Thursday, September 23, 2010

Time Away

From time to time, even the most loquacious blogger needs to take time just to be quiet.

I'll be back and full of stories when I have recharged my batteries and regained my energy. Nothing's wrong - not to worry.

Hope you will all still be around when that day comes. I will miss your comments and encouragement while I'm "on hiatus."

Have fun!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Something's Fishy

Chilebrown and I are not having an affair, honest. You might think so since I praise him so often, but no. It just so happens that he and I exchanged food goodies over coffee recently - nothing fishy is going on.

Something fishy is going in, however, into our yaps. One of the swaps we made involved some vacuum-sealed smoked salmon from his friend Angelo up in Petaluma. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do with it but I finally hit on a good idea. Risotto.

I've talked about risotto before so if you need the full instructions, go here. All you need to know about this risotto is the ingredients: chopped onion and sliced crimini mushrooms sautéed in butter, arborio rice, lemon juice, chicken stock, flaked smoked salmon, frozen peas, and parmesan cheese.

The fun things I learned this time are that you can substitute pure, tart lemon juice for the wine (I used two small lemon's worth) to enhance the underlying flavor of citrus and that heating the stock in the microwave works like a champ. No need to keep zapping it - once it's warmish, that's good enough. Stirring is still important, however, to keep it from sticking/burning on the bottom of the pot.

The result was a really elegant risotto that didn't photograph well. The peas were still bright green and barely cooked, the smoky salmon was deeply flavorful and the lemon juice added the perfect note to an otherwise pretty rich and fishy dinner.

Thanks to Chilebrown and Angelo, two great guys for a gal to know. And, no, I'm not having an affair with Angelo, either.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

At Last, The Chili

I put the chili on hold when My Beloved brought home surprise lobster rolls. I made the right decision, although the chili was good, too, the next night.

Cookiecrumb inspired me to make chili from scratch, something I have rarely done. My chili has usually been made from canned beans and tomato sauce, chili powder in a little glass jar, chopped onions and browned hamburger. In other words, I didn't make chili, I more or less assembled it.

This time, I soaked the black beans overnight, browned the hamburger (I wasn't inspired enough to start with whole meat), sautéed the onions, cooked the beans in homemade broths (beef, lamb), added chopped tomato and the red chile once the beans were tender, and ladled it into bowls two days later topped with Fritos, which are a guilty pleasure of mine.

It's superior chili, no doubt about it. The flavor of the peppers was mild, as I had been a little wimpy with the fresh chiles from Chilebrown, but the overall flavors were rich and deep. It tasted as I suppose chili is meant to taste, earthy and humble and inspired all at the same time. It's a whole different dish than my canned-and-bottled variety.

Am I being churlish to say that I'll probably go back to my old way? It's not just for the ease of preparation, either. Although it's not as authentic as this chili, I liked the lightness of flavors just a little bit better. I'm glad I tasted this as it taught me to be a little more adventurous with the spice, so it's all good, even if it did take two days from idea to chili bowl.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Mix 'n' Match

You were expecting chili, weren't you? Frankly, so was I.

I had made a big pot of chili, cooking it low and slow in my crock pot for two days straight, attracting all the neighborhood dogs with the wonderful smells wafting out my front door. Just when it was ready to serve, My Beloved called from the road to suggest I put it on hold, as he was bringing home dinner.

I have learned over years with him that it's best to go with the flow. Man, was I ever rewarded for my flexibility this time! He brought naked lobster rolls from the Old Port Lobster Shack. Be still my heart!

The reason they are called "naked" is that there is no dressing on the lobster - it's just fresh cold chunks of lobster overstuffed in all its deliciosity into the rolls. They do provide some drawn butter to pour over, just in case you need a little added richness, but it is not at all necessary.

We reheated the rolls, which were already toasted on their grill, in a warm oven and I made a green salad to go alongside, then served up their crinkled chips and creamy cole slaw with the brimming buns. A sort of mix 'n' match of Old Port's efforts and my own.

Needless to say, the chili will keep.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's That Time Again

It's that time again - the part of the year where the weather can't decide if it's summer or fall from one day to the next. The day I ate this sandwich, it was full-on summer with sunshine from birdsong to sungone. Sheer heaven.

The sandwich was sheer heaven, too. This is my very favorite sandwich but I can only have it for a few weeks in late summer, when the tomatoes are perfectly ripe and the avocados reach buttery perfection. I've told you about this before - if you weren't paying attention, I hope you are now.

First, you need wheat toast, as hearty as you can find, and if it has wheatberries in it, so much the better. I used to use toasted whole wheat English muffins but recently they have been oversweetened, so I have gone to wheatberry toast.

Then, a scrape of mayonnaise, just enough to keep the tomato juice from immediately soaking the toast. It will eventually do that; the mayo is just a delaying tactic with a fillip of flavor.

A slice of ripe, summer sun-perfected tomato, like this one that Chilebrown gave us. No lesser tomato will do, take my word for it.

Topped with a couple of slices of rich avocado, then sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper and a generous squeeze of tart and tangy lemon juice.

Most likely, you'll need a knife and fork for this but bust out the silverware, sit yourself down and indulge in a sandwich that sings of summer. Quick, before fall returns.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Red One

Under the tutelage of Chilebrown, I am learning about the magic of chiles. Before moving to California, my knowledge of chiles was limited to occasional dinners at so-called "Mexican" restaurants (I don't think a single authentic Mexican had anything to do with those dinners), so I'm pretty much a novice. He has introduced me so far to beginner chiles - jalapeños - saving the truly hot ones for a braver day.

Last week, we met for coffee to trade applesauce and jam for garden tomatoes and chiles. When I got them home, I noted that he had included a red chile, something I was not familiar with. I emailed him to inquire and he replied that the red ones are "hotter and sweeter than the green ones, silly!" Sometimes, he is downright avuncular in his amusement at my lack of knowledge; it tickles me, as I am much older than he, while he is far more experienced in the ways of peppers.

So, I'm going to make beef chili. I've got three or four containers of stock in my freezer taking up valuable space, so I want to move them out into a big pot of chili. The weather is already ceding summer to fall around here so I'm starting to think of cool-weather foods. I keep eyeing that red chile, wondering if I should try using it, or stick with the safety of the milder green.

Oh, what the heck! I'm going for the gold - or in this case, the red one.


Friday, September 17, 2010

The Designer's Dinner

Sometimes, just the colors of foods are enough to satisfy.

I was assembling another of my hobo packets, this time using skinless salmon fillets, thinly sliced shallot, yellow peppers and, to satisfy the color wheel, little thin green beans and broccoli with frilly green tops, what my younger brother used to call "trees."

Tucked 'way down underneath was a spoonful of giant Israeli couscous that had been cooked in chicken stock - slippery little pearls soon to be bathed in salmon essence - and sprinkled over the top was a little lemon pepper seasoning.

Color combinations like this delighted me back when I was a florist for several years and they still do, now that I'm designing dinner instead of flower arrangements. Sometimes, I assemble dinner just by how it will look, rather than pairing tastes and scents.

Wrap it all up in parchment paper - which, by the way, was a cosy, satisfying brown - and slide it into a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes (3 minutes too long - it was a little more done than I like) and you've got dinner fit for an artist's palette as well as his palate.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010


Not very pretty, is it?

For the invention and ingredients that went into it, I might have expected something more photogenic. However, it tasted good, and isn't that the most important part after all?

Chilebrown, that most generous of meat men, had gifted us with some lovely, ripe yellow heirloom tomatoes, the kind that shade to a lovely salmon pink at the center. We had some purchased mushroom ravioli in the freezer, the first serving of which had been underwhelming, so I set out to create a sauce that would, at best, enhance and, at worst, at least cover up the rest of those ravioli.

As so many recipes do, this one started with MOG - what would we do without mushrooms, onion and garlic? Browned the mushrooms nicely in a wide pan, added the slivered garlic and chopped onion. Set those aside while I chopped and sizzled three thin slices of prosciutto, in the same pan. Returning the MOG to the pan, I added the two ripe yellow tomatoes, chopped coarsely, fresh oregano from the garden and just a splash of merlot we had left over in the fridge.

When all that had made friendly overtures, I added a generous dollop of creme fraiche and a handful of cherry tomatoes of several colors, cooking it all together while most of the cherry tomatoes burst and added their flavor to the sauce, leaving just a few colorful standouts whole. When I tasted it, it was a tad bland, so I mentally thanked Chilebrown again for introducing me to Hoppin' Jalapeño hot sauce, which I shook liberally into the mixture.

The result was a creamy, pale tomatoey sauce with a hint of heat and a rich flavor that did a fine job of livening up those bland ravioli, even if it wasn't very pretty.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Antiques and Novelties

While Mark and Tim were visiting, they packed a lot into a short time. A walk across the Golden Gate bridge, complete with fog; Tim's birthday dinner with us at home; Movie Night outdoors with our neighbors; clubbing with friends in Berkeley; and brunch and antiquing with us on Sunday. Well, they are young - I used to be able to do all that, too, in my salad days.

And speaking of salad, I had a lovely one laid next to my Quiche Lorraine at L'Appart Resto in San Anselmo. We had heard a restaurant had opened in that delightful location and strolled in for brunch last Sunday. The place was nearly deserted - we were concerned, both for their success and for their quality.

I need not have worried - everything we tried was delicious. I had a traditional quiche but, unlike the usual slice, this one was a whole small quiche to enjoy. It was filled with ham and cheese goodness, very hearty and sprinkled with sprouts to jazz it up. Mark made quick work of their waffle served with mashed berries and creme fraiche. Tim's omelet was enormous - and he ate the whole thing with evident pleasure. My Beloved chose the day's special, Lobster Eggs Benedict; we all drooled at the sight of his plate. I cadged a bite and it was amazing with lobster chunks, perfectly poached eggs and a tangy Hollandaise sauce to put it over the top. I'm definitely ordering that next time we go.

The setting is attractive, too. We sat outside on a perfect morning, shaded by the new large canopy. The waiter brought us a tall, frosty bottle of water and left it with us, something I particularly appreciated, as I was very thirsty. The service was attentive without being smothering and when we deemed the music too loud, they happily lowered the volume.

As we were leaving, we noted that all the tables had mysteriously filled up while we were eating, assuaging our fears for their success. If you are looking for a lovely outdoor (or indoor) setting, exceptional food and casual, friendly service, we can all recommend L'Appart Resto on a sunny Sunday before you hit the antique shops that abound in that little burg.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Delightful Surprises

Nearly 30 years ago my best friend, Wenirs, gave me a delightful surprise - she told me she was pregnant. She had wished for a baby for a long time, doing the whole temperature-taking-to-track-ovulation thing for quite some time, a total drag. So, we rejoiced at the news and, nine months later, rejoiced even more when my Fairy Godson, Mark, was born.

Mark was adorable from the very beginning - and this statement comes from a woman who doesn't really "get" the whole cooing-over-babies thing. I'm not like most women who love babies on sight - I respond positively to very few infants. Mark was different - he made me feel like cooing.

As he grew and matured, he went through some pretty gawky stages but he was always a delight. I have so many happy memories of him that I couldn't begin to share them all but one indelible one springs to mind. When he was about eight, we took him to see the "Phantom of the Opera" in Toronto; he loved it, sitting on the edge of his seat the whole time, glued to the performance. And, afterwards, as we were walking down Toronto's clean, safe streets, he'd just burst into song, "Prima donna, first lady of the stage..." in full voice, complete with dramatic gestures. It wasn't a performance for us or for the other people on the street, it was his way of reliving a thrilling experience.

He's an amazing kid. Even now, when he's not a kid any more. So, when he calls and asks, "Aunt Pam, do you want a visit this weekend?" my answer is always immediate and enthusiastic. He drives up from LA these days and he brings his friend Tim and we all have a great time. Tim isn't a vegetarian exactly, but he loves other foods more than he loves meat, so I look for ways to please his palate when he's here. This time, I fashioned some veggie packets that were so good, I thought I'd tell you about them, too.

They don't look like much on the plate, do they? Just some curly Swiss chard and some random sprinkles of other things. Well, pretty is as pretty does. Here goes:

To prepare, I cut the kernels off an ear of fresh corn, stirred up the remains of a pot of rice, chopped onion and minced garlic, sliced four small carrots diagonally, shook out about a cup of frozen peas, sliced a few green onions and mushrooms and cut up three of those small, sweet red and yellow peppers. I also went out to the garden and cut about 10 large Swiss chard leaves and removed the stems, chopping the stalks as well. Sliced some cheddar cheese and got out my grater and block of Parmesano Reggiano. Ready to roll.

To roll, I sautéed the mushrooms in olive oil until they were nicely browned, then added the Swiss chard stalks to soften and threw in a big pinch of Herbes de Provence before adding the rest of the ingredients in order - onions and garlic, then carrots and peppers, then rice, corn and frozen peas until I had a wide pan full of a bright vegetable confetti. The peas and corn weren't even cooked and the rice just warmed.

I laid out a Swiss chard leaf in a roasting pan, covered the leaf end with a slice of the cheddar, grated on a little Parmesan, and spooned in a nice dollop of the veggie mixture. Folded over the two stem ends of the leaf left from removing the stalk, and secured them with a toothpick through them and into the leaf below. Veeerrrry carefully flipped it over to end with the cheese on top without spilling the contents out the sides or tearing the fragile Swiss chard leaves, and lined each successive leaf up in the baking pan.

Into a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, then turned off the oven and left them to rest still inside for another 10. I didn't want to overcook them but I wanted to make sure the cheese was melted. The chard relaxed down onto the filling, the cheese got all melty and wonderful, and the combined flavors and textures in the filling really gave our mouths something to think about. Everyone agreed it was spectacularly delicious and Mark was actually talking to himself. Makes a Fairy Godmother feel proud.

To credit where it's due, the idea of subbing in Swiss chard for cabbage to make rolls came from Cookiecrumb, who left me a helpful comment when I wrote about my noble Swiss chard plant. I think she had something else entirely in mind, but I wouldn't have thought of this use without her tutelage. So, Cookie, thanks - you're da bomb!

The visit was a delightful surprise, as were the veggie packets. All in all, just the kind of surprises I like best.


Monday, September 13, 2010


My cousin Jan is a generous woman. Thanks to her, I have had several "firsts" in my life. A first trip to Belgium, staying in her house and driving her car while she was away for Christmas. A first visit to Dillon Beach to let our dogs run wild in the surf and sand. And my first try at apple butter, made from the apples from her tree.

When I first try a new cooking adventure, I consult the internet and any appropriate cookbooks in my collection to see how the pros do it. Then, typically, I simplify what others do. I'm not one for foods that take multiple steps to make and I'm pretty happy when I find an easier way that works nearly as well as a complicated one. It was thus with apple butter.

Oh, you can make it as complicated as you like, adding steps and ingredients like crazy. Or you can make it as simple and pure as I'm sure it was in the very first kitchen when the very first woman let her applesauce cook too long. She probably just forgot it when she fell into bed after a long, hard day's work. The fire died down in her hearth overnight, slowly cooking the apples until they were dark and smooth as a blackguard's tongue. When she awoke in the morning, she was horrified - until she hesitatingly tasted the result, smiled to herself, and told everyone it was intentional. "Haven't you ever heard of apple butter?" she would have asked disingenuously, while spreading it onto the toast.

When I went looking, I found complicated recipes with a simple cooking methods, and simple recipes with complicated cooking methods. I chose the ingredients from one and the method from another and made, if I do say so myself, really, really good apple butter.

It cooks 'way down so you only get a few jars out of a half bushel of apples. I didn't have small jars on hand and my store was out of them, so I used larger ones and only got 2-1/2 jars. I will eat the half jar now and save the others for later or for gifts of my very first apple butter. Here's the recipe:

Crocked Apple Butter

About 1/2 bushel of apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
A big splash of apple cider (preferably fresh and not filtered)
A scant 1/2 cup sugar (more if you use tart apples, less if you use sweet ones)
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Using a crockpot (slow cooker), fill the pot with apple chunks. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a small bowl and pour over the apples. Cover and cook on the high setting for an hour, then lower the heat to the low setting and leave it to cook for many hours - 8 or 10 - stirring occasionally until the apples turn a dark, rich brown and lose all their structure. If it seems too loose, set the cover at an angle on the pot to allow steam to escape.

If you don't have a crockpot, cook the mixture in a very heavy-bottomed pot on the lowest setting of your stove, stirring occasionally to make sure there aren't hot spots that stick and burn. If you should get a burned spot, one the recipes I read suggested pouring out the rest of the apple butter into a separate pot - the burned part will stick and you can discard that without ruining the whole batch. Clever, huh?.

If you want to get fancy, you can pass it through a sieve, but I liked the texture that remained after simply mashing any remaining chunks with a wooden spoon.

Ladle into sterilized jars and process in a hot water bath. You can find good instructions for bottling on the internet. Once bottled, it will keep indefinitely.

Another successful first!


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sally's Peeler

My Beloved's mother loved gadgets. One might even call her a gadget hound. In her Scarsdale kitchen, she covered the entire back of the kitchen door with pegboard so she could hang all her gadgets close to hand. When she moved to the Madison house, there wasn't a convenient door, so instead they were all crammed into drawers. When she moved into assisted living, she downsized her gadget collection but retained several favorites.

When she died, I was the one who closed her kitchen, packing all those gadgets into boxes for donation, but this one was simply too much fun to give away.

It's an apple peeler/corer. It's really quite clever. It clamps down to any smooth surface with an ingenious suction device. Then, you force an apple, blossom side in, onto three strong prongs that hold it in place while you crank the handle, peeling the apple in a thin strip as the threads on the bar pass the apple under the peeler. The peel comes off in one continuous ribbon, a feat I was never able to achieve with a paring knife. In theory, it is then forced through the corer, a sharp ring of metal that cuts out the core. In this model, however, the corer isn't strong enough and it bends down rather than cuts. Still, it's a good deal faster than hand peeling and it makes me smile each time I use it. Who do you suppose thought this one up?

I was making apple butter this week, so it came in mighty handy. Cousin Jan gave me about a half-bushel of her apples and My Beloved was watching a NASCAR race, so I had the apples all to myself. In very short order, all were peeled, chopped and in the pot. While I cranked and smiled, I was thinking of Sally and wishing she was there to watch me use one of her favorite gadgets.

Have you a favorite gadget, kitchen or otherwise?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Jumble Salad

I love a salad like this, a jumble of colorful chunks of crunch, drizzled with a little vinaigrette.

There is no recipe - you just keep piling on layers of stuff until you have a plateful of color. Torn lettuce buried in diagonal carrot slices, tomato wedges, slivers of cucumber, broccoli florets, raw corn off the cob and leftover beef, in this case, Black Dragon tri-tip.

Drizzle, drizzle, drizzle and you have a hot-day dinner that can't be bettered.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Mac 'n Cheese

The cheese was still sizzling briskly when it arrived at the table.

My Beloved, pal Sari and I were at the Fremont Diner in Sonoma for brunch recently, all three of us ravenous. We had driven up through the brown-gold velvet hills of northern Marin County and into the stubbornly agricultural Sonoma County, thanking heaven along the way for the Sonoman's reluctance to widen their roads and invite the hoards that inevitably follow in such gorgeous places. The scenery was lovely, bucolic and peaceful as we wound along the two-lane roads. We arrived at the Fremont Diner to find a long line out the door and every table filled.

It was a cheerful crowd, however, passing menus up and down the line so we'd all be ready to order as soon as we stepped up to the window. There were a few "me first" folks who sent one of their party to snag a table before ordering (a breach of good manners in this casual place), but most people were philosophical and all were rewarded by an open table once they had made their orders.

We love the food at the Fremont Diner but it's obvious that their popularity has outpaced their ability to serve in a timely manner. We waited fully 45 minutes after placing our orders for Sari's brisket hash, My Beloved's chicken and waffles and my Mac 'n Cheese to arrive. We could see into the tiny kitchen from our table so we knew they were making a Herculean effort on a busy Sunday morning. We did have our drinks as we waited and when we are together we have no trouble finding lots to chat about, but it seemed like a very long time to three hollow folks.

Which is why, even though I had my camera at the ready, I completely forgot to photograph my Mac 'n Cheese when it arrived bubbling under its glorious, golden-brown buttery crumb topping that matched almost exactly the color of the surrounding hills. When the food arrived, we just dove in with silent intensity. It was only as the level of macaroni was well down in my black iron pan that I remembered that I'm a blogger and that photos enhance my stories.

It was worth the wait. The crisp topping was a delightful counterpoint to the creamy casserole, there was plenty of tasty cheese and the little pan was fully 6 inches across, such a hearty portion that My Beloved had to help me finish it. He reports that his chicken and waffles were perfectly cooked and a happy balance between juicy chicken and crispy coating, with a substantial flour waffle served hot with butter and genuine maple syrup. Sari's brisket hash with a bright-yolked egg on top was downright unctuous and sparked with pepper. We all went away deeply satisfied with our brunch and ready to explore Glen Ellen before heading home along those lovely, quiet roads.

Did you know that M.F.K. Fisher used to live and party in tiny Glen Ellen?

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hobo Packets

Last week, two little girls came trudging down our narrow street with sticks over their shoulders. At the end of the sticks were bandannas, red for the older girl, green for the younger, in which their Mom had wrapped the contents of a picnic lunch. They were searching for a good picnic spot and they had their Daddy in tow.

It must be fully 50 years since I have seen a bindlestiff, as we called them, but the memory came rushing back. When I was in Brownie Scouts, we made them whenever we went on hikes. Ours were made with garden stakes and bandannas, just like these. Inside the bandanna was always a "hobo packet" of meat cubes and veggies wrapped in aluminum foil to be cooked in the embers of the campfire. This worthy food always preceded the s'mores, which were less healthy but more delicious.

That got me thinking about hobo packets and how I hadn't made one in a long time. So, I decided to fashion two from parchment paper for our dinner that evening. I sliced a shallot very thinly and laid it on the paper, topped it with halibut, sliced zucchini and carrots and fresh oregano from the garden. Laid two halves of a corn ear alongside, dabbed a modicum of butter on the corn and veggies and wrapped the whole thing tightly in the paper, doubling and folding the top and sides to contain the juices. Popped them into a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes. We knew they were done when the scent wafted out of the oven to tantalize.

The packets were served closed on the plates, so we could each open ours and inhale that first delicious wisp of steam that carries all the married scents of the contents. This is cooking magic - everything was perfectly cooked and juicy, all at the same time and without effort. The last shreds of the shallot at the very bottom, limp and slightly caramelized, were a little reward for eating all your veggies and fish.

I'm planning a picnic now, complete with bindlestiffs for me and My Beloved.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010


My Beloved is a wiz in the kitchen. He says he's competent but I'm the better cook. I say he could take over my job any day and I'd be out of work.

I wasn't feeling much like cooking one day last week, a rare occurrence for me, so he stepped in and made dinner. We had a Black Dragon tri-tip in the fridge, so he barbecued that, sautéed in butter
with garlic chips some of our trusty Swiss chard and sliced a nice ripe tomato topped with some leftover burrata. He even added a handful of colorful cherry tomatoes to the plate to pretty it up.

The man is a wiz.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010


There it was, sandwiched between the Martha Washington geranium and the Santa Barbara daisies in my garden, the Swiss chard plant that has lived here for three years now. The first year, it was only leaves, which we enjoyed almost weekly. The second year, it was less vigorous but still, despite the snails, produced several perfect leaves per week. Then, last fall, it flowered - a six-foot tall inflorescence covered in minuscule whitish flowers, not at all pretty but wonderfully strong, ribbed and tall. After it flowered, I whacked it down, figured that was it for my bi-annual Swiss chard.

But, no! Here it is again, a little battered by the winds of time and the trampling of the puppy next door, still offering lovely green leaves for us to cut and enjoy.

I was so impressed that I trimmed the sad leaves and left it to grow unmolested. I even put stakes next to it to discourage the puppy. We still get a meal or two a month from this wonderful volunteer, long may it wave!

What's your favorite way to serve Swiss chard? I need some good recipes to honor this noble plant.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Harvest Time

Ah, the romance of the Harvest! All the farmer's hard work, finally and amply rewarded with Mother Nature's bounty.

Yeah, right.

So far, here's the single potato, in size halfway between a hen's and a quail's egg, that my four potato plants have produced. I dug it up after a trip to Luther Burbank's garden in Santa Rosa where I noted that their potato plants are no larger than mine but were producing spuds below the ground.

I was greatly heartened, since I have spent the whole summer first rejoicing when my little potato sets sprouted, then whining when they never got very big.

So, I dug one of my four plants up and, lo and behold, it had made a reasonable-size potato! Maybe not a prizewinner at the county fair but, hey, I'm not really a farmer, either. If the other three plants are as productive as this one, My Beloved and I may actually have enough spuds for a meal.

One meal. Oh, well.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fast Food

What do you do when it's dinner time and you've been reading Stieg Larsson's second book all day and can hardly put it down for long enough to eat, much less make dinner?

Here's what you do - you make fast food.

Assuming that you have all these ingredients in the house, which I did by happenstance, you first sauté some mushrooms and garlic in a wide pan, add some stale sourdough bread cut into cubes until they crisp nicely, sprinkle in some fresh thyme leaves straight from the garden (they make little snapping noises as they heat), drop in some cubes of lamb to brown quickly in the same pan, squeeze in the juice of half a lemon to lighten it a bit, add a handful or two of cherry tomatoes at the end just to heat them through, and serve the whole thing topped with romaine lettuce that has been tossed in balsamic vinaigrette.

Sort of bread salad with lamb. It was good but both My Beloved and I agreed that it could have been improved with a handful of goat cheese crumbles or a dressing more like Caesar. It needed a little tang. In any case, it was filling and it was fast, so I could get back to finding out what was happening to Solander and Blomkvist.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Homemade or store bought? Normally, I'd always say that homemade is the best, since I know what goes into the food when I make it myself and I can adjust flavorings to my own particular liking. However, when it's really good, storebought can be great, too.

A case in point. The first jar is applesauce that cousin Jan and I made together. We picked the apples off her very fruitful tree, peeled them on the comical hand-cranked peeler I got from Sally's kitchen that made us both laugh, cut around the livestock that had taken roost in a few of her unsprayed apples, cooked the apples down with apple juice to enhance the flavor, added very little sugar, crushed the softening apples with a potato masher to achieve the desired chunky texture, and bottled the resulting applesauce ourselves. Whew! At the end of the afternoon, we were tired but proud of our 15 glistening jars.

The second photo is of the jar My Beloved and I bought at the Happy Apple Kitchen as we were leaving. Darker and sweeter, it was still quite good. They must use a different variety of apples to get that rich color as the label states that there's nothing in there but apples, water and sugar. This jar required no peeling, cutting, cooking or bottling on our part and it complements our pork chops very well.

So, what's it to be? Storebought or Homemade?

P.S. I vote for homemade, as it was so much fun. Thanks, Jan!


Friday, September 3, 2010

Sweet West Oakland Sammy

Oops! I forgot my camera, so had to make do with my cell phone camera. Sorry about that!

Along with my side of cheesy grits, I ordered an egg sandwich at the Brown Sugar Kitchen this week. Scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese and bacon on a soft wheat roll with a side of home fries. The home fries were quite peppery, a really nice change from the usual. The sandwich, as you can see, was gargantuan. Next time, we'll surely split it.

This is so far above an Egg McMuffin that you can hardly believe they exist in the same universe. The eggs were softly, carefully scrambled. The bacon was crisp and rich. The cheese was melted and runny even though the eggs weren't overcooked (how do they do that?). The wheat roll was very lightly toasted on the grill and gave way gracefully to the bite.

My Beloved and I were swapping bites all through our respective meals and enjoying it all. I could only eat half of my sandwich and had to forgo the sticky bun we wanted to try - this is a place with generous portions! We will be back to the Brown Sugar Kitchen again, no doubt. Maybe West Oakland really is sweet; the food at BSK certainly is!


Thursday, September 2, 2010

To Wenirs, With Love

Last fall, when I was in North Carolina, I was introduced to grits. Oh, I had tasted grits before, but they were the sort of industrial grits that are the corn equivalent to those nasty, ubiquitous frozen hash brown potatoes that don't even taste like potatoes that you get in so many diners and Denny's.

In North Carolina, however, you can get real grits - grits with body and flavor, grits mixed with cheese or topped with rapidly-melting butter, a side dish that actually adds something to the plate. I hadn't found grits like that here in NOCA until My Beloved and I went for breakfast at the Brown Sugar Kitchen in Sweet West Oakland.

West Oakland might not strike most people as "sweet." On our way there from Summit Medical Center, we drove through some pretty dilapidated and mean residential neighborhoods to find the Brown Sugar Kitchen in a solidly industrial area. When we arrived around 9:30am, there were a few seats; by the time we left, there was a line out the door. On a Tuesday, no less. Apparently, the food is worth the lack of ambiance in the 'hood.

Once inside, the tenor was actually pretty nice. Cheerful music, the clatter of dishes from the open kitchen and the buzz of conversation in the room combined to heighten our anticipation. We don't usually like noisy restaurants but at the Brown Sugar Kitchen, it's a cheerful vibe. The tables are small and close together but it feels cosy rather than crowded. In the sugar bowl on the table, only packets of brown sugar and on the long counter with seats all filled were pretty sophisticated small fresh flower arrangements, nice touches that signaled this was going to be a good meal.

There on the menu were grits with cheddar cheese; of course, I had to order it. When it arrived, I was pleased to note that the cheese is not dyed orange - it's the color of milk. You'd think that was a given, but so many places use the orange stuff. Cheese was sprinkled on top but it was also in the main body of the grits, as it was cheesy all the way through. A little drift of fresh herbs on top was a nice touch, too. The grits themselves were the creamy kind with very little in the way of texture. I have a preference for the hearty grind that gives a little chewing exercise but these were tasty enough to make up for it.

My Beloved ordered the Brown Sugar Kitchen's signature dish, waffles and fried chicken with apple cider syrup. We both swooned over the waffle, which is made with cornmeal and is as light and crisp as a new dollar bill. Buttered with their cinnamon butter, it was crazy-good. The chicken was fried exactly right - very juicy on the inside, crisp on the outside, and the syrup was quite good, too, but we agreed - either waffles or fried chicken next time, not both, and syrup on chicken is just wrong.

My friend Wenirs hates my posts about grits - she'd rather eat a bug than a bowl of grits. So, I just had to give her a little razzmatazz with my latest post about them. Hi, Wenirs! When you next come for a visit, I'll take you to the Brown Sugar Kitchen, but you can stick to the waffles, which you will love. I promise, no grits.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Luther's Garden

Man does not live by bread alone, even me. Hope you enjoy these photos of Luther Burbank's garden as much as I enjoyed touring it.

The yellow rose was wonderfully lemon-scented. The streaky rose was delightfully named - George Burns. The poppy was actually the deepest, richest indigo color in the inside that you can possibly imagine - sad that it doesn't show so well in the photo.

Happy Summer.

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