Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lemony Cheesy Oniony Ricey

My Beloved did the grocery shopping this week and he always comes back with stuff I'd never think to ask for. Lamb burgers for dinner tonight! I should send him more often.

Alongside the lamb burgers, I needed a little something and I had a some Massa brown rice left over so I decided to doctor it up a bit.

The shallow tub of lemon quark in the fridge seemed promising, so I stirred about a tablespoonful into the warming rice, squeezed in half a Meyer lemon to augment the lemon flavor, and added a chopped green onion.
Quark has a texture like fine-grained ricotta The cheese got all melty in the warm pan and the lemon flavor bloomed nicely with the mild onion. As an impromptu side dish for a dinner My Beloved chose, this was pretty darn good. I should send him more often.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Warm Welcome

Handmade hot chocolate served in a glass mug. Wrapped my hands around it and was warmed inside and out.

Last weekend, we met pals Janie and Jack for brunch at the new Woodlands Café in Kentfield but it turned out to be so chaotic with their order-at-the-counter-then-enter-the-scrum-to-find-a-table policy that we retreated to Larkspur to try the Tavern at Lark Creek, which we had heard was under new management.

Good idea. The Victorian building is lovely with its oak tables and glass roof, the food was good and the service was wonderfully friendly and welcoming. I was thoroughly chilled on that rainy, raw morning so I asked for hot chocolate even though it was not on the menu. Our server looked briefly nonplussed but explained that it would take about five minutes as she'd need to make it from scratch. It arrived in considerably less than five minutes and was ever so delicious.

I had a tasty and too-generous burger, My Beloved approved of his corned beef hash (although he still feels the gold standard for corned beef hash is found in Stinson Beach at the Parkside), Janie ate every bite of her French toast and Jack sat across from me cadging bites from everyone else's meal after he polished off his own trout. Jack has a good appetite. We sat for a long time chatting and catching up and never felt rushed. Turns out that not only is the hot chocolate warm there, so is the welcome.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Goofing Around

Just goofing around, I came up with a pretty fine sauce for our pork chops the other day. I usually follow recipes pretty closely, at least the first time I attempt a new one, but every now and then I just wing it. Some times my "wingings" are delicious and other times, uh, well, back to the drawing boards.

There's not much that can go wrong, however, when you have a fresh pineapple in the house. I have loved pineapple since the days when my family would pack a picnic to go out to the beach in Hawaii and stop on our way by the pineapple stand for a plate of freshly picked fruit.

In those days, before Statehood, the "stand" was a simple shack between the road and the pineapple field, big enough to shade perhaps two people from the sun, one of whom would grab his huge machete, stroll out into the field, reach down into the spiky leaves to whack off a pineapple and, with a few swift and sure strokes of his knife, would remove the husk and slice the fruit onto a paper plate. Quickly wrapped in waxed paper, the plate would be soggy from the piercingly sweet juice before we could get to the beach. We ate it still warm from the sun, the juice dribbling down our chins and making our fingers sticky until we went swimming.

I think about those days with all six of us packed into our four-door Oldsmobile sedan - two-tone gray, the car that we could never get all the sand out of, no matter how hard we tried - whenever I am removing the husk from a Hawaiian pineapple. Out of sentiment, I only buy the Hawaiian ones. I also like pure cane sugar for the same reason, but that's another story.

Anyway, back to our pork chops sizzling away on the Jennair grill; they are delicious just plain with applesauce but I was dreaming of something a little different. Rooting through pantry and fridge, I came up with some diverse and somewhat weird ingredients that somehow seemed appealing together, so I tossed them all in a bowl, mixed and tasted, tasted and mixed until finally it tasted like the sauce in my head - a sort of curried, pineapply, tangy, lumpy sauce.

'Twas good. Here it is; try it if you dare. Aloha.

Goofy Pork Sauce

2 Tbs kefir
juice of 1/2 lemon (I used Meyer)
1/4 cup fresh pineapple, cut into 1/2" dice
a few drops of jalapeño hot sauce
1/2 tsp or more curry powder, to taste
two slices of red onion, minced
1/4 cup apple sauce
a splash of balsamic vinegar

All the measurements are approximate. I put them into my bowl in roughly this order and tasted until it tasted good. As I said, goofy.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010


As we were leaving the Lobster Shack, I had a brilliant idea. Do they sell lobster meat for use at home? And do they sell the excess shells?

Yes to the first question; no to the second - they use their shells to make their bisque. They do sell the picked meat, however, so I snagged half a pound of this luscious stuff and brought it home for another killer lobster meal. I like to think of it as saving energy since it means we don't have to drive back down there so soon. Yeah, right.

Anyway, we were in the mood for a salad rather than a pasta dish (wishing for spring, I think), so I set about to recreate a version of a salad that Chief Banks used to make for us back when we lived in the admiral's quarters in Pearl Harbor. When Dad retired from there, we seriously considered staging a coup and refusing to leave - the quarters were the best we'd ever had and we had loved our time in that duty station.

Chief Banks' salad was a cold curried rice salad with chunks of lobster, fresh pineapple, celery and black olives, which he served in the shell of a quartered pineapple with the spray of leaves still attached. Glorious. In Hawaii, where it's always warm, it was simply perfect, both beautiful and addictively delicious.

I actually had a fresh pineapple on hand - while I try to eat locally, every now and then something from far away calls to me, and it's often something from Hawaii. I lived there too long not to love the occasional reminder of those halcyon days. I wasn't in the mood for rice - just wanted to use the Boston lettuce in the fridge - and I was a little concerned that those flavors might overwhelm our delicate lobster, so I mixed up the confetti of ingredients in a separate bowl and called My Beloved from his football game to try it before dousing the lobster with the rest of the salad makings. He loved the mixture of tastes but agreed that it might be too much to mix in with the lobster, so I strained out the sauce that resulted from all those ingredients and mixed the lobster with that, sprinkling the chunky leftovers around the outside of the lettuce leaves to enjoy separately from the meat.

If I do say so myself, it was killer. The light, lemony curry sauce enhanced the rich meat and the hint of heat from the hot sauce we added was a piquant reminder that spicy can be good. Chief Banks would be proud.

Lobster Salad

Four butter lettuce leaves, rinsed and dried
1/2 pound fresh lobster meat
1 Tbs mayonnaise (da kine blue lid)
2 Tbs kefir
juice of 1/2 tart lemon
5 drops of jalapeño hot sauce, or to taste (Chilebrown, you listening?)
1 tsp curry powder

1/4 cup minced fresh pineapple
3 Tbs minced or sliced ripe olives (not the Euro kind for this - they are too strong)
3 Tbs minced celery
2 Tbs finely sliced green onion
1 Tbs minced red onion

Mix everything but the lettuce and the lobster together in a bowl, thinning the mayo and kefir with the lemon juice and adding the hot sauce drop by drop until it reaches the desired firepower, then adding the rest. When all are mixed, strain off the resulting "dressing" and mix that with the lobster. Distribute the dressed lobster over the lettuce leaves and sprinkle the leftover "foodfetti" around the mound of lobster meat. Dive in.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Returning To Port

We don't really need an excuse to drive down to Redwood City, where our gustatorial Mecca is located. Behind a defunct Baker's Square and sandwiched in next to a nail salon, the Old Port Lobster Shack exists in humble surroundings for such a rich eating experience.

We've eaten there before and it is always wonderful. This time, we met new friends Laura and Doug there to laugh and chat our way through lobster rolls and my latest addiction from there, lobster bisque.

We love the ambiance of the Lobster Shack, very casual and homey. Picnic tables are covered with red checked cloths and supplied with galvanized buckets containing plenty of Westminster oyster crackers (the best!). The specials are chalked on a blackboard and you order at the counter before taking a seat. We sat next to the lobster tank this time and I suppose I should have felt sorry for the captive denizens, but all I could think about was how good the poor dears were going to taste.

Served in a huge mug (this is the Lobster Shack's idea of a "cup" of soup), the lobster bisque was simply Out Of This World. The soup base was as tasty and full of lobster flavor as the nice chunks of lobster held suspended in its creamy, pale orange depths. All four of us tasted it and all four rolled our eyes in appreciation.
From the first sip to the last scraping of the bottom of the cup, it sang of the sea.

One of my life's greatest pleasures is finding other couples with whom we have lots in common and with whom we have a marvelous time. This lunch was one of those. We laughed a lot, we recounted fun stories, we shared pictures of our obviously spoiled dogs - kindred spirits! We don't need any reason other than the food to sail back to the Old Port but these new buddies add to the incentive.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oink If You Love Pork Shoulder

This is a little gross: When my family gathers in our multitudes for a special dinner, we sometimes start the meal by "calling the hogs to dinner." With forefingers, we push our noses up to resemble porcine ones, warble like hog callers, "Sooo-eeee!" and make snorty pig noises. Then, we all laugh uproariously and dig in.

I have no idea how this got started in our normally rather buttoned-down family or why in heavens name we continue it - it's one of those inexplicable cultural family things. Practicing this strange ritual unites the group and makes us all feel like we belong. Woot!

I'm always tempted to do it when I make pork shoulder - it's the perfect meal for such a crazy ritual - but the ceremony is really only fun done in a good-sized group where everyone has lost their inhibitions and is willing to get down and be silly.

For once, I didn't consult even one cookbook or online resource, I just went hog wild with the flavors in the crock pot, merrily adding just about anything that came to hand and sounded good to me that day. The result was a truly scrumptious meal of meltingly soft but tangy pork thanks to the vinegar, red yams and onions with contrasting sweetness, with undertones of fruit, citrus, herbs and spice. As usual, perhaps the best part of the whole meal was the goozle in the bottom of the crock pot, which I ladled over everything on the plate save the broccoli.

I'd make this again and, in fact, we are eating it again this evening, rewarmed in the same crock pot. A two-pound pork shoulder roast makes plenty for the two of us for more than one meal and I'm thinking it will make the basis for some killer pulled pork sandwiches later in the week, as well. I also plan to use whatever goozle is left in making some kind of a bean soup - it's just too, too delicious to toss away. Belly up to the trough and join in the fun - this dish is truly "pig heaven."

Pig Heaven

1 pork shoulder roast, perhaps 2 pounds
1-2 tsp ground allspice
1 Tbs dry mustard
1 tsp lemon pepper
3-4 generous pinches of Herbes de Provence
a glug of apple cider vinegar (to taste, but don't go crazy)
a splash of water if it all seems too dry
juice of 1 tangerine
juice of 1 meyer lemon, plus the finely grated zest from the lemon
2 red yams, cut in 2" rounds
1 large slivered onion, i.e. an onion halved, then halved again and again, creating slivers of onion and keeping the stem end attached (I don't know why but this makes the onion taste different than chopping does)
1 peeled apple

Brown the pork shoulder roast well over medium high heat in a frying pan. Remove the meat to a large crock pot. Deglaze the pan with the apple cider vinegar and add that to the crock pot with all the other ingredients. You can mix the liquids first, add the herbs and spices to the liquids and then pour it all over the veggies and meat but, truth be told, I just threw things in helter skelter, squeezing the citrus directly into the pot and shaking the dry ingredients in on top, and it turned out great. Set the crock pot to low if you have all day (8 hours). If you have only half a day, set it to high. Put on the lid and leave it to its magic, returning once or twice to turn the meat in the goozle and resettle the veggies during the cooking period. The meat will be falling apart and impossible to make into tidy slices. The apple will have dissolved into the goozle and the yam will be soft, almost melty. Separate the chunks with a fork, plate them alongside a round or two of yam, and nap it all with the goozle from the pot, making sure each plate gets some of the onion.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Eating Epstein

Think about the best meal you've eaten, one that was a rich feast of flavors but light and leisurely, leaving you satisfied but alert and ready for more. That's what Jason Epstein's marvelous memoir, Eating, is like.

Jason Epstein is a publisher who has had contracts with some of the most notable authors, chefs and cooking writers (Gore Vidal, Craig Claiborne, Alice Waters, Maida Heatter, to name just a few) of our time. His book is autobiography, travelogue, cookbook and a juicy peek inside the world of book publishing. I've never read anything quite like it, although in part it reminded me of Molly Wizenberg's delightful book, A Homemade Life, because it is beautifully written and studded throughout with recipes that coincide with the stories Epstein spins of his life in New York and Long Island. Delightfully written, it can take the reader from Iceland to Oman and from Oman to Mexico in the space of a few descriptive paragraphs, following the rich and exotic social history of braised goat.

My Beloved gave me this book, lovingly inscribed on the flyleaf, for Christmas. I finally got around to reading it on the BART as I went back and forth to work last week. It's not a heavy read - it's light as a soufflé and funny and, as I mentioned, very, very well written - but it has moments of introspection and almost philosophical insights that save it from being a piece of fluff. I enjoyed it very much and recommend it to you. Anyone who enjoys eating will relish this lovely meal of a book.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sprout Soup

I'm inordinately fond of Brussels sprouts and I'm always looking for new ways to serve them, much to My Beloved's dismay. He will eat Brussels sprouts but he says he doesn't have to like it.

Recently, we discovered a trick for making sprouts palatable to the non-sprout lovers in the crowd, to wit, they taste great if they are raw, or nearly so. Cooked, especially if cooked too long, they can be mushy, sulfurous and just plain nasty. Raw or only lightly cooked, they are crunchy and mild. I've been riffing on gently cooked sprouts all winter.

When I discovered a package of turkey soup in the freezer, I thawed it for lunch one day. Looking into the pot, there was very little inspiration. Tan broth, tan meat, pallid zucchini, nearly colorless onion, white corn - it looked like winter feels. However, when I added three or four thinly sliced Brussels sprouts and a handful of sliced green onion to the pot, it started to look more lively. When it was hot and the sprouts were just barely cooked, a sprinkling of garlic croutons (Andronico's makes delicious ones and sells them in the salad aisle) added another flavor layer and a nice, crispy texture to complement the still-crunchy sprouts and the richness of the soup base. Even My Beloved enjoyed this face lift for an otherwise dispiriting winter soup.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

From Friend to Friend

This is one of those recipes that is shared from friend to friend - it's so tasty that anyone who tries it begs for the recipe. I got it from my cousin Sherry who got it from her friend Po and heaven only knows where Po got it, but we call it Po's Cornbread. Po always brings it to any pot luck party and we'd all be deeply disappointed if she ever decided to change up her menu.

It's not like any other cornbread I've ever tasted - it's moist and almost custardy inside, very buttery and sweet, studded throughout with whole corn kernels. There's no sugar added but the corn makes it nearly sweet enough to pass as a dessert. It is simple to make, mostly from ingredients that keep for months in the pantry until you need them, then combine quickly for a special treat.

When I was making my blackeyed peas, ham shank and rice dish (is that called Hoppin' John?), the idea of this corn bread flashed as being just right for that combination. It was actually a tad rich for such a hearty meal - we didn't want dessert at all that night - but very delicious, truly a gift from friend to friend.

Po's Corn Bread

1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 can (16 oz) corn kernels, drained
1 can (16 oz) sweet creamed corn, undrained
1 stick butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
8 oz. sour cream (I used Greek yogurt as I didn't have sour cream, and it worked fine)
1 tsp salt (this addition was on Sherry's advice. She also suggested a can of minced chilis would be good to add but I didn't have any of those on hand)

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the melted butter until mixed, add the rest of the ingredients and mix them all together. Pour into an 8" square baking pan and slide into a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for an hour. When a toothpick or a sharp knife comes out clean from the middle, it is done. Cool before cutting to allow it to "set up" a bit; otherwise, it will fall apart rather than make neat squares.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Southern Comfort

I'm more or less a stranger to Southern cooking - most Southern dishes weren't served in my house when I was growing up and only recently have I gotten interested in trying some. You may have noticed, and even remarked upon, the number of grits posts I've written recently. Here's a new twist, Blackeyed peas.

Aren't they pretty? I thought I'd show them to you before they got cooked, as they changed to rather boring browneyed peas once I cooked them. Not pretty at all. But, really, quite delicious.

The package directions said to soak them for a long time before cooking but one of the character flaws my teachers always remarked upon was my lack of patience. "Pamela needs to learn to be more careful." "Pamela is impatient sometimes." You get the drift.

So, I just sautéed some chopped onion and sliced garlic in olive oil in the bottom of a big pot, added the rinsed peas to the pot, covered the veggies with a mixture of half water and half vegetable broth, and set them to boil. I had purchased a smoked ham shank the day before and asked the butcher to cut it into three pieces. When the beans reached a boil, I lowered the heat and added shank to the pot. All this simmered together for a couple of hours, the beans softening and losing their stark black "eyes," the ham slowly breaking apart to spread its smoky richness all through the pot.

Served over brown Massa rice, it was truly comfort food, solid, sustaining and deep-down warming. We did find it ever so slightly bland, even with black pepper added at the table, until My Beloved hit on the idea of adding a little of Chilebrown's fiery hot sauce, dot by dot, and that made all the difference. The slight hint of heat and the richness of flavor turned Southern comfort into something lively and unexpected.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Spaghetti Western

I've been clearing out the fridge again, making what my first mother-in-law, a Westerner who was born and raised in Oregon and lived most of her life in California, would call "pickup meals." A dab of this and a handful of that, artfully combined to make something delicious. Nothing works better for a pickup meal than a stir fry - or pasta.

Yes, that's cauliflower you see in there, and broccoli - a handful of each, plus slivered onions, half a can of chopped tomatoes, garlic slices, mushroom slices, a few rounds of salami cut into triangles and sautéed in olive oil (truth be told, they got a little too dark) plus a half a cooked breast of chicken pulled into bite-size pieces. Splashed after sautéing with a little white wine, sprinkled with some dried Italian herbs, and enriched with a spritz of tomato paste from a tube (I love tomato paste in a tube - makes me laugh).

The pasta was fished with tongs out of the salted water and dropped directly into the pan where all this awaited, tossed around and plated. I learned that little trick from another of my heroines, Lidia Bastianich - it makes the sauce stick better to the pasta.

Now that I've made this pickup meal, there's room in the crisper drawer for fresh things, which will almost inevitably become next week's pickup meal.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Winter Fare

Is there anything on earth more warming and hearty than beef stew? If there is, I can't imagine it. Rich with red wine and beefy broth, satisfying with earthy, tasty vegetables, it's the perfect meal for a winter dinner.

Inspired but not constrained by Julia Child's version, I browned the beef cubes thoroughly in olive oil in a deep pot, added a huge slivered onion still on high heat to get that stronger onion flavor that comes with high heat, added some sliced garlic toward the end of the sauté period, then poured roughly equal amounts of red wine and beef broth to cover by about an inch, added a couple of bay leaves and about a tablespoon of dry thyme, and simmered the bejaysus out of it, covered, for a couple of hours.

Once the meat was tender, I added chunks of orange, black and yellow carrot, separately sautéed whole mushrooms and shallots to the pot and simmered until they were nearly tender. When they were nearing liftoff, I melted about three tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan, cooked an equal amount of flour in it for a few minutes, then ladled in the juices from the stewpot, stirring as it thickened and continuing to ladle in and stir more juice until it reached a nice, smooth, pourable consistency. Then, back into the stewpot to mingle with the rest of the juices and make an incredible gravy.

Served it in a bowl over small, thumb-crushed, boiled potatoes. The only thing missing was some sort of juice soaker-upper, like bread or biscuits. Cora was happy, though, as she got to slurp up the rest of the gravy in our bowls. There wouldn't have been any if we'd had bread - it was too tasty to waste. Hearty, warming winter fare.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010


We are not avid gardeners. We actually purchased our steep hillside home partly because it won't support a lawn and can be mostly left to the wild grasses that are prettier unmown. We like flowers and exotic plants, fresh herbs and just-picked veggies but we aren't willing to work very hard for them when the cornucopia that is California will provide them for us at small cost. And one leftover from being part of the hippie generation is that we think weeds have rights, too.

However, the sun peeked out briefly midweek so My Beloved and I seized the opportunity to clear the dead stuff out of our two tiny garden plots. We left the weeds to flourish (most of our garden plants are volunteers and some are quite pretty) but, as I was breaking off the stiff, brown stalks of last year's Shasta daisies, what should I find but our Swiss chard from two years ago, happily thriving amongst the weeds. It was a little slug-eaten but vigorous, brightly green, and knee-high.

This Swiss chard is one of the reasons I gave up veggie gardening last year - it was quite disappointing the year before last when it was planted from seed. It burgeoned but only grew a few inches high. "Harvest" was a palmful or two of leaves every two weeks. But, I didn't pull it out - again, my hippie philosophy - just figured the snails would take care of it for me. So, I was quite surprised to find an actual meal or two's worth of fresh, curly leaves out there, loving all the rain and chilly weather we've been enduring since the first of the year.

We'll welcome having this exquisitely local produce on our plates this week, sautéed with butter and garlic - what's a few slug holes between friends?


Monday, January 18, 2010

I'm Moving to Santa Rosa

I'm moving to Santa Rosa. For thirteen years, I have lived happily in the Hidden City, enjoying the small town joys and squabbles, watching the neighborhood kids grow up and go away to college, and relishing the quiet lap of the waves on the beach three tiers below our hillside house.

But, I'm moving now, to be closer to Rosso.

Rosso is a pizza parlor, but calling it a "pizza parlor" brings to mind a wholly different kind of restaurant than Rosso is. We had read about it in Michael Bauer's column and, although we don't always agree with this local food guru, we felt we needed to try any pizza parlor that got 3 stars for both food and service from him. Most places are elated to be given 2.5 for one or the other, and 3+ usually go only to places like the French Laundry.

Saturday afternoon, the rain had not yet begun (again), and we wanted to get out to try something new before the forecast rain set in. We popped Cora into the backseat, drove the hour up to Santa Rosa, settled ourselves into a table and unfolded the clever paper menu. I'm not usually indecisive about food but this menu was a study in forced choice. Almost every offering sounded divine and, looking around at other people chowing down, we saw everyone enjoying their various selections, no one more than any other.

Finally, I settled on a salad with house-smoked chicken, fresh greens, caramelized walnuts, gorgonzola cheese, celery, Nana Mae apple slices and Nana Mae's organic apple cider vinaigrette (Rosso's uses local, organic ingredients). My Beloved ordered the pizza Funghi - a white base of shaved garlic and oregano with oven toasted shitake and crimini mushrooms, taleggio and fontina cheeses, shaved artichokes and fresh thyme.

For drinks, My Beloved enjoyed his blood orange spritzer and I had a "Half and Half," what in other places is called an Arnold Palmer. Both were made with fresh ingredients and both were amazing.

As we waited for our meals to be expertly prepared, we watched as the waiter brought a lump of raw pizza dough out on a floured dish and presented it to a restless little girl of about three years who was lunching with her Daddy at the next table. She was thrilled to play with the dough, squeezing it delightedly and shaping it into a lump of her choosing - and stayed quiet the whole time. Brilliant. The server took it away, then, just as their meal was served and brought it back, baked and served with a dish of the red tomato sauce for dipping, a few minutes later when she again became restless. Once again, the dough worked its magic to quiet and interest the child. This place clearly knows kids and has thought carefully about how to welcome them.

One bite of our own meals convinced us that we needed to share - both were wonderful. My salad was fresh and balanced with wonderful flavors and textures, and the chicken was pulled apart, moist with a smoky goodness that sneaked in after the taste of the chicken itself was enjoyed, an entirely different animal than the usual dry, overly-smoked, chopped chicken breast one finds almost everywhere else. My Beloved's plate-sized pizza was simply to die for - rich and redolent with tangy cheese and mushrooms, garlic and artichokes, and with a crust that was both crispy and tender, burned black in spots and overall chewy and tasty.

They don't serve desserts, at least not at lunch, but we enjoyed our (very strong) lattes while idly watching the non-stop but thankfully silent soccer games on the big screen TV. I'm not a huge soccer fan but I have to say, "Scooooooooooooore!!" I'm moving to Santa Rosa.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Warhorse With A Braided Mane

Now, don't get me wrong - I love broccoli. I happily eat broccoli all year 'round. My mother never had to scold me to "Eat your broccoli!" I was dismayed when the first President Bush proclaimed publicly his distaste for this reliable old warhorse of a vegetable. You can depend on broccoli. It's always available, even when the evanescent asparagus or fresh English peas are missing, the good old broccoli is always there. Right?

Who was it who said "Absence makes the heart grow fonder?" Whoever it was, s/he hit the nail on the head.

As reliable and delicious as broccoli is, I was getting a tad tired of it and the vernal vegetables are still a month away, even here in California. So, how to present it positively, one. more. time?

I had taken a spin through now-wonderful Civic Center farmer's market on my way to and from work on Wednesday. On the way in, I bought bright, sweet tangerines to share with my colleagues and students. On the way home, I stopped for a small stash of lemon quark from Spring Hill Cheese company and a big stick of their butter. In my desperation to dress up the broccoli, I thought of the lemon quark, so dug it out and plopped a small spoonful on each of our servings of bright green. The lemon was a natural with the broccoli and so, oddly, was the almost-sweet cheese; really pretty good and certainly a change of pace. It got a little melty after the picture was taken, and ran into the crannies between florets. We love lemon quark on crackers and with fruit, but this was a new and interesting combination that we can recommend next time you are faced with Old Reliable again.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010


Now that I'm back to working for a while, I find myself slipping back into those easy weeknight dinners that we were so familiar with a couple of years ago. Stir frys, quick grills, do the dishes and fade in front of the telly. Even though I'm working reduced hours, I'm also experienced reduced energy.

Here's the fallback position for last night, pizza made from that everlasting, enormous batch of frozen dough that huddles like a troll in my freezer. I took a lump of it out to thaw in the morning before work and rolled it out thinly on a floured board when I got home, topped it with all the leftovers in the fridge and slid it into a very hot oven on a very hot pizza stone for about 10 minutes.

Toppings? Broccoli florets, chopped canned tomatoes, two kinds of salami, sautéed pancetta, mozzarella cheese slices, fresh mushrooms, dabs of fromage blanc on top. Eclectic, colorful, delicious. Didn't even need tomato sauce.

My work week ends on Thursdays these days. TGIT.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Little Puddle of Heaven

See that smear of reddish brown to the west of my pork chop? That's June Taylor's Sierra Beauty apple sauce. You might think that 13 clams is too much to pay for an 18 ounce jar of apple sauce.

You'd be wrong.

When June makes apple sauce, she chooses perfect, organic fruit from local growers she has known and trusted for years. She handles the fruit with care and reverence. She uses very little sugar. Then she adds her own touches of genius (have you ever had apple sauce made with oranges and lemons?) and cooks in very small batches so she can control every aspect of the flavor. She even bottles her sauce in jars with letter pressed, handwritten labels. Since everything about her products is handmade, the labels are the perfect finishing touch.

The resulting puddle adds a layer of flavor for each buck spent. We especially love it with pork, but we use it for other things, too, and always end up licking the spoon or the bottom of the bowl in which we served the sauce.

Perhaps you can tell that June Taylor is my heroine? You will join her fan club, too, if you order any of her products and drizzle on your plate your own little puddle of heaven.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

After Burner

My friend Chilebrown is trying to recruit me into his hot sauce cult. He knows I'm a spice wimp, so he started me off easy. To go with the pork and green chili tamales he gave me, he included this little bottle of Triple T Ranch hot sauce.

This is Hopn' Jalapeño sauce, made locally in Santa Rosa, which he describes as "very mild, it's just jalapeños." Yeah, right. We put a little dab on our plates, as per his advice, and just brushed the tines of our forks through it - and the tines melted.

Just kidding, but it really was hot by our standards. Our lips burned for an hour after dinner - but, man, was it ever tasty! We now understand why so many people are addicted to this stuff. It really is nuclear - but in a good way!

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Trying Tamales

Funny that after all these years of living in California and loving Mexican food as I do, I had never tried tamales. My friend the Mad Meat Genius decided I needed to remedy that so he brought me six lovely tamales made by a wonderful Mexican lady he knows.

We met at Catahoula for a cup of coffee and the tamale exchange even though he had been sick for a week and was still feeling pretty shaky. He is a good man.

He said that all I needed to do was to heat them briefly in the microwave and serve them with a little hot sauce. He even provided the hot sauce, about which I will write tomorrow.

Then, he learned that I had never had homemade frijoles refritos (refried beans) and the look on his face was one of classic disbelief. Never?? So, he gave me a quick rundown of his recipe, pointed me toward a tiny Salvadorean market up the street where I could purchase the traditional pinto beans, made me promise faithfully to try them, and retired to his bed to rest up for his next Meat Adventure.

I snagged the last package of pintos from the little market and took my loot home. The beans need to soak for several hours so I covered them with water and went off to do other things, returning in the late afternoon to drain, then simmer them for an hour or so, until they were very soft. I also decided to make some Mexican rice to accompany the rest, which turned out to be a stellar idea. I had no recipe for the rice, so I winged it, just trying to duplicate the flavors I find when we eat at my favorite Mexican restaurant. I wasn't totally successful at copying but the rice I made was - dare I say? - even better.

The tamales were pure Mexican cielo - tender pork with green chilies, wrapped with corn masa and steamed inside the corn husks. We unwrapped the husks to find the masa imprinted with the texture of the wrapping, gently lifted out the tamales and dove in. No wonder Chilebrown wanted me to try these! Fantástico! We are deeply, deeply in his debt.

Mexican Rice

1 cup brown rice
1 Tbs butter
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 Tbs. chopped tomatoes, plus juice from the can (about 3 Tbs? of juice)
2 small minced sweet peppers, about 1/2 cup
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp chili powder

Melt the butter in a medium sized pot and sauté the onions in it for a few minutes. Add rice and toss in the oniony butter until coated and cook until the grains turn opaque, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Add the chicken stock and the rest of the ingredients, stirring to mix thoroughly, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and keep covered. Brown rice takes a little longer to cook - about an hour.

Homemade Frijoles from Chilebrown's Directions

1/2 lb pinto beans
2 Tbs bacon fat
4 cups water
garlic salt to taste
about 1 cup water in which beans were cooked

Soak the beans for several hours, or overnight (Chilebrown doesn't soak his beans). Drain and place in a pot with water to cover by about an inch. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower heat to a simmer for about an hour, or until the beans are very soft and ready to be mashed. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking water.

Melt bacon fat in a wide frying pan (cast iron works well). Toss the drained beans in the bacon fat until well coated. With a potato masher, mash the beans, adding enough cooking liquid to achieve the desired consistency and continuing to mash and add liquid - the beans will absorb a surprising amount of the liquid. Sprinkle with garlic salt (Chilebrown just mentioned salt, but I got a nifty new garlic salt grinder for Christmas so I strayed into unknown territory here) to taste and mix it in. My refritos had more texture than I'm used to seeing in Mexican restaurants, more "rustic," but we actually liked that better. Serve hot. If had thought to include some sprigs of cilantro, this would have been a prettier picture.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Working Stiff

Guess what? I have returned to work. I loved being retired and I look forward to re-retiring in a few weeks, but I couldn't resist being invited back to fill in for a couple of colleagues who are out of the office for personal reasons.

I now can boast banker's hours (10am-3pm), short weeks (Mon-Thurs only) and a nice little salary for doing what I would have happily done for free. See what I mean about being so amazingly lucky?

And, as if that wasn't enough practically my first day back in the Civic Center, I was introduced to a new-to-me restaurant in that neck of the woods, Brenda's French Soul Food on Polk Street. This place, for all it is teeny-tiny and incredibly noisy and has long lines at lunch time, is a wonderful cut above any other restaurant within easy walking distance of my work. The menu is N'awlins Creole-French - beignets are on all menus - and delightfully different.

On my first visit, I chose - yes, again! - shrimp and grits, figuring this would make a fun comparison with those I had tried in the South last fall. This dish was quite different, with almost-smooth white grits covered in melted cheddar cheese and colorfully presented next to a very generous portion of sweet shrimp in a mildly spicy roux topped with a tickle of green onion.

I also had a sip of their watermelon iced tea (very fresh and tasty), a bite of an apple beignet (a perfect breakfast for next time) and their signature savory crawfish beignet (an interesting twist with eye-opening heat) - I will be back for more!

Don't go there if you are short on time - I literally had 10 minutes to eat in my lunch hour due to the wait - but if you have time to wait a bit for a table, I can highly recommend both returning briefly to work and eating at Brenda's.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Stuff and Nonsense

We roast a chicken once a week, more or less. We love roast chicken. The thin, crispy skin, the juicy meat, the veggies we roast alongside, the fact that we can roast once and eat thrice (and four times, if I make soup from the bones) - what's not to like?

Is this where I admit that it's possible to get a little tired of roast chicken with lemon juice and herbes de Provence? Our usual favorite just didn't have the same appeal.

I thought about taking a chicken break but we do love chicken and I was also tired of all the red meats we enjoyed during the holidays. Nonsense, I thought, I'll just change it up a bit, stuffing my bird for a little variety and I'll see if that wakes up the old appetite. Turns out I made such a dreamy winter stuffing that I thought I'd share it with you.

First, I sautéed about three tablespoons of diced pancetta in a wide frying pan. Once the fat was rendered a bit, I added a coarse dice of kabocha squash and let that cook a bit while I minced a big clove of garlic and chopped a quarter of a large onion. Into the pan they went with about 3/4 of a peeled Golden Delicious apple, also chopped coarsely. When the onion was translucent, it all got packed into the body of a pretty large chicken and popped into a 350 degree oven for an hour. Served alongside the chicken and some bright green broccoli, it was a simple but heavenly winter dinner, warm with color and flavor and a nice twist to an old favorite.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Strudel Pals

Some friends last a lifetime; my friend Cricket is one of those. She and I shared a playpen and we've been friends ever since even though we have never lived in the same state. We rode horses together when we were equine-crazy pre-teens, she introduced me to my first real boyfriend, she was a bridesmaid in my first wedding and her kids are some of my favorite people on earth. I lend her moral support when needed, help her clean house before all family weddings and kitchen remodels (this is a greater service than you know) and marvel at how quickly we fall back into our easy, comfortable friendship whenever we are together. We don't write or call often but we are always there for each other. She makes killer strudel at Christmas time. In response my sending her a sparkly Christmas tree ornament shaped like a cricket, she sent me this swirly beauty.

Rich with nuts and raisins and very light on the cake, it's a dream of a dessert or a breakfast "bread." She learned to make it from her husband's mother, who used to send it to them in Seattle from her home in Pittsburg every Christmas. The Mom actually hand-chopped the nuts until Cricket and Tom gifted her with a food processor one year. When I raved about the strudel, Cricket sent me the recipe so I could share it with you.

Cricket's and my friendship is so long-standing that we have even planned our futures together. We plan to become cranky old ladies, smoking, cussing, drinking and throwing the beer cans onto the front lawn of our rest home (none of which we currently do - except the cussing, of course) once we reach an age where we no longer care what anyone thinks. Friends for life - the very best kind!

Strudel from Seattle


1/2 cup sugar in 1 cup warm milk (112-114 degrees F), mix in two packets of active dry yeast. Once it has formed thick bubble foam, mix in 2 eggs, another cup of warm milk, 1/2 cup sugar, 1stick of melted butter and 2 teaspoons salt. Next add 4 cups unbleached flour in parts. Turn this sticky mixture out on to well floured surface and work in another 4 cups of flour. Knead for a while. Divide the dough in half and place in greased bowls to double in size (about 90 minutes). Punch down, knead briefly and allow to rise for another 1 hour.

Turn the dough onto a tightly woven table cloth saturated with flour (a pastry cloth doesn't seem to work well) and roll out the dough in to a rectangle. Depending on your pan size each dough should yield 4 loaves.

Filling- for each dough:

2 pounds finely processed walnuts and 1/2 cup sugar. Add to this 1-1/2 to 2 cups scalded milk to make a paste (you have to play with the consistency if it is too sticky it tears the dough when spreading or is too runny). Spread the paste on dough to edges, brush surface with 1 egg + 1 yolk, follow by spreading 1 stick melted butter. Sprinkle with lots of raisins (2 to 3 cups). Roll up dough snugly by lifting edge of cloth. Cut roll to fit well greased loaf pans (place seam of roll down in pan), put in warm spot and let rest for 15 minutes, brush with the egg white, place in a 300 degree oven for about 40 to 50 minutes until light brown.


Saturday, January 9, 2010


The best part about a stir fry, for me, is always the color. Slicing each component to prep them for the fast cooking is creating an artist's palette of hues and textures that please the eye while I work.

This one was particularly bright with broccoli, onion slivers, purple cabbage, mushrooms, red and yellow sweet peppers, green onions and slices of leftover pork roast over quietly brown rice.

The flavors were bright, too; adding the ingredients in order of their cooking time assures that the fresh taste is preserved. It's a simple meal, quick to prep, cook and serve, leaving time to savor the rainbow of colors.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Lucky Me

You've heard, no doubt, of the Luck of the Irish. I'm only half Irish but I got more than my share. I've always been the luckiest person I know, knock wood. I'm also a little superstitious so I don't toast people with water and when I learn that something promotes good luck, I try to partake. I wasn't raised in the South or by a Southerner - my mother was about as Yankee as it's possible to be - but I learned from my friends with Southern roots that blackeyed peas at New Year brings good luck.

So, at the New Year, when My Beloved took me to the city for a viewing of the hilarious and inventive stage adaptation of Hitchcock's "39 Steps," and to the Urban Tavern afterward, I ordered steelhead trout with blackeyed pea cassoulet to bolster my good luck for 2010.

It was a better combination than it sounds.

The fish had a highly salted, crisped skin that peeled back to reveal perfectly cooked, light pink flesh laid over a bed of braised Belgian endive. The cassoulet was made and served in one of the so-adorable, single serving Staub pots that are all the fashion right now. The blackeyed peas were beautifully tender and presented with bits of duck confit and a half rasher of very lean bacon as well as some meltingly soft carrots, onions and garlic. The trout was excellent but the cassoulet was a wonderfully fresh take on an old classic and was the highlight of the meal.

The play and the evening, shared with daughter Katie and her squeeze André, was delightful, the food was delicious and I was left to marvel once again at my good fortune, knock wood. Lucky me!


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Recycled Green (and Gold)

I guess it's well established that bacon improves all things. Here's yet another proof. I had roasted some kabocha squash crescents along with a pork loin roast but for some reason they were underwhelming, even though we had previously loved them done this way. Huh, go figure!

Anyway, I saved the leftovers and decided to combine the winter squash with some summer squashes, zucchini and yellow summer squash, to see if the summery flavors might perk it up a bit. The best idea, however, was the sauté all three in a dab of bacon fat.

My Beloved has a distinctive, enthusiastic nod of approval that he gives when his mouth is full of something he likes and he can't talk, but he wants to compliment the cook. This veggie medley got the nod.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Christmas Cookies

Every year since My Beloved and I got married, we have received these little, light cookies from North Carolina, Mrs. Hanes' Moravian cookies. My Beloved's high school and lifelong buddy, Ed and his wife Wanda, always send these at Christmas from their home around Chapel Hill.  There is always a big red can full of crisply wrapped stacks of about a dozen cookies at a time. I await their arrival with glee.

To unwrap one of the packages is to define anticipation.  The paper protests with rustlings but yields to gentle fingers, releasing the fresh smell of vanilla.  They are as simple as it is possible to be, and yet very special in their simplicity.  No icing, no nuts, no extras, just simple vanilla sugar cookies, as thin as a whisper, crisp as a wafer and as light as a cloud.

The pristinely white crinkly paper is folded under to cushion the delicate cookies but they are so thin and crisp that almost inevitably some are broken.  With a cup of tea or coffee or even a glass of milk, these are cookie heaven.  My heart would be broken if Ed and Wanda ever stopped sending them.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sweetie Pies

When I was making the pecan pie for our New Year's Eve dinner with Sari, I had a little extra crust so I made two little tarts, one each for me and My Beloved, to enjoy the next day.  Tiny replicas of the larger tart, they were lightly sweet and loaded with pecans.

I made the pie from the same recipe that Naomi used a few months ago when she and Sam made us a marvelous dinner but, not being a huge fan of Karo syrup and having some real maple syrup on hand, I opted for the lighter sweetness and distinctive taste of the maple and I added another cup of nuts to the two cups called for in the recipe.  Oh, yes.  Oh, yes, please!  No nasty thick layer of too-sweet gel under the pecans, the big pie and the two tiny tarts were really perfect, lightly sweet, rich with nuts and barely hinted with hooch.  Truly sweetie pies, just right for welcoming a brand new year.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Welcoming 2010

We are not big revelers. Even as college kids, we didn't go in much for drunken bashes and, for myself, the idea of kissing strangers at midnight was never appealing. So, when our pal Sari suggested we spend New Year's Eve at her place fixing a festive dinner and watching some laugh-out-loud videos, we jumped at the chance. We brought the champagne, some flowers for the hostess and a pecan pie for dessert, but she made the rest.

Here is the feast. Sari baked a crown roast of pork from an Ina Garten recipe, complete with mustard/green peppercorn gravy, buttery mashed potatoes and haricots verts, those lovely thinny-thin French green beans. Sari likes to pretend that she can't cook but we all know she's a lovable fraud. The pork was perfectly roasted, still juicy and just blushed with pink, the potatoes were agreeably lumpy, the gravy was smooth as silk, and the green beans were tender but still brightly green.

The video really was funny and, although we didn't make it all the way to midnight, the time spent with a dear friend was the best New Year's Eve celebration we could have imagined.

* Sorry for the weird format with white behind the letters. I can't figure out what I've done to get this effect. I changed to the more advanced editing style and all my other posts have looked fine but this one is screwy. If you have any ideas, I'd welcome them.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Perfect Chowder

Ever since I tasted Turner's clam chowder many years ago in Boston, I've been looking for the Perfect New England Chowder Experience again.  Chowder in a restaurant is often disappointing, with little clam taste, a texture reminiscent of library paste and with few bumpy little chopped clams.  

Turner's, on the other hand, is thick because it's rich with cream and clams, and enhanced with a little bacon.  The flavor of the sea is distinct, but so is the flavor of the onions, celery, parsley, etc.  They use quahogs for the deep flavor and cherry stones for their tenderness.  They work hard on their chowder and it pays.  I used to miss Turner's.

Used to miss?  Yes, because I've discovered where they make great, if incongruous, West Coast New England Chowder.  My Beloved and I went for New Year's Eve lunch to  Yankee Pier in Larkspur, CA (and they have other locations).  My Beloved ordered the New England clam chowder but I, jaded after so many years of disappointing chowders, refrained.  When cup arrived, the scent of clams came with it and I was tempted but still didn't order a cup for myself.  My heart had been hardened by bitter experience.  When he offered a taste, however, I succumbed and then had to beat down the urge to polish off his cup myself.

This is lovely chowder.  It has all the flavors I missed since I moved west, plus a nice little dill-flavored biscuit floating in the soup.  If you have been craving really good clam chowder, hie thee to Larkspur and have a good time.  

This is a good place to take the children or grandchildren, too, as out front they have a seating area that includes a sandbox.  When the little darlings get bored and restless, they have something to do besides whine and get under the servers' feet.

What did I have while My Beloved was slurping down his chowder?  A perfectly lovely Dungeness crab salad made with fresh, whole leaves of butter lettuce very lightly dressed, a nice fan of avocado slices and topped with a generous serving of crab.  The tangy Louis sauce was thoughtfully provided on the side so I could add only as much as I wanted.  I'm not a huge salad fan, especially not in winter, but this was perfect - fresh, light, local.

But next time I go, I'm having a Perfect New England Clam Chowder Experience.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Carpe Diem?

My friend, NamasteNancy, who writes the fun art blog "Chez NamasteNancy" forwarded to me this piece and I thought I'd pass it along. Good advice as we think about what resolutions make sense for 2010! Happy New Year! Make it the best one yet, but not the best one ever.

Carpe Diem? Maybe Tomorrow

For once, social scientists have discovered a flaw in the human psyche that will not be tedious to correct. You may not even need a support group. You could try on your own by starting with this simple New Year’s resolution: Have fun ... now!

Then you just need the strength to cash in your gift certificates, drink that special bottle of wine, redeem your frequent flier miles and take that vacation you always promised yourself. If your resolve weakens, do not succumb to guilt or shame. Acknowledge what you are: a recovering procrastinator of pleasure.

It sounds odd, but this is actually a widespread form of procrastination — just ask the airlines and other marketers who save billions of dollars annually from gift certificates that expire unredeemed. Or the poets who have kept turning out exhortations to seize the day and gather rosebuds.

But it has taken awhile for psychologists and behavioral economists to analyze this condition. Now they have begun to explore the strange impulse to put off until tomorrow what could be enjoyed today.

Why, for instance, is it so hard to find time to visit landmarks in your own backyard? People who have moved to Chicago, Dallas and London get to fewer local landmarks during their entire first year than the typical tourist visits during a two-week stay, according to a study conducted by Suzanne B. Shu and Ayelet Gneezy, who are professors of marketing at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, San Diego, respectively. The Chicagoans in the study had visited more landmarks in other cities than in their own, and even their relatively small amount of local sightseeing was done mainly in the course of entertaining out-of-towners. Otherwise, the only time Chicagoans rushed to see the local landmarks was just before they were about to move to another city, when that deadline inspired sudden passions for taking architectural tours and going to the zoo.

When there is no immediate deadline, we’re liable to put off going to the zoo this weekend because we assume that we will be less busy next weekend — or the weekend after that, or next summer. This is the same sort of thinking that causes us to put the gift certificate in the drawer because we expect to have more time for shopping in the future.

We’re trying to do a cost-benefit analysis of the time lost versus the pleasure or money to be gained, but we’re not accurate in our estimates of “resource slack,” as it is termed by Gal Zauberman and John G. Lynch. These behavioral economists found that when people were asked to anticipate how much extra money and time they would have in the future, they realistically assumed that money would be tight, but they expected free time to magically materialize.

Hence you’re more likely to agree to a commitment next year, like giving a speech, that you would turn down if asked to find time for it in the next month. This produces what researchers call the “Yes ... Damn!” effect: when the speech comes due next year, you bitterly discover you’re still as busy as ever.

Dr. Shu and Dr. Gneezy demonstrated another effect of this fallacy by giving people gift certificates good for movie tickets and French pastries. Some got certificates that expired within two to three weeks; others got certificates good for six to eight weeks.

The people who received the long-term certificates were more confident than the others that they would redeem the gifts — a logical enough assumption, given all the extra time they had. But they just kept putting it off, and ultimately they were more likely to let the gift go unredeemed than the people who had received the short-term certificates.

Once you start procrastinating pleasure, it can become a self-perpetuating process if you fixate on some imagined nirvana. The longer you wait to open that prize bottle of wine, the more special the occasion has to be.

If you’re determined to get the absolute maximum out of those frequent flier miles, you can end up wasting them, as Dr. Shu found in an experiment offering people a chance to use discount coupons in the course of buying a series of plane tickets. Once the subjects were told that they might have a chance at a free flight worth $1,000, they scorned lesser awards and hung on to their coupons so long that in the end they had to use them for much cheaper flights.

“People can become overly focused on an ideal,” Dr. Shu said. “Even if they know it’s unlikely, they get so focused on the perfect scenario that they block everything else. Or they anticipate that they’ll kick themselves later if they take second-best option and then see the best one is still available. But they don’t realize that regret can go the other way. They’ll end up with something worse and regret not taking the second-best one.”

But even if you know about all this research, how can you apply these lessons? How can you avoid the temptation to postpone pleasure? (You can offer suggestions at One immediate strategy, Dr. Shu said, is to cash in quickly any gift certificate you received this holiday season. “The biggest danger is that it will be forgotten and expire,” she said. “One of the best presents you can give back to the giver is to use it quickly and then tell them how much you enjoyed it. The regret from not using it will be bigger than the regret from using it on a nonperfect occasion, for you and especially for the person who gave it.”

Another tactic is to give yourself deadlines. Cash in the miles by summer, even if you can’t get a round-the-world trip out of them. Instead of waiting for a special occasion to indulge yourself, create one. Dr. Shu approvingly cites the pioneering therapeutic work of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, who for the past decade used their Wall Street Journal column on wine to proclaim the last Saturday of February to be “Open That Bottle Night.”

But you don’t even have to wait until Feb. 27. Remember the advice offered in the movie “Sideways” to Miles, who has been holding on to a ’61 Cheval Blanc so long that it is in danger of going bad. When Miles says he is waiting for a special occasion, his friend Maya puts matters in perspective:

“The day you open a ’61 Cheval Blanc, that’s the special occasion.”


Friday, January 1, 2010

Sweet Endings and Beginnings

Each year around Christmas time, I make chocolate truffles. I weaseled the recipe out of my older brother's wife, Ann. Ann is a marvelous cook. Even though I usually serve fresh fruit for dessert, I have found that most people love to end a festive meal with just a little chocolate. These are perfect because they are small, about the size of a macadamia nut, but their flavor is huge.

Unlike the large, domed, beautiful candies with fancy chocolate shells and decorations sold as truffles today, these actually look a little like the
dark, misshapen mushrooms with a dusting of spores in the cup. I try to dress them up with silver, gold or Christmas candy cups but they still squat in the bottom, refusing to look pretty, until you taste them, when they become very pretty indeed.

The first taste is of the cocoa powder in which they are rolled - slightly bitter and dry - followed by the most amazing sensation as they melt almost instantly on the tongue, flooding the mouth with warm, rich, dark chocolate with a hint of liqueur. One gets more chocolate bang for the buck with these than with any other truffles ever I've tasted.

They are not difficult to make - no tempering and no thermometers - and they keep well in the refrigerator. If you are afraid of raw egg yolks, you may want to pass these by but I can assure you that I've never killed anyone yet. And even if they did die, believe me, they'd die happy.

I made two batches this year and have been giving them as gifts this Solstice season. Talk about a cure for the winter blues! I saved just two, one for me and one for My Beloved, to begin 2010 with a smile.

Happy New Year and all the best in 2010.

Ann's Chocolate Truffles

6 oz semisweet chocolate (the better the chocolate, the better the truffles; don't skimp)
2 oz butter, cut into small pieces (1/2 stick)
2 egg yolks
2 tsp liqueur of choice or 1/4 tsp flavor extract
unsweetened cocoa powder

In the top of a double boiler, melt chocolate. Add butter and stir until incorporated. Add egg yolks and stir well. Add liqueur and stir in.

Set the top of the double boiler over a bowl of ice and water, and stir mixture until it holds a definite shape. Drop on waxed paper by the teaspoonful and let stand until firm enough to shape into uneven balls. Drop balls into a small bowl containing a few tablespoons of cocoa powder and roll them around to coat. Place in candy cups and allow to ripen for one day. To store more than one day, refrigerate. Serve at room temperature. Makes about 60.

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