Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gifts That Keep On Giving

Only the prosciutto on this plate was not a gift.

The peaches came from our wedding present tree and the plate itself was a gift from my Virginia brother and his wife, who brought it with them last Christmas.

The idea of using fruit and prosciutto together was a gift from my mother, who first tasted prosciutto and melon in Italy many years ago and told me about it; the inventiveness to try other fruits is also her gift - she was always one to experiment.

The "mmmms" and "aaaaahs" that come from serving this appetizer are also gifts of a different kind, compliments that make my head (and heart) swell. Sweet!

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Veggie Bundles, Take Two

The last veggie bundles I made tasted so good that I was inspired to use this simple technique again when Naomi and Sam came to dinner.

All you do is slice fresh veggies onto a square of parchment paper, add herbs and a dot of butter and bake. Last time, I folded the paper into tidy packets - this time, I thought gathering the four corners together and twisting would give it more flair.

I also played with the contents a bit - added a dab of lemon butter, thinly sliced marinated artichoke hearts and two colors of sweet cherry tomatoes (the yellow ones thanks to Chilebrown and Ms. Goofy who grew them in their garden) to the zucchini, sliced fennel, slivered shallot, pitted Tuscan table olives and sliced pattypan squash. Sprinkled with some Mediterranean herbs and baked the bundles at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.

As each guest opened the twist, the bright colors and the lovely aromas revealed the veggie treasure inside the festive presentation - and then we had fun making basketballs out of the paper and shooting hoops into the kitchen sink!

If you want to discourage such rowdy nonsense, use the tidy packets but for maximum fun I'd definitely recommend the twists.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sam 'n' Eggs

My Beloved relishes poached eggs. He says, "Eggs, toast, butter - what's not to like?"

He's also adventurous and will try just about anything, so when we had a little lightly smoky planked salmon left over, he plopped it under his poached egg and over his toast for a taste treat he recommends to one and all.

We're calling it Sam 'n' Eggs.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jojo's Good Medicine Continues

The next course of our relaxing Jojo's dinner was corn soup. You can tell from the light that it was toward sunset on a summer evening.

The soup was sweet and smooth, the herbal oil decorative and delicious, the shortcake "croutons" crispy and buttery but not at all sugary, leaving the natural sweetness of the fresh corn soup to shine.

It's hard to stay tense with food this good, light this mellow and company this cherished. Thank you, Jojo's.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jojo's Mojo

When you're looking for a place to meet a stressed-out young family member for dinner, I can highly recommend Jojo's on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. The friendly, cheerful atmosphere starts the unwinding process as soon as you come through the door, the quiet jazz sets a relaxed tone, the rose' wine we ordered soothed her jangled nerves, and the food just continued the gentling of a hard-knocks kind of day.

We started by sharing the country pate', two generous triangles of pink and green goodness studded with pistachios and garnished with a nice, fiery mustard, tiny puckery cornichons,
salty olives and sharp radish slices. We all nodded enthusiastically and rolled our eyes as it hit the taste buds.

As we ordered our main courses and the conversation flowed, she turned from the aggravations of the moment and started talking about the hefty raise and the kudos she had earned at work.

See what I mean?

We like Jojo's mojo even when we are in a good mood but it's particularly nice for lifting low spirits!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ratty Touie

Not being a lover of eggplant, still I love the rest of ratatouille, so sometimes I fudge it a little and make what I call Ratty Touie, a bastardized version of the real thing. The ingredients change a little each time - there's not a lot you can do to ruin Ratty Touie!

This time, I got a little creative, mostly because I didn't have all the ingredients in the house but had some other stuff that sounded fun and Mediterranean-ish - so, what the heck?

I sliced fairly thinly zucchinis, pattypan squash, fresh tomatoes and marinated artichoke hearts, the kind that come in a squat bottle, and
peeled the papery skins off some of my slow-roasted tomato* halves.

I quartered some large shallots through the root end and minced two big cloves of garlic. After sauteeing the shallots and garlic in a little olive oil, I skimmed the bottom of a deep, lidded casserole with more olive oil, then layered the veggies in it one by one, alternating the shallot-garlic mixture with the other layers and sprinkling each layer with herbes de Provence. When I got to the top layer, I poured about half the vinaigrette from the jar of artichoke hearts over the whole thing, put on the lid and baked it in a 350 degree oven for about an hour - you'll know when it is ready as the whole house smells of the perfume.

All the veggies relaxed against each other and mingled like guests at a good party where everyone knows everyone else and no one is out to dominate, except perhaps those slow-roasted tomatoes - they are such showoffs! Sweetly oniony and softly savory, it was one of the best things I've made this summer, even if it is a little ratty.

*If you don't have slow-roasted tomatoes on hand, I think sun-dried ones might work but I'd layer them toward the bottom of the casserole where the juices from the other veggies would moisten them.

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Monday, August 25, 2008


When one encounters young people these days, one does not always expect good manners.

Doesn't that last sentence make me sound like a crabby old poop?

Nevertheless, it's sad but true - the Youth of today aren't always taught to respect their elders, to send thank you notes, and to bring hostess gifts. Luckily for me, most of the young people I know do have good manners.

When she asked if she could bring something to our dinner, I had reassured young Naomi and her beau, Sam, that their company would be gift enough.
Thank heavens young people today don't listen to their elders, either! Look what a lovely hostess gift they brought me - what could be tastier than a selection of Penzeys Spices packed in lovely bay leaves? Sam assures me that the Chicago Steak Seasoning and the Northwood Fire Seasoning will thrill our taste buds - we can hardly wait!

So nice when young people have been taught good manners - and good taste!


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Beemster Winner

I promised a few days ago to let you know how the Beemster cheese worked out in my mac and cheese dish; here's the review.

Note that I didn't have any elbow macaroni in the house so made do with this farfalle pasta. As the pasta cooked, I sauteed a chopped onion in a knob of butter until soft, then added about two tablespoons of flour, cooking it briefly to make the flour buttery, then gradually added about 1-1/2 cups milk and whisked to remove any lumps. To that white sauce, I added about 1/2 pound of shredded aged Beemster gouda cheese, stirring until it incorporated into the sauce. Draining the pasta briefly in a colander, I added it to the hot sauce, stirring to coat all the pasta. Let it cool; reheated before serving. For some reason, cooling it first really improves the flavor of mac and cheese.

And the Beemster? A complete and total success! It was rich, deep and cheesy, really tasty and satisfying, even better than cheddar. The heat mellowed the cheese a bit from its sharp and salty original state, and really brought out the aged flavor of the cheese. It didn't melt as easily as cheddar does but the extra stirring is well worth it when you enjoy the Beemster winner!

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pocket Lunch

I'm continually surprised by how delicious lunch can be when scrounged out of stuff we already have in the house. I was feeling lazy and didn't want to go out shopping one day this week - but I managed to salvage a lunch and a dinner out of leftovers and ingredients already in the fridge.

These pita sandwiches are a good case in point. I had the pitas on hand and a leftover half a chicken from dinner the night before. I cubed about a cup of the chicken, added chopped broccoli and peeled, seeded, cubed cucumber, mixing them with a sauce made of a dab of mayo, the juice from half a lemon, a splash of milk and heaping tablespoon of curry powder.* Stuffed the chicken mixture into the pita pockets and it was a lovely lunch, easy to make and I didn't even have to leave the kitchen, much less the house!

*If you're making something similar, start with less curry powder and taste - different brands vary in strength and this one might be too spicy for some people.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Mrs. Grassley

No picture today because I never took one of Mrs. Grassley and it would be cheating to insert one of some generic English lady just for show.

I've been thinking a good deal about Mrs. Grassley recently. I met her many years ago when my first husband and I went to England, he on business and I for sightseeing. Mrs. Grassley was his colleague's wife. Knowing I worked in a college, she kindly invited me to go with her to Oxford to see the university and to meet her daughter, who was a student there. We toured the campus, enjoyed seeing the undergrads in their short black robes, visited the famous Bodleian Library, remarked on the stone steps so worn by hundreds of years' of student feet that they were swaybacked in the middle, admired the Christ Church College border garden aburst with color on that June day, and had lunch in a pub. For one who enjoyed studying and working in higher education, a day in Oxford is like a pilgrim's visit to a holy site.

After our Oxford visit, we were to meet the husbands for dinner, so we drove to Mrs. Grassley's home through the lovely English countryside. I was so jet-lagged that I fell asleep in the car, full of pub food, history and good will. When we arrived home, Mrs. Grassley put me into her daughter's room, tucked up under an afghan, for a little sleep before the guys got there and, when I awoke, gave me tea and cookies and, most of all, such kindness that I have never forgotten her.

When young Naomi was arriving from England, I remembered Mrs. Grassley and all her many kindnesses to a Yank from upstate New York. She didn't have to take me to Oxford or share her home with me - she did it out of sheer kindness and hospitality. She has remained for me a model of graciousness in the 20+ years since I knew her.

Thank you, Mrs. Grassley, wherever you are!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Copy Cat

I have a big sister. Now that we're both older and more "mature," that's a good thing - we've become pretty good friends. Growing up, however, things were not all sweetness and light.

Being the younger, I always wanted to do what she did, play with her and her friends, borrow her stuff, wear what she wore - in short, I wanted to be her copy cat.

Apparently, I still have that trait as, when Cookiecrumb blogged about the book she got from the library, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I wanted immediately to copy her. I found the book and finally got around to purchasing the baking stone and large container for the dough that the authors recommend.

Here's my first loaf. It's a little irregular in shape - the dough I made was comically loose and sticky (not the fault of the book) - but the taste and the crust were really pretty good. The book says the bread will gain increasingly a more sourdough flavor and I hope that's true as I love sourdough bread.

There's a real thrill to making one's own bread and if I can actually turn out a reasonable sourdough loaf I won't care if my sister and Cookiecrumb cry, "Copy cat!"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


My friend Sunny, she who was hostess for our wedding 9+ years ago, invited me and Bonnie (we three were students together at a French boarding school when we were teenagers) to lunch last week and served this kind of cheese - Beemster.

I know, I know, it sounds like a hip description of a Bavarian Motor Works automobile, but actually it's a really interesting cheese. It tastes like a cross between gouda and cheddar, and comes in two styles. The younger one is creamy and soft, rather like Tillamook cheddar in texture, but with more depth of flavor. The aged version is sharp and salty, with tiny crystals of salt coalesced here and there in the firm cheese - really interesting, if a little too intense for my taste.

I plan to finish the young Beemster as nibbling cheese but I'm thinking of making the aged one into a killer mac and cheese. What do you think? Sound good? I'll let you know how it turns out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Omnivore's 100

I'm finding the Omnivore's 100 meme all over the blogosphere, so I thought I'd join in. I had to look up a bunch of the items, as I had never heard of them, but it was fun. If you want to take part, read the instructions and have enjoy!

Thanks to Andrew for starting the meme!

How the Omnivore's 100 works:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional: Post a comment at
Very Good Taste, linking to your results.

MY OMNIVORE'S 100 Score (66 out of 100):

2. Nettle tea

Huevos rancheros
Steak tartare (My Beloved's favorite)
5. Crocodile

Black pudding
Cheese fondue
8. Carp

Baba ghanoush
PB&J sandwich
Aloo gobi (don't even know what that is! Note to self: look it up.)
Hot dog from a street cart
Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes

Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream (my Dad's favorite)
21. Heirloom tomatoes
Fresh wild berries
Foie gras
Rice and beans
Brawn or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (a cross-out)
27. Dulce de leche
Bagna cauda
Wasabi peas
Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi (I trust this is not a collie dog)

Root beer float
Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted Cream Tea
38. Vodka Jelly/Jell-O

Gumbo (but didn't like the okra slime)
40. Oxtail (stew)
41. Curried goat (curry lots but not goat)

Whole insects (Chocolate covered ants)
43. Phaal (I don't have a cross-out feature but I'd have crossed this one out if I did)

44. Goat's milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth $120 or more (thanks, Guy)

Chicken tikka masala
Eel (smoked)
Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
Sea urchin
Prickly pear
53. Abalone
McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
(aaah, Belgium!)
59. Poutine (looks positively scary)

Carob chips (only once and never again!)
61. S’mores
63. kaolin (had to look it up - a mineral? I'm not big on eating minerals, except salt)

64. Currywurst
65. Durian

Frogs' legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (no, yes, yes, yes)
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings or andouillette

71. Gazpacho
Caviar and blini
Louche absinthe
Gjetost or brunost
76. Baijiu

Hostess Fruit Pie (probably, in my misspent youth, along with Twinkies)
78. Snail

Lapsang Souchong
81. Tom Yum

Eggs Benedict
3 Michelin Star Tasting Menu
Kobe beef
86. Hare

89. Horse (Probably, in boarding school in France but our headmistress wouldn't admit it)

Criollo chocolate
Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
Mole poblano
Bagel and lox
Lobster Thermidor
Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake (a cross-out, I think)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Traffic Jam Solution

I enjoy living in Northern California; this part of the nation has a lot to recommend it. We have beautiful scenery, great food, low humidity, easy weather and few bugs. Okay, yes, we have the occasional earthquake but, all in all, life is pretty darn good here except for the traffic.

One is fairly safe venturing out between 10am and 3pm but either side of those times driving can be a nightmare of inching along, staring fearfully at the bumper of the car ahead, when even a minute's inattention can cause a rear-ender that costs thousands of dollars and a whole lot of negative energy. I was lucky that for most of my working life in the bay area, I was able to ride BART back and forth to work and to pity the poor bastards out on the freeways in the linear parking lot.

However, even as a retired person, every now and then I encounter a traffic jam. Luckily, My Beloved has a great solution - he ducks out and finds the nearest nice restaurant to wait it out. Last week, when there was some difficulty on the Golden Gate Bridge which sent all the cars crawling toward the Bay Bridge hoping to avoid the jam and thereby creating another jam on the other side of town, we jumped out of the ant trail of cars and drove through the Presidio to Pres a Vi, a wine bar and restaurant inside the new-ish campus of Industrial Light and Magic.

The restaurant was nearly empty at 5:30pm when we arrived - the wait staff was delighted to see us. The menu is a movable feast of small plate options and one of the most fun offerings was soup in either cups, bowls or "shots." I couldn't resist a shot of sweet corn soup - it came in a vodka glass, truly a shot of soup, and was quite tasty and fresh. They serve a variety of crisp breads and soft rolls, all in small nibble sizes so you don't fill up too much before dinner arrives, and even offer half glasses of wine if you want just a sip to go along with dinner. We really liked the concept of small, interchangeable options.

For a main course, I had the meaty pork spareribs "Adobo," which was quite delicious and served over brown fried rice with intriguing little bits of a sweet salami sauteed in with the rice. It was 'way too big to finish, so it came home and made a delicious lunch the next day. MB chose the crab cakes and the pasta with two kinds of wild mushrooms, both really tasty.

By the time we finished our dinner and enjoyed a little stroll around the lovely garden designed by the ingenious Lawrence Halprin, the traffic jam had magically melted away and we sailed home full of good food and happy with our traffic jam solution.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want.

So, I'm in the kitchen with the radio for company, gently rocking to the music, halving tomatoes to slow roast and thinking, "Hmmm, those nectarines need eating soon."

Flash! Why not try slow roasting the nectarines, too?

Wouldn't they get all soft and even more intense than they are naturally? Wouldn't they be like leathery candy? What would I use them for if it works? Can I really bear to waste one of these lovely fresh nectarines if it doesn't work? Should I take a few minutes to look online first and see what others have tried?

Nah, let's just go for it!

Well, I shoulda checked online. Long, slow roasting doesn't improve nectarines. The tops got leathery but not sweet and the bottoms stayed soft, but a little too soft, mushy even, and no more flavorful than the fresh fruit would have been. Ick.

Turns out that nectarines do like heat but fast, hot heat like roasting in a hot oven or grilling, according to all the wisdom I found on the internet, after the fact. Oh, well, at least I only wasted one of my lovely nectarines to become "experienced"!


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Trug Soup

I have an active imagination. When I began my garden, I imagined myself wafting out to my productive little patch, probably wearing a floaty Loretta Youngesque sundress and a picture hat, romantic-looking trug in hand, to harvest all the wonders that Nature would have provided.


The reality is that I do my harvesting in baggy pants and without a basket, romantic-looking or otherwise, as my two pockets and a single handful pretty much fills the bill. I was pretty resentful of that fact, too, until I made soup one day from the contents of my imaginary trug.

Okay, I did add two red potatoes, a large onion, three garlic cloves, two (Chilebrown) chili peppers, a fennel bulb, four ears of corn and a quart of veggie stock that didn't originate on my property but the fresh thyme, greenie beanies and zucchinis were my very own.

The preparation was the usual for soup - soften the aromatics in olive oil, add the thyme until it becomes fragrant and dump in the stock and the rest of the chopped veggies (except the corn, which I reserved until the end - I like crisp corn) and simmer until you can't wait any longer to ladle it into a bowl for the first taste. Add salt and pepper as you like.

It was dreamy.

Now my romantic vision is of a perfectly set table with the sun setting behind My Beloved's shoulders as we slurp our Trug Soup, holding hands by candlelight. This fantasy is far more likely to come true.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Lobstah Dinnah

About the last place you'd expect to find a sumptuous lobster dinner is a little out-of-the-way strip mall in Redwood City, CA.; one of the few things the East Coast does better than California is growing lobsters. Luckily, I am able upon occasion to subdue my guilt feelings at eating something so not local as lobster on the San Francisco peninsula.

Feeling frisky, My Beloved and I each ordered the Naked (gasp!) Lobster Roll, which comes with nearly an entire lobster's worth of meat (oh, my!) on a fresh bun that has been crisped on the grill before they add the large chunks of lobster. It was served with a side of cole slaw that had chopped raisins in it (interesting!) and a little container each of mayo (boo!) and clarified butter (yay!). "Naked" in this case means not dressed at all - you just pour as much butter as you like over the hefty chunks of lobster, open wide and try in vain to fit a bite of this huge sandwich into your mouth. Chew thoughtfully, as the taste of fresh Maine lobster tickles your taste buds and closes your eyelids in sheer, luxurious delight.

There was no room for dessert, almost a first for MB and me. The $20 price tag for this sandwich was eye-opening only until the first bite, when I found myself nodding and saying, "Oh, yeah, oh, yeah, worth every penny for a wonderful lobstah dinnah!"

*By the way, today is the anniversary of Julia Child's birthday so raise a glass in her honor wherever you are! And, enjoy this interplay between her and Jacques Pepin as they make a Pain Bagnat!


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shirred Eggs with Style

A recent Sunset magazine article featured eggs baked in hollowed pattypan squash, an idea with appeal. Theirs looked like the yellow one in the picture; I also wanted to try a globe zucchini just for fun, changing the recipe a bit to suit my own tastes.

All you do is cut the bottom off the squash to make a stable (and edible) base, then slice off the top and scoop out the insides, leaving a thin 1/4" shell. The squashes are then brushed with olive oil and baked alongside their tops for about 15 minutes in a 375 degree oven until they are fork tender but still hold their shape. So far, so good - but this is where I diverged.

Rather than using sauteed onion and garlic as Sunset recommended, I used some roasted shallot I had left over and fresh, minced thyme from my garden. You just need a little of the filling, unless you are making these for a crowd, perhaps a tablespoon for each squash. Then, you crack an egg into each veggie ramekin (if some of the white runs down the side, just gently wipe it off or lift out the extra so it doesn't cook on the squash and spoil the symmetry of the finished dish) and put them back into the oven for about 15-20 minutes, depending on how firm you like your egg. You can spoon a little milk on top to keep the egg from drying out.

Having baked both in the same pan, I'd probably recommend that you separate the pattypans from the zucchinis another time - the pattypan, being smaller, cooked faster than the zucchini. If I was making the two again, I'd start the zucchini ones about 3-5 minutes before the pattypans.

I liked many things about this dish - the delicate texture of the eggs, the delicious surprise of the savory shallot underneath, the combination with the squash and the flavor of thyme. The only thing it lacked was something to add just a little richness and texture, the way buttered toast enhances poached eggs. Another time, I might serve it with toasted, buttered and garlic-rubbed baguette slices or perhaps on a bed of wilted spinach and drizzled with some hollandaise sauce. Alternatively, you could add some chopped ham or smoked salmon to the onion mixture.

Any way you serve them, these are definitely baked eggs with style.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tea Ball on Steroids

Cousin J-Yah loves garage sales and she is a true connoisseur; she scopes them out in record time, rejects all the junk and manages to buy wonderful things for a song. She found my tiered stand and the crinkle cutter, for example. When she brought me this contraption, however, my faith in her was shaken.

What does one do with a tea ball on steroids? I thanked her and, after she went home, put it away in the very back of a cupboard where I put things that, frankly, I never use.

Then, I learned how to make mint-chamomile iced tea this summer, which involves immersing tea bags and crushed mint leaves in water - and then having to fish them out, one by one.

You guessed it - I rummaged around 'way in the back of that cabinet again and brought forth the perfect solution, the giant tea ball! It opens up to accommodate
easily the leaves and tea bags, works to weigh them down in the water, and is easy to remove with the chain, which is long enough to wrap around the pitcher's handle so it doesn't fall in!

The woman is a genius as well as a garage sale maven!

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Summer Fruit Heaven

Having made Pear Croustade last year from Cousin J-Yah's recipe, I wanted to try one this summer using white nectarines and cherries. Somehow, that combination sounded like near nirvana to me, so this week, I made one.

This time, I used the recipe for pate brisee* that came in my Cuisinart instruction manual thirty years ago, then just loaded the pitted, sliced fruit into the crust, dotted it with butter and sprinkled a single tablespoon of turbinado sugar over the crust and already-sweet fruit before turning up the crust around the fruit and baking it in a 350 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes.

Initially, I was a little apprehensive when it came out of the oven as it wasn't bubbling and shiny like most fruit pies, but the first bite dispelled any concerns. It retained the essence of the two kinds of fruit, except where the mingled juices made a juicy, sexy marriage of flavors. Served with just a dollop of creme fraiche on top, it made a lovely summer dessert, as close to transcendance as I have found on earth.

*Pate Brisee (Basic Pastry Dough) from the Cuisinart instruction manual, 1978.

2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
1 cup (2 sticks) very cold butter, cut into 1" pieces (I use frozen)
1-1/2 tsp. salt (original recipe calls for 2 tsps. but I find that unpleasantly salty)
1/2 cup minus 1 Tbs. ice water
1 egg yolk

With metal blade in place, add flour, butter, egg yolk and salt to the work bowl. Process for 8-10 seconds, or until mixture has the consistency of coarse meal. With processor running, pour ice water through feed tube in a steady stream. Stop processing as soon as dough begins to form a ball. Turn out onto waxed paper and shape into two smooth, flattened disks (for a two-crust pie - if making a crousade, keep it all together). Use immediately or wrap in plastic and refrigerate or freeze for later use.

When ready to roll chilled dough, let stand at room temperature to soften slightly. Allow frozen dough thaw for 10 to 15 minutes. Roll on lightly floured board to 1/8 inch thickness. Fit into pan or pans and chill again before baking to prevent shrinkage.

Makes enough pastry for a double-crust 10-inch pie, or one large croustade.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

If At First You Don't Succeed...

I kept thinking that Tarte Flambee really should have tasted better than it did a couple of weeks ago when I first tried it. It had all the makings for a wonderful dinner - raised bread crust, creme fraiche, onions and bacon - what's not to like?? But, we had to admit it just didn't taste quite as good as it read.

It kept returning to mind, however, bugging me to try again with some small changes. I made another one this week when NamasteNancy came to lunch and this time, by George, I think she's got it!

I used the same crust recipe
and changed just a few things around. The crust was fine but I'll warn you not to roll it out on the greased pan; that simply doesn't work. Roll it out on a separate surface, coil it up on your rolling pin and transfer it to the oiled baking sheet as recommended in the recipe.

Changes. First, I lightly caramelized the onions in bacon fat using just a little sugar to hasten that process, and used twice or three times the amount of onion called for in the original recipe, slicing them fairly thickly instead of chopping and including red and yellow onions as well as some shallot. Second, I used a half-and-half mixture of creme fraiche and plain yogurt for the base, which added the desired tang. Third, after frying, I chopped the bacon in much bigger, bite-sized pieces - I thought, "This is supposed to be a peasant dish and a peasant woman, tired from the day's work, wouldn't stand around mincing her bacon!" And, last, I added some lightly sauteed baby zucchini slices from my garden, partly for the slightly bitter skin but also just because I had some on hand.

The second try was the charm*. This Tarte Flambee was tangy, lightly salty and sweet, all at the same time. Served with a simple salad, it made a sumptuous lunch. It could easily have fed six or more but just the three of us made short work of all but a few scraps -
and only stringent early training prevented us from licking our plates.

*P.S. On the third try, I had purchased a baking stone (pizza stone) for my oven and it _really_ improved the texture of the crust.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sightseeing in West Marin

While English expat Naomi was with us, she expressed an interest in going to the beach so we put the top down in the jalopy and headed out to Stinson on a lovely morning.

The winding road out to West Marin is great on a weekday, fewer cars and far fewer suicidal bicyclists to contend with. Don't get me wrong, I applaud the bike rider who is fit enough to tackle the route to Stinson with its long uphill pulls and fast downhills, but it is worrying to try to pass them with all those curves.

Our first stop in Stinson, as it was lunchtime, was the Parkside Cafe, one of the best places on earth. That is not an exaggeration.

We ate outdoors under an umbrella and the food was simply delicious. By that, I mean simple. And delicious. My salmon filet was lightly pan fried with some crispy (panko, perhaps?) crumbs, served on a bed of rice, and accompanied by some of the brightest, freshest veggies it has been my pleasure to sample at a restaurant. You can tell just from the colors that they were delicious. I have been many times to the Parkside and never been disappointed. The food is always good and the casual, happy atmosphere is what out-of-staters think of when they think of California. They even allow dogs in the outdoor area so I sometimes get to rub some velvety ears as well.

After lunch, we walked off part of it with a nice stroll along the beach. Naomi sampled the water by putting her toes in; I know better! Dogs frisked and frolicked and, amazingly, there were people actually swimming, some without wet suits, yet they didn't seem crazy. Driven happily insane by the beauty of the beach and the day, I guess.

The drive home through Olema was also lovely - by the end, I think Naomi was sold on West Marin sightseeing.

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Slow San Francisco

I'm sure all you foodies have heard that Slow Food Nation is coming to San Francisco this Labor Day weekend and that the mayor of our fine city has ordered the planting of a slow food garden in front of City Hall, the first since the Victory gardens of WWII.

I went out to see the garden last week and was amazed by the transformation of the area from a somewhat boring park with a spectacular backdrop to a sort of sun-drenched, out-sized labyrinth with tourists and locals wandering the paths like contemplative clergy.

As a newbie to home gardening, I have to admit that I was somewhat discouraged by the beautiful plantings spread out in front of our splendid City Hall. My own plants have been in my little patch of ground for far longer than these and yet they are paltry by comparison with the vigorous, almost muscular, plants in the Slow Food garden. Laid out in circular raised beds edged with straw-filled burlap, these plants are simply beautiful, as formal and organized as an Italian garden and as healthy as the children playing loudly in the nearby playground.

I hope this garden will inspire some folks to take to heart the Slow Food message of eating fresh, locally grown food, cooking it with care and serving it to people you care about, then eating it in a leisurely, appreciative manner. The Slow On The Go part of the festival seems somewhat counterproductive but I guess you can't expect Americans to slow down all at once.

The festival seems like a fitting way to spread the message and to say thank you to Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, among others, and most of all, to Carlo Petrini whose reaction to the opening of a McDonald's in his native Italy was to encourage the opposite of fast food.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Bindi Bites

These little confections were discovered in a local eatery, Little Louie's, where I usually pick up coffee on my morning walks.

Spying these pint-sized cookies in the case, I decided to give them a try. Not house-made, the cashier thought they came from Bindi, an Italian dessert house with factories all over the known world. Hmmm...

The pink ones are strawberry, nicely lively with strawberry flavor, and who can resist the pink color. The white one (vanilla? maybe?) wasn't my favorite, but the brown (chocolate) and the khaki (definitely coffee and the best of the bunch) were even better than the pink.

As you can tell from the picture, they are crumbly - sort of meringue sandwich cookies with a layer of strawberry/chocolate/coffee/mystery in between the two halves. Nice. Tasty. Light. Ladylike (except for the crumbs). I think I'll include them in my next afternoon tea service.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chili from Chile(brown)

Was his blogging name the inspiration for this chili, or was it his and Ms. Goofy's gift of tomatoes and chili peppers? Or perhaps his helpful suggestions regarding the judicious use of said peppers? Guess it doesn't matter. What matters is the killer chili made from the products of his garden.

I halved and roasted some of his tomatoes in a slow oven (200 degrees) for about 10 hours, sprinkling them first with a little olive oil and sea salt. They were reduced to the Essence of Tomato by the time they came out.

The next day, the tomatoes were easy to slip out of their skins. In a big pot, I thoroughly browned a pound of Marin Sun Farms ground beef in batches so it really browned instead of grayed, added two chopped onions and two minced garlic cloves, a 16 ounce can of tomato sauce, two similar-sized cans of chili beans and three of Chilebrown's jalapeno chilis, finely chopped, and coarsely chopped the roasted tomatoes before adding them. Cooked it all together for three hours on low. Let it stand for two more hours. Reheated before serving with avocado slices on top and corn tortillas broken up for crunch.

We had to restrain ourselves from having thirds.

The roasted tomatoes gave the chili such a rich, deep flavor and the jalapenos lent just enough heat for us heat wimps. It was rich, mellow and quietly spicy, easily the best chili I have ever made. And the best part is that it made enough for tomorrow's lunch, as well, and possibly another dinner.

Thanks, Chilebrown, for the food and the inspiration.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Re-Gilding the Lily

When you start with lovely, just-picked Gravenstein apples from a new friend's garden, you don't really need to enhance them. They are sweet-tart and beautifully pale green inside - delicious all by themselves.

My Beloved, however, happens to be very fond of apple crisp and, since I happen to be very fond of him, I immediately peeled and sliced my new gift apples and topped them with a squeeze of lemon juice and the classic mixture of flour, butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. I thought the topping-to-apples ratio was a little to heavy on the topping but MB claims that that's the whole point of apple crisp so I let myself be persuaded.

Did we really need the added embellishment of the Swensen's vanilla ice cream that our friend Ted bought while he was visiting from St. Louis and left behind to swell our waistlines instead of his? Probably not.

And certainly not for breakfast, which is when we ate it. With apologies to Wheaties, this is the true Breakfast of Champions!

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Meme City

Thought I'd give you a pretty picture from my garden to look at while I answer the meme from Nerissa that I was tagged with a few days ago. It's a longish meme, so you may want to get a cuppa something before you begin reading.

1. Last movie seen in a movie theater?
"Mama Mia," a wonderful, joyous romp, almost as good as the stage version was. Meryl Streep shows us once again that she can do anything!

2. What book are you reading?
A great spoof called, "Endgame," by Andy Secombe from my pal Wenirs and I'm nibbling my way through "Inside Inside" by the very literate and somewhat ponderous James Lipton.

3. Favorite board game.
Scrabble, hands down!

4. Favorite magazine.
Sunset, Bon Appetit (because Molly's articles are in it), and Science News.

5. Favorite smells.
Fresh air off the ocean, sun-dried clothes and bedding, my moisturizer (Crabtree & Evelyn, Swiss something)

6. Favorite sounds.
Gentle snoring from My Beloved, cats purring, soft waves on sand.

7. Worst feeling in the world.
Losing a loved one, human or animal.

8. First thing you think of when you wake?
Gotta go pee.

9. Favorite fast food place.
Seabreeze Market in Berkeley.

10. Future child's name?
Had I had them, a girl would have been Johnna Wendy (or Wendy Johnna) and a boy would have been Garth with some kind of family middle name.

11. Finish this statement: "If I had a lot of money..."
I'd fly first class to Europe and see each country in a leisurely manner, staying in rented apartments or houses and making friends all over. Then, I'd start on Asia...

12. Do you drive fast?
I used to but since I retired, I'm getting a bumper sticker that says, "I'm retired. Go around me."

13. Sleep with stuffed animals?
No, not for many years since I found My Beloved.

14. Storms - cool or scary?
Usually cool, especially lightning storms, ice storms that knock out the power for days with spectacular beauty, and heavy snowfalls that result in "snow days."

15. What was your first car?
1959 Hillman sedan. It smelled inside like the cigars the previous owner smoked and had to be backed up steep hills but I loved it. Independence!

16. Favorite drink?
Currently, tea made by steeping fresh mint and camomile tea in water in the fridge, but usually Diet Coke.

17. Finish this statement: "If I had the time, I would..."
Now I have the time for just about anything and I'm busy doing them - gardening, walking, lunching with friends, visiting museums, taking classes, making art books, napping, traveling - woo hoo!

18. Do you eat the stems on broccoli?
Oh, yeah. If it's stringy, I peel it before cooking but I love it.

19. If you could dye your hair any other color, what would it be?
If I could switch back instantly, I'd probably try a variety of colors - purple, blonde, blue, zebra striped... but it takes too long to grow it out so I'm sticking with dark brown with liberal gray.

20. Name all the different cities in which you have lived.
Patuxent River, MD (twice); Virginia Beach, VA (twice); Honolulu, HI (twice); Washington, DC (three times); Argentia, Newfoundland, Canada; Cannes, France; Yokosuka, Japan; Palo Alto, CA; Rochester, NY; Omaha, NB; Alameda, CA; Richmond, CA.

21. Favorite sport to watch?
Dressage or Sumo wrestling.

22. One nice thing about the person who sent you this meme?
She gives me great ideas for new dishes to try and she comments on my blog, which makes me happy as I know someone is reading it! She's a good writer, too. Okay, so I broke the rules and added three. Sue me!

23. What's under your bed?
You mean besides dust kitties? Storage drawers full of off-season clothes, maps and art/craft supplies.

24. Would you like to be born again as yourself?
Yes, I'm the luckiest person I know.

25. Morning person or night owl?
Morning, morning, morning!

26. Over easy or sunny side up?
Over easy, but I prefer poached to fried.

27. Favorite place to relax.
Hawaii - especially the Big Island but Kailua Beach on Oahu is a close second.

28. Favorite ice cream flavor.
Coffee, no contest.

29. Of the people you have tagged, who is the most likely to respond first?
Impossible to tell.

Now I am supposed to tag four or five other bloggers but I've bugged them all recently with a meme so I'm hesitating to do it again... is that really, really bad?

Voluntary meme: If you'd like to enter this meme, leave me a comment to let me know you're doing it and I'll add your names to this post so others can find you. I'd honestly be interested in your answers!


Monday, August 4, 2008

Proper English Tea

Last week, we enjoyed a short visit with a young student from England who will be starting her Ph.D. studies in the Classics at Cal Berkeley this fall - turns out, Cal has a world-renowned Classics department. Who knew?

The girlfriend of an old friend's son, Naomi was coming with three gigundous suitcases full of her worldly goods and, although she claimed she could use BART to schlep all those bags from the airport to Berkeley, we were happy to spare her that particular joy by picking her up by car.

We drove her home, fed her roast chicken and poured her into bed, dizzy with jet lag. The next morning, she remembered she had brought us gifts from England, a box of real Scottish shortbread (how did she know it's my favorite?) and a packet of tea from her home in Cambridge.

I warmed my mother's wedding present teapot and Naomi showed me how to make proper English tea
for breakfast. She filled my tea ball nearly full and poured boiling water into the pot, leaving it to steep until it was a rich, almost rosy brown. We poured the tea and added a little milk, sipping and nibbling on American English muffins.

My Beloved and I enjoyed having her youth and shy charm with us until she moved into her rented room to begin all the bureaucratic nonsense involved in getting settled in the U.S. and enrolled in classes. I'm happy to know how to make proper English tea to drink with my shortbread; Naomi came to learn but ended up teaching instead.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Peach Futures

At this time of year, talented gardeners like Chilebrown and his wife, Ms. Goofy, have cornered the market on heirloom and cherry tomatoes, chili peppers and Gravenstein apples. You may think of him solely as a meat guy, but their tomato plants are in full production mode, their tree is dropping apples like crazy and the habanero peppers are blazing (literally and figuratively) along.

For newbie gardeners like me, however, the results are somewhat less impressive. You have heard my laments before so I won't repeat them; suffice it to say that when Chilebrown offered to trade me some current produce for future peaches, I jumped at the chance.

We met at the Catahoula Coffee Company and Roastery in Richmond to share a cup of coffee and to make the drop. Dr. Biggles showed up, too, a pleasant surprise, and helped us to break the ice.
Meeting other bloggers is like first dates with people you met through the "personals" ads - they always choose somewhere safe and neutral first to size you up. The conversation turned immediately to (big surprise!) food, food and techniques for smoking food. I took away some great ideas, by the way - smoked onions! - what a concept!

And, during the course of the conversation, Chilebrown and Ms. Goofy laid on me a couple of weighty bags of produce from their garden, only some of which is pictured above!

The apples are already in a crisp, some of the tomatoes are roasting in the oven with the ripest ones set aside for salads this week, and the chili peppers are leering at me from the countertop, daring me to try them. I've got some pasture-raised ground beef in the freezer and some beans in the pantry; I think tomorrow I'm going to make chili, thanks to some truly talented gardeners.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008


The Navy is not an easy life and many Navy juniors hated the constant moving, adjusting to new places, learning the ropes at each successive school and making new friends. Certainly understandable, but I was just the opposite.

I loved the supportive network of the Navy, the wives arriving with casseroles as soon as we moved to a new duty station and the offers to take us kids off to the pool or the playground to make new friends quickly while Mom settled the house and signed us up at the new bank and the new school district. While I was initially shy, I made friends in each new place and, because everyone was in the same boat, it just seemed normal to me to move every two years or so. Seventh grade, when I was in three different schools in the same year,
was difficult, but mostly I did pretty well.

Later, as a young Navy wife, I experienced the loneliness of a six-month deployment;
that first year, my brand new husband missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday and our anniversary. But, once again, all the wives and families were having the same troubles, so it was shared. The wardroom wives closed in around me in a friendly circle, inviting me to pot luck dinners and hen parties when I wasn't working and, once again, the casseroles came out to comfort and support. Letters and very rare phone calls from the husbands buoyed our spirits and the day the boat came home was a joyous one that I will never forget.

After my Dad's funeral, complete with military honors and a twenty-one gun salute, the casseroles arrived again, tightly wrapped in plastic with little cards from the donors to tell us how hot and how long to reheat them. When my sorrow was too great to even face the casserole bringers, still their warmth came to me through their cooking.

What is it about a casserole that is so comforting? They are usually bland and often overcooked, not really very tasty, but in times of sadness or stress, they bring a message of caring. A casserole is considerate food, offering a reasonable balance of food groups in a single dish that is easy to prepare when the spirit is low but the stomach growls anyway. It slides down easily, even past the lump in your throat when you are a little afraid of the new teacher, or you are missing your young husband, or your beloved father has just passed away.

Navy life can be hard but casseroles act as a cushion.

*Photograph thanks to

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Friday, August 1, 2008

Guessing Game

My Mother was a great hostess; my Dad always credited her with at least half his success as an officer in the Navy, knowing that her gracious entertaining went a long way toward furthering his career.

She wasn't always a great cook; there are funny family stories about her early attempts to provide dinner for Dad's bachelor friends. They weren't always appreciative of her cooking prowess as a new bride, nor were they diplomatic about it, sending her from the table in floods of tears when they criticized her cooking, then standing in the doorway of her bedroom, shifting from foot to foot and asking plaintively, "Jeez, Floss, what did I say?"

As her responsibilities grew to international hospitality, she actually kept records of what she served to each foreign visitor and how she decorated the table so they wouldn't grow bored with a repeat of the same meal.
For Japanese visitors, the table would be set with a beautiful obi down the middle of the table or an ikebana centerpiece. Korean visitors enjoyed ribbons in the bright stripes of the Korean flag or perhaps a brass replica of a dragon boat.

By then, her food was always tasty and well prepared, the menu was usually on the elegant side and the table setting was always perfect, right down to the details. All dinner parties, whether foreign or domestic, included an elegant little touch made by this gadget.

Do you recognize it? Kudos to the first reader who identifies it.

Although she went to heaven many years ago, whenever I set the table for guests, my Mother is leaning over my shoulder, straightening the silverware and making sure the centerpiece is just so.