Friday, April 30, 2010

Lunch With My Honey

Bacon and melted cheese sandwiches on English muffins. Swiss cheese, lean Comstock bacon from those lovely folks at Butler Meats (you could substitute Canadian bacon if you haven't taken a recent trip to Carson City, NV).

Fry the bacon first, top the toasted, lightly buttered muffins with a slice of the bacon and the cheese, run under the broiler. Serve lunch on a single plate to save dishes.

Receive sugar from your Honey.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pluot Swirl

'Way back when, I took a jam making class from the delightful June Taylor. In that class, we prepped Dapple Dandy pluots for the pot and each of us got a jar of the jam we had made to take home. Recently, I opened my jar and have been enjoying the heck out of it on toast and muffins. It is ever so slightly sweet, chunky, fruity and a beautiful shade of dark rose. Lovely stuff.

The other morning, just back from Connecticut, I was looking in my nearly-empty fridge for something to make for breakfast; I found a small, half full tub of plain Greek yogurt and, as I turned to close the door, spied the jar of pluot jam.

Now, I detest commercial yogurt with jam in it; all the tartness of the yogurt gets buried in the sicky-sweet of the jam. I was tired, too, of yogurt itself, having consumed gallons of the stuff all winter on a mysterious yogurt binge - I think my bones were craving calcium. Anyway, I thought perhaps June's jam might improve it enough to finish off that last bit before it grew fur. And, boy oh boy, was I ever right! I swirled a small dollop into the yogurt and had a splendid breakfast. Not only did it retain its tartness, it also gained sweet-tart fruity flavor and beautiful color
from the pluots.

If you've never tried June Taylor's jams, made locally here in Berkeley, you are missing a treat. She uses a tiny fraction of the normal sugar, fresh organic fruit from growers she knows as friends (she hugs them when they bring in baskets of fruit), and a lifetime of experience to concoct delicious varieties. You can order online from her website, find her at the Ferry Plaza farmer's market in San Francisco and, occasionally, I see her jams in high-end food stores. Wherever you find them, grab a jar and swirl it into your yogurt or onto your toast - you're in for a treat!

And she didn't ask me to say so.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Decaf Spice?

I love good coffee. In my view, a fragrant cup of coffee after a meal is better than dessert. Sadly, I become quickly "addicted" to caffeine and get nagging, three-day withdrawal headaches when I don't get my "fix." I have learned over the years to drink caffeinated coffee no more than three days in a row to avoid the nasty after effects of caffeine addiction. Decaf never tastes quite as good but I've found some that are awfully close to the high-test kind.

Most recently, I bought a pound of "Louis' " organic, fair trade Holy Cow Blend of decaf beans and, feeling that the addiction was looming after a few days of his excellent Mocha Java, I brewed a pot of the decaf for breakfast.

Holy Cow has a very interesting profile - distinctly spice. It's very light and clear in the cup, like smoky topaz gems. You can see all the way to the bottom of the cup. The most surprising thing to me is that it tastes of cinnamon. There is no cinnamon, really - it's just the beans - but I detected a whiff of cinnamon in every sip. Now, you're wrinkling your nose and thinking of cinnamon rolls but that isn't correct; there was no sweetness, just the scents of coffee and cinnamon.

I'm adding this blend to my anti-addiction rotation and looking forward to more spicy mornings.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Warm Weather Treat

We've taken to making more morning coffee than we can finish before we start the day. On purpose. So we have some left over to make iced coffee in the afternoon.

"Louis' " Mocha Java makes great iced coffee. All you have to do is make sure you take the coffee off the warmer as soon as you've had your last cup of the morning - otherwise, it gets that nasty cooked flavor. Let it cool on the counter or stick it in the fridge if you like it really cold.

When the afternoon chores are completed, fill a glass with ice cubes, top it up with coffee and, if you like creamy coffee, add some half-and-half and stir. Sit down, preferably at an outdoor table in the shade and sip slowly while reading your favorite potboiler. It's okay if you slip off for a little nap.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Coffee Klatch

Since I began blogging a few years ago, I have sometimes met other bloggers, often for coffee. We foodies get curious about who is commenting our our deathless prose and we seem to like hot drinks, especially good coffee.

Part of our love for coffee klatch, I'm sure, is the native caution of meeting a stranger for the first time in a neutral place; no matter how charming their comments on our posts, the horror stories of online friendships lurk in the background.

So, off to Café Fanny I went to meet "Louis LaVache," a gentleman who lives nearby and writes engagingly flattering comments on my posts. We had a fun meeting, filled with tidbits about his interesting life - his career with a large supermarket chain, his time in France learning to be a bread baker, his lovely wife with whom he is obviously thrilled and his latest venture launching a coffee company. We sipped and chatted for more than an hour, trading marketing ideas for his business and getting acquainted.

I offered to taste test his coffees and write posts for the blog about them, if I liked them. He thought that was a fine idea, so I arranged to purchase two pounds from him, both fair trade certified, one of his Café St. Honoré brand of organic Mocha Java and one of his
Café St. Honoré decaf organic "Louis' Holy Cow Blend."

Today, let's consider the Mocha Java. When I opened the foil-lined bag, the scent that rushed out was almost enough all by itself to give me the coffee hit I love. Dark and shining, the beans were visually as well as aromatically beautiful. When ground, the grains clung to the inside of the grinder - something I have always considered a good sign. When you have to scrape the coffee out, the brew will be merveilleux!

And it was. Clear, rich and dark with very little acid, it was a lovely cup of joe. I like half-and-half in my coffee and the flavor survived even a generous dollop of cream.

You can visit Louis' Facebook page here and order the coffee here. Not only would you get a terrific cup of coffee, you'd also be helping a really nice guy to build a business that is fair to the organic farmer who grew the beans. Tastes good. Feels good. Does good. What more can you ask from a cup of coffee?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Great Quiche Mystery

While in Madison, four of us went out for lunch one day to Elizabeth's, a very nice little restaurant on the Boston Post Road. It's stylish, with black and white table settings and interesting lighting.

I ordered New England clam chowdah, which was excellent with big chunks of clams, no LePage's in the broth, and tender potatoes.

Then came the quiche. Broccoli quiche. The best darn broccoli quiche I have ever tasted.

How did she make the custard so tender and light? It literally melted in the mouth. I love quiche but most have custard more like cheesecake - suitable for doorstops. This one had a light, buttery crust, fresh blanched broccoli and the lightest custard I've ever eaten. If you know the secret, please do share it with me! I want to make quiche like this.

I complemented the chef but should have asked how she did it. Maybe she'd have shared her secret since I live so far away and can't get back often to Elizabeth's.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spirit Raiser

When My Beloved spies something as we are driving along, he will often pull over or make a quick U-turn to go back and see it again. He relishes doing this without warning and without explanation. It used to bug me, frankly, but I have learned after many years together to anticipate something fun when he suddenly wheels the car around. I suppose if we are ever in a fatal accident, I will go to heaven with a smile on my face, expecting something delightful.

This time, he spotted the Good Humor man in Madison, Connecticut. Papa Joe has been doing this for 21 years, ever since he bought the truck. He travels the neighborhoods ringing his bell with his dog in the foot well, selling ice cream and improving moods wherever he goes. He has framed newspaper articles on the back side of the truck, including pictures of celebs who have enjoyed his nostalgic hobby.

He sells upscale ice cream these days, Häagen-Dazs and Dove bars as well as creamsicles, Klondike bars and Good Humors. He even does parties - now that's a great idea! I'd love to have the Good Humor man come to my next birthday party. The dog seems a little bored with the whole thing but Papa Joe retains his enthusiasm even after all these years.

I never know what to expect when My Beloved makes these sudden detours but for a spirit raiser like this, I'm happy to be surprised.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

The Lowly Potato

This reminds me of Carmen Miranda's hat, only the veggie version. It was a good, if strange, pickup meal to clean the fridge before we left for the East coast.

Baked potato, buttered, and topped with peas, wilted garlic Swiss chard and shreds of the rubbed ham ribs left over from a previous meal. This is how you stretch too few ribs into a meal. Oh, well, it's trendy to use meat more as a flavoring than as a main attraction, so I guess I'm in with the In Crowd this week.

It was surprisingly good.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

When in New England...

When in New England, it's almost obligatory to eat lobsters. I have loved lobsters from the early days when my Dad would get in his required flight time by zooming up to Maine to buy a basket of lobsters to bring home. Callous little souls that we were, we'd have lobster races on the kitchen floor while the water came to a boil, then watch as Dad popped them headfirst into the pot and clapped on the lid.

This time, My Beloved's brother brought home the lobsters and cooked them while I made a tossed salad and melted butter with lemon juice.

On this trip to New England, I learned the trick of opening a lobster tail without scissors or a knife; straighten out the curling tail, press inward along the sides with both hands until you hear a sharp crack, then turn the tail so the stomach faces away from you and, hooking your fingers under the edge of the top shell, pull back toward yourself. Lift out the whole tail meat intact and you have a feast fit for a king.

These days, we can get Maine lobsters here on the west coast but they are never sweeter than when eaten within hours of capture and in sight of the water where they lived.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

When I was a little kid, my mother would say a little rhyme as we returned to whichever house we were renting at the time (in the Navy, most houses are rented ones, as your family will be reassigned in a year or two). As we turned into the street, she would recite, "To market, to market, to buy a fat pig. Home again, home again, jiggety jig!"

We are home again, home again from a quick trip to the East coast to help clear out My Beloved's mother's attic and make the painful decisions about which sibling gets which precious item. It's an emotional process in which one tries to balance the needs of beloved others against one's own need to retain some precious objects and associated memories. Monetary values are less important at times like this, and yet in all fairness things need to be balanced that way, too. It's a delicate process.

The house looks beautiful; it has been prepared for sale and the stagers did a fine job. It looks like something right out of Architectural Digest or Coastal Living and everyone ooohs and aaahs over it. But it isn't the same house that has served as home base for the family for all those years.

Sally and her husband, Bob, bought it for a song when he retired in the early 1970s, long before their town became fashionable and the likes of Willard Scott and Jacques Pepin moved there. It was always comfortably "lived-in" and no one worried too much about spills or stacks of newspapers and sailing magazines. It was nice to be able to retrieve that article or back issue easily because it was still on the seat of the extra dining room chair. The back door was never locked and no one ever used the front door. Nothing matched, some upholstery was shabby and yet it all made a harmonious and restful whole, casual and comfortable with a view of Long Island Sound that encouraged one to simply stand and soak it in.

In some ways, it's easier to leave this beautiful designer house than it would have been to say goodbye to our home base. We won't have the house but we will retain all the memories and stories. We'll each visit each others' homes and we'll build new memories in different places, but we will all look back wistfully to the years when we all called gatherings in that address, "coming home."

My Beloved and I flew in to Oakland over the still-green hills, drove to Petaluma to retrieve Cora and came home to pizza delivered to our door. We are glad to be home again, home again, jiggety jig.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ugly But Lovely

This is one of those dishes that look rather like someone threw up on the plate and served it to you. You have to close your eyes to love this one. But, close them, because this is worth a little blind flying with a fork.

Cousin Jan served this right after the killer black bean soup. I had eaten so much soup that I thought to myself, "Man, I'll never get through all this."

Well, I not only ate it all, I wished for seconds! Try it - I guarantee you'll enjoy it. It's pretty ugly but it's truly lovely.

Chard and Red Potato Lasagna

6 medium red potatoes (about 2-1/2 lbs)

1 garlic clove, peeled and bruised (for rubbing the pan).

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
6-1/2 Tablespoons butter
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
19 baby chard leaves or 9 large leaves (about 2 bunches of large chard), coarsely chopped, with thick mid-ribs removed
Chopped oyster mushrooms (optional)
8-10 ounces grated Swiss or Monterey Jack cheese
4 Tablespoons cream

Slice the potatoes as thinly as you can and set aside.

Rub a large baking pan with the garlic and 1/2 Tablespoon of the butter. Place a layer of potatoes in the pan, sprinkle with half of the salt and pepper, garlic, a third of the butter, and half of the chard leaves. Although the chard may seem very bulky, it will wilt down during the cooking. Sprinkle half the cheese over the chard. Repeat, making another layer, ending with the cheese. (You can also use a loaf pan and divide everything into thirds, so you have three layers instead of two).

Dot with remaining butter and pour cream over the top. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, until the potatoes are thoroughly done and soft. May not take the full hour.

The dish I tasted did have the mushrooms in it and they were good. I could imagine this would be delicious with other cheeses, too. It's similar to scalloped potatoes - you can add whatever you like and it's delicious!

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Loving This Soup

Last week, I drove up to Petaluma to drop Cora off for her stay at the ultra-luxurious doggie dude ranch and spa. While we were away, she was going to get the full treatment of daily play with other dogs, private sleeping quarters and a shampoo and fluff dry. She may not care to come home after all that fun and pampering.

We stopped for lunch at cousin Jan's house and she served the best black bean soup I have ever tasted, bar none. Jan, being the modest soul that she is, was quite surprised when I whipped out my camera to record the soup for the blog and begged for the recipe.

There is something about these humble ingredients that really sings once you put them together, rather like a choir with all different voices that harmonize wonderfully. I slurped down a big bowl and looked around for more. And since winter is reluctant to give up and let go, it might even be welcome now on a brisk day.

Jan's Black Bean Soup

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped coarsely
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 cans (15 oz) black beans (she uses low-salt versions)
1 can broth (she used chicken but vegetable or beef also work well)
1 can diced tomatoes (she uses petite cut with onions and garlic, but Italian or Mexican flavors work well, too)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon vinegar (balsamic this time but red or white wine vinegar work, too)
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1 small can of corn (or frozen)
taste and, if needed, add a squirt of lemon juice.
Sartain's Menu sauce, to taste (this is a mild chipotle pepper sauce)

Mash up one can of beans until broken and pasty. Sauté onion in oil 'til lightly browned. Add garlic to onions and cook about 1 minute. Add all the other ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer 8-10 minutes, stirring often.

Very good with cornbread.

Tastes even better if allowed to cool and reheated. This soup is different every time she makes it. You can add any extra vegetables or meats which are left over and make a thicker soup, or stew. As you can see, Jan added a little chopped potato, sliced carrots and Swiss chard.

Adding chili powder and cilantro, top with diced avocado, gives it a Mexican twist. Adding oregano, basil and topping with parmesan cheese gives it an Italian slant. And, of course, a generous pour of Sartain's Sauce with some garlic bread makes it a perfect rainy day food.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rubbed Ribs

The first installment from Butler Meats was the Comstock bacon; big hit.

The second was bacon burgers; HUGE hit. (Sadly, I didn't photograph them before we devoured them. Let's just say that all the best things your imagination projects when you hear the words "bacon burgers" are made manifest in those burgers. Alone, they are worth a trip to Carson City).

The third was these ribs, rubbed with a secret combination of spices. I would call them "ham ribs" rather than "pork ribs," as the cure they got gave them a distinctly hammy flavor and texture. The meat falls off the bones, crispy and dark here, tender and pink there. Really, quite, quite delicious in their own unique way. Well worth the trouble to raid the ice maker at the motel to bring them home all the way from Carson City.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Fortuitous Mistake

The other day, My Beloved and I were vegging in front of the television, catching an episode of "Follow That Food." Gordon Elliott was watching Paula Deen make beer biscuits, so we watched, too. Onscreen, Paula used just three ingredients, Bisquick, beer and sugar; the host remarked on how light they were.

Well, we were having leftover beef stew from the freezer for dinner and what's better with beef stew than biscuits? I was inspired to hop up, rush out to the kitchen, and make the same recipe. The biscuits in my past have been anything but light, so I was hopeful that these beer biscuits would be da bomb.

I estimated the amounts, since Ms. Deen didn't give exact measurements on the show. I scooped out two cups of Bisquick, added a scant 1/4 cup of sugar, stirred those two together thoroughly, then stirred in enough beer to make the dough look approximately as hers did. The stirring was very brief, just enough to incorporate all the dry ingredients into the beer. I buttered the muffin cups and dropped the dough into the cups to fill them about 3/4 full.

I used a hot oven, 400 degrees F, and baked them until they were golden brown, about 15 minutes or so. They emerged from the oven as light as dandelion down with a crisp top and a soft crumb inside. Utterly perfect spread with honey butter and served with our beef stew. We shared the rest of the bottle of beer with dinner.

While I was making them, My Beloved went online to Ms. Deen's site and, lo and behold, there was the real recipe! It turns out, she uses melted butter, too, which they didn't show on TV, so I didn't add and we didn't miss. I probably won't bother since the biscuits are obviously lower in fat without it and, frankly, when you smear each bite with honey butter, you are getting all the fat you could possibly want.

You really don't need a recipe for these biscuits, nor for the honey butter. To make that, all you do is whisk into softened, room temperature butter as much honey as your taste buds tell you is perfect - it takes just a few seconds.

I should learn not to fly by the seat of my pants when attempting recipes for the first time but, honestly, the success experience I had probably won't teach me a thing. It was a fortuitous mistake that encourages experimentation, and one I plan to repeat often.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Comstock Lode

Knowing that we were headed for Carson City, a town first established because of silver mining in the area of Virginia City, our pal Chilebrown advised us to visit Butler Gourmet Meats on the main drag in Carson for the best in meats to bring home. He described it as the Mother Lode of meats. Knowing that our pal Chilebrown is a serious meat expert, we complied. Between wedding festivities, we searched out Butler and drooled a bit on their cases.

If one can ever call a butcher shop "lovely," Butler meats fits the description. Scrupulously clean and staffed with eager helpers, it is a pleasure to do business there. Asking a few questions, I discovered that, while their lamb is sourced locally, their other meats come from the Midwest and their chickens from Petaluma, which is close to my home so I decided to purchase only meats they cured or sourced locally. We bought three items to bring home - bacon burgers, barbecued pork ribs, and Comstock bacon.

Behold the bacon.

My lunch was a poached egg on wheatberry bread with a slice of the heavenly Comstock bacon sandwiched between the egg and the toast. I fried the bacon lightly in a pan first (the curing doesn't cook it), then laid it on the toast while I filled the same pan with water and poached my egg. Comstock bacon is cured the same way as regular rasher bacon, but it's much leaner, more like Canadian bacon with just a frill of fat running through. It is hickory smoked, maple cured and nitrate free. All that care is evident in the flavor. It is smoky and rich, with just a hint of maple sweetness - pure pig brought to its highest aspiration.

I hummed with anticipation as I made my lunch and m-m-m-m-ed with appreciation when I took my first smoky, piggy bite. I struck it rich in the Comstock (bacon) lode.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tax Dodge

I'd love to boast that my blog is now "award winning," but the truth is that KatieZ over at Thyme for Cooking just sends me these awards because she knows that I'm such a nerd that I get a kick out of filling out memes. As Katie says, the rules (there are always rules) are simple: Tell seven things about yourself and then pass the award on to other beautiful bloggers. Having just tagged a bunch of my favorite bloggers, recently, I plan to find some additional folks to send this along to.

Here are the seven things about me that you may not have known and that may amuse, while you are taking a break from filling out your tax forms:

1. When we lived in Maryland, I had a pet box turtle as a child and kept it for perhaps a week. It was a marvelous creature, perhaps 8" long with a beautiful, high arched, hinged shell patterned in black and bright yellow. It lived in the screened porch, when I wasn't putting it in the bathtub for a swim, and it ate lettuce. My mother could see that a diet of iceberg lettuce wasn't going to sustain life for any creature so she made me let it go. We released it at the edge of the woods where I had collected it and watched it aim immediately for some low-hanging blackberries that were growing wild at the edge of the woods and begin wolfing them down. Even a stubborn six year old could see that this poor turtle was much happier in his own environment.

2. I found another box turtle about 20 years later - it was trying to cross a freeway in Virginia where several other box turtles had failed to make it to the other side. Sadly, it was like a real-life game of Frogger, only with turtles so slow that one couldn't imagine how drivers could miss them. Anyway, this turtle was on the verge of the highway, about to try his luck, when I made then-husband stop the car so I could rescue him. As we were on our way to visit my sister and her family, I kept the turtle to give to my nephew, who was then about four years old. He was both thrilled and terrified of this gift but we had fun exploring the turtle before releasing it near a woods on his father's peanut farm. I still have the snapshot of him and me with the turtle.

3. Growing up in the Navy, we had cats as pets rather than dogs. Cats are easier to transport. All our cats for a long time were named Sam. The original Sam was an intact male who loved my Dad and tolerated the rest of us; Dad would let Sam out at night and who knows how many kittens he sired. He always returned at dawn and slunk into the linen closet where he slept for the rest of the day. When Dad was at sea, Sam would bring presents of dead mice and lay them gently on Dad's pillow. Mom did not appreciate this aspect of Sam's devotion.

4. I have climbed Mount Fuji, all the way to the top, and watched the sun rise from there. It is one of my proudest achievements.

5. I was an indifferent student as a young woman and only finished two years of college before leaving gratefully for the working world. I returned to school after three pleasant but dead-end jobs and was a stellar student at age 35, earning my Bachelor's in Biology and my Master's in Higher Education Administration in short order. It was a wonderful experience and a good investment in satisfying work.

6. I can't dance. I love music and enjoy dancing - just can't do it at all well. No sense of rhythm and my feet don't have noticeable connection to my brain.

7. When I was in boarding school in France at age 16, we used to sneak out at night and meet boys. We made plans for these assignations at our Sunday beach outings. I suppose all kinds of dire things might have resulted, from rape to (worse) discovery by Mme. Blay, the feared headmistress of the school, but nothing did. We walked around the town, thrilled by our guilty freedom, and then went back, climbed back up the shutters we had shinnied down a few hours before, and went to sleep.

Now, wasn't that better than doing your taxes? Off to tag some other Beautiful Bloggers!


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Newlyweds

Wanna see the newlyweds? Here they are on their wedding day, complete with daisy chains.

The story is that Donna made Phil a daisy chain back with they were high school students and madly in love, so she made new ones for them on their big day to recall those youthful feelings.

Looks like they are lovestruck again. Ain't life grand?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cruising Carson City

My Beloved has a soulmate of nearly 30 years, Phil. Phil has been a rather wistful bachelor all the years MB has known him, expressing gentle envy for our state of wedded bliss. We had some vague knowledge that he had been married in the past but we didn't pry and he didn't volunteer, so we just accepted his roughly 30-year singlehood.

Turns out this sweet man, who never forgets a birthday or an anniversary and even sends cards, collects teddy bears and decorates his house with them, and loves racing cars, had a girlfriend in high school, Donna, to whom he gave his heart 40 years ago. Apparently, she gave hers, too, although they broke up 'way back then (she was only 16 after all) and have lived separate lives ever since, each marrying and Donna having three (now grown) children along the way.

They reunited last fall when Phil made a driving trip to Oregon and contacted her just to explore old times. The result was electric and immediate - they were back in love instantly. Within a very short time, Donna kissed her kids and moved to Carson City where she and Phil have been blissfully together ever since.

They got married last weekend with all three kids in the wedding party. We were invited to share in their happiness, so we packed Cora into the new car and headed east. The wedding was joyous, warmly welcoming, unpretentious and family-oriented, really one of the nicest weddings we've ever attended. Phil's three sisters sang "Unforgettable," his cousin and uncle were the officiants, and his good friend Sherrie stood up with him as Best Woman. Seeing these two lost-and-found lovers so happy will remain a highlight of the year for everyone who was there.

We had some time to kill between wedding festivities, so we drove out to Virginia City, a wonderfully funky tourist trap among abandoned, rusting mines out in the middle of nowhere; explored the local community college campus, complete with a Planet Walk that leads you up with stone monoliths, each describing one of the planets in the solar system,
to their planetarium; and photographed the "guest ranches" just outside of town, where adult entertainment is celebrated.

We had to chuckle when we saw the billboards advertising the delights of the guest ranches. The names alone should give you an idea of what goes on at the Squeeze Play Gentleman's Cabaret, the Bunny Ranch, the Kit Kat (affectionately known as Miss Kitty's), and the Love Ranch.
Just in case one's naivety is profound, as you drive in to the Bunny Ranch, there are street signs with silhouettes of rabbits making bunny love along the way. These clubs offer free tours, gift shops and, reassuringly, "no sex required."

Carson City is the state capitol of Nevada. The city is organized in a long strip bordering Route 395, which starts and ends in strip malls containing every chain store known to man. The center of the strip, however, is a charming older section surrounding the governor's mansion and stately capitol buildings with big old shade trees and Victorian charm.

Just off this strip is a wonderfully whimsical restaurant called Red's Old 395. Decorated with old wagons, machinery, posters, photos, harness, a fountain, prints and hundreds of beer bottles encased behind plexiglass, it is a sight to behold. We were given two menus, lunch and dinner, as we were there rather late for lunch. Unable to decide, I asked the waitress what Red's is famous for and with a big smile she said, "Barbecue," so I ordered a half rack of what were quite simply the very best pork ribs I have ever eaten.

They were meaty, smoky, painted with a lick-your-fingers sauce that was at once mellow, gently spicy and not at all sweet, and served on a bed of crispy onion strings. The onion strings were delicious, too, although I couldn't eat them all. The accompanying cole slaw and baked beans were served in tortilla cups, a nice touch of color on the plate. The ribs were so generous that I couldn't finish them without eager assistance from My Beloved, who happily polished off the last two.

Red's Old 395 is a must if you are ever in Carson City. If you are planning to go out to one of the guest ranches, however, don't start with lunch at Red's - we were
good for nothing but a nap in the motel after lunch there.

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Monday, April 12, 2010


I don't suppose I am the very first person to invent this rice dish, so I probably haven't really earned naming rights, but I'm so gosh-darn proud of it that I'm claiming it anyway.

It's pretty simple, really, just green garlic sauteéd in butter, then tossed with Massa brown rice, which are then cooked in water for about 50 minutes before being tossed with just about two tablespoons of homemade bacon bits and whole, roasted Massa almonds.

You gotta serve it quick-quick as the almonds quickly re-absorb water and lose their crisp crunch; the flavor is still wonderful, of course, but the snap is lost. I love snap, so I had the rest of the meal ready to go before stirring in the bacon and almonds.

Smoky and ever-so-slightly-salty from the bacon with savory undertones from the green garlic, this rice as serious temptation to eat 'way too much. We had to quickly slip the rest into the fridge for a subsequent meal or My Beloved and I would have simply stood over the pot with our forks and competed with each other for bites of Rice-a-Zoomie.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Crustaceans and Snaps

I had gotten out of the habit of using sugar snap peas. Don't ask me why - they are a delicious addition to all kinds of dishes - but I had. I guess I overdosed on them a while back; I hadn't bought any in perhaps two years.

Then, just when the selection in the produce section at my favorite supermarket was looking decidedly uninteresting, with little of local interest to offer besides six kinds of greens we'd been eating all winter and the stalwart broccoli, there were the sugar snaps!

I ate one or two as I stripped out the strings and was reminded just how crisp and delicately crunchy they are. As green as an Irish spring and crisp, sweet and bright-flavored, what could be nicer to wake up a plate of food? I used them about a week ago with pasta, so this time I was more in a stir-steam-sauté kind of mood. With a package of shrimp from the freezer, I had dinner in no time.

Not only were the sugar snaps the essence of spring, so was the green garlic. I sautéed two chopped spears of green garlic in a little butter with some of my fresh thyme from the garden, little lavender flowers and leaves stripped off the woody parts of the stems, before adding the sugar snaps for about one minute, then the shrimps and the water from their package (less than 1/4 cup) for another minute or two.
The shrimps got so pink and curly that I expected to hear giggles while the sugar snaps got even greener and sweeter, if that's possible. The mellow little goozle that formed at the bottom of the pan was officially declared the elixir of the gods of spring.

I settled them onto our plates next to a brown rice pilaf (more about that later) and we dove in to our plates of crustaceans and snaps for an easy-pleasy spring dinner.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Another Win-Win

Did you know that Massa also grows almonds? Well, duh, you'd think I'd have noticed this before but I was so focused on their delicious rice that I missed this entirely until last week when I stopped by their booth at the Marin farmer's market to pick up more rice. The man behind the counter had two enormous bags of almonds on either side of the rice, one of roasted and one of raw.

Yes, please!

I asked for half a pound of each, mixed in the same bag. We've been snacking on them all week. No salt, just plain, they are crisp and bright in flavor with a lighter texture than most almonds. The roasted ones are toasty and the raw ones are mellow. Simply to die for. Really, as good as the rice is, and that's saying a lot. We've had to restrict ourselves to a small handful to share before dinner, or we'd devour the whole pound in just a day or so.

I'm going to try making the rice with some onion, chicken broth and, at the last minute, tossing in some of the roasted almonds. Stand by for a review - I think it's going to be another win-win from Massa.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Doctor's Orders

I can think of worse fates than to develop high blood pressure and be sentenced to a lifetime of high potassium foods. For example, I could have become allergic to cats, or chocolate, or strawberries. I could have contracted rabies and needed painful shots. I could have gotten bird lice from the wild turkeys who live in my town.


Luckily, none of those catastrophes have struck so far. Instead, I've been diagnosed with hypertension and the pills I take to lower my blood pressure have the side effect of throwing off my potassium levels. The imbalance is only mild, so my doc has suggested that I include lots of high-potassium foods in my diet to replace the lost electrolyte.

Avocados have always been a fave in my family, a rare and expensive treat we could afford only every now and then. I have loved spreading my toast with avocado rather than jam ever since My Beloved taught me this practice early in our courtship; he taught me some other cool things during our courtship, too, but that would be telling. Avocado toast is not a sinful indulgence any more, it's part of a healthy diet. I can think of worse fates.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Easter Treats

My father and I shared a delight in truly corny humor; whenever we got together, we'd unload all the "groaners" we had heard on each other and laugh while Mom sat by rolling her eyes and shaking her head. Now, when I hear a new corny joke, I always wish I could tell it to Dad.

Every year at Easter, I trot out with great delight my one and only Easter joke.

Q. What do you get when you pour steamy water down a rabbit hole?

A. Hot, cross bunnies!

I can hear him groaning and chuckling still. I can hear you, too.

Here are some better Easter treats, also a great delight, hot cross buns from Della Fattoria Café and bakery in Petaluma. We spied these on Easter Sunday when we went up to deliver cousin Jan's Easter basket, which the Easter Bunny had unaccountably left at our house. We all went out for Easter lunch and happened to find a spot at Della Fattoria's communal table, even though they were very busy and we weren't smart enough to reserve ahead of time. Without rushing their departing customers, the very helpful wait staff made room for us. We all had wonderful lunches although, sadly, I forgot my camera so they will be just a delicious memory.

For dessert, we shared a chocolate cupcake that was like Heaven's version of a Hostess cupcake. The rich chocolate icing, deep, dark devil's food cake and vanilla bean butter cream filling were so eye-glaze inducing that we three shared it and each felt completely satisfied.

Then, we noticed the hot cross buns on the counter and added several of those to our tab to enjoy at home. The inside of these humble brown buns is studded with tiny cubes of orange peel and dried currants, little islands of sweetness and flavor in the light, scented bread. The cross of icing is just enough to sweeten them without being cloying.

Della Fattoria means "from the farm" and everything they serve is fresh and made with the very best ingredients. The love shows, at Easter time and all year through. As we sat at the communal table idly chatting, I remembered to tell my Easter joke. Both My Beloved and cousin Jan make the same kind of groaning, chuckly noises as my Dad used to.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My Kind Of Salad

I like salads with some heft, some crunch and munch and bump, so when a shared Easter dinner of lamb sliders was proposed to celebrate Sarah and Mia's visit, I made a Greek-themed salad that supplied lots of flavors as well as some serious texture.

There's a lot of chopping in this recipe but it's worth the effort. I started with a recipe I read online and added a few things to supply the gutsy mouth feel that I really enjoy. I took this picture before adding the arugula and the dressing so it will look greener than this when finished. It will also taste better. Go on, munch away!

Easter Salad, inspired by Mediterranean Salad with Chickpeas and Arugula, Bon Appetit, '04

3 Tbs red wine vinegar (I used a combination of red wine vinegar and lemon juice)
2 Tbs chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 Tbs chopped fresh oregano
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed (not in the original recipe but lamb and garlic beg to be together)
1/2 tsp grated orange peel
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp dried crushed red pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 fennel bulb, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
8 oz fresh, small mozzarella balls
15 can chickpeas, drained
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 English cucumber, coarsely chopped (no need to peel this, it adds color and crunch)
4 cups arugula

Whisk the first seven ingredients together in a small bowl to blend. They will not be very whiskable, by the way, as there is so much stuff and relatively little vinegar. Slowly whisk in the oil. Set aside for an hour or so while you do the chopping, so it can meld.

Combine the rest of the ingredients, except the arugula, and toss with your hands to mix thoroughly. Add the arugula, drizzle the dressing all over the salad and toss one last time to coat.

The recipe says it serves four but, as a side dish, it would serve twice that number - it's substantial. The guests assured me it was even better the second day, when the ingredients had had a chance to get acquainted.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ready For Spring, Stuck In Winter

Last week, we were still stuck in winter with drenching rains and high winds. Easter was a washout and Easter Monday was spotty with squalls. We are ready for the return of our dependable sunshine, thank you very much!

Here's a winter dinner with a touch of spring - vermicelli with fresh Swiss chard added. It was simple to make, quick and filling. The Swiss chard came from my inexhaustible plants out in the garden, the vermicelli and canned tomatoes from the pantry.

All you do is sauté some chopped onion and minced garlic in the same pan where you browned slices of Italian sausage (mine were fully cooked already so it took just minutes), add a can of chopped tomatoes and about half a can of white wine, raid the herb garden (or the spice jars) for oregano, crushed red pepper, yadda, and simmer it all together for about 15 minutes. While it melds into a lovely sauce, boil the pasta and drain it, adding it to the rest of the ingredients and tossing it around to soak up all those lovely flavors. At the last minute, add about six sliced leaves of Swiss chard, just long enough to wilt them. A block of ParmReg at the table with a grater and everyone gets the amount of cheese they favor.

Do not begin screaming if the cheese reminds you of snow and that reminds you that it's still winter when you are yearning for spring.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Good Eggs

Easter has always been a favorite holiday for me. When I was a child, my sister and I got new dresses, usually the only party dresses of the year, to wear to church on Easter and my Dad always made a wonderful treasure hunt for us by composing rhyming clues using the most gawdawful doggerel to lead us to where he had hidden our Easter baskets. It was simple fun.

I still celebrate every year with an Easter basket for My Beloved (he is always surprised and never seems to see it coming!) and one for any other friends or family who happen to be around. The return of long, light days is a celebration all its own and the silly fun of baskets and chocolate bunnies is a treat not to be missed.

Easter celebrations have gotten a bit more elaborate these days and rarely do they involve church going or new dresses, but they are essentially the same simple fun as before. Since our granddaughter is visiting, we got to dye hard boiled eggs and to watch her hunting for Easter eggs hidden all around the living room since it was raining cats and dogs outside. Hers were plastic eggs with just a very few jellybeans or "goldfish" crackers inside.

She learned quickly to shake them and, when the distinctive rattle of jellybeans was detected, she stopped to open the egg and eat the jellybeans. When the sound said "goldfish," she moved on to the next egg. Egged on by adoring adults,
she ended up with a basket full of color for an Easter she won't soon forget.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pretty In Pinks

Our granddaughter is visiting from Boston this weekend, a flying visit with her mother while her Dad is attending a wedding in Toronto. They are only here for three days but we are looking forward to every minute.

I don't know if she eats radishes but I know she'll like the colors. She is three and her favorite colors are "pink and purple and pink." I must admit that she has had some outrageous coaching on this preference for all things pink from her mother and her Aunt Kristen, who love having a girly girl to dress up. If the question is "Nature vs. Nurture," in this case, it's definitely nurture.

I plan to serve the radishes sliced with a little unsalted butter and some fleur de sel on the side, a simple appetizer that most people really enjoy.

Happy Easter, Everyone!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Prescription Drugs

I've recently been diagnosed with hypertension and my doc, a handsome young man who reminds me of my older brother, has prescribed a medication to bring down the blood pressure. I'm not a big fan of taking meds, so I wasn't all that happy about it, but neither did I want to court a stroke or a heart attack. We make choices in life, albeit sometimes reluctant ones.

Unfortunately, this medication, rarely, can effect one's electrolyte balance. The result is, in my case, extreme fatigue and the occasional interesting dizzy spell within days of taking the pills.

I reported these symptoms via email to my doc, like a good little patient, and he sent me to the lab for a blood test that revealed slightly low potassium levels. If you recall from your biology class, the body uses a combination of calcium, potassium and sodium to bring nutrients into and out of your cells. Grossly simplified, if the balance between these three is disrupted - voilà!, fatigue and dizzy spells.

So, here's his latest prescription, foods high in potassium. Now, this is a prescription I can really get behind! Potatoes are among my favorite foods, avocados are everyone's favorite food, and strawberry season has just begun in earnest here in NOCA, where it will continue in a luscious rush until October. My list of medications also includes oranges, orange juice, raisins, cantaloupe and bananas. The only one I'm reluctant to take is bananas, since they come with such a heavy carbon footprint, but I may need to resort to those when the strawberries stop and the oranges aren't yet in season.

In the meantime, I hit the farmer's market yesterday and stocked up on these high-potassium items - doctor's orders!

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Friday, April 2, 2010


I am a loyal customer. I'm not usually the lighthouse customer, but show me a product I can love and I will use it exclusively from then on. I have always used Hellman's mayonaise, even when I moved to California and discovered that the same brand here is called Best Foods. My favorite English muffins have always been Thomas', until recently when they seem to have changed the recipe (if any of you know a better English muffin, by the way, I'm looking for a new muffin to love).

I even used the same moisturizer from roughly 1980 to 2009 and I'd still be using the stuff if the company hadn't decided not to make it any more. Reluctantly, I shifted over to another product and, now, I'm loyal again. I usually order it online but, this time when I opened my last jar, they were sold out on the website, so I have to go
about an hour's drive north to Santa Rosa to get it. That's not a big hardship and I will gladly make the trip to find the goop I like - just goes to show you how doggedly loyal I can be.

Mostly, I like to cook. I rarely call for a pizza and takeout is usually not a part of my vocabulary. However, when I was in Santa Rosa on a mission to get goop, I had the felicitous thought, "I wonder if Rosso does takeout?"

In addition to pizza, the talented folks at Rosso have a daily special and, on Wednesdays, it's bucatini and meatballs. I had enjoyed the daily special one of the times I was there - these people really, really know how to cook. The answer to my question was "Yes, sure!" The cheerful young waitress settled me in a chair with some recent foodie magazines and took my order for two servings back to the kitchen.

Next time you are in Santa Rosa, maybe even to have lunch at Rosso, I can recommend making your life easier by ordering, along with your pizza, some of their takeout. My Beloved managed to finish his but the portions were so large that I'm having lunch of the rest tomorrow. The meatballs were about the size of a handball and very filling, dense little meteorites of ground meat studded inside with herbs. The tomato sauce was fresh and lively, filled with more herbs and flavor. Even rudely heated in the hurry-up microwave, the dish is delicious. It deserves better treatment than that - next time, I'd heat it slowly in a double boiler - but isn't that what you do with takeout?

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Something To Celebrate

Last week, I was whining about the discomforts of growing older; this week, I'm reminded of the joys.

My Beloved's daughter, who three years ago presented us with the so-charming granddaughter that I often rave about, called us over the weekend to say she is increasing again. The new baby is due in the fall. All is well in the various high-tech checkups that are so common today - nice to know all those ancient, mysterious processes are progressing as ordained. The parents have elected not to know the sex of the coming child - they want to be surprised.

The Mom-to-Be can't have alcohol now, but we certainly can! We arranged via text message and cell phone (aren't we just so techie these days?) an impromptu celebration with the baby's aunt, My Beloved's other daughter, and her main squeeze. We unwrapped our beautiful vintage flutes, cut up some baguette, opened a nice wedge of cheese, piled up some of the clementines that are so delicious this time of year, and toasted the new baby in fine style.

You can't see the cheese behind the bottle but it was really special, Batch 25 from Cowgirl Creamery it said on the wrapper. When I visited their site, it seemed most like the description of the Wagon Wheel cheese. It was semi-firm, aged and mild/mellow and went quite well with our favorite champagne.

We clinked and caught up on each others' doings while we drained the bottle and polished off the nibbles. It was a lovely interlude and, by the end, I was feeling pretty darn good about life in general.

Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying, "I drink Champagne when I win, to celebrate…and I drink Champagne when I lose, to console myself." I should have had a glass of bubbly last week, too.