, overcast morning in spring and summer than a clear, warm one. So, when I awake to a windless morning bathed in sunshine, I have to make the most of it.

It was about the sharing. Knowing that our neighbor is particularly fond of freshly baked scones, I wanted to include her in the feast. Sharing them with her builds neighborly good will (as well as saving us from the entire calorie load of a batch of scones - ahem!) and gladdens not only her day but ours, too. Baked goods have a way of doing that. They are magic.

It was about the crowing. Our local basketball powerhouse, the Golden State Warriors, had triumphed the night before in the first game of the championship series. It's important to crow a little after a win, since the losses sometimes follow and they are much less fun. Crowing with a true fan like Doreen - truth be told, we are fair-weather fans, only really interested if the team makes the finals - makes it even better.

It's about the celebration, really, of all those things. The sun, the warmth of both air and friendship, the flavor of the strawberries ripe in the spring, the fortune of living on a funny little street where neighbors stop and chat even on the days when they can't sit down for a few minutes to eat a scone and share a gloating.

And, okay, it was also about the scones.

Cream Scones, from America's Test Kitchen

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and position the rack in the middle of the oven.

2 cups unbleached flour
1 Tbs baking powder
3 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt (fine, not coarse like kosher salt)
5 Tbs butter, cut into 1/4" cubes
1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream) (or half-and-half if that's all you have on hand)
1/2 cup dried or fresh fruit, chopped to the size of currants
1-2 tsp turbinado (coarse) sugar, optional

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside. 
Put the first four ingredients into the bowl of a food processor with the steel blade in place. Pulse 6 times. Remove cover and distribute butter cubes evenly over dry ingredients. Cover and pulse 12 times for 1 second each.

Pour into a large bowl and stir in the fruit. Stir in the heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork, just until the dough begins to form, about 30 seconds. (The trick with scones, as with biscuits, is not to handle the dough too much).

Transfer to countertop and knead by hand just until it comes together to form a rough, sticky ball, 5-10 seconds.

Transfer to parchment paper, pat into a round about 1-1/2 inches thick and cut into 8 sections, spreading the sections gently apart to give them room to rise. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, if desired.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until light brown*. Cool on a rack for about 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Mine took about 5 minutes longer. And, yes, I like using the turbinado sugar.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tribute Beans

You know that feeling when you are digging around in the freezer and come up with a frozen gem you had forgotten because it was there for 'way too long?  A mixture of puzzlement (what is that? when did I put it in there?) and triumph (wow, cool thing for dinner!). That's just how I felt when I unearthed a smoked turkey thigh that I bought 'way back in 2017 and forgot. I couldn't even remember where I purchased it until I read the label - El Cerrito Natural Grocery!

I also had some pinto beans from Rancho Gordo that were a gift from Ferrari-Carano vineyards last Christmas when we attended their holiday celebration with Cousin Jan. So, I put the beans to soak and the turkey to thaw, dreaming of dinner the next day.

And the day after that. And the day after that! I forgot that what looks like a small package of beans makes a boatload once soaked, so I had plenty for us and for our neighbor Doreen, who was suffering from bronchitis. 

I used as my template a recipe that came with the beans, a recipe dear to the heart of Don Carano, the founder of the winery who passed away last year. I like the idea of giving beans as a tribute to Don, don't you?

I did change up the recipe. Don't I always?

Smoked Turkey and Pinto Beans

2 cups dried pinto beans
2 cups water, or 2 cups of chicken broth, enough to cover (I used water)
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1/4 pound lean bacon or salt pork (I used lardons)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 fresh sage leaves or 1/4 tsp dried (I'm not a big sage fan, so I omitted this)
1 small hot red pepper, dried, with seeds removed (didn't have so I did a generous shaking of Cholula hot sauce instead)
1/2 tsp sugar
1 Tbs chili powder
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce (didn't have, so used soy sauce)
salt and pepper to taste

*1 smoked turkey thigh, cubed off the bone (not Don's idea)

Soak beans overnight in cold water. Drain and rinse. In a medium pot, sauté bacon, onion, and garlic, Add beans and cover with water or chicken broth. Add 2 chicken bouillon cubes if using water. Add sage, red pepper, chili powder, sugar, salt and pepper. (*Here, I added my smoked turkey meat to cook along with the beans. It was already cooked, but I wanted it to share its goodness with the beans). Cover and cook over medium heat for 45 minutes or until beans are tender. Add Worcestershire sauce and adjust seasonings. Serve with Italian sweet sausages, French bread, and Ferrari-Carano Zinfandel.

 So good, so deeply smoky and satisfying, so sustaining and warming were these beans and turkey that we ate them for a week and still weren't tired of them by the time we got to the bottom of the pot. The sauce that formed around them was perhaps the best part - I literally scraped the bottom of the bowl to get every drop. Goozle heaven!

Next time, I'll make half the recipe but, all in all, I think Don would have been pleased with his tribute beans.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Back home from Hawaii and enjoying the first really drenching rain of the season, I decided to do some laundry and to change out our holiday napkins and placemats for something cheerful and bright. Digging down through the drawer that holds our table linens, I came across these, a gift from My Beloved's daughter Sarah's semester abroad in France. To me, they speak of the bright skies and sunflowers that Van Gogh found when he moved south to Arles.

Sarah was a International Studies student at the University of Oregon in 1997 when she elected to spend a semester during her Junior year in Provence. I admit to a teensy flash of raw envy when she would email her accounts of the wine tasting class she was taking and the relaxed and sunny time she reported having in Aix-en-Provence. Not a bad location for foreign study, huh?

Sarah started college a year before her parents divorced, and both she and Katie were kind to me but understandably a bit aloof when I came into his life around the same time. We had what I'd call a cordial relationship from the get-go, but a year later when Sarah brought us these beautiful placemats, I took them as an overture of true friendship; she knows how much I love setting a pretty table.

After she graduated and moved to Boston, she started her career, met Mr. Right, married, had two beautiful children, lost her mother to cancer, and moved back to the Bay Area, all in what seems in retrospect like a whirlwind, but really was about 10 years. Through all that time, whenever we used her placemats, I got a warm feeling as I decorated the table with their bright patterns. The edges are a little frayed these days but I won't give them up until they are so thin and threadbare that they no longer protect the table. They have meaning for me.

Thank you, Sarah.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

One Paddle, Two Paddle, Three Paddle, for to take me home...

There’s nothing like a visit to one’s childhood home to evoke a zillion memories. Hawaii is that place for me. I spent only two years there as a child back when Hawaii was a Territory rather than a State, ages six to eight, but it was the first place in our vagabond Navy life that really felt like home. Later, I spent six years there as a young adult. It is still, almost fifty years later, my heart’s home.

Imagine the delight of a six year old child who moves by car, Pullman train, and steamship from Washington, DC to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Greeted with flower leis. No more closed shoes. Warm rain in which to paddle. No more jackets. Open air classrooms. The swimming pool not two blocks away. No restrictions on where I could go in our little neighborhood, protected as it was by snappy Marine guards. So many kinds of freedom!

And the new flavors!  In those days, pineapples came right out of the fields, deftly peeled and sectioned with the same wickedly sharp machetes that lopped them off the plant, and dripping so much sweet juice that I have never again tasted such good ones.

Teriyaki sticks were made of thinly sliced ribbons of beef, slalomed onto bamboo skewers, marinated in a salty, tangy shoyu/ginger sauce that was looser and less sweet than today’s, then grilled on an hibachi. I need to experiment to reproduce that flavor!

Li Hing Mui dried fruits puckered our lips while sending sweet messages to the brain, a compelling whipsaw for the tastebuds. My sister Nancy loved Li Hing flavors, although she claims not to remember them now.

A beach day out at Makaha meant a long drive in our Oldsmobile, a picnic lunch packed meticulously by our mother, a soak in the sun for my already brown body, a swim in water of uncountable shades of blue and green, and the long, sleepy ride home. Sandy, salty and hungry as we always were, the usual stop at Tastee Freez for a cone was enough to have us all asleep in the back seat of our two-tone gray Olds sedan. I imagine that was blessed relief for the parents up front.

These and many more memories flood me when I visit these Islands, especially Oahu. Today, I visited my parents’ grave in Punchbowl, remembering all the years we were lucky enough to have them around. Dad has been gone almost twenty years and Mom nearly thirty. Tomorrow, we fly back to California where we live now, leaving behind this magical place that still means freedom and “ohana” (family) to me.

One of our last nights, we had dinner in Honolulu's Chinatown where there was a live Hawaiian singer, complete with guitar and muumuu. She had a clear, vigorous voice, and was asking for requests. I asked for an old favorite, Kui Lee's "One Paddle, Two Paddle" and she had me in tears with her sweet, sad version.

"One Paddle, Two Paddle" by Kui Lee.
One paddle, two paddle, three paddle, for to take me home. Fourteen on the right, fourteen on the left. Take me to Hawaii nei. 
I went away a long time, such a long time, a long time ago. Seen enough cities to last a lifetime, goin' away no more.
One paddle, two paddle, three paddle for to take me home. Fourteen on the right, fourteen on the left. Take me to Hawaii nei. 
I want to smell the flowers, sweet sweet flowers.
Where the trade winds blow. Seen enough fences to last a lifetime, goin' away no more.
One paddle, two paddle, three paddle for to take me home. Fourteen on the right, fourteen on the left. Take me to Hawaii nei.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Bread and Safety Pins

My Facebook feed is full of angst these days - all my progressive friends are filled with justifiable fear for the future under Donald Trump, and all the conservatives I know are scornful in their tone regarding the progressives. Both sides seem surprised by the outcome of the election - the progressives stunned and the conservatives gleeful.

As usual, I'm somewhere in between. I always feared that Hillary's long history in this country would overcome her obviously superior qualifications. I am aware that, despite great progress in women's equality during my lifetime, many Americans are not ready for a woman president yet, and that idea was borne out. So, I was not as surprised as some, although I was deeply disappointed and honestly baffled that anyone would vote for a man whose campaign rhetoric was uniformly negative, scornful of norms of polite discourse, and openly misogynistic, hateful, and frightening. I'm sad to say that white privilege and male privilege are safe in this country for the foreseeable future.

And I am in mourning for the upcoming loss of the best President of my lifetime. President Obama and his family have been so superior, have shown us how true gentlemen and ladies behave, have been so human and so lovely - I will miss them very, very much. As Mrs. Obama said, "When they go low, we go high." That philosophy has pertained to international as well as domestic affairs, and I have admired them during what had to be a very tough eight years of their lives. 

Like so many of my friends, I'm trying to decide what to do. I'm not one to take to the streets with protests - I'll leave that to those who lean in that direction. My protests will be quieter, and will probably take the form of sending donations to fight the ugliness I see coming, calling my congresspeople to let them know how I feel on various issues as they come up, wearing a safety pin when I go out to signal that I am a safe haven for anyone who needs one, and trying in some small way to understand the anger that ushered Trump into office.

When I'm in need of comfort and reassurance, I turn to things I know I do well. I make soup, usually hearty soup that warms from the inside out. I make dates to get together with friends who understand how I feel, people I can trust and with whom I can explore my ideas, people who will gently set me straight if my thinking is faulty. And, I will bake bread. I fall back on baking bread, good, sturdy bread such as the one I ate as a child. 

My mother always bought Pepperidge Farm bread - not the mushy nonsense that goes under that name today, but a firm, solid loaf that was so dense it could be sliced in half lengthwise, making a sandwich from a single slice of bread. It came wrapped in a thick, white waxed paper with the name and logo printed in red; this was well before plastic bags came on the scene.

When I was a young newlywed, one of my wedding presents was Margaret Rudkin's wonderful Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. Illustrated with colorful drawings and packed with homey recipes, it is still a favorite of mine nearly fifty years later.  Her recipe for standard white bread is that exact loaf that I recall from my childhood and, to my mind, it can't be improved upon.

So, today for the first time in a long time, I got out my flour canister, searched through my kitchen drawers for packets of yeast, and heated my oven. These days, I have a warming drawer, so proofing the bread is no longer an exercise in dodging drafts; I just slide the bowls into the drawer, cover them with my favorite dish towel like a baby being put to bed, and pull the dough out an hour later, plump and high and already smelling of comfort.

Punch it down, knead it again, shape it into loaves, and back into the warming drawer. My loaf pans are dark mahogany brown from all the years of use and they almost don't need lubrication any more, as they have a rich patina from all the loaves that went before. I have six pans so I could make six loaves at a time and freeze some. Today, I only had yeast for four. So be it.

I will wrap them snugly and freeze most of them for the days ahead when I need that solid reassurance of well made bread, full of old fashioned goodness. In the meantime, I'll keep one out to slice and toast and spread with the richness of butter. In times like these we look for the comfort of safety pins on people's collars and homemade bread to fuel our protests.