Friday, July 31, 2009

Strawberry Bavarian Cream

After using nearly every bowl and utensil in my kitchen, the resulting Bavarian cream was delicious and close in flavor but the texture was nothing like the absolutely smooth and creamy original dessert I enjoyed at the Ambassador's house.

Julia's version is not quite as sweet as that original one was. But, it unmolded beautifully and we enjoyed the light and almost bubbly texture of this one, even if it didn't match my memory.

Would I make it again? Not on a bet! It was good but the pleasure-to-work ratio was skewed too hard in the work direction. I'm glad I tried it but I'm happy now just to remember fondly that original dessert, formally served on a silver platter at the Ambassador's shining mahogany table.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

How I Got Creamed by a Bavarian

Long ago, when I was a young student, faculty members used to actually invite students to their houses for dinner. Almost unimaginable today, but it taught us important social skills while humanizing the profs. One spring evening, I was invited with several others to dinner at the Dean's house; he was a former Ambassador to Vietnam and his two Vietnamese cooks made a heavenly dessert, one that I have never forgotten.

It was made with fresh strawberries and cream, a molded dessert that tasted of the simple essence of the ripe, sweet berries. It was spectacular, but I've never again had a dessert even remotely like it. So, when I read the recipe for a Bavarian Cream made with strawberries in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I thought perhaps I had finally found a recipe that sounded like that marvelous, long-ago dessert.

It took four - yes, four - hours to make and I used:

4 spatulas
1 wooden spoon
2 sets of measuring spoons
1 blender
3 strainers
1 paring knife
4 bowls of various sizes
4 measuring cups
1 decorative mold
1 electric mixer, washed 3 times
2 whisks
1 pot

all to make one seemingly simple dessert. Not to mention the sieving, the whipping, the folding and the chilling. Whew! I felt like I'd been dragged through a hedge backwards by the time that puppy was safely in the fridge for the final (yes, there was more than one) cooling!

Sometimes, it's better to leave memories alone and just savor them over the years. This may have been one of those times.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009


We enjoy having friends or family over for dinner. We like to settle in over a leisurely meal for the kind of meaningful conversation that rarely happens in a restaurant and I enjoy preparing a good meal and a pretty table to welcome them. If nothing else, it gives us incentive to tidy up, and that's important for a couple of dedicated packrats such as we.

Another pleasure that comes from inviting friends over is hostess gifts. I expect that the custom of hostess gifts is as old as time; it is at least as old as Greek civilization. Whoever had that idea first, it was a Dusie!

We have been treated to all kinds of lovely gifts, everything from spices to homegrown fruit to candles, and our wine collection is not only larger but much better thanks to the excellent wines that friends have brought along. Most recently, we received these lovely roses when Janie and Jack came for dinner last weekend.

It's a gracious custom; I hope we are still observing it in the distant future when we are inviting our Martian friends to dinner.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer Whimsy

Our latest centerpiece, before we boxed it up and mailed it to our granddaughter in Boston.

It's a sprinkler in soft plastic - the water jets out of the center of the flowers. Perfect for a two year old to enjoy on those hot summer days back East. Wouldn't you have loved to run through one of these when you were young?

Not a bad centerpiece, either, if whimsy is the theme.

What have you got on your table today? Why not comment and leave a link so others can see what you're using?



Monday, July 27, 2009


Guacamole and tortilla chips from the wonderful Las Camelias restaurant in San Rafael, California. I'm sorry if you don't live in the bay area where you can order these to go, as My Beloved did last week, or go there to eat them on site. He brought them home with a flourish and we ate the whole thing in a single sitting, watching the sunset and talking over the day's events.

All the ingredients for the guac are in season now - if you can't get to Las Camelias, make some yourself, as spicy as you like, and dip in!



Sunday, July 26, 2009

Anniversary Buzz

My flatware drawer just got a lot heavier. My good friend Wenirs remembered our 10th wedding anniversary with a set of stainless flatware that I know she just couldn't resist.

My Beloved's nickname is "Buzz" so Wenirs often sends us things with bees on them, celebrating my honey of a guy and his unusual name. There was the delightful big brass doorknocker in the shape of a bumblebee. The tape measure striped in yellow and black with a silly smile on the bee's face. Dish towels with honey bees on them. And now this flatware (the set on the left) that sports Napoleon's bee. I know it tickled her fancy that Napoleon was French, too, as she and I have a long-running rivalry between the French that I love and the British that she adores. While knowing that neither will ever convince the other, still we have long-winded arguments about the merits of those two countries.

Unthinkable to jettison our old set, so I ankled down to the local container store and bought another drawer organizer to fit in the new in next to the old. We are having silly fun each evening deciding which set to use for dinner. Vive la France and God Save the Queen!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Contemplating Dinner

I enjoy cooking. Like Joyce Goldstein, I think of preparing and cooking food for My Beloved and our family and friends as a "moving meditation," an act at once contemplative and loving. I like mixing the colors and flavors, tasting and trying new combinations. I have the luxury of time to shop carefully and to research new and fun things to make. Peeling and chopping are not a chore, actually a quiet pleasure. And, of course, I like eating, too, as well as the reward of seeing others enjoy what I have prepared.

On the other hand, every now and then even I like a day off, a day when either someone else makes the meal or at least does part of the preparation. When I felt this way last week, I purchased some marinated "Korean beef" from my butcher. When asked, he said that meant a basic "soy sauce-and-ginger preparation," so I made a stir-fry out of it. You can see all the ingredients in the photo - all I did was slice them, sauté them in toasted sesame oil with a dab of butter and mound them on top of that delicious Massa brown rice.

Perhaps the best part of the meal, although the food was delicious, was the evening light that brought all the colors up for us to contemplate.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Cool As The Proverbial Cucumber

The perfect summer lunch for a day that dawned clear as a bell, built the heat by 11am and promised to be even hotter in the afternoon. I had just returned from errands in the interior of Marin County where it gets really hot during the summer and wanted a light but tasty lunch.

Cucumber sandwich on plain white bread sliced as thinly as possible with the Slice-a-Slice, spread with a dab of mayonnaise and studded with thick slices of peeled cucumber.

To drink, the chamomile-mint tea I learned how to make last year - cooling and delicious. Sat down with a good book as I nibbled my way through a favorite summertime treat.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Were They Worth It?

You are probably asking yourself if the trauma of cleaning the sardines was worth it. While it wasn't the most delightful thing I've ever done, read on:

You will want to have all the prep work for your dinner done before you begin to grill the sardines, as they are small and will cook very quickly - even a few extra minutes will make them dry rather than richly moist.

I wanted to serve mine with garlic toasts and on a bed of Mediterranean vegetables, so I rubbed the baguette slices with a cut clove of garlic (both sides) and set them aside to grill with the fish.

In a wide frying pan, I sautéed in olive oil some sliced onions, anise, sweet peppers, shallots and zucchini together with a handful of fresh lemon thyme leaves, then added about half a cup of rosé and left it to simmer until the veggies were no longer crisp but still firm.

While the veggies bubbled away, I laid the bread slices on the grill for a quick sear - don't leave them even for a minute or they will be burned. You want them striped with rich brown but not blackened.

To barbecue fresh sardines, start the fire in one side of the barbecue and leave the other side "cool." When the coals are gray, place your little fishies on the grill with the head end toward the coals and the thinner tail end toward the cooler area. Grill them for about 3-4 minutes per side - when their golden oil begins to bubble out, they are done.

Spoon a nice serving of veggies onto the plate, top with 2-3 sardines and artfully place a few of the garlic baguette slices. Once the sardines are cooked, the bones are easily removed - just slide your knife along the spine to lift off the fillet cleanly, then lift out the whole skeleton in one piece.

If you like mild, white fish best, like halibut or sole, you may be surprised by the muscular taste of fresh sardines. They are strong little critters, but full of oils that are good for you and smoky, delicious flavor. To me, they were totally worth it....several hours later.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I've been reading a lot about fresh sardines this summer - they seem to be in all the magazines I subscribe to. I like most fish, even the kind of sardines that come packed cheek-by-jowl in a can that opens with a key, but I had never had any fresh ones, so when they appeared at my local market, I was tempted.

These little fish are about 6-8 inches long and really quite beautiful, silvery on the undersides and bright, ocean blue with darker blue spots on the top. I purchased about half a pound, figuring there'd be some waste when I removed the heads.

What I didn't realize was that my sardines had not been cleaned, either. Eeek.

A quick search on the internet showed that some people cook them whole, guts and all, and eat them like corn on the cob, grasping head and tail and nibbling along the sides. I somehow knew that wasn't going to fly in my house; My Beloved is a strong trencherman but he does have his limits and, truth be told, I couldn't face them with heads on, much less with guts in. So, in addition to having to remove heads, I sharpened my paring knife, bellied up to the sink, took a deep breath and began the nasty chore of cleaning sardines.

I don't recommend it. Ask your fishmonger to do it for you. Next time, I will definitely ask for help first.

A few tips: Remove all your rings first. Clean the fish hours before you plan to eat them, giving yourself time to recover your appetite.
The best way to remove the fishy odor from your hands is to wash them in dishwashing liquid after rubbing them with lemon juice. Keep the sardines refrigerated while you lie down with a glass of wine and a diverting book. When you feel your appetite has returned, light the barbecue and set the table.

Tomorrow, I'll give you the recipe - today, you wouldn't appreciate it anyway.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fajita Fun

Take one madly large, pasture-raised London broil steak and grill it over charcoal with for just enough minutes to leave it smoky and pink on the inside. Husk an ear of corn and lay it on the grill alongside, turning it frequently.

While the steak and corn cook, cut up a rainbow of veggies into strips - yellow and red peppers, purple onion, brown mushrooms, green onions - and sauté them quickly in a glug of olive oil in a hot frying pan.

Remove the steak and corn from the grill; leave the steak to rest for a few minutes. Slice the now so-delicious steak and top with the veggies mélange. Serve next to some of the corn and perhaps handful of greenie beanies if you feel the need for even more summery freshness. Summer meals don't have to be fancy - the ingredients are so fresh and bright that they make their own fun.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Green Goo

You've heard of Green Goddess but have you tried Green Goo?

I invented Green Goo last weekend when My Beloved and I were fixing salads for lunch. As you know, I've been on a Greek yogurt kick, so I thought I'd try making a simple salad dressing by whisking together the yogurt, some basil pesto (I didn't make the pesto - bought it at our local farmer's market) and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Okay, so it wasn't the prettiest dressing you've ever seen - in fact, it was a downright unhealthy sort of green. Try it anyway. The taste was stellar - tangy, garlicky, lemony tune with that earthy basil flavor muttering sub rosa like that funny old guy, Tyrone T. Horneigh, in the Laugh-In show who always gets clocked with the spinster's purse.

Green Goo. Gotta love it.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

My All-Time Summer Favorite Sammy

And while we're talking ripe tomatoes, don't forget this one. I know, I know, you've seen it before, but it's worth another mention at this time of year.

Nubby, crunchy whole wheat toast (I used to use whole wheat English muffins but they've changed the recipe and the darned things are now sweet! What were they thinking? Crazy! Anyway, now I use wheatberry bread). Top with a scrape of mayo, then a layer of ripe, perfect tomatoes, then a layer of ripe avocado, followed by a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a nice grinding of fresh black pepper.

I recommend a knife and fork as those avocado slices are slippery little devils. Plus, it makes one feel so civilized to eat a sandwich with utensils, even in high summer when fingers are acceptable.

The only thing on the planet, and possibly in the universe, that beats this is a BLT made with similarly ripe and ready tomatoes.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

"Mater" Magic

Salads are ridiculously easy once the tomatoes come ripe. My neighbor went on vacation just as his were coming in - big mistake. He asked me to take in his mail and water the plants in exchange for some ripe tomatoes. Since mine are still a-coming but not yet really here, I jumped at the chance to be a helpful neighbor.

Slice a ripe tomato. Top it with a little yogurt or creme fraiche. Plop on a spoonful of pesto and presto!

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Friday, July 17, 2009


Okay, so what if I didn't know who Tyler Florence was before reading the July issue of Sunset magazine? Big deal!

Actually, it is a big deal - Tyler Florence, that smartypants whippersnapper of a TV celeb chef, taught me how to make hamburgers. I've made hamburgers all my life - he just taught me how to make them truly delicious.

Use brisket. That's all you have to do, he said. I will admit to some initial skepticism but I bought one
on his advice (by the way, that's one giant cut of meat!), the smallest one I could find, and lugged it home to cut into five one-pound portions and froze the other four. Hauled out my ancient but reliable Cuisinart and whacked up the unfrozen portion, shaped it quickly into patties (no salt, no pepper, no nothing else) and left it for a few minutes to rest. I'm not sure why meat benefits so much from that but I've been known to enjoy a nap myself from time to time so why the heck not?

Tyler Florence maintains that the meat-to-fat ratio of brisket is perfect for hamburgers. I have to admit that I trimmed the fat on mine just a bit before chopping it for the Cuisinart - it looked just a little bit too rich, even for me.

I decided to pan fry the burgers this first time, just to see how they performed in the simplest preparation. "We'll just see about this whizkid's credentials, now, won't we?," I thought. First, I sautéed some sliced mushrooms in the pan and set them aside while I gave the burgers a quick sear in the same pan to caramelize the top and bottom but leaving the inner reaches still pink and moist.

The first bite swept away any reservations I may have harbored and convinced me for all time. It was simply the best hamburger I've ever tasted and My Beloved rolled his expressive blue eyes to heaven, a sure indication of hamburger nirvana from him.

Okay, so the younger generation may have a thing or two to teach me after all. At least now I know who Tyler Florence is so I don't look quite so clueless at cocktail parties.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ten Happy Ones

On July 10th, ten years ago, My Beloved and I walked each other down the aisle in our friend Sunny's garden and made some promises that we are still joyfully keeping.

So, when this July 10th rolled around, we felt the need to celebrate a bit. My Beloved made a reservation at the Olema Inn so Cora could go along (they have a nice sign outside that declares "Pets Welcome") and he chose a lovely present that comes in a little blue box to mark the occasion. I got him a gift, too, an Inuit stone sculpture of two bears happily entwined; it just seemed fitting.

So, what has this picture of pea sprouts to do with all that? They were outside the kitchen door at the Olema Inn, staying fresh. That the chef cares enough about freshness to cut them as needed is emblematic of the dinner we enjoyed in their dining room that evening. I've decided not to show you all the dishes we enjoyed - after all, the menu is likely to have changed seasonally by the time you get there - but I did want you to know about the pea sprouts, just in case you are ever out that way and have an important occasion to celebrate.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Taste of Home

My friend Maria is from Chile and we often talk about the foods she enjoyed there as a child. She hasn't lived there for many years, having immigrated to this country in her teens, but her memory of those wonderful flavors is sharp and she rejoices when she finds an authentic taste of Chile here in California.

Her most recent find is Alfajores, a sweet and simple shortbread and dulce de leche sandwich cookie made right over in Walnut Creek by Sabor del Sur. Being the lovely lady that she is, she bought two for My Beloved and me to taste.

They had me from the first bite of these powdery, buttery, caramel-y cookies.
The dulce de leche is the filling between two pretty, fluted shortbread cookies powdered with confectioner's sugar. They melt in your mouth, instantly invade your veins and flood the pleasure centers in your brain with "WOW" messages. I can't imagine a richer accompaniment to a cup of tea or, better yet, hot, strong coffee.

If this is what life in Chile was like for her, I wonder why she ever left!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Experimintal Sauce

Shoulda known that package had four lamb sirloins in it rather than two but I froze the whole thing together. When I defrosted it for dinner last week, I found we had an embarrassment of riches in the lamb department, enough meat for two meals.

I barbecued all four at once, saving the extra two for another night. Buoyed by the success of the previous night's simple sauce, I made another variation of it, this time also using Greek yogurt but mixing in a chiffonnade of fresh mint.

Absolutely killer with the lamb. Not sweet like mint jelly but minty, yes, and tangy to cut the richness of the meat. Highly successful experimint.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Summer Time Salmon

"Summer time, and the living is easy. Fish are jumping and the cotton is high."

Well, I can't vouch for the height of the cotton, but the fish are certainly jumping onto our plates this summer and we are feeling pretty rich.

Leftover planked salmon is not exactly a penance, but a little variety wouldn't hurt, either; I thought of making a sauce for the cold fish and warm asparagus but didn't want anything heavy.

When I think like that, Cookiecrumb usually comes to mind - she's very creative about lightening up foods. With her as my mental muse, I spooned about a tablespoon of Greek yogurt mixed with about a teaspoon of lemon juice and minced fresh dill from my garden over the fish. Instant sauce, instant success, and we very nearly rose up singing.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Visceral Reaction

Viscera. Ugly, ugly word. Conjures up all the roadkill I have ever turned my eyes away from. But, I have to admit that I rather enjoy this particular kind.

I was over in Marin the other day for an annual dental checkup - I'm happy to report that my choppers are good for another six months or 600 meals, whichever comes first. When I go over there, I usually stop at the Woodlands Market as a treat afterward, to see how the other half lives. It's a lovely, if pricey, little supermarket that often carries things I don't see in other stores and, sure enough, it came through with calf's liver this time.

I've written about Mrs. Jenkins' liver before but I thought I'd remind you liver lovers out there how good it can be with some nice sautéed onions and a couple of strips of bacon. If your market doesn't carry it, treat yourself to dinner here. They know how to do it right.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fat, Salt and Sugar

"Artisan" seems to be the "in" word these days. All kinds of products come labeled to attract us foodies with the word "artisan." I'm hopeful that the word won't lose its meaning with overuse.

However, I fell for it one more time - picked up this package of "artisan" bacon and brought it home.

It was seriously good. The salt-to-sugar balance was even and the smoky flavor was pronounced without being overwhelming.

The American diet - salt, fat and sugar - goes artisan!


Friday, July 10, 2009

The Locavore's Dilemma

I've been trying to eat locally. While I don't always make it to the farmer's market to actually meet the folks who raise my food, I am careful even in the supermarket to read labels and ask questions about the sourcing for the food I purchase.

The butchers at my favorite markets know me now and automatically point out the pastured-raised, local, organic meats. In the produce section, I try to select only the bounty that grows close to home. I even check out eggs and dairy for their origins and shun the ones from far away.

After a trip 'round my supermarket, carefully choosing fruits, veggies and meats from within 100 miles of my home, what should I spy but potato chips attractively packaged and named for the town where my grandmother lived - in Connecticut. Sure enough, these chips are locally produced - if you happen to live in the Connecticut River valley. This is the locavore's dilemma - do we let curiosity and sentiment tempt us into buying potato chips from clear across the country? Or do we maintain our strict mantra of "local, sustainable, organic"?

I slipped. I backslid. I bought these chips and brought them home to enjoy with memories of my grandmother's house with the beehive humming in the back yard, the blooming mountain laurel in the garden and the weeping willow that made a mysterious hidden playground for a little girl while her mother and her mother sat on a blanket in the grass and shared secrets.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fruity Hammy Yummy

Turns out that prosciutto works well with yellow peaches as well as white ones and the more traditional cantaloupe.

I added the grapes for color - they toned nicely with the ham. But, 'twas a mistake to eat the grapes first - they are so sweet, they made the very ripe peaches taste slightly bitter afterward. So, we ate the peaches and prosciutto first, then the grapes.

Problem solved.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Oldie But Goodie

Every now and then, I like to go back through my recipe card file to pull up meals I learned to make years ago. It's nostalgic to serve things I made as a young bride and to remember the folks from whom I learned them. French Bread Sandwich is a meal like that. I learned how to make it from my first husband's mother, back when I was a new bride and we stayed with First Husband's parents for six long weeks while he was mustering out of the Navy with many hitches and hurdles - I don't think they wanted him to go.

Mom T never liked any help in her bright yellow kitchen while she was cooking - she preferred to do it all herself. She would occasionally let me do the dishes afterward, but the cooking was all hers. She often made elaborate lunches as well as fancy dinners - she was a true homemaker. This meal is one we had for lunch or an easy dinner.

Split a loaf of French bread (she used a thick loaf like a batard rather than a baguette) in half lengthwise and place the two halves on a baking sheet, making sure they are pretty level. Spread them lightly with butter, then with mustard (we used a horseradish mustard - she used ballpark) and catsup (next time, I'd make it with fresh tomatoes instead). Top with about one cup of grated cheddar cheese depending on the size of your loaf (I used havarti this time as that's what was in the fridge) and a layer of crumbled, raw hamburger, about half a pound. Sprinkle with garlic powder, pepper and salt. Slide into a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Remove, cut crossways into sections and serve piping hot.

These Oldies But Goodies bring back lots of memories; go look back in your recipe archives and see what you come up with.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

For Love Of Onion Boy

My Beloved adores onions in any form. He slips raw onions into sandwiches, salads and, sometimes, just eats them plain. When he kisses me after consuming onions, I call him Onion Boy.

I like onions, too, but they don't like me unless they've been cooked or unless they are the super-expensive Maui onions - otherwise, urpy burpy time. I like to please him, however, so the other day I made him onion burgers.

I minced some mild red onion and mixed it gently into the ground round so the onion flavor goes all the way through (don't handle them too much or they'll be tough). He likes his burgers rarin' rare, anyway, so only the onions on the outside got cooked - inside they were really raw and tasty. Luckily, I eat mine medium rare so my onions were cooked enough to take the edge off their repeating power.

Onion Boy was pleased.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Turkey Trot

My Cora has a thing for fowls. She chases them. All of them. Joyfully. If we go to the local park, she strains at the leash to chase the ducks and geese. You've already heard the story about Cora and the rooster. We don't usually start the day chasing turkeys, however.

For the past year or so, we have had a flock of wild turkeys in our little town. They are very tame, but they usually stay up on the tallest hill where they find good forage, few people and fewer dogs. They seem well adapted; most wild turkeys are dark but ours have lighter feathers, better to hide on our grassy, brushy hillsides.

Each morning after breakfast, Cora and I go for a walk. Cora capers around as soon as she sees the harness - she knows that means the best part of her day is about to start. I open the door and she goes out to the end of the leash, waiting politely for me to lock up, grab some coffee money and a poop bag. But not when she surprises a rafter of about 25 turkeys trotting across the driveway - then, she takes off!

This time, I managed to hang on to the leash, so she didn't catch any of them. She did manage to split the flock into two distressed pieces, the six adults with about 10 fledglings on one side milling about and calling to these seven half-grown babies on the other. We had to walk by them to get out of our little street, but I knew that doing so would scatter them even more. What to do?

My Beloved to the rescue; he suggested we get into his car, which was parked right there, and drive past them so Cora wouldn't get a chance to chase. So, we muscled Cora into the backseat and, as soon as we "disappeared" into the car, the young turkeys on the right trotted over to join their brethren on the left. Happy reunited cluckings all 'round.

We crept by in the car with the windows rolled up and a very disappointed and frustrated Cora moaning and whining inside. At the end of the street, we hopped out and continued on our walk, secure in the knowledge that all chicks were back under the protection of their somewhat silly parents.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Reluctant Vegan

I'm not a vegan. I'm not even a vegetarian. I don't aspire to either of those healthy states, either. But when the opening of a vegan restaurant in my little town coincides with an invitation to lunch from blogger pal Anna of Anna's Cool Finds, it seemed like a match made in heaven.

Anna's not a vegan, either, but she is a vegetarian and was willing to forego her usual eggs-dairy-fish possibilities to try out Symphonie with me, so we made plans and met there just before noon one day last week.

Symphonie is in the site that used to be the Point Orient for many years before it was Szujhou - you East Bay veterans may recognize the location. Anna and I conferred over the menu and made our selections; I chose "pork" fried rice. If you are curious about Anna's choices and want to see more pictures, click here - we're coordinating our posts.

Symphonie's chef offers a wide variety of vegan possibilities - the menu included Italian, Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Aulac and Indian offerings. I chose to go with Chinese as a salute to the now-departed Point Orient and Szujhou restaurants.

In addition to a really nice lentil soup, my meal came with a small salad similar to cole slaw but with a piquant, yellow-orange dressing that, obviously, didn't contain mayonnaise. We ordered a plate of spring rolls to share and they were generous, if lacking in pizzazz; the two dipping sauces sparked them up a bit.

My fried rice had a vegan alternative barbecued pork that, while in no way convincing me that it came from any part of a pig, was tasty and a little chewy. The rest of the ingredients, rice and chopped veggies, were nicely cooked, freshly made and went down easily. I forgot my camera so Anna kindly photographed my colorful meal and emailed the picture to me. It was such a generous plate that I had to ask for a box to take some home with me.

By far the best part of the meal was getting to know a bit more about Anna. She has led a most interesting life for one so young, full of adventure in other countries, bold career shifts and long friendships. I hope we can repeat the fun on future get-togethers, although she has taken pity on me, the Reluctant Vegan, and says we can meet in a "regular restaurant" next time.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Proud This Year

This year on the Fourth of July, we have a new President.

Yes, I voted for him and, yes, I approve of most of his policies so far. Oh, he has put his foot wrong a couple of times - I'd like to see more of the bipartisanship he promised in his campaign; he could speed up the demise of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell;" and I'm a little concerned that he's tackling too much too soon (although, what choice did the Bushies leave him?), but overall I give him a solid A-. After all, he is working hard to bring us out of economic depression, to close Guantanamo, and he has already greatly restored America's standing in the world. A couple of notable nut cases in other countries are still spewing hatred toward us but most of the legitimate governments in the world seem to be happy that he's in charge.

I like his family, too. He followed through on his promise to get the kids a dog and they actually do seem to be taking care of Bo themselves. Mrs. Obama is a lovely, warm, committed person who charms everywhere she goes. I don't know much about the girls - and that's a good thing - but I know Michelle's mother is there for the kids to stablilize what might otherwise be an upsetting loss of time with their parents. And, bless their hearts, the Obamas do go to soccer games and spend time with their children.

So, this year, I'm again proud to be an American citizen. I always did vote my conscience, fly the American flag, honor my service heritage and be glad to live here but, this year, I'm actually proud of the guy in charge. It feels good.

Happy Independence Day - now, let's go get that hot dog, watch a parade, and oooh and ahhh over some fireworks!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Foaming at the Mouth (of the Golden Gate)

On the hottest day of the year so far, pal Sari and I had a date to have brunch at the Murray Circle restaurant at Cavallo Point on the site of the old Army base, Fort Baker, at the base of the Golden Gate bridge. Luckily, we had elected to arrive early and to be seated on the terrace.

We wound our way down the twisty roads, skirting carefully around the hikers and bicyclists, parked her car in the shade of a big tree and turned to look across the wide, grassy parade ground to see a light wisp of fog rolling in over the deck of the bright red bridge - picture perfect San Francisco. Mounting the steps to the terrace, we were greeted and seated in the shade with that head-on view of our local icon while we settled comfortably into the softly padded sofas around our little table.
Dogs are allowed on the veranda and I was kicking myself for leaving Cora at home.

The wait staff was attentive, helpful and warm without being
in any way obtrusive. They serve rolls hot and fresh from the oven, not the usual French rolls but cousins of the famous old Parker House rolls - soft, yeasty and smelling like puffed heaven. They need no butter as they are rich in themselves and they were offered whenever we had greedily polished off the previous ones.

When I eat out, it rarely takes me more than a minute or two to decide which option I'm favoring; this time, however, I had a lengthy internal debate between the two-inch thick hamburger, the pork ragu on homemade pasta, and the fresh pea ravioli with smoked burrata cheese and gingered carrot strips. Guess you can tell which I chose.

Artfully presented on their ends in a white, egg-shaped bowl with pea tendrils, bright orange carrot strips, a sprinkling of fresh peas and my first-ever foam that I've read so much about - ginger flavored in this case - they were the essence of fresh, intensely sweet spring, even this late in pea season. The cheese was a chaste kiss of smoke in the dish, more of a promise than a reality, and that was just right in this case. More might have weighed down the sprightly dish.

If you like strong flavors, Murray Circle might not be your choice - my friend's quiche was mild even though made with goat cheese and my ravioli were subtle rather than pronounced. Since I don't need "in your face" flavors, I enjoyed it very much.

We feasted our eyes on the view between bites, sitting in short sleeves on our cushy sofas, catching up on each others' doings and wondering if life gets any better than that. It would have to work awfully hard.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Starting Fresh

I have always loved melon and prosciutto as a starter to a meal - the sweet honey of the melon goes so well with the mildly salty ham - but last summer I discovered that one can use other fruits to pair with prosciutto as well.

White peaches, for example.

Gently peeled, because their flesh is so tender when they are perfectly ripe, then sliced carefully away from the stone and wrapped with a see-through strip of the thinnest possible slice of pale pink prosciutto. Arrange the new moons on a pretty plate and a single perfect peach makes a great, fresh starter for two or three hungry eaters.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Crush on Potato Salad

I tend to keep my friends a long time. I have two friends that I met in the playpen. Another showed me how to shave my legs at age thirteen. Still another sold me my second car at age twenty one.

Living nearby now are two friends I met when I was 15 and parked in a French boarding school in Cannes for the year that my Dad was sailing around the Mediterranean with his carrier division and the rest of the family was following the fleet through Italy and Greece. BonBon and Sunny each live about an hour away; we get together three or four times a year and always have a good time - last week, it was my turn to host.

As I was preparing a Salade Niçoise, the perfect meal for three women who shared a genteel prison for recalcitrant teenage girls on the Côte d'Azur, I remembered a tip I had learned in three places - that crushing the potatoes rather than neatly slicing them gives more surface area and more craggy texture for any sauce to stick to. So, I put my thumb firmly on my small, cold boiled redskin potatoes and pushed down until they broke into small, irregular chunks before adding minced red onion, chopped fennel and dressing them with a lemon/mustard/fresh lemon thyme vinaigrette.

The result was really the tastiest potato salad I've enjoyed in quite some time. The rough, rustic texture really did soak up the tangy sauce, giving far more flavor to the cold salad than my usual sliced or diced potatoes did. My buddies and My Beloved all polished off the potato salad on their plates - I count that as a success.

I plan to try this technique with the next American potato salad I make, too. I've always had a crush on potato salad and now it's literal as well as figurative.

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