Sunday, February 28, 2010

O, Canada!

Robertson Davies, the marvelous Canadian writer, once described the relationship of United States and Canada as that of two sisters, one older and more decorous, obedient to the parent (Britain) and polite - and the other younger, brasher, more rebellious and, maddeningly, more monetarily successful. I'm sure the description has stuck in my mind for the many years since I read it as being really very apt.

It also describes, in some measure, the relationship between my sister and me. She is the good sister, kinder and sweeter than I, churchgoing and polite with a kind heart for all the downtrodden of the world, especially children. When I was growing up the nuns would always wail, "Why can't you be more like Nancy?" She married the boy next door (literally) and produced a really special son, one of my favorite people on earth, as well as giving a great start to several foster children.

When you follow the good sister in school and life, there are expectations for your behavior that are never quite met. I wasn't diligent, or punctual, or tidy. I argued with the nuns when in Doctrine class I was taught incongruent tenets - such as the all-good, all-loving, all-forgiving God who might send His people straight to hell for eternal torture. Somehow, that dichotomy never did compute for me. Anyway, you can see what an unpleasant surprise I was to the nuns who taught Nancy first.

Then, when I began dating, my parents rolled their eyes. I was always coming home late, dating the wrong kind of guy, and beginning to worry my folks that I would never find Mr. Right when I finally got engaged to a guy they liked. And even after I married him, we chose not to have children and, ultimately, I divorced him. Whew!

Why, then, have I always loved Canada? You'd think someone like me would not enjoy a country whose people are, as a rule, patient and polite, nonviolent and diligent. But, I love all the places I've visited in Canada, which includes all the provinces except the Northwest Territories, Labrador and Prince Edward Island (I think it's a province, isn't it?). I even enjoyed Newfoundland (although not Most Holy Rosary Catholic School in Freshwater) where we lived for a year when I was 13 years old.

Canada really does cities well. In addition to all the cities I've visited there (most of the larger ones except Ottawa), I lived for many years just across Lake Ontario from Toronto and went there frequently for the theater, the arts, and the food. It is easy to get around in Toronto, very cosmopolitan compared to Rochester, NY where I was living, and so wonderfully safe that I never felt threatened, even roaming around the city in the wee hours. There's a wonderful story about Toronto that, if true, is a fun snapshot of the place.

It seems an American film company was making a movie in Toronto (it was cheaper there), a gritty city drama for which they needed a nasty alley as a set. The scouts couldn't find a nasty alley in Toronto, which has excellent services, so they got a bunch of trash and stuff and scattered it around a clean alley to add atmosphere. They knocked off for the day, intending to come back and film the alley the next morning, but when they returned, it had been all cleaned up overnight.

Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario are less than a mile apart across a river. Detroit at this time was the murder capital of the U.S. with 60+ murders annually while Windsor, the same size city, had perhaps four murders that year. Is it any wonder I love Canada?

So, while we are watching the Olympic Games from Vancouver, it seemed only appropriate to make a Canadian dish for dinner. Yes, poutine. The idea of French fries slathered with beef gravy and topped with cheese curds sounds revolting at first. I have to admit that I approached this experiment with caution, but I thought it would be fun, after all, and my own small tribute to our big sister to the north.

I bought some nice russet potatoes and sliced them into thin lengths of uniform thickness, leaving the skin intact. I made oven fries (I don't have a deep fat fryer) by heating about 1/8" inch of canola oil in a wide baking pan in a 400 degree oven, then adding the potatoes once the oil was hot. I managed to get most of them in without splashing myself with hot oil but I learned quickly that it's not easy to do so. They baked for about 20 minutes until browned on one side, then were turned carefully and put back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes, until browned and crispy all around. Turned out onto paper towels to drain, I then salted them very lightly while they were still hot.

The gravy I made was from a jar dark brown goo called "Better Than Bouillon," beef flavor. I made a quick roux of butter and flour, cooked it for a few minutes, then added a dollop at a time the cup of beef stock made by dissolving a teaspoon of "BTB" in 8 ounces of boiling water. It was a little salty, but not bad, really, and quite beefy-tasting. They didn't have cheddar cheese curds at my market so I bought a brick of mild white cheddar and crumbled it over the top of the hot fries and gravy.

The resulting dish was a lot like Canada - mellow, mild and surprisingly charming. I can't say it's something I'll make frequently as all those separate steps are sort of a pain (I'm not patient like Canadians are) but both My Beloved and I enjoyed it very much. Probably should have had a Moosehead beer with which to toast our big sister to the north. We couldn't ask for a better neighbor, eh?


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pain Perdu

During our SOCA weekend, our young host took us to a weekly event that he knew we'd enjoy, a farmer's market just around the corner from his apartment. The morning was sunny and crisp, just perfect for wandering the market in search of dinner fixings and breakfast.

Down there the farmer's market, in addition to a lovely, laid-back vibe somewhat missing from the market I usually frequent, includes services such as dog sitters who keep your pooch in shady comfort under their tent with other dogs, water and snacks while you stroll the market they are not allowed in. The market management pays for this service but tips are gratefully accepted and it's good publicity for their dog-sitting service. I think I have found my next career.

The market also boasts booths where they will cook your omelet, waffle or French toast to order. Our group of seven ordered at least one of each, and all reported that their breakfasts were delicious. I've always been a sucker for French toast, so I ordered that, then wandered off to get a cup of coffee at the next booth while my breakfast was prepared.

When I returned, it was just in time to see my breakfast being flipped by this young chef in the red jacket and plated, topped with real butter and honest-to-goodness real maple syrup poured from a jug so large it must have cost $100 or more.

From the first bite, however, I knew this was like no French toast I had ever tasted. I strolled back over to read their description and realized that this is "pain perdu," the very frugal French version of French toast (yeah, I know). In French, "Pain perdu" means "lost bread." Yesterday's stale bread is soaked overnight in the egg-and-milk mixture until it becomes mush, then sautéed in butter the next morning, the bread being "lost" in the egg mixture. At this stand, the resulting mixture had a consistency not unlike oatmeal when it went into the pan to be chopped with a spatula and smooshed around until it set enough to flip it. I wasn't quick enough with my camera to catch my breakfast in the air, even though it was flipped several times before plating. Our young chef's version was studded with bright red fresh cranberries and golden raisins, tart and sweet surprises to discover as I enjoyed every single bite.

We sat under an umbrella, all seven of us crowded around the table enjoying omelets, pain perdu and waffles, laughing and swapping stories on a sunny SOCA morning.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Sweet Collard Lunch

In deference to the sensibilities of my squeamish reader from Down Under, I didn't pierce the poached egg and allow the brilliant yellow yolk to run over the bed of slow-cooked sweet collard greens, pan fried slices of Yukon Gold potato and criss-crossed rashers of bacon until after I had taken the picture. You'll just have to use your imagination.

This was lunch at Axe in Venice, California, which began life as a funky little beach town but has become quietly gentrified so the mix of surfers, body builders, musicians and assorted strange agents is now anchored with some yuppie types as well. In response to the yuppies' money, some pretty nice restaurants have emerged to jostle for space with the coffee, surfboard, book and chi-chi clothing stores. Los Angeles has never been famous for its food but we managed to find some pretty tasty meals while we were down south.

We were in Venice to link up with our Michigan friends, Wenirs and Ray, and their two grown children, one of whom flew in from Baltimore, plus two local friends of their son's. We had lovely weather and lots of time to enjoy the Venice/Santa Monica areas while catching up with some of our favorite people on earth.

We ate lunch on a beautiful Saturday and then moved up to the Getty Center to admire the architecture, the gardens and the pristine view of the whole Los Angeles basin stretched out below us. The infamous LA smog was washed away by recent rains and we could see clear down to Long Beach and beyond. The mountains that ring the city were clearly visible and distinct in the distance, with their alluvial fans spreading at their bases. In fact, it was all so lovely outside that we never did venture in to view the art work - we'll save that for a smoggy visit. Instead, we walked all over the Center until our feet were tired, then took up residence in chairs at one of the coffee shops on the plaza and basked in the dangerous ultraviolet rays of Southern California, contented as lizards on warm stones.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jeanne's Killer Bread

Arriving in Los Angeles, we drove to our friend Jeanne's house to be greeted by her two Schnauzers and her smiling self. We hadn't seen her in quite a while (in fact, we had never met the second Schnauzer), so we had lots of catching up to do over snacks that she had thoughtfully provided.

There were bagel and pita chips and two kinds of dip but the snack that won my heart immediately was the round loaf of French bread, cut in half into two thinner rounds, spread with butter and garlic salt and topped with slices of Brie cheese. It had been baked in the oven for about 15 minutes to melt the butter and cheese, then removed and broiled briefly to lightly brown and crisp the top. In other words, garlic bread with melted cheese on top - what's not to love?

The first bite is both crispy and unctuous as the crust gives way to the rich, buttery interior. This is pure sin food, no two ways about it, and it was out of this world. It would make an entire dinner with just a green salad on the side; as it was, we three could only finish less than half of this rich and deliciously naughty snack.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Flinstone's Rib

On our way south to Los Angeles to visit friends, we drove through the central valley of California where the road is straight as a string and fast for hundreds of miles. Spring is the perfect season for this drive as the soft, round hills are brightly green and the almond trees are all in bloom. The trees make a huge cloud of white when the sun shines brightly, palest mauve when there is high, thin cloud, and softly lavender when a heavy cloud sails over. It's an amazing sight to see the huge blocks of white stretching away from the road with a square wooden beehive at the end of every other row to insure pollination. Negative thoughts about the follies of monoculture are crowded out by the sheer beauty of the landscape.

About halfway down, Harris Ranch awaits the hungry traveler. This is carnivore's heaven, the only stop for miles in either direction that actually has good food. On the way south, you pass the stockyards where the soon-to-be dinner cattle are being fattened in pens that stretch on for perhaps a mile along the side of the highway. We arrived in the late morning before the lunch rush to find two huge rib roasts of beef being cooked, untended, on an open barbecue, wafting that incredible scent out across the parking lot. No other inducement was needed; we decided to eat in their more casual dining room, idly watching Danica Patrick in NASCAR trials running silently on the inevitable mammoth-screen TV.

When I ordered "the ribs," our waitress had to clarify that it was going to be just one big rib. She said people expect small ribs and are surprised by getting just one. The beef rib was enormous, at least eight inches long, and very meaty and tender. It was served over a foundation of beans cooked to smoky perfection with real bacon and shaved garlic in the sauce. No "smoke flavoring" was needed - these had obviously been cooked over a smoky fire and they tasted subtly of it. I could only eat about half of it, so we boxed the rest for dinner that night and continued on our way.

As we drove south, the panoply of agriculture continued with orange groves, tangerine stands and nut trees labeled for the passing drivers, punctuated by bright green fields of winter wheat and pastures full of grazing cattle and sheep. The ribbon of water that feeds Los Angeles and the farms along the way winds beside the road, now beneath the road, and the enormous power lines that link north to south swoop along between erector-set poles beside the highway. Eighteen-wheelers lumber up and down the road moving produce and goods between the two cities and from far away. This corridor is truly a lifeline.

The farmers along the way are engaged not only in agriculture but in lobbying, too. Frequent signs along the highway, "Congress created dust bowl," attest to the water wars being waged between the fishermen and the farmers as they vie for use of the most precious of resources in California. At this time of year, the signs are not very persuasive, as the valley in spring is anything but a dust bowl, but perhaps they will be more meaningful in the summer when irrigation is necessary to encourage the abundance of this amazing valley.

The valley ends at the Grapevine, where one climbs and climbs up in the mountains, sometimes encountering snow in the highest elevations, before dropping down into the basin of the San Fernando Valley and, ultimately, Los Angeles, where our friends awaited.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rose Radish

The last of my veggie gifts from the Civic Center farmer's market was a watermelon radish, so beautiful inside that I was stunned by the color when I sliced it open. Again, it was a new-to-me vegetable - I had seen them on other blogs but never tasted one, and somehow the reality is far more beautiful than any photograph can convey. In addition to the astounding color, the inside scintillates with moisture and texture - you have to see it to understand.

After admiring it for a while, I decided to serve it with unsalted butter and flaky sea salt, a simple preparation to showcase its beauty. When I pulled out my handpainted Tour d'Argent butter dish, for which I paid an outrageous number of euros last time I was in Paris, I was struck by how perfectly the colors matched, so I got a little artsy with the presentation.

The flavor is mildly radish, not as sharp as the cherry red-and-white ones; the butter adds richness and the salt adds savor. I will certainly serve this to guests, both for its interesting flavor and for the shock of its rosy beauty.


Friday, February 19, 2010

'Snip Chips

Last week, I was given three nice parsnips as an experiment - I've never eaten them before*. My favorite guy in the Civic Center farmer's market insisted that I try them.

While I was peeling them, I bit off a small piece out of curiosity. Bland, a little fibrous, kinda meh. However, on the word of my veggie seller, I persevered.

I decided to start simply, so I peeled and sliced them, tossed them in a little olive oil and salt, and roasted them in a 350 degree oven for half an hour.

So far, so good; they were soft in the center but they looked like they could use a few minutes more to brown and crisp a bit. As you can see, I got distracted (again!) and nearly let them burn.

Rescued at the very last minute before immolation, they were delicious, similar to potato in texture, but sweeter and somehow smoother. We both loved them and will happily return to our favorite veggie seller - he was right, I'll be back and he can charge me double!

*After I wrote that, I got to wondering if it was precisely true so I did a "parsnip" search and discovered that I did post about parsnips twice before, once disastrously and once successfully. In the disaster, I couldn't taste their sweetness and in the success, the geniuses at Greens were responsible. Gotta get back to Greens soon to figure out how they did that!


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Of Orange Monkeys and Parsnips

I get gifts. Does that sound braggish? I hope not; it's not meant to. It's not that I'm particularly deserving or anything, but I do get gifts.

For example, for my birthday my sister sent me this orange monkey to do my vegetable peeling work. It is not only an excellent peeler, it also makes me smile every time I grab the monkey around his absurd waist and go to work on carrots or parsnips.

Speaking of parsnips, these were a gift, too. At the Civic Center farmer's market, there is a stall in which the best salesman I've ever encountered (sorry, My Beloved, but it's true) holds court. He is a joyous young man, dreadlocked and smiling, with a flash of white teeth in his dark face. He presides over the freshest organic veggies in the market. His soft accent speaks of somewhere in the Caribbean and his sales technique is both assertive and comic. If I come in with fruit I've purchased in another stall (he doesn't sell fruit), he offers to weigh it for me and charge me again for it. His outrageous style always makes me laugh.

I bought some Brussels sprouts from his stand last week and asked what the "white carrots" were. "You've never had parsnips?" he asked? When I shook my head, he snatched up three plump ones and popped them into the bag with the sprouts, filling my head with descriptions of what they taste like and ideas for cooking them. "No charge!" he declared and when I demurred, he insisted. "Don't worry," he assured me, "you'll be back and then I'll charge you double!" Gotta love this guy!

As I was leaving, I spied another rooty-looking, pale green thing, which he also insisted on giving me, a watermelon radish, also new to me. See what I mean? In a single day, I was given two kinds of veggies and the means to peel them.

I get gifts - vegetal, practical and comical. Ain't life grand?

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

So Seventies!

I learned how to make quiche back in the '70s, when I was a young wife trying to make ends meet. It was the "in" thing back then, along with fondue pots and putting sour cream in everything.

I'm not sure why I thought to make it again this week but once the idea was in my head, I couldn't get it out. I purchased a frozen crust and looked in the fridge to see what I could flavor the filling with.

Some of that salami that has been in there nearly as long as I've been making quiche. Half a red onion. Four big mushrooms that I sliced and sautéed with the chopped onion. Four or five leaves from my Swiss chard plant that keeps on giving out in the garden, cut into strips and wilted along with the mushrooms and onion.

Cheese. I didn't have the traditional Gruyère in the fridge, but I had picked up a nice piece of Spring Hill Old World Portuguese, a semi-dry cheese, as I passed for the last time through the Civic Center Farmer's Market, and it seemed as if it would be an able substitute. I added a little Parmesano Reggiano, as well.

Cream. I had a similar lack of cream on hand, so I used just a quarter cup of half-and-half that I did have plus a cup and a half from the bottomless bottle of kefir I've had since last summer (not kidding - organic from Clover Farms seems indestructible!) to mix with the eggs.

Hot Sauce. Well, yes, we seem to be adding hot sauce to virtually every dish this winter - welcome warmth!

The pie shell didn't hold all of this - there was about a quarter of a cup left over - but it was very full, so I put the quiche on a baking sheet and slid it into a 350 degree oven for about half an hour. It emerged beautifully browned and puffed, a gorgeous thing to look at. The puffing subsided after a few minutes and we cut thick wedges of one of the best quiches I've ever made. The kefir lent a tang to the custard that was really lovely and all the veggies and salami gave bumpy texture and a hint of salt and heat.

Really a tasty dinner, even though it was so seventies!

Pam's '70s Quiche Riff

6 eggs
2 cups shredded cheese, such as Old World Portuguese (or Swiss or Gruyère)
2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup half-and-half light cream
1-1/2 cups kefir
1/2 large red onion, chopped
4 large button mushrooms, sliced
4-5 leaves of Swiss chard, cut in strips
4-5 slices dry salami, cut in triangles
a drizzle of jalapeño hot sauce, to taste
1 frozen pie shell

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small frying pan, sauté the onion, mushrooms together, then add the Swiss chard just long enough to wilt. Arrange evenly in the frozen pie shell so that each slice gets a sampling of the fillings. Sprinkle the cheeses into the shell. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.

Whisk eggs together with the hot sauce. Add the cream and kefir, whisking until smooth. Pour the mixture carefully into the pie shell, stopping when the mixture reaches the top. Jiggle it slightly to release any air bubbles and pour in more egg mixture to top if off, if needed.

Place the quiche in the preheated oven for about half an hour. When it is done, it will be richly brown and puffed like a shallow soufflé, and the scent of all that wonderfulness will escape the oven to tickle your nose. If you want to be sure, slide a knife into the center of the quiche - it should come out clean.

Let the quiche rest for a few minutes before cutting. The puff will subside so it's not as pretty, but it will make for neater slices and you won't sear the roof of your mouth with the nuclear cheese.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

They're Back!

All winter, I've been tempted by fresh asparagus. They call to me, plump and softly green, each time I troll the vegetable aisle hungry for something new. They look so good but I know they come from somewhere in the southern hemisphere, shipped at great carbon expense. I wanted all that good flavor, but I just couldn't do it.

Today, when scanning the same aisles, I noted that this bunch was, at long, long last, from California!

They may have been grown a little south of here, so I probably broke the 100-mile radius rule for eating locally, but my willpower failed in the face of those lovely green spears. I never do anything fancy with the first asparagus of the season - no quiches, no Hollandaise, no risotto. The very first asparagus need nothing more than a gentle steaming and a reverent attitude.

As hungry as I was for asparagus, I'm even hungrier for spring;
tulips and daffodils may shout of spring but no louder than fresh, green asparagus. My calla lilies are up and budded but the flowers haven't opened yet. My irises are leafing up but still have no sign of flower stalks. But, if there is local asparagus in the stores, spring can't be far behind.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine Breakfast

I'm not a huge fan of breakfast, not even breakfast in bed. I like breakfast foods all right, I just can't face them at breakfast time. I usually get hungry around 10 or 11am - that's when my appetite gets ready for something more substantial than coffee with cream. I'm also kind of fussy about how my breakfast is cooked, so I usually do it myself.

On my birthday, however, I consent to being cooked for. My Beloved had purchased some peppered bacon from the canny butcher who had fried up a few rashers and offered bite-size pieces in little cups atop the meat case - a sample was all MB needed to clinch the sale. He loves pepper anyway - I was a little surprised he resisted at all.

Anyway, he cooked the bacon on Valentine's Day morning just the way I like it, nice and crisp. I toasted an English muffin and spread it with the beautiful, rose-colored Dapple Dandy pluot jam that I made in June Taylor's class and popped it onto the sentimental plate MB gave me last Valentine's Day, next to one of the delights of the winter season, a plump and heavy, smooth and shiny California Cutie clementine.

I figured out a few years ago how to choose citrus and I am now rarely disappointed in the flavors. Citrus should be heavy for its size with a very smooth, shiny skin, as if all the dimples had been puffed out from within. If a clementine, orange, grapefruit, lemon or lime passes all these tests, it will be delicious, full of juice and full of flavor. This clementine was no exception.

This is nearly my idea of the perfect breakfast; a nice cup of coffee laced with half-and-half would have made it perfect but neither of us felt energetic enough to haul out the coffee maker. That's okay - this breakfast fueled a trip up Nichol Knob with Cora to watch the fog come and go across the water of the bay.

One minute, Angel Island was anchored to the water level and the next minute it was floating on a roll of cottony fog. The oil pier came and went through the mist, starkly industrial one minute and hazy and indistinct the next. I sat down on a thoughtfully provided bench and admired the view while Cora sniffed and snooped her way around me, keeping me in sight while exploring a world of scent that only she could experience. We ambled back down the hill about half an hour later, still full of breakfast and visions of the fog.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Valentine

My Beloved has a fancy name, partly inherited from his grandfather and partly added by his father. It's a grand handle, but a bit much for day-to-day life so he has always been called by nicknames.

When he was very young, less than one year old, they called him Toby. His daughters each have nicknames for him; Sarah calls him Papi and Katie calls him Pookie. I have no idea where these names originated - he was given them years before he and I got together - but he loves them all and enjoys it when we use these affectionate terms for him. His grandfather's nickname was "Butts"; thankfully, day to day, the nickname that most people use for My Beloved is Buzz.

With a name like that, it's no surprise that many gifts to the two of us involve bees. For example, we have a big brass bee as a doorknocker and a set of flatware with bees, thanks to pal Wenirs. Through the years, we have received all kinds of bee logo items and, truth be told, we actually purchased some of them ourselves, so carried away were we with celebrating my guy's playful name. You may have noted that several of my posts appear on our bee plates.

These silly painted metal napkin rings are our latest bee items, four fun ones given to us by Cousin J-Yah just the other day. She gave them to me for my birthday, which happens to fall on Valentine's Day - how very appropriate to be celebrating my Valentine on my birthday!

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Out doing errands around lunchtime, My Beloved and I decided to stop in at Comforts in San Anselmo for a bite to eat. Turns out they serve more than just a "bite," in fact, it's more like a feast.

My Beloved chose the War Wonton soup - he loves that hearty soup - and declared it to be by far the best he has ever tasted. The broth was richly flavored and there were even dark green spinach leaves floating amongst the dumplings, pink pork and noodles.

I dithered for a while but eventually settled on the Prawn Club Sandwich. Even after giving a quarter to My Beloved to enjoy, I still couldn't finish this generous and delicious sandwich. The prawns were big and plentiful, the thick slices of unctuous avocado squeezed out and plopped onto the plate, the lettuce was dark and really fresh, and the crispy bacon added over-the-topness to the whole gorgeous bundle. I can't fit an entire bite of club sandwich into my mouth - you'd have to be Joe E. Brown to accomplish that - but I nibbled away until half the sandwich was inside me and that was enough.

This is the severalth time we have been to Comforts and have always had good meals there. San Anselmo is blessed.


Friday, February 12, 2010

May I Have The Envelope, Please...

When I snapped a truly ugly picture of my dinner about a week ago, I was inspired to start a contest for the most embarrassing food photo from my readers. Given just a week, they dove into their archives to come up with some pretty nasty food photos, indeed. Here are the contestants, each truly appetite-suppressing in its own way:

Cookiecrumb served up this delectable entry from her new computer over at I'm Mad and I Eat, a pig's ear with a tiny bite taken out, served up on a pink glass plate over what looks to my eye like a disposable diaper. Cookiecrumb is a strong contender.

From Southern California, Vicki at the blog A Work in Progress weighed in with another entry in the pig's ear category. I briefly considered giving a prize to this category alone plus another prize for food photos in general but, frankly, I'm too cheap. Have a gander at this one:

365 Days of Cartman is a blog in which Cartman is attempting to take a picture a day for a whole year. In a canny move designed to confuse the judges, Mike submitted not one but two photos, either one a serious contender. Because he didn't indicate which one he was entering, Dark Side of the Moon Sushi or the unnamed bowl of sinister spaghetti, the Blue Ribbon Panel of Judges considered disqualifying his entries from the contest but, in the spirit of competition, the decision was made to keep them in. See them if you dare by clicking on this link and scrolling down at

Wild Tofu Surprise from Peter at Cookblog. Peter's descriptions are always a wonder and this one is no exception. His food is usually layered, immaculate and refined but with this photo he has proved that even a talented artist and writer can produce a clinker every now and then. The expression "putting lipstick on a pig" comes to mind.

The Reverend Dr. Biggles at Meathenge, he of recent fame in the book "The Butcher and the Vegetarian" by Tara Austen Weaver, submitted this horrific nightmare of a dish, sausages that remind one forcibly of shit from a very large and well-fed dog and/or severally-severed male sex organs. We all worship at his meaty altar but even the great Biggles stumbles now and then.

We have added another prize option to the pot; I have ordered some copies of "BlogAid, Recipes for Haiti," a cookbook made up of contributions from several well-known food bloggers. Galvanized by the tragedy in Haiti, these bloggers put together a stylish cookbook within three weeks. All the proceeds from the sale of this book will go to Doctors Without Borders or the Canadian Red Cross. If you want to read more about this option, follow this link to Tara Austen Weaver's site: The other two prize options, Mollie Wizenberg's "A Homemade Life," or Jason Epstein's "Eating" are still available and the winner will have her/his choice.

Needless to say, this was a difficult decision, requiring minute examinations of the photographs; serious discussions of light, composition and style; and cogitation on the artistic references contained in the pictures. My Beloved and I put nearly five whole minutes into the decision but were able, finally, to award the prize for the Most Embarrassing Food Photo to (drum roll)....

VICKI, at A Work in Progress!

The judges felt that not only was the subject matter of dubious deliciosity but the layout was equally uninspired and the colorless swine ears don't even look like something one would eat. The third judge, Cora, however, disagreed and offered to scarf those right up if Vicki will send them to her; however, she was outvoted.

Congratulations, Vicki!

Send me an email at PamelaHyland(at) to tell me which prize you'd like to claim and your mailing address and we will rush your choice of prizes out to you as soon as we can. Thanks to everyone for your entries and your good sportspersonship!

Let's have no bellyaching from the losers, okay?


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Too Excited To Cook!

I know you are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Martian Food Contest but I'm too excited to cook, much less to judge the contest. I have resorted to Niman Ranch hot dogs and B&M baked beans from a can for dinner this evening as we got home late-ish from the computer store. You see, I'm typing this on my brand new birthday present from My Beloved, a whiz-bang new laptop computer!

It is subtly shiny aluminum, fast as lightning, pretty light as laptops go, and full of wonderful features I'm having fun discovering. It replaces my eight or nine year old iMac - they've made some serious strides since then!

I promise to get serious about judging the contest and will report the winner soon. In the meantime, "YAAAAAAY!! And, thank you, My Beloved!"


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Feast For The Eyes

For many years when I lived in snowy Rochester, NY, I worked at Rockcastle Florist. I started as a general dogsbody and worked my way up to floral designer, one of my all-time favorite jobs. I loved all the color and scent that greeted me every day at the shop, particularly in deep winter, but most of all I loved the reasons people buy flowers.

Mostly, flowers are ordered for a joyous occasion - a prom, a date, a wedding, a new baby, a token of love, an anniversary - and even on the sad occasions, people buy flowers to make someone else feel special. Funerals are the saddest occasions, but even then the flowers give comfort to the bereaved. I'd take the orders with tears pouring down my face and always made the arrangements too rich for the money spent - I'm a sucker for sadness.

We only had one customer in all the years I worked there who wanted to send a nasty message, dead roses to his ex-wife. We refused, listened to his tale of woe (which was considerable) and sent him on his way.

When I worked at the florist, I almost always had fresh flowers at home. When the flowers were a little past selling condition, they still were lovely to have at home for a day or two before they faded. Cut flowers are a wonderful luxury to me but, even here in California where they are relatively inexpensive, I can't afford them every day. If I won the lottery, I'd be our little town florist's best friend but, until then, I buy them only when we are having company for dinner.

Super Bowl Sunday is a good excuse. We served a simple, male-bonding sort of meal - steak, roast potatoes and steamed artichokes and didn't plan a dessert figuring the guys would have had plenty of popcorn or guacamole and chips during the game, but I seized on the opportunity to buy some fresh flowers for the house. Nothing except perhaps daffodils and California poppies says "Spring!" like tulips do. Simply lovely, a feast for the eyes.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dishwasher's Dinner

My Beloved and I have a deal - when I cook, he does the dishes. If he cooks, I do. Mostly, I do the cooking - he says he can keep himself from starvation but I'm the better chef. Having tasted some of his creations, I'm not sure his description is accurate but I do like to cook, so I don't resist.

Each evening, we clean up the kitchen together - he washes the dishes and I putter around putting away the leftovers and cleaning the counters. He is particularly grateful when I use fewer pots and pans; the nights when I get really creative and use every pot in the kitchen elicit a heavy sigh. This meal was his favorite for that reason - I only used one wide frying pan.

Cookiecrumb had extolled the virtues of cooking pork chops in butter and she's right, it does make a lovely difference. Being lazy, after the chops had browned I popped the sliced carrots in next to the chops, then added sliced onion and, in the last few minutes, the broccoli. The chops, carrots and onions emerged nicely caramelized and the broccoli was still brightly green and just tender. Nothing fancy for this workday meal, but it was all delicious and, best of all, made for an especially easy cleanup.


Monday, February 8, 2010

What Happened?

Here's a mystery for you - what happened to my beans?

I loaded up the crock pot with all kinds of lovely ingredients such as pinto beans, chopped tomatoes (a good canned brand), onions, garlic, beef broth and jalapeño sauce, set the temperature to low and left it to bubble away all day.

I expected to have these beans as part of a dinner using the last of Chilebrown's tamales, which I had thawed that day.

These are the very same pinto beans I used successfully to make refritos about a week ago but this time they wouldn't cook. After simmering all day, the beans were nearly as hard and mealy as when I put them in. So, I improvised a substitute for dinner and left the beans to simmer all night long figuring they just needed more time.

Well, they got plenty of time - all night and all the next day and still they were mealy, not softly yielding as one would expect. I kept tasting and adding liquid, hoping to resurrect them, but no dice! I finally threw them out. I hate wasting food but they were truly inedible.

So, what happened to my beans? Maybe someone out there can give me a lesson in cooking beans in a crock pot?

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Rosso! Rosso!

On a recent Saturday, My Beloved and I took pal Sari back up to Santa Rosa to sample Rosso again. Major, major home run!

Agreeing to share bites of everything, we started with a flatbread appetizer smeared with garlic roasted with balsamic vinegar, squeezing the dark, now-soft cloves out onto the crisp-tender flatbread and devouring it like starving wolves.

Sari ordered a pizza with egg in the middle, a drippy, unctuous, cheesy wonder of a pizza on that dreamy Rosso crust that we raved about before. My Beloved chose a sandwich of flatbread wrapped around a super-fresh filling of Dungeness Crab Louis. He didn't use the Louis dressing at all, just folded the bread around the generous crab and bit in. I tasted the Louis, however, just out of curiosity, and it was a whole different animal than the mayo-ketchup mixture that usually passes for Louis.

I have saved the best for last - my "forever-cooked" (their words) pork with mashed potatoes. If I had to choose my final meal before the blindfold, the cigarette and the firing squad, this would be it. I love slow-cooked pork in most iterations but this one rises to the level of divinity with its rich, smoky sauce and pink grapefruit sections. Yes, grapefruit! Not white grapefruit that might have fought with the almost-sweet sauce but pink that just gently cut through the richness of the dish and made it sit up and sing.

Happily full and satisfied, we drove a little further up the road to Healdsburg to stroll around the square, window shopping as we relived our wonderful Rosso lunches. Saturdays don't get much better than that.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Saturday Lunch

Having recently been to Tal-y-Tara to have their Motorloaf of different sandwich fillings, I was inspired to pull Cousin J-Yah's tiered plate out of the closet to assemble a splashy-looking lunch. There's something magical about tiers - the same food looks downright fancy when cut into smaller portions and arranged airily above the table.

I had only white bread in the house but enjoyed adding a variety of fillings to the very thin slices - ham and cheese, cheddar and chutney, egg salad, sliced chicken with cranberry sauce. A few tiny, bright clementines and a slice of Chilebrown's wonderfully fruity and nutty fruitcake (we are parceling it out, trying to make it last forever), and you have a feast fit for four kings.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Martian Food

Okay, this has to be the most disgusting food picture I've ever taken with my trusty little point-and-shoot camera - and I've taken some Dusies.

The roast chicken in the background looks anemic and is leaking pink. The leeks braised in balsamic vinegar look pallid and weird with the grubby roots dyed brown from the vinegar. The sautéed red cabbage with sliced onion looks, not richly purple as it really was, but a strange shade of Martian blue - it might even be a Martian life form with those wibbly legs. Hard to believe it all tasted good.

Anyway, here's the challenge. In the next week, post your own single ugliest food picture on your blog and leave me a comment with a link to the post and your preference for prize. A blue ribbon panel of judges (My Beloved and I, with input from Cora) will decide on a winner and I'll award a prize, a copy of "A Homemade Life," Molly Wizenberg's marvelous memoir and cook book, or "Eating," Jason Epstein's amusing and juicy book. Both are packed with recipes and either one is a great reason for showing us your most embarrassing food photos.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Cousin J-Yah and I always have fun together, even if we don't always do what we had planned. We were headed out to the California Palace of the Legion of Honor (don't you just love that name? So unexpected and deliciously pretentious) to see the Cartier exhibit and to have lunch at Tal-y-Tara when we diverted to Clement Street on a whim to visit Kamei - and never did make it in to drool on the jewels. Next time!

We lucked into a parking space right in front of the store facing the colorful display of plastic storage containers on the sidewalk, fed 50 minutes worth of quarters into the meter and sashayed inside for a quick look around.

Kamei is an amazing store, filled to overflowing with everything a cook could dream of. I had trouble finding the mandolines among the welter of other gadgets, cookware, china, lucky bamboo, orchids, pots, pans and housewares so I asked at the cashier's desk and was immediately told, "Aisle Four." I love stores where the cashiers are knowledgeable and helpful! Of course, I had cruised Aisle Four several times myself without finding them so I went back with doubt in my heart - and found at least five different kinds of mandolines to choose from.

Anyway, here's my latest Kamei find, a hand-held mandoline that slices and juliennes in three widths and stores with the wickedly sharp blades retracted. It has a finger protector, too, thank heavens, or I'd surely have sliced my knuckles instead of the red onion I used for practice.

Cousin J-Yah and I dithered happily over our various choices until the time ran out on our meter, so we fed it another quarter and rushed back inside to finalize the transactions. We have another Kamei convert on our hands - Cousin J-Yah is already planning a return trip! I'm going, too. And we might even get over to the Legion to see those baubles next time.

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