Monday, January 31, 2011

Alone Again, Naturally

The "down side" to having a hotshot salesman as a husband is that he sometimes has to attend business dinners - schmoozing is important in his line of work.

When he goes out for dinner, I have little incentive to cook and usually end up making toast or this favorite standby. Because we are soon leaving on vacation (burglars, listen up - we have a house sitter coming to take care of our big, scary dog so don't even think about it!), I thought I'd use up a hunk of mystery cheese and the remains of a tub of creme fraiche that had been lurking in the fridge for weeks. My Beloved had brought home some fresh salsa and blue corn chips, too, so I had the makeshift makings for nachos.

There isn't really a recipe for a pickup meal like this - you just cover the plate with chips, cut little nubbins of cheese for each chip, sprinkle on some salsa and dot with creme fraiche (or sour cream or crema if you have those instead), then zap in the microwave for about 30 seconds, until the cheese bubbles and runs gooeyly. Eat with your fingers.

Yes, they were a little odd - the cheese turned out to be raclette, a bit stanky for nachos, but weren't the visuals dramatic? I could have wished for a little cilantro to sprinkle over the top but the green of the plate peeked through for accent. And it was good, in a lonely crazy-lady sort of way.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Post-Army Post

Because I had an errand to do in the city, cousin Jan and I decided to make it a fun day in San Francisco. The weather was perfect for an expedition to the Presidio, an ex-Army post right at the base of the Golden Gate bridge.

Our idea was to find the Andy Goldsworthy sculpture that he made at the Presidio a couple of years ago. He's my favorite sculptor, an amazingly creative man who makes work from nature that is beautiful and inherently impermanent. It's at the top of a hill so we figured we'd walk up there, admire the sculpture, then go find some lunch.

We walked up and up, stopping for breath, chatting with people walking their dogs in loose packs along the way, or stepping aside to let impressively fit joggers pass us by. We gloried in the sunshine and the peace, with a feeling of being away from civilization, even though we could hear cars and machinery fairly nearby. Little birds flitted around, darting ahead of us by a few feet, then seemingly waiting for us to catch up before flying off again.

When we arrived at the spire, which is a marvelous sight, pure Goldsworthy, we found a group of about ten four and five-year olds enjoying a picnic lunch at the base of the sculpture, herded loosely by two young women who kept them from almost certain self destruction while encouraging exploration.

Seeing a road and a driveway nearby (we could have driven up to the sculpture if we wanted to miss all the fun), we investigated and discovered that the Presidio golf course has a clubhouse nearby, where we decided to have lunch. Our table overlooked the course, a pretty view on a lovely day. I chose a fish empanada and, when it came, it was actually shaped like a fish. Inside was a nice mixture of salmon, vegetables and cream sauce, quite tasty. I love the extra effort the chef took to make the puff pastry crust into a hint of the delights inside and the grilled asparagus were the perfect accompaniment.

If you are in the neighborhood, or just looking for a pleasant outing, you might enjoy walking the trails in the Presidio before sitting down to a sumptuous lunch with a grand companion like Jan. If you are far away and can't make it, treat yourself to some of Andy Goldsworthy's work - it's almost like being in nature just to see photos of his work and there is a beautiful, prize-winning documentary called "Rivers and Tides" in which he explains in his own words and shows in the film what his work is about.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Nutty Nuttiness

Having bought more slivered almonds to make Christmas cookies than I am likely to use up in a lifetime, I'm on the lookout ways for to use them. First the snapper from a few nights ago; it used a nice handful but I still have a lot left. Onward!

When My Beloved brought home a boatload of fresh Brussels sprouts, I thought perhaps some of those almonds, nicely toasted, would be good with butter-steamed sprouts, too.

All I did was cautiously toast another generous handful of almonds in a dry pan over medium heat, set them aside, quarter the sprouts with a sharp knife, braise them slowly in the same pan with melted butter and about a tablespoon of water until the water evaporated and left the sprouts and the butter to gently brown together. Sprinkled on the almonds and served.

It was two kinds of nutty. The gently cooked sprouts brought their nuttiness to the dish and, obviously, so did the almonds. The texture contrast was interesting and fun, the colors toned together beautifully and the taste was lovely and mellow with just a flick of the bitter as an aftertaste. I loved 'em. He, while not exactly loving them, agreed that it's a good preparation for a vegetable he's not overly fond of. There's a certain lovable nuttiness in a guy who brings home as a present for his wife a huge supply of a veggie he doesn't really like. No wonder I'm nuts about the guy.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

It's The Berries!

I thought nothing could top a grilled Swiss cheese sandwich, except maybe a BLT or this. Grilled cheese is so easy, one almost always has the three ingredients on hand, and it's quick. Perfect for a lunch when I've been hanging out wash and vacuuming all morning and I'm hungry right now.

My Beloved had brought home some sliced turkey along with the Swiss cheese and that sounded good together, so I got them both out and, without looking, grabbed a loaf of bread, too.

When I opened the bread and reached in, I realized that rather than the usual nice white bread we buy, I had taken out the Honey Wheatberry bread. I think my guardian angel directed my hand because I thought, "Oh, what the heck, I'll just try this stuff" and it was spectacular! I love it as toast, I won't eat anything else under this sandwich, and it makes a great substrate for poached eggs but spread a little butter on it and grill it in a pan and, sister, you've got the crunchiest, toastiest, nuttiest grilled cheese and turkey sandwich ever!

As my Dad used to say, "It's the berries!"

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Beloved's Choice

My Beloved was out and about on errands and called to ask if he could bring home something for lunch. I checked the fridge and, oops, nothing in there that qualified as lunch, so I said yes - and why not something a little different for dinner as well?

Here's what he found - lovely snapper, locally caught. I went looking for easy on the website and successfully downloaded this recipe.

Mild fish and toasted almonds are a natural together, especially when a nice big blob of butter and a big squeeze of lemon juice are included. Simplicity itself, and that lets the fish shine as well as the preparation. From start to finish it took no more time than steaming the veggies did. Apparently, this recipe comes from the book, "French Women Don't Get Fat." Frankly, I'm surprised. The generous browned butter, olive oil and almonds in this recipe aren't exactly dietary fare. Maybe if I had had the fresh parsley the recipe recommended, it would have cancelled out the calories?

In any case, it was fresh, mild and wicked-delicious. I'm sending the boy out for lunch makings more often.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Presents From Afar

This is a little can of coffee that our pal Sari brought us from Paris the last time she went. I have to admit that I forgot about it until about a week ago when I was cleaning out a cupboard and there it was. I started using it right away and it really does bring a taste of France to our breakfasts, minus the Gauloise cigarettes and the diesel exhaust. Lovely.

I'm not writing to brag about my friends nor to describe to you a coffee but rather to note that if you are going on vacation, it's nice to bring a taste of where you went back to the friends who have missed you while you were away. Macadamia nuts from Hawaii, chocolates from Belgium, a packet of spices from India, sea salt from Maine - they are usually inexpensive, they don't take up much room in one's luggage and they make a welcome gift, even for older folks who don't need any more tchotchkes. I'll keep this in mind as we are planning a vacay to Hawaii to visit my little brother.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Winter Wealth

I refuse to show you what I made with the riches of Brussels sprouts that My Beloved brought home for dinner from Monterey. It's so ugly, I'm saving it for the Ugly Food Photo contest I'll be running again this year. I'm sure to win my own prize.

Instead, I'll just show you how it started. It began with this wonderful pile of fresh sprouts, which My Beloved brought home on the stalk. I twisted them off and bagged them for the fridge, but I kept out enough for a really, really large serving of this. Cream braised Brussels sprouts - my mouth was watering as I looked up the recipe.

Except, as frequently seems to be the case with me, I didn't have all the ingredients for what I was hoping to make. I could have made a dash to the store for heavy cream but, as you've probably noticed, I'm more about making do with whatever is on hand.

I did have half-and-half and lemon juice, lovely sprouts and sea salt - that's all the recipe calls for - it couldn't be simpler. And I did have a little tub of crême fraîche, so I thought that if I mixed some half-and-half with some crême fraîche, it would approximate heavy cream, right? Well, not exactly.

My problem is that I let the whole simmering thing go on at slightly too high a heat, so the "sauce" turned all cottage-cheesy on me, coating the sprouts not with a smooth sheen of golden cream as Molly's recipe promised but with a bumpy layer that reminded me forcibly of what comes out of my grandson when he is burped after nursing. Not exactly appetizing.

However, I'm a stalwart and I had my taste buds all set for cream-braised sprouts, so I served them anyway and they were spectacularly sweet and delicious. The cream gentles any bitterness and the slow braise brings out the latent sweetness in those little green wedges. If you are one like My Beloved who is a skeptic about Brussels sprouts, try these and you will be converted, I promise. I liked the addition of the crême fraîche - I like anything that adds richness and a little tang - but I'd be happy as a clam to go back to heavy cream next time, too. Either one turns this winter wealth into a dreamy dish.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Tokens Of Friendship

I have written often about the neighbors who live on my little street. We have only about ten homes on the street, but each houses a pretty nice family.

We have block parties, movie nights, casual chats in the middle of the street and everyone feels they can borrow a cup of sugar or a snip of herbs from anyone else, secure in the knowledge that some of the cookies or a slice of the quiche being baked will show up on a paper plate on their doorstep the next day. On nice days, front doors are open so kids and dogs come and go freely. We have monthly "hen parties" at local restaurants for the women on the street - even the ones still working take time off to join us. In short, I can't imagine having nicer neighbors and better relations with them all.

But, every now and then, one of them goes over the top to make me thank my lucky stars all over again. Remember back in November when I invited the two little girls over to make cookies and have a tea party? They thanked me over and over in person and their mother sent me a charming email to thank me again, all very nice. Then, yesterday, I awoke from my usual afternoon snooze to find an amaryllis bulb kit on my front steps, decorated with these lovely china measuring spoons. The accompanying note explained that time had flown away (it happens when you have two lively little girls and a big shaggy dog and a sweet husband) and that they had meant to offer these gifts for Christmas, then New Year's and, now, Happy Sunny Day.

I will hang the spoons as decoration in my kitchen, start the amaryllis on its climb to red-flowered glory and cherish these sweet tokens of friendship.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fabu Franks

Now, you know I love*love*love hot dogs. I think that tube steak is God's gift to humanity, one of the best foods in the world.

Okay, so that disqualifies me as a food snob. So what?

I've probably consumed my weight in hot dogs in my lifetime but never before have I taken a bite and stopped short with my eyes popped open. That's exactly what happened when I took my first bite of a Coleman natural uncured beef hot dog. I can state categorically that, among packaged hot dogs (as opposed to fresh sausages in the butcher's case), these are the best I have ever tasted and, believe me, I've tasted my share.

I have struggled to describe what is so compelling about these dogs. They aren't bigger or saltier or anythinger than other hot dogs, except they are better. Faintly smoky in taste (but not overwhelmingly fake-smoky like some barbecue sauces), lightly salty, nicely meaty - it's not really the parts, you see, it's the sum, and the balance. They don't lend themselves to analysis, just to enjoyment. These are some truly fabu franks.


Saturday, January 22, 2011


Anybody see "Portlandia?"

If you did, you'll chuckle when you read that I'm trying so hard to be green that I'm hoping to give away rather than throw away all these worthy and useful tools that are duplicates of gadgets I already own or that simply don't work for me - but they might for you! I was inspired to clean out my gadget drawer because I could no longer close it.

So, here's the haul; from upper left to lower right:

-a weighty little meat pounder
-a french fry cutter, so wickedly sharp that it comes in a heavy-duty plastic sheath (sheath not shown)
-instant-read steak buttons (reusable)
-a cherry pitter with handy plastic sleeve that makes it smaller in the drawer
-a metal jar opener that My Beloved's mother swore by
-a heart-shaped cookie or canape cutter
-a candy or deep-fry thermometer
-two church keys (can openers) - I found four in the gadget drawer so you may have two of my hoard
-a plastic-and-metal spout for oil or whatever
-a small metal spatula with a cutting edge

If you covet any of these items, simply send me an email at PamelaHyland(at) and give me your address. If you live locally, one of these days you will find your prize in your mailbox or on your doorstep. If you live far away, it may take a little longer but I'm game!


Friday, January 21, 2011

Quick Slow Food

My Beloved was just about to cut his first bite when I yelped, "Wait! I forgot to take a picture!"

It is a trial he lives with every day, the inevitable wait between when the food hits the plates and I finish photographing. I heat the plates to keep the food warm, but he's impatient anyway.

Small wonder, really, when food is this good. Sometimes, simplicity wins over serious preparation. In this case, all I did was slowly, slowly cook half a chunked onion in butter until it was clear and relaxed and just a little browny, then throw in a couple of peeled and cored d'Anjou pears to simmer away with the onion for another 20 minutes or so, covered. The resulting sauce looked like toasty, shiny glop but tasted like heaven on our pork chops, quickly striped on the grill and still faintly pink inside. Nestled next to a Pezzini artichoke that was steamed slowly to meaty perfection and a little cup of lemon butter that was zapped fast in the microwave.

The whole meal probably took less than an hour to prepare and less than that to consume, but that fast slow food really is the best. Even if you have to wait until the picture is snapped.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

At Costco? Really?

The first day we were in Belgium five years or so ago, cousin Jan took us into Brussels on the metro and introduced us in the Grande Place to Belgian waffles, hot off the waffle iron, redolent of vanilla and sugar and butter. The addiction was instant. We had at least one waffle daily for the two weeks we were there.

We've tried to find a good recipe for Belgian waffles ever since and have tried making them at home more than once. Jan even brought us pearl sugar from Belgium on a subsequent trip so we could approximate the real thing.

The real thing takes time and extra work, but it's worth it.

Still, you can imagine that the idea of true Belgian waffles, already baked for you and only in need of heating, sounds like an idea I can get behind! Jan found these at Costco. Costco? Really?*

They are called Julian's Recipe waffles and they come individually wrapped in cellophane in a larger plastic clamshell. All you do is warm them in the oven at 350 for two or three minutes, in the toaster on low setting until crisp and warm, or in a microwave on high for 15 seconds. I did mine in the oven since I have lots of time and they were darn good, sugary and toasty and scented lightly with vanilla, similar to the ones in the Grande Place.

Having said that, there is something awfully special about receiving the real deal wrapped in a little square of white parchment paper and dusted lightly with sugar from a guy who happily tells you all about his batter and his waffle iron while the fragrant steam lifts into the cold air of Brussels, surrounded by the stunning architecture of the Grande Place. That first amazing bite, when the waffle is crisp on the outside and almost creamy on the inside - it may just be the ambiance but there is nothing like it in the world.

But Julian's Recipe ain't half bad - next time you are in Costco and in need of a treat, look for these. At Costco? Really?

*I fear my snobism is showing.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another Christmas Goodie

When I was fifteen years old, my father was stationed on a ship in the Mediterranean and the whole family, with the exception of my older brother who was in college at the time, went to Europe. My sister went reluctantly and ended up loving Italy. My younger brother, who was about six at the time, went reluctantly and ended up speaking pretty good French with an accent "du Midi." A French friend of ours called him, "mon petit salade niçoise" because of that accent. I went reluctantly, sure that my summer boyfriend would find someone new while I was stuck in a boarding school (I was correct), but ended up loving France and the French to this day. As I said to a taxi driver in Paris who asked if I was American, "Yes, but my heart is French." He loved it.

So, when I got this book for Christmas from pals Janie and Jack, I dove immediately into its pages. It's all about the open air markets of Provence, one for each day of the week, complete with recipes for traditional Provençal dishes and directions on how to get to the markets. Filled with glorious photos, too, this book is written and illustrated entirely by folks who live in the Bay area but travel frequently to France or live there part time. It's a lovely book, one that confirms my adding a return visit to Provence to my bucket list.

Perhaps for my 65th birthday, which is only about a year away, I will take this book, head for Provence, install myself and My Beloved in a rented house or apartment, and invite as many of my friends as will come to join us. Sounds like a good plan to me!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

They Know Their Audience

I haven't really been cooking much of interest lately, with the exception of the tea-smoking fiasco, so I don't have a lot of luscious pictures to share with you. Dinner has mainly consisted of some worthy but unremarkable roast chickens and other similarly satisfying but relatively boring offerings. So, instead, I'll show you my Christmas presents.

My Beloved and several of my friends know their audience - they buy me cooking-related items. My Beloved subscribed to The Art of Eating for me, a quarterly periodical which features well written and illustrated articles of interest to the food-obsessed. I expressed an interest in this magazine because Molly Wizenberg told me as we were up to our elbows in cracked crab on Christmas Eve that she had prepared an article to appear in an upcoming issue. I'm looking very much forward to that article but the ones in this issue were terrific, too.

First, the one about the lovely woman with the wonderful name of Soyoung Scanlan who makes artisanal cheese in Sonoma County, California. I need to find her Andante cheeses to try, for sure. Then, other articles on topics as various as Madeira wine, hunting and eating the kill, paprika and non-vintage brut champagnes, to name just a few. There are also restaurant and book reviews, and sources for wonderful ingredients - but no ads whatsoever. The $50 subscription rate is high, but it covers the cost of writing and publishing without resorting to carrying advertisements.

I devoured my first issue cover to cover and relished every delicious bite.


Monday, January 17, 2011


I should have kept Peter's lovely bowls for this application - they were so dramatic and small enough to serve an amuse bouche in style. These little bowls will have to suffice, however, as the girls I gifted Peter's bowls with at Christmas were thrilled and they took them straight home with them.

I made an ersatz clam chowder this week. I had some shrimp stock in the freezer and some organic potatoes that were threatening to sprout in the veggie bin, so I improvised a seafood chowder. We tried it last night as a little starter; these bowls are only an inch or two in diameter. It's not the usual thick, creamy New England clam chowder but it's a beloved cousin to that.

I chopped the better part of a big onion and softened that in butter, then added celery and finely chopped potatoes. When I added the shrimp stock, I also put in a couple of bay leaves to stew with the stock. I added the can of baby clams last, along with the liquor in the can, and let it all simmer for about 20 minutes before pouring in some half and half. I did add about a tablespoon of flour cooked for a few minutes in a like amount of butter to give it a little more body but it wasn't like the gluey clam chowder one gets sometimes in restaurants where they don't know any better and think you can substitute thickness for flavor.

Briny and sweet at the same time, the tender little clams yielded their essence and extra texture to the chowder. The shrimp stock remained staunchly shrimpy despite the addition of the baby clams and clam juice from the can, lending the soup its own individual taste. The vegetables were soft but not limp, giving extra flavor and texture to the whole.

I served the amuse bouches just to taste it but we'll have it for lunch or dinner the next day, when it all has a chance to really meld into a satisfying seafood soup.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Caveman's Delight

While I was tea-smoking my duck, I decided to tuck a small package of spare ribs alongside the duck in the smoker, since daughter Sarah had mentioned at Harmony that she had tried those once and enjoyed them. I mean, if you're going to that much trouble, why not get the biggest bang for your buck, right?

What spare ribs and duck have in common, I think, is the rich, unctuous meat that takes well to long cooking.

Here are my spareribs, also overdone but better than the duck was. Believe it or not, I didn't just chuck them into the fire like a caveman. I used all the same techniques but the spareribs had a little more fat in the meat so they came closer to the rich texture I enjoyed in the Harmony version.

Sadly, the outside had nearly as much bitter flavor as my sad little black duck had, but the inside was closer to the ideal. Still, if I had it all to do again, I'd simply go back to Harmony and avoid all the hassle. My poor kitchen still smells like a caveman's fire.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tea-smoked duck

Here's my sad little duck, done to a fare-thee-well in my jury-rigged stovetop smoker. He's smoked, alright. Look at those sad little legs!

Actually, I think I overdid it, although I followed the recipe closely. The skin has a bitter, burned flavor and the meat has none of the luscious texture of the tea-smoked duck I enjoyed at Harmony. The color is similar but the taste and texture are quite different. It's certainly smoky but so would a simple barbecued chicken have been - and it would have had more moisture left.

The loose tea I used was not what was recommended in the recipe - perhaps that made a difference.

Nonetheless, I'm peeling off the skin and using the meat in different dishes - a stir fry the first night, a salad the second night - and I might freeze some to try in other dishes once my initial embarrassment and disappointment have faded a little. It's not bad, just not worth all the rigamarole it took to produce it.

Stick a fork in him, Mama, he's done!


Friday, January 14, 2011

A Cautionary Tale

Bittman's recipe for tea-smoked duck should have come with a warning: Don't try this at home unless you have the proper equipment. If you don't have a big wok with a well-placed rack, it's best to simply go to your local Chinese restaurant and order tea-smoked duck. Take it from one who knows.

I used my Dutch oven lined with foil, it being the only lidded pot in my kitchen large enough to hold a whole duck, but it had no rack, so I improvised to hold the bird above the smoking materials. That's a wire colander with metal nutcrackers on top to achieve the desired one inch of distance above the rice, tea and sugar.

And this is after you have already steamed the bejeebers out of the duck the day before.

It smoked alright. It smoked the kitchen, the house and me - I had to wash all my clothes despite opening a door and keeping the exhaust fan running the whole time. I guess my lid leaked a bit. It also smoked the duck and the spareribs I tucked alongside the duck - they all turned not "deep mahogany," as Bittman predicted, but almost black.

I'm still soaking my Dutch oven, hoping to get the worst of the black out of it and all the "props" I added to the pot. As I said, Mark Bittman should have included a little warning label with his recipe. It's not as easy has he makes it sound.


Thursday, January 13, 2011


Looking for a good theme for a party? I can recommend a cheese tasting party. Each year our pal Sari (rhymes with Mary) gives a cheese party - she calls it her Cheese-a-palooza - at which we all arrive mid-afternoon and taste cheeses until our arteries clog up. Everyone brings something and it's always super fun. This year, I think she outdid herself.

Of the cheeses I tasted, perhaps the Beemster and the Pecorino were the standouts but for simple richness you could hardly beat the Saint-André. There were also blues and Stiltons and all kinds of other goat, sheep and cow's cheese. There was also a very subtle and incredible duck liver paté, some interesting hot meatballs of unknown origin (we nearly fought over the last few), a wonderful huge wheel of brie baked with green onion and pomegranate seeds on top, several kinds of olives and some delicious cilantro "pesto" toasts, to name just a few. I contributed a bowl of bright tangerines and raclette - complete with pickled onions, cornichons and olives - it was gone in a flash.

There was a little wine, a little fizzy water and, at the very end, a bottle of my favorite champagne, Veuve Cliquot, shared amongst the revelers. We all yakked ourselves hoarse, had great belly laughs, enjoyed hugs and stories and catching up. It was great from start to finish. So, if you're looking for a surefire party theme at which everyone will find something s/he enjoys, think about a Cheese-athon. You can't go wrong.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Picasa Prettied

You will be amazed.

Cookiecrumb and Greg turned me on to Picasa, a downloadable program free from Google that permits one to organize and edit photos. If you compare this version with the photo I posted a few days ago of the same meal, you'll see what a dramatic difference it made in the colors. I used "warmify" and "color correction" and it improved the colors of the original photo amazingly! No more Dr. Seuss-like green rice and lamb. Now the rice is golden, although perhaps more golden than it was in real life. Still, far better than green, right?

You might want to try this on your blog, too. Let Picasa prettify your pictures, too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pepe LePew's Revenge

Early morning, still a little gray outside - the motion-sensitive light I installed by the front door comes on as Cora and I pass by on our way to Poop Heaven and picking up the newspapers from the front steps, respectively. All is peaceful. She charges away toward the culvert under the street.

A quick shake of the head as she pokes her nose into the culvert, then another shake and she backs out, miserable, sprayed with skunk straight into her very sensitive nose. Desperately rubbing her face on anything nearby - my bathrobe, the bushes, the doormat, the wall of the house.

I called the Pet Emergency hospital and, blessedly, they have a recipe for washing out the smell that a very angry Pepe LePew leaves behind, so My Beloved rushes out at 7am to the local Rite Aid where, thank heavens!, they are open early on a Sunday morning and selling the ingredients. While he's gone, I prep the bathroom with dog towels and remove everything else.

Cora has never been bathed in this house before - usually, I treat myself to a cup of Catahoula coffee at Sit and Stay while she is bathed at Mudpuppy's. That may be a good thing as she balks before getting into the tub, but doesn't refuse utterly, having no prior knowledge.

I won't go into all the rest - the bending, the struggling, the sopping wet clothes, towels and dog lovers - but will simply give you the recipe. This is a recipe blog, right?

Skunk De-Smeller

1 quart of hydrogen peroxide (2 quarts if your dog is as big as Cora or was liberally sprayed)
1/4 cup baking soda (1/2 cup for a big dog)
1 teaspoon Dawn blue dishwashing liquid (2 teaspoons for a big dog)

Mix the ingredients together (they will fizz, so don't ever contain this stuff in a glass bottle or jar). Dress in your oldest/least favorite clothes. Wet the dog thoroughly, right down to the skin, on all skunk-sprayed parts with the solution, taking care not to get it in her eyes or nose (the dishwashing liquid would sting like crazy). Rinse well with clear water.

Hydrogen peroxide to work chemically with the sulphur in the skunk oil. Baking soda to neutralize odor. Dishwashing liquid because it cuts through oil/grease. Only a slight miasmal cloud follows her now from which we get a whiff from time to time.

The moral of the story is: Don't Mess With Pepe.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Soup Lab

Building soup from the bones of a previous meal is a little like working in Dr. Frankenstein's lab. You build from parts you have lying around and hope for the best. It can become a tragedy with a moral about flying too close to the sun or a screwball comedy with belly laughs depending one how things go.

I started a few days ago with two smoked pork chop bones and a little water. The chops had been too salty for our taste, so I didn't finish mine and wasn't overly concerned about adding a lot of diluting water.

After simmering the bones and leftover meat for a few hours, the water tasted hammy but no longer salty. I eighty-sixed the bones and started building from there. It has been cold here, and gray, so soup from the South sounded just right - Mexico, here we come.

First, I softened half a chopped onion and a big pressed garlic clove in a little butter. Sprinkled about a teaspoon each of cumin and chili powder into the pan and cooked until they were fragrant. Then added a can of black beans, about a cup of frozen corn kernels, the shredded meat from the chops, the chop broth and a couple of cups of chicken broth.

When that had simmered together, I tasted the soup and found that it was spicy and tasty but needed salt and something else. The something was about a tablespoon of tomato paste and another of Sartain's Menu Sauce to give it a tad more heat, smoke and body. Next, two small chopped ripe tomatoes from far, far away. And, finally, a handful of corn chips to add crunch to the slurp.

Warm, hearty and sustaining, layer by layer, it brought the warmth of sunshine and light to our winter-chilled souls. OMG, it's alive! It's ali-i-i-i-ive!

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Sunday, January 9, 2011


Okay, this is clearly my week for ugly food photos. How did the rice, that m-m-m-m-m-marvelous M-m-m-m-assa rice, turn a sickly green in the picture when it was a lovely golden color in real life?

And the leftover lamb looks pretty gross, too. I promise, we didn't eat all that fat.

We did eat the lamb, however, as a roast the first night and then with a rice pilatto the second night.

To achieve this meld between a pilaf and a risotto, I first browned a couple of cups of coarsely chopped mushrooms in butter, then added garlic and onion, lemon juice, rice and chicken stock. I didn't ladle the chicken stock in a bit at a time, I just poured it in after sautéeing the rest and let it simmer for the hour it takes to cook Massa rice. For the last few minutes, I laid our slices of roast lamb on top of the rice to warm (the photo was taken halfway through that process) and served them together with a side of sugar snap peas.

Chalk the green rice up to weird winter lighting but don't skip the dish - it was a perfect winter dinner, sustaining and warming and rich. That Massa rice is m-m-m-m-magic.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Beginnings And Endings

We've been eating out a lot lately - I guess everyone is in the same boat as the old year ends and the new one begins - so it felt really good to make a homey meal in our own kitchen for a change.

Dorothy Parker once defined eternity as "a ham and two people." She was profoundly wise. I love ham but even a small one is the Energizer Bunny of the meat world - it just never quits! So, I had purchased a couple of smoked pork chops as a way of having ham-like flavor that doesn't last forever. I planned a simple pan frying to prep them, as they are already fully cooked.

Rooting around in the vegetable bin for something to accompany them, I came up with a head of Savoy cabbage and remembered my California Aunt Sally (as distinct from my Connecticut Aunt Sally) who sautéed purple cabbage with bacon bits in bacon drippings as a side dish. I thought I could do a similar riff by using the pork chop drippings, the salty water from the package and a little green onion for color and extra flavor.

That's all I did. Once the chops were removed, I threw in the water from their package (just a tablespoon or so), thinly sliced cabbage and green onion and tossed it around in the fat left in the pan until it was just beginning to relax. One pan to wash, good flavors to savor. What could be easier?

At the end of the meal, I grabbed the bones and part of my unfinished chop, popped them into some water and made a little soup base from the leftovers. Now, I'm trying to decide what kind of soup would be great with those beginnings.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

She's Home Safely

My adventurous sister drove clear across country, more than two thousand miles in each direction, to spend Christmas with us, then drove all the way back, all by herself with no GPS and no cell phone, just her little dog and maps from AAA, proving to all us tech-dependent fools that we are just travel weenies.

She made it home safely - we got the word yesterday. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

That's Nancy with the silly snowflake headdress, putting in some hug time with our grandson, who is already at three months of age a world-class hugger. My sister really, really loves babies and is really, really camera shy. This is the best I could do - she managed to hide well behind the kid.

But, this is a food blog, right? So far, he approves of his diet of liquid Mom.


Thursday, January 6, 2011


I apologize for the quality of the photo - it's always difficult to get good pictures in a restaurant - but not for the quality of the food. The black lump with the sprig of cilantro on the right side of the rice is tea-smoked duck that we enjoyed at lunch at Harmony in the Strawberry Village shopping center in Mill Valley. You can really taste the tea and the smoke as separate flavors in the rich meat. I am inspired to try tea-smoking something - it's dynamite! Must go online and figure out how to do that.

If you are reading this locally, I can recommend the restaurant. The interior is tasteful and restful and interesting. The food we tried was all very good (great Chinese chicken salad and minced lamb with raddichio leaves that I didn't get pictures of) and they were quite helpful and patient with our four year old granddaughter who had a splendid time. She asked very politely, "Pamma (Pam+Gramma=me), may I please have another piece of tea-smoked duck?" with a smile to melt your heart. Turns out she adores tea-smoked duck. My Beloved's daughter and son-in-law are happily raising a foodie.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Clay Pot Initiation

Because I admire Cookiecrumb and she admires clay pot cooking, when I saw Clay Pot Pork on the menu at Harmony, I decided to try it. We were ordering for the table, and it's a good thing, as I probably could not have finished this all by myself.

The pork has a sweet-and-sour-barbecue sort of sauce with veggies tucked underneath in a rustic pot with a big hollow handle. Big, meaty mushrooms, bright carrots, baby bok choy - it's really enough for at least two and we shared it amongst four people happily.

As an initiation to clay pot cooking, it was a good beginning. I can see how everything in the pot shares flavor and there's something appealing about the pot itself. I imagine that when people first started more refined cooking, more than charred a leg of gnu or shoulder of eland, they put things into a clay pot over a fire and discovered that the flavors enhanced each other when cooked together.

I wish I had cabinet space for all the kitchen gadgets my heart desires; if I did, I'd have a clay pot in a New York minute.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Goin' Steady

Fist bump!

My Beloved's sister, she who finds Christmas treasures from the past for us each year, sent him this item along with the purple plates - his prep school class ring. 1964.

He asked me to go steady. Isn't that cute?

It's a little too big for even my biggest finger, but isn't that always how it was? The girls would wrap the shank of the ring in wool yarn to size it, or wear it on a chain around their necks.

Do kids today still go steady? Do they text their girlfriends immediately to spread the news? I'm sure the thrilling emotions don't change, but perhaps the expression of those feelings does.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Souped Up

The past fall has been all about soups for me. Somehow, I seem to have come into my own, inventing soups without looking at a cookbook and finding that I'm finally experienced enough that I can usually predict how something will taste by the ingredients I feel like putting in.

This soup is a good example, a riff on another squash soup that I made this season. I had found two of the prettiest little butternut squashes at a local market where they were also selling d'Anjou pears. The combination just sounded right to me, so I bought both.

After halving, de-seeding and roasting the butternuts in a 350 degree oven for about half an hour, I sautéed half a large onion in a combination of butter and bacon drippings, about a tablespoon of each, then added oregano from my pot garden until the aroma of onion and fresh oregano threatened to send me into ecstasy.

Added chicken stock, the flesh from the butternuts and three peeled and cored pears - and simmered until everything was soft and giving up its flavor, about 20 minutes. Puréed in the blender, topped with a dollop of creme fraîche and a sprig of the oregano, it made a lovely first course for our New Year's Eve dinner.

Kabocha vs. butternut. Thyme vs. oregano. These small changes make for quite different soups, even though all the ingredients are from similar plant families. The kabocha-pear-thyme soup was herbal and sustaining - it tasted downright healthy. The butternut-pear-oregano soup was nearly sweet and very mellow, seeming indulgent and luxurious.

Both were just what I imagined they would taste like when I started making the soups. There's something very satisfying and liberating about feeling free to throw into the pot whatever I feel might taste good together and being pretty sure it will be a hit.

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Family Day

I've never seen a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one,
But I can tell you anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one.

I learned that little rhyme from my father, who delighted in rhymes and limericks and in children's books that rhymed. He had a rhyming sense of humor.

We got these purple plates from My Beloved's sister, who sent them to us for Christmas. She finds amazing and wonderful presents in the attic each year. Their father, a dear and lovable man now gone to heaven, graduated from Williams College and, ever after, donated to them each year. Their mascot is the Purple Cow. The plates have scenes of Williams College buildings on them. I'm pretty sure these dinner plates were Williams' way of saying thank you to him for his generosity.

Because the Christmas season is what it is, they arrived on New Year's Eve, literally just in time to use on my dinner table that evening. I had such fun setting that table! From the table up: machine washable lace matts from my 'eighties Victorian period, my trousseau silver, the purple plates, my mother's gold-and-white china soup bowls, purple napkins I bought probably 10 years ago and china napkin rings I found this year while poking through shops in Point Reyes with our dear friend Sari - we think of her as a daughter. Out of the frame are Steuben water glasses my sister got for a wedding present but then gave to me when she downsized her house and wine glasses that were a wedding present from My Beloved's brother.

When you sit down to dinner with all those family mementos resonating around you, you can't but have a Happy New Year's Eve dinner, can you? Reminds me how fortunate I am to have a family that isn't close in geography but is always close by.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Meals On Wheels

On the way home from doing errands, I stopped at the local gas station to fill up just before lunchtime. I stuck the nozzle in my car and stood there idly contemplating my lunch options. I thought about staying down in the village for lunch since My Beloved was on the road that day but I neglected to bring anything to read. I remembered that we have some cold cuts in the fridge but I've been cold cutted to death this holiday season so I wasn't in the mood.

There is a food truck parked frequently just outside my gas station. I have eaten from a "roach coach" before but only in Hawaii where they are a feature of beach life. I wondered if this one would be any good. As I was mindlessly tending my gas pump, I started reading the hand-lettered signs on it and was intrigued. "El Agricultor" - The Farmer. That seemed promising. Based in Berkeley, so probably not too risky. The truck seemed clean and well tended - what the heck!

I made my choice - Plato de Carnitas - and approached the window. Big, wide smile inside. Like the Cheshire cat, the rest of the face was invisible in the dark interior. I ordered and the big smile repeated the words in English to make sure I understood. I asked for black beans but, sorry, only pinto beans available. Okay, no problem. To go? Yes, please.

Cora, who joyously rides anywhere in a car, approved immediately of the scents wafting out of the bag. When I got it home, I opened the styro clamshell to reveal a hefty portion of roasted pork, pinto refritos, Spanish rice, tortilla chips, hot rolled corn tortillas in foil and a small salad, all neatly packed into the sectioned plate.

It was good. It was not spectacular but it was solidly good. A workingman's lunch. I'm no longer working, so it was enough for two days, at least. The pork was moist and flavored with grilled onions. I love Spanish rice - consistently appealing. The refritos were okay but perhaps a tad on the gluey side. Never mind, it was a couple of lunches for $7. A bargain, what with that big smile.