Monday, October 25, 2010


I was married once before. After nearly twenty-five years, the marriage ended. First Husband and I were both left with that bitter combination of regrets, guilt and sad-happy memories that inevitably accompany the failure of a long marriage. We were lucky, however. Thanks to the skills and kindness of a truly gifted mediator, we salvaged a friendship out of the shipwreck of our marriage.

So, when I look back on that time, I can thank First Husband for the many gifts he gave me. He nagged me to stop smoking, something I have blessed him for ever since. He gave me confidence in myself, enough to see me through Chemistry when I went back to college and then grad school during our marriage. He was tolerant of the various wildlife I brought home to rehabilitate. He even put up with dead birds bagged in the freezer when I took an Ornithology class that included a section of taxidermy and fruit flies germinating in the laundry room for a Genetics course. There are many more gifts I could list but one of the most important ones is that he made me into a maple syrup snob.

First Husband came from a family with roots in the deep countryside of Pennsylvania. As a child he spent summers on the farm and learned to love real maple syrup at the gargantuan breakfasts they served before the day's work of milking cows and raising crops began. When we moved from California to New York state, he was thrilled to be in the middle of the sugar bush, where the real stuff is harvested.

Each spring, we would drive down to a farm in the Southern Tier of New York in search of maple syrup for the coming year. Reduced and bottled, the sap keeps for a long time. We'd purchase upwards of 20 bottles each year, giving most as gifts but insuring that we had plenty for ourselves, as well. It was an enjoyable ritual, one we kept even as our shaky marriage was crumbling around us.

So, when we split up, we actually divided our stash of maple syrup; it's not in our separation agreement but we were both honorable about it. I brought eight quarts of Grade A Light Amber syrup with me when I moved back to California fourteen years ago.

It has kept beautifully all this time downstairs in the storage area that I call Deep Storage to distinguish it from Deep, Deep Storage, which is yet another level down under the house, where the trolls live. This jug is the second-to-last, and we finished it off on the Cornmeal Bacon Waffles that Second Husband (better known as My Beloved) and I enjoyed yesterday.

There is only one more jug to go, one more chance to pour out a little sweetness to mingle with the bittersweet memories of nearly 25 years that keep forever, like the syrup.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Come Roasting Season

Roasted turkey breast. Roasted cauliflower. Roasted potatoes. Roasted onions. All simply rolled in a small sploosh of olive oil, salted and peppered before sliding them into a 375 degree oven for an hour or so. You can get fancier than that, but you don't have to.

It's getting to be that time of year. Rooting around in the fridge, I discovered a couple of Yukon gold potatoes, a small head of cauliflower and half a gigantic onion to roast alongside the Diestel turkey breast I bought while I was over in Marin looking for a present for the baby's mother. She did all the heavy lifting in producing this beautiful baby, after all - she deserves a treat, too.

I found the perfect present for her, a couple of fun things for the Big Sister (who is now a very grownup 3.5 years old) and even a few goodies for the newest family member - a onesie that says "Party in my crib. 3am", a tiny black hoodie with a tiger on the back and a pair of fuzzy pajamas. I also found the turkey breast, perfect for the start of roasting season.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Coffee Klatch

My friend Maria retired a couple of months ago, and turned me over to another hairdresser to tend my graying tresses. However, she promised me faithfully that we could go on meeting every now and then and we would never lose touch. If she hadn't agreed to that, I couldn't have let her retire. Period.

Over the 10+ years that we've known each other, she has become a dear friend. So, we met at our local Starbucks for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat this week. We chatted back and forth, sharing news of our families and ourselves, comparing notes on the joys and challenges involved in retiring. We are both glad we retired, although the adjustments to retirement are significant. The time with her flew by in a flurry of "No, really?" and "That's great!" and "OMG, no kidding??"

There are scientific studies that show that woman-to-woman friendships are positive for one's health. I'd agree with that, as I always come away from a chat with Maria feeling good. She has that gift. She is good for my health but, even more, she is good for my heart. I'm glad she's enjoying her retirement but I'm also glad she enjoys our coffee klatch as much as I do.

Friday, October 22, 2010


My Beloved and I love waffles. We have eaten them at restaurants as varied as the Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland and the Fremont Diner in Sonoma. We have made our own at home on long, lazy Sunday mornings, complete with real maple syrup, lashings of butter and the Sunday funnies. Occasionally, we even have them for dinner.

I wanted to replicate the crisp, light, cornmeal waffles they serve at the BSK so when I found a recipe online for cornmeal waffles with bacon bits, I knew we had dinner waffles in our future.

I hauled out my fastest waffle baker, an ancient appliance that can keep up with a boatload of hungry waffle lovers. I got it from The Fixer's Offerings and have loved it ever since. The electrical plug is a scary little relic and the metal switches get searingly hot during baking, but it makes a mean waffle really fast and it never sticks.

We had leftover already-crisped bacon (I know, I know - leftover bacon??? Who ever heard of such a thing?) in the fridge, so the batter went together in a snap. Ladled into the waffle iron, it emitted a fragrant steam of promise. Sadly, the resulting waffles were not light and not crisp and not anything like the ones at BSK. I didn't quite have enough bacon and the kind I had wasn't salty enough or smoky enough to give the result my mind had imagined. The corn flavor was evident, as was the rich buttermilk, so we really did enjoy the waffles but, as a copy of the BSK ones, they were a flop.

If you like buttery waffles with lots of corn and buttermilk flavor, however, we can recommend these. And, continuing to research cornmeal waffle recipes isn't exactly a hardship, is it? The journey begins here.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Did It Again

I did it again.

Made the Rustic Plum Tart that I filched from Molly over at Orangette.

Only this time I added a basketful of raspberries to the plums. Because I could.

Equally thrilling.

Except for the raspberry seeds, which lodge themselves between my teeth and send me to the bathroom in search of floss.

It's worth it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sky Art

There is this one big bonus to moving into fall - the clouds. All summer, we get a few clouds but they are few and dry. Our sunsets are lovely on a cloudless evening but nothing beats a sunset with clouds.

This particular evening, the clouds formed on several levels - mare's tails 'way up high, some that looked like the flesh of a trout turning dark grey, and lower, denser clouds gilded at their edges. With Mount Tam in the distance blurred with gold mist and trees silhouetted black against the sky, it was about as splendid a sunset as you could ask for.

Sky art is nature's compensation for taking away the long, warm days.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stubbornly Salad

I may set the table for fall but I'm not ready. Not ready for cooler fall weather because we haven't had enough warm days yet this summer to make me wish for them. Not ready for short days, even though it means I can use candles on the dinner table again. Not ready for raincoats and rubber shoes and drying off the dog after every walk. I'm just not ready.

So, I'm still making salads. The tomatoes are still wonderfully red and ripe. There may be broccoli and cauliflower in the mix, but there is lettuce, too, and scallions and a little teriyaki chicken - doesn't that say summer barbecue to you?

I'm hoping for Indian summer, so I'm staying stubbornly salad.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Cavalry

Last week, it was so hot that even a heat-seeker like me was driven into the shade to drip sweat and wonder when our beloved fog will return to cool us off.

When it gets hot here, the breeze dies at the same time, so it seems doubly warm. And our south-facing house with wide windows collects the heat and packs it inside, a great thing on a cool winter day but not so great on a hot summer one. Cooking, if done at all, is barbecuing on days like that.

Best of all is when My Beloved saves the day by bringing home something pre-made. This time, it was a roasted teriyaki chicken, complete with white and black sesame seeds, from the deli at Market Hall in Oakland. It was wonderfully moist with a rich, sweet glaze. I could have used a touch more ginger bite but when the Cavalry arrives in the nick of time to save me from heating up the kitchen, I don't nitpick.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Funky Town

We live in a funky little town. For many years it was fairly isolated, with only a ferry across from Marin and a two-lane road coming in from El Cerrito and points south. In those years, it was a railhead on the town side of the hill (it still is, complete with train whistles and backups when the trains are a-building) and a sort of hippie-artist-vacation retreat on the bay side with little summer cottages and wacky, unplanned houses that look homemade.

When the bridge was built to Marin and the freeway both connected us to the rest of the world and cut us off from the larger city of Richmond, our town changed. Newer houses were sandwiched in between the older cottages as, one by one, all the lots were filled. From unheated summer cottages to McMansions with hot tubs in the bathrooms - we have them all now. The town has never lost its funky character, however, and the people here are still refugees from the Establishment. Weeds go unpulled, trees grow willy-nilly, and people don't judge each other on the neatness of their properties.

Few people actually cultivate a garden - mostly, we are happy to accept the volunteers that spring up and, if they are pretty, to encourage them. Some folks do have planned gardens, but they are the exception rather than the rule, and even they tend to weeds amongst the cultivars. Even the food gardens are a little haphazard with weeds rampant between the rows.

Every now and then as I walk around the streets, I am stopped in my tracks by a scene like this - impossibly purple morning glories growing up and around impossibly orange pyracantha berries accented against an incredibly blue sky. If I put that on a postcard, you'd swear I had touched it up.

In a few weeks, the robins will come through and strip the pyracantha of its berries and the morning glories will fade until next spring. An earnest gardener probably would have discouraged the morning glories from overwhelming the pyracantha; I'm grateful that I live in a funky town where benign neglect allows such amazements to happen.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Apple Picking

The two young girls down the street, the ones who went on a hobo picnic with their Dad not long ago, have an apple tree in the front yard. I approached their Mom one year about picking her apples for her and we've been friends ever since. Cora and I visit their dog each day and sometimes take her with us on our walks. The girls have gone from shyly silent to calling me by my first name and waving when they see me. So, when their huge apple crop threatened to overwhelm them this year, they invited me over for apple picking.

The girls are amazing. The older girl was up the tree in a trice, picking apples and dropping them into our waiting baskets. The younger girl got halfway up the tree and contributed a few of her own - she's game, but she's small yet. Then I got out my picker and we snagged a few more from the upper branches. Of course, we missed some that dropped onto the grass in a small bombardment - the ones that weren't badly bruised went into the baskets, too.

So, here's my lunch the next day - sweet apple and tangy cheddar cheese slices to remind me of the fun of apple picking with my neighbors. I'm thinking of making apple tarts and inviting them over for a tea party.

Labels: ,

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lemon Twist

San Francisco is a city where at any moment something may make you laugh and race up the street to get a photo before the unexpected passes you by. At the second annual Passport event, a fundraiser for the SF Arts Commission, we encountered the wacky Lemon Twist Drill Team performing for the people who came to the event.

Passport is a delightful event during which one purchases a "passport" from the Arts Commission, then takes it around to about 15 shops and businesses in the Hayes Valley area of San Francisco to get a unique stamp from each local artist on the pages. Each artist talks a bit about her/his image, then stamps and signs your passport. The businesses get hundreds of new lookers as a reward for housing the artists, the artists get casual exposure (some of them had additional work for sale at the event) and the participants learn about Hayes Valley businesses as well as a bit about the artists.

We went there with pal Sari this past Sunday on the prettiest day of the year and had such a fun time collecting stamps and chatting with the artists. Restaurants were doing a booming business as were even the businesses that were not officially taking part. And, on the way to our car after our feet gave out, we encountered the drill team.

The members were marching to music issuing from a boom box in a convertible in the street that kept time alongside the marchers on the sidewalk. They were accompanied by staff with "Stop" signs to help them cross traffic and to keep the gawkers like us from stepping into their path. The drill team, about 20 women strong, all dressed individually but united by their white, tasseled boots and their shiny silver pompons, kept straight faces the whole time despite the delightful absurdity of their act. Having fun is serious business, after all.

You never know what nonsense will spring up in San Francisco. It's one of the reasons we always enjoy going to the city and why we will certainly be back for the Passport event again next year.

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Molly Knows Best

We were having a little celebration of the birth of our grandson with My Beloved's younger daughter and her fiancé, so I wanted to make a dessert that they would like. As is so often the case, I turn to Orangette for inspiration. Molly Wizenberg is my go-to girl for anything baked. She understands that only real butter will do and she finds or invents unusual and delicious recipes.

This one she borrowed from Alice Medrich and I borrowed it from Molly. Now, that's a pedigree!

Plum tart. You would have sworn there was cornmeal in there somewhere but there isn't. You would have looked at it and thought, "Too difficult" but you'd have been wrong. This baby is easy and oh-so-delicious.

So, go here and borrow the recipe yourself. It will be the easiest tart you've ever made and one of the best. The crumbly, crisp crust rises up to embrace the plums while they soften and collapse into gorgeous dark red pillows of sweet-tart flavor. Because you have generously buttered your pan, the tart pops right out and slides easily on the removable bottom onto your decorative cake plate.

When in doubt, remember these important words: Molly Knows Best.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Goat Rope Salad

In the Navy we have a strange saying. When something is really a mess, all discombooberated, we call it a goat rope. That's the way this salad started out.

My S-I-L Ann, she who cooks like an angel, had recommended to me a beet salad that sounded really good. She even sent me the recipe which, apparently, I didn't read carefully. So, I went to the store, collected what I imagined were the ingredients and brought them home only to re-read the recipe and find that most of what I brought home was not in her recipe. A goat rope.

So, I improvised, while resolving to make her salad another day. This salad had three colors of the lovely last heirloom tomatoes of the season layered with some roasted beets and sprinkled with raspberries and crumbles of a marvelous, creamy, tangy French goat cheese called Chevre de Bellay. Topped with rocket and drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette, it was the best salad I've made all summer.

The colors were perfect, of summer shading into fall, and the flavors of sweet tomatoes and fruit married with tangy goat and balsamic and a little rocket bite were love songs to the tongue. Goat rope or no goat rope, this was one terrific salad.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Household Hint

I feel like Martha Stewart. My Hallowe'en candles, wonderful orange ones with embedded sparkles that fit into my black spider candleholders, went ballistic the other night at dinner and dripped wax all over the table.

I remembered a household hint that I read about - Heloïse? Peg Bracken? Maybe Martha? - in any case, you put ice on wax and when it's really cold, it lifts right off the wood. It also works to put smaller stuff, like the candleholders themselves, in the freezer for an hour or so. Works like a champ.

Just thought you'd like to know, since Hallowe'en is approaching and now that it gets dark by dinner time, I'm back to using candles on the table.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Kickin' Rice

I'm on a bit of a rice kick. I made salmon risotto not long ago. We ordered Chinese take-out for the first time in my life last week and all really I wanted from the long menu was the fried rice. I keep making pots of that killer Massa brown rice to replace other starches on our plates. I even have brown rice for breakfast.

So, My Beloved was not surprised to find that risotto was on the menu yet again. Mushroom risotto this time with carrots and broccoli thrown in and cooked in organic vegetable stock thanks to those enterprising folks over at Imagine.

Risotto is easy. If you have a job or come home late from shopping or perhaps got caught up reading (ahem!) the hair raising ending of the latest thriller, you can have dinner on the table and tasting delicious in about 45 minutes. Here's the deal:

Chop an onion and sauté it in a heavy-bottomed pot in generous butter until it's soft. Add about a dozen sliced mushrooms (you can use all one kind or, even better, some of several kinds) and let them sizzle with the onion until they are nicely browned (this is why the butter should be generous) - you need to watch this and stir frequently.

Throw in a cup of risotto rice (canaroli or arborio - both keep forever in the pantry) and let it cook for about five minutes, stirring every few minutes. Pour in about a half cup of white wine, or use half that amount of fresh lemon juice and stir it around. While that cooks down a tad, chop the carrots and broccoli into bite-size pieces, and grate about a cup of Parmesan cheese.

Heat about three cups of veggie stock in the microwave - it need not be boiling, just nicely warmed. Add the veggie stock about half a cup at a time, stirring with each new addition to make sure the rice doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Let the stock cook with the rice until it is absorbed before adding another half cup and repeating the process.

When you have added all the stock, it's time to dump in the carrots and broccoli, stirring them in, and let them cook for a few minutes 'til the broccoli is bright green. Add the grated cheese and stir that in evenly. Offer more Parmesan cheese at the table.

You can, of course, add all kinds of little bits of flavor - shredded chicken, meat or fish, different veggies, different flavorings and herbs, meat broths instead of veggie - the possibilities are legion. Even if you're not on a rice kick, you'll love risotto.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Buried Bird

Buried under that tumble of apples, almonds and onions is half of a Cornish hen. I was feeling rather fallish even though our weather has warmed recently, so I decided to roast a Cornish hen with a fall flair.

The hen went into a 350 degree oven stuffed with a quarter of a small lemon, the stump of an onion and a small celery top, nestled alongside half of our potato crop and smeared with bacon fat to roast for about an hour. It is a continuing mystery to me why it takes just as long to roast a tiny Cornish hen as it does a full-sized chicken - but never mind, I digress.

While the hen was roasting, I chopped an onion, an apple (Fuji - fairly sweet), a stalk of celery and sautéed them in bacon fat with some fresh thyme and oregano from the garden and just a few red pepper flakes. When they were all nicely soft, I squeezed over a healthy shower of fresh lemon juice, a sprinkle of sherry vinegar and tossed in a handful of salted Marcona almonds.

The hen comes out and is divided in half, the topping goes on and you've got a taste of fall buried on your plate.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Rubber Chicken

When Cookiecrumb wrote about the chicken terrine she made from Ms Mouse's mother's recipe, I wanted immediately to try it. It just sounded lovely, nothing but happily roasted chicken and goozle, pressed into a mold, then sliced and served.

So, I roasted, picked, goozled, pressed and chilled as instructed. I stuffed some onion, celery and lemon into the roasting chicken for additional flavor but otherwise followed the simple directions to a T.

Well, I admit to an intermediate step - we ate some of the chicken for dinner first, then made the terrine with the leftovers. I noticed the first serving of the chicken was a bit tough, as one sometimes gets with truly pastured birds, but tasty, very tasty.

In a terrine, however, this was rubber chicken. I suppose that layering the meat in more than one direction didn't help but, holy cow, it was nearly impossible to slice! So, now I'm wondering if anyone out there can advise me on how to choose a chicken when you want a tender one?

I don't want to return to flabby chickens raised indoors or with limited outdoor access but I do want chickens that don't require a steak knife to cut them. This chicken, for all its flavor, would have been better in a Coq au Vin recipe where it simmered in sauce for a long time.

So, help me out here - what are the signs of a chicken that is still tender? Are there things to look for that indicate toughness? Or shall I just give up on the idea of chicken terrine that doesn't cut like rubber?

Labels: ,

Friday, October 8, 2010

Mini Trend

I heartily applaud the trend toward mini. Mini cupcakes, smaller servings at our local wine bar and now mini pastries. Everywhere, I am seeing a trend toward smaller and smaller servings.

America has always been the land of maxi, super-size and huge platefuls of food. As a result, more and more of us, My Beloved and I included, are becoming more and more maxi each year. Yeah, yeah, we should control our baser impulses and no one forces us to eat too much - we get that. But it certainly helps when thoughtful chefs offer a mini option.

Take these mini pastries, for example, that we found in Tiburon last Sunday after making the nearly three-mile walk around Belvedere with pal Sari to enjoy the views and the glimpses of how the other half lives. It's a lovely walk - the scenery is gorgeous, the tramp is just taxing enough to make us feel virtuous and we met a happy, friendly yellow lab along the way - what could be better?

Well, a cup of good coffee and a sweet bite makes everything better. So, after the walk we stopped in at Bistro 35 to enjoy their outdoor deck with a view of the marina and the city beyond. I spied these mini treats in the case and opted for a taste of each rather than one large serving of either.

Yes, I do realize that, even with sharing bites with my co-walkers, I managed to maxi the mini offerings. Nevertheless, I loved the variety of tastes (they were all tasty but the mocha eclair was the winner) and the opportunity to be good to myself, even if I didn't take it.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ain't Life Grand?

My Beloved and I have much to celebrate in our lives. Each other. Great families. Super friends. Happy employment. Happy retirement. Enough $$ but not so much that we become like Paris Hilton.

For the past three plus years, the world's most beautiful granddaughter. She is a delight and an amazement, full of smiles, a very girly girl.

Now, a grandson. Mother and baby doing fine according to his Dad and - guess what! - the baby has a big appetite.

Happy times.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Here they are, the sum total of our potato harvest this year.

Russets, grown from cutting an organic parent potato in four and burying the pieces. The largest of them is perhaps the size of a hen's egg, the smallest remind me of the marbles I used to shoot as a child, only brown and not shiny. I'm looking forward to tasting them; I just can't decide how best to cook them for the greatest appreciation of their flavor.

I found one tiny one had already grown a root. I put him back into the pot and I'm hoping he'll be the father of a future crop. I also replanted the tops of the potato vines I took these from and I hope they'll survive - they had some serious roots, so I have hope.

Anyway, thought you'd like to see what a single eyed potato can turn into. Thrilling.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Mama's Got A New Pair Of Shoes

Not a Spam lover? Well, then, you probably should just move along until tomorrow when I'll be back with some other wonder. Today, I'm all about my new Spam flipflops. I got them to use at the newly reopened and refurbished Richmond Municipal Natatorium, affectionately known as The Plunge.

If you enjoy swimming, I can recommend a visit. The water is warm, about 85 degrees, and lightly salty as it's cleaned with saline rather than chlorine (no burning eyes) and it has a huge, beautiful mural painted on the wall at the far end. The hours are a little wonky, so go here to check them out before you come.

The Plunge is the largest indoor swimming pool in all of California. All of a sudden, our little burg is becoming the place to be.

Labels: ,