Tuesday, September 27, 2011

En Congé

I found myself putting up a picture of a panzanella I ate last week, and stopped. The picture was fine and the salad was even better but I realized I had absolutely nothing worth saying about that meal.

Also noticeable that only my most stalwart and faithful blogging friends are leaving comments here these days, and some days even they can't think of anything worth saying, telling me that they are pretty bored, too.

Time to take a break. I'll still be reading your blogs and commenting but, for a while, I'm on vacation.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book Review

Believe it or not, there are other things of interest to me than cooking. If all you know of someone is what they share on their blog, you get a very one-sided view of someone's life. Maybe a delicious view, but still...

So, even though this is primarily a food blog, I'm going to share a book with you today, as I have one or two amazing others in the past. It was given to me as a hostess gift by those two food-loving newlyweds, Naomi and Sam, but that's really the only connection with food.

It is one of the best, most engrossing books I have read in a long, long time. Beautifully written, it follows the author's legacy of a collection of Japanese netsuke from the recipient back through the history of the collection to the original collector, an ancestor of the author's, to his nephew to whom he gave them for a wedding present, to their eventual return to Japan with the nephew's son. If that sounds a little dry, keep in mind that they were collected during the wave of Japonisme that fascinated the Parisian art world where the ancestor lived, then traveled to Vienna where the nephew lived just at the turn of the last century and beyond at the height of Viennese culture and its subsequent crash into war, then back to Japan in the post-World War Two period.

It's a family story but it's also a story of cultures and times and amazing events. I'd love to tell you all about it but I don't want to spoil the richness of this book for you. Get it. Read it. You will love it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Creativity is a wonderful quality. I love to see how people express a new idea or address a problem in a new way. Sometimes, it's amazing, like Picasso's bull's head made from a bicycle seat and handlebars. Other times it's quieter, such as Naomi and Sam's use of their wedding cards garlanded on loops of string to grace a bare fireplace.

Sometimes it's delicious.

One of Naomi and Sam's wedding presents was a ice cream attachment for their KitchenAid mixer. Naomi made raspberry sorbet for dessert - but the creative part was the addition of minced mint in the sorbet mixture. It was a wonderful combination, lifting the sweet raspberry flavor into freshness.

A lovely and creative ending to a perfect Sunday lunch.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Newlyweds and Oldieweds

Last Sunday, we were invited to Sunday lunch chez newlyweds Naomi and Sam, a proper British Sunday lunch, complete with a roast. (She is British and he spent years at Oxford getting his doctoral degree, so he's even more English than the English). We accepted happily, anticipating a good meal and a chance to catch up and see the new apartment.

It was fabu, by the way, filled with strong California light and very airy, with windows on all sides that frame views reminiscent of Robert Bechtle paintings. We were tickled to see our wedding present to them displayed and enjoyed the garland of wedding cards they had used to decorate the fireplace.

Sam is loving the job he landed in a single day and Naomi is settling in to her teaching/student role, while they both work to put the apartment in order. There were a few boxes here and there but they are mostly settled and furnished, thanks to a charming collection of things from Ikea, garage sales, family heirlooms and street finds.

We toasted their first home with a little sparkling wine and chatted while the roast filled the sunny space with aromas. I can cut to the chase here and tell you that everything was delicious and perfectly cooked and arrived all at the same time, hot and ready. The carrots were a wonderfully bright orange, enhanced by a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley and Sam had even stuffed the bird.

It's fun spending time with newlyweds, watching them work around each other and hold hands under the table. Especially nice as we oldyweds were holding hands under the table, too.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The $5 Challenge

When I entered the $5 Challenge sponsored by Slow Food USA, I cheated.

Everything I used in my chicken pot pie dinner for four was a leftover except for the Star Dough crust.

The crust itself costs $10 a package, so you'd think I was already over the limit, but the chicken pot pie I made used only one of the two crusts in the package and served four people amply. The rest of the ingredients were organic and "free," in that they had already fed four house guests.

The contents of the pie were chicken picked from the carcass that had fed four - about 1-1/2 cups of meat; a handful of frozen peas, four small leftover roasted potatoes, about a quarter cup of barbouille from a previous meal; four small red onions, quartered and sautéed until soft; and about a cup of sauce made with one tablespoon of butter, one tablespoon of flour and about one cup of organic chicken broth. I wouldn't even count the cost of the broth if I had had my own homemade on hand - it would have been "free," too, since it would have been made from the remains of a previous meal.

Even with the cost of the crust - I figure about $1.25 per person - the rest of the ingredients wouldn't even add up to $5.00 per person if I had purchased them expressly for this meal.

Was it good? Oh, my, yes! My Beloved wanted seconds before he even finished his firsts. My memories of chicken pot pie at school had left me lukewarm about making this dish, but the result was really delicious in a wonderfully homey sort of way. It was nothing like the heavy, floury stuff of the lunchroom cafeteria. The chicken broth in the sauce enhanced the chicken flavor and Star Dough crust is always a winner.

I had frozen this earlier in the week with the idea of serving it on the challenge day; it froze beautifully, thawed all afternoon on my counter and took only 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven to emerge bubbling and fragrant.

So, you might call this cheating, but we all won.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Late Summer Pie

Remember when I told you a few days ago about the yellow peach pie?

Turns out it works great with white peaches and raspberries, too.

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Kitchen Aesthetic

I guess anyone who spends much time cooking loves utensils that add to the fun with their color or clever design, things are are a pleasure to use, like Janine's gratin dish, or Peter Barrett's pottery, or this little tangerine bowl.

My Fairy Godson and I drove out to Davis the other day to escape the omnipresent fog we have experienced this summer. In just under an hour, we whisked out from under the coastal cloud cover into sunny skies and warm temperatures. We left home at 65 degrees and gained 20 degrees as we drove.

We strolled around Davis wearing flipflops and short sleeved shirts, poking our noses into an excellent toy store, Alphabet Moon, where I found a gift for my grandson's first birthday; a gelato shop where we indulged while basking at a sidewalk table; and the Artery, an artists' co-op that always has interesting stuff. Sometimes, I go to Davis just for the Artery.

The color of the tangerine bowl caught my eye. When I picked it up, the funny little button design made sense - one's thumb nestles snugly into the dimple in the button, or firmly alongside. It's just the right size for scrambling eggs or making a sauce or a salad dressing, and it's beautifully hand thrown so it's light for its size.

Each time I use it, it reminds me of a fun day out with one of my favorite people on earth, enjoying each other's company and the warmth of a late summer day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gringo Churro

I made a chicken pot pie for the freezer and you'll read about that when it emerges for our dinner, but with the leftover crust I made a nice little snack to nibble with a cup of something hot.

All I did was arrange the leftover pieces of Star Dough on a cookie sheet, sprinkle them lightly with sugar and cinnamon (got a little too heavy-handed with the cinnamon on the big piece) and baked them in a 400 degree F oven for 10 minutes.

I could have timed them by the scent alone - when I noticed that rich cinnamon smell, it was time.

The buttery crust crisped and browned - it was like cinnamon toast with less bread, or a churro with less fat. I sat down with a cup of coffee and enjoyed the dual rewards of a tasty nibble and the smug knowledge that I have a good dinner tucked away in the freezer.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

House Guests

For the past five weeks, we've been enjoying house guests. Maybe you'll think we're nuts, but we do enjoy having people come to visit and stay for long enough to get some serious catching up done. And when the house guests are as easy and cooperative as these three couples have been, it's a joy.

We waved goodbye yesterday to the last one for a while, although I did get a call from my cousin who might be coming for a short stay at the end of the month.

But what I really wanted to tell you about was a restaurant My Beloved and I tried on the last night Mark, my Fairy Godson, was here. It's in Berkeley, has been there for ten years, and is a wonderful find.

It's called Liaison. As you enter, there is a funny little sign affixed to the reception desk; it say, in French, "The chef is always right." The sign is correct.

If you like traditional French bistro cooking, this is the place for you. We tasted each other's dinners and all were excellent. I had Tarte Flambée to start and it would have easily been a meal in itself - I brought home some of both courses I ordered. It was delicious, really well made and perfectly cooked. My Beloved and Mark had the onion soup, which was similarly hearty - almost a meal in itself and intensely, richly beefyoniony.

For the main course, Mark had Boeuf Bourginon, which melted in the mouth, and My Beloved had sweetbreads, which he said were easily the best he has ever eaten, mild, sweet and tender. I tried the steak and frites just to see how their version of that standard stacked up; the steak with Bearnaise sauce was perfectly cooked and the sauce perfectly composed. The frites were not in the French style, sadly, but the aioli served with the frites was a revelation for garlic lovers like me. Dipped in the aioli, those fries were out of this world.

When the waiter came around with the dessert menu which, delightfully, she stamped onto the paper table cloth in front of each of us from a huge rubber stamp, we were all too full for dessert and more's the pity as each looked more tempting than the last. We settled for coffees, decaf for us and espresso for Mark (he's young). Mark said the espresso was simply delicious, as were our decafs. For me, the coffee at the end of the meal can make or break a restaurant - this one confirmed that we will be coming back.

Best of all, each coffee was served with a small square of dark chocolate on the saucer, as they frequently do in France and Belgium. It was the perfect ending to a spectacular meal - easily the best dark chocolate I have eaten in a decade. The shiny surface said it had been well tempered and the flavor was an explosion. It melted between my fingers within a few seconds, too - a sure sign that it hasn't had wax added to give it longer shelf life. Even better, it is locally made at Le Belge Chocolatier in Napa so hopefully I can get some for my own future dinner parties.

On the way out, I asked the hostess to thank the chef for such a lovely meal and she gave me two additional squares of chocolate for the road, so to speak. A small gesture that gave so much good will.

If you'd like a special night out at a very nice East Bay location, you can't go far wrong with Liaison. The wait staff was attentive but not overpowering, the ambiance is busy but not frantic, the food is really, really good and that chocolate...! Mon dieu, that chocolate was nearly as good as waving goodbye to the last house guest.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Waiting For Peaches

My little peach tree is rather sad this year. It rained when the flowers were blooming, so just a few peaches were set. It also is struggling with peach leaf curl without any assistance from me - I'm a bad steward. But it is game - slowly, the six peaches it set this year are ripening.

I got impatient, as I do every year. My tree is a late variety so there are fat, juicy peaches in the markets weeks before my homegrown ones are ready. I finally succumbed to three store bought beauties this week and decided to make a croustade from them.

When you use Star Dough, as I do with pride because it is headquartered here in our small town, making a croustade is a snap.

All I did was roll out the dough (it is wrapped in plastic, so your rolling pin doesn't even get dirty), skim off the top plastic and place on a rimmed baking sheet, remove the other plastic, top the middle 2/3 with crushed amaretti cookies, lay in the sugared and seasoned fruit (to your taste - I like scant sugar), and carefully fold up the pastry to partially surround the fruit, pinching to seal any holes. Bake at 400 for about 45 minutes and you've got a lovely dessert. My pastry leaked juice, so I took that and brushed it over the fruit and the pastry, then sprinkled a little more coarse sugar over it. The juice caused the sugar to stick to the pastry and gave it a subtle little shine and twinkle.

The croustade tasted mostly of sweet, ripe peaches with a hint of buttery crust. One of the nice things about using Star Dough is that it's already rolled out very thin, so you don't have a heavy lump of crust.

I'm off to the farmer's market again this afternoon, in search of peaches and blackberries for another croustade. Star Dough comes with two crusts in each package and I'm not waiting for my own peaches to use up that second pastry. Too impatient.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hashing It Out

I seem to be on a Fifth Quarter kick. I went a little crazy when I found their booth at the Kensington farmer's market a couple of weeks ago, so we've been feasting every few days.

The latest offering was a chunky, macho serving of corned beef hash, conveniently vacuum sealed - all I did was cut it open, heat the contents in a frying pan and plop a poached egg on top.

My Beloved is very fond of corned beef hash and he considers himself a good judge of it. His gold standard is the hash they sling at the Parkside in Stinson Beach - no one has yet measured up to theirs. This from Fifth Quarter, however, looked to give the Parkside a run for their money.

Pink dice of meat and golden dice of potatoes, seasoned with Anaheim chiles, onion and spices, it was a hearty portion for two and might easily have fed four lighter eaters. My Beloved would have liked more onion and I thought it could use a bit more salt and pepper but that's just nitpicking. This was delicious hash, meaty and flavorful - if we had never been to the Parkside, this would have been our all-time favorite.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kool-Aid Foodie

Well, you know you've drunk the foodie Kool-Aid when your hot dogs come from The Fifth Quarter, and you grill them on your Jennair and serve them on buns made by splitting Acme Herb Slab bread. Even the mustard was fancypants and the greenie beanies were organic and local.


To come down out of the clouds a bit, I smeared 'em with sweet pickle relish and good old catsup from a squeeze bottle. I only tell you that so you'll understand who you are dealing with when I confess that I like Coleman's hot dogs better.

These Fifth Quarter hot dogs were no doubt superior, made from fine ingredients lovingly by hand. They cooked up beautifully and had that wonderful little *snap* you get when you bite into a natural casing. They were well seasoned and had a little more texture than the average. The only thing they really lacked was smoke, and I could have added that by cooking them over charcoal. There's really no logic to this - it comes down to personal preference. When it comes to hot dogs, give me Coleman's every time.

Even if I am a card-carrying foodie.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


My friend Maria was also my hairdresser for about 15 years. She took my unruly, thin, fine hair and actually made it look good.

But that's not all she did for me - she has been my friend and confidante, my pal and giggle twin. She saw me through recovery from divorce and rejoiced with me in my happy second marriage. She had a bout with serious illness about 10 years ago and we prayed and laughed her through it.

We are about the same age and had similar upbringings, albeit in different countries. The nuns in her life succeeded in shaping her into a good woman, wife and mother - they despaired of me. We laugh at the same things and deplore the same things. We both love to eat - she has more of a sweet tooth than I, but not by much.

She retired about a year ago and I was afraid I might lose her. But I didn't - we are still good pals.

We get together every now and then, as often as our busy retired schedules allow, to catch up on each other's lives, to compare pictures of our grandchildren (hers are simply adorable and she has two more than I do), and to bask in the memories of a long friendship. We bring each other little presents sometimes, when we find things we know the other will enjoy. Last time we got together, she brought these because she knows I loved my Belgian vacation - she patiently viewed my zillions of photos when I returned.

Belgian Chocolate Thins. They are like Pringles potato chips in that they are shaped like those precise chips, neatly stacked together in a long, thin box, and they have a little crunch inside, as if the world's tiniest Rice Krispies were inside. They melt on the tongue, flooding the mouth with rich, sweet chocolate flavor. And just one or two is enough, as they pack a lot of chocolate punch into a small, light wafer.

I have been savoring this little gift for almost a month now, sometimes sharing with My Beloved or our parade of house guests, but mostly I just keep them for myself. Each time I take one out to enjoy it, I am also savoring the gift of a rich friendship.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


The toast got too dark. The egg poached for a minute too long. The light was not good for a photo, and the plate shone in all the wrong places.

But the liverwurst underneath the egg redeemed it all.

Such a strange pairing! My Beloved was making liverwurst sandwiches for his lunch while I was poaching an egg for mine and the idea just popped into my head.

It made a simply elegant lunch - with a tad more refinement, it could have been poached egg on a bed of paté. The hot egg softened and nearly melted the wurst, and the mingled flavors just worked. I can't describe how and why it worked - it just did.

Next time, well, yes, I'd just toast the toast rather than incinerate it, but I'd still slightly overcook the egg and I'd definitely spread a slice of liverwurst onto the bread before topping. Sometimes, the best lunch ideas are the most unlikely.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Bodacious Brown Lump

Here's another of those foods that people either love or despise - liverwurst.

While we were at the Kensington farmer's market, we purchased from The Fifth Quarter several items, including a six-inch long fat roll of liverwurst. We opened the vacuum seal this weekend and made sandwiches.

Like the paté, another offering from Scott Brennan, this too had more texture than the usual liverwurst one buys at the deli counter, and it convinced us that this is how liverwurst should be. It tasted mild, homey and authentic, with just enough texture to make it interesting but not enough to definitively reveal what it was made from - a happy balance, in my view. I love liverwurst but I don't need (or want) to know what's in there.

I'd love to see an artful picture of liverwurst, but I doubt that is possible. It's bodacious, but it's really just a brown lump.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Flag Waver

Ten years ago, I awoke in the middle of the night with a roaring headache, so intense that I couldn't sleep. I went to our guest room so I wouldn't wake My Beloved and, after several hours, finally got back to sleep. I have always wondered if in some way I perceived the evil that was brewing that night. He woke me with the news that New York and Washington had been attacked.

My own personal reaction was stunned disbelief and hurt. I couldn't figure out, and I still can't, how the attackers could live with us for years and not see that, for all their flaws, Americans are pretty well-meaning, kind people. I have lived in three other countries for just a year each and I fell in love with the people of those countries and became fascinated with their cultures in just that short time. Our attackers lived among us for years but held on to their hate; how could that be? I am still baffled.

I didn't agree with the retaliation of bombing Afghanistan - I was one of those who sent a little packet of rice to then-President Bush, imploring him to send those people aid rather than explosives. And I certainly didn't agree with the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which had zero to do with Al Qaeda in any case and was clearly just Shrub's way of impressing his slightly more impressive father and Cheney's way of starting another war for Halliburton to profit from. Disgusting stuff. Better writers than I have deplored the loss of America's standing and respect in the world as a result.

I'm not usually a flag-waver; American doesn't need blindly loyal citizens. America needs critical, contentious, conscientious citizens who question authority loudly and demand kinder treatment for those who have less. But I have my flag out today. I don't fly it thinking that we were completely without fault in those terrible attacks - I know that actions so dreadful are never simply one-sided. But I do fly it in remembrance for the people who died in the twin towers, for the people who crashed their plane in Shanksville, for the firefighters and policemen who lost their lives, and for the folks in the Pentagon who gave theirs.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Channeling Nietzsche

As I was mashing three avocados with the garlic, onion, cilantro, tomato, lemon juice and hot sauce, the bowl went flying out of my hand, slipped off the counter and plopped face down with a crash and a splat. About half of the guacamole stayed in the bowl but the other half pancaked onto the kitchen floor.

Dirty words!

So, then the internal debate begins - do I scrape it up and throw it away as any decent person would do, or do I figure that I'll strengthen our immune systems by challenging them with whatever biological mysteries are lurking on my kitchen floor?

Does the Five Second Rule really apply? And, if so, is it affected by the length of time since the floor was last washed? Did Nietzsche actually know whereof he spoke or was he just winging it?

Perhaps you know us well enough by now to know exactly what we did.

We ate it anyway. It was delicious.


Friday, September 9, 2011


I won't blame you if you take one look at this, read a little, and go away in disgust. I'm really cheating here - too simple a dinner for a whole blog post but it was so darn good that I want to write about it anyway.

More a reminder than an actual description. Next time you do a pork roast, do two things. One, fire up your charcoal grill. Two, once the coals are ready, separate them in two piles, insert a drip pan between them, and cook the roast by indirect heat.

Ours was a funny little rolled roast from Marin Sun Farms (they feature pork from a local producer), neatly tied in an elastic net - a pork snood. It cooked for just about an hour and emerged smoky and juicy, with just enough fat to make it flavoricious in that satisfying, down-home, porky way. It was one of the better meals I have cooked this foggy summer - I had almost forgotten that a charcoal grill can be used even when it's chilly and overcast.

So, no recipe, no additions of any kind, other than s & p at the table.

No wonder you are digusted with me. Just phoning it in.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Fifth Quarter

Here in the East Bay, there has been a little buzz going on about the Fifth Quarter, a charcuterie started by the head butcher at Café Rouge in Berkeley. Heaven knows, I have enjoyed his output when I go to Café Rouge, so I was pretty sure I'd enjoy his work when we found it at the Kensington farmer's market last Sunday.

Scott Brennan was there himself selling his meaty marvels, so I took a few minutes to check out the goodies in his galvanized, ice-filled buckets. There were wonderful sausages (we bought lamb) and patés (we chose duck liver) and head cheese and liverwurst and blood sausages and jerky - well, I could go on and on! The long and short of it is that I spent 'way more money than I had intended and now I have a freezer full of wonderful meals ahead.

Yesterday, the sun came out in the afternoon, warming the air enough to sit out on the deck, so we made a platter of two kinds of cheese and the duck liver paté and headed outside to enjoy the fresh air. Our friends Annette and Dave are here staying with us, so we swapped stories while we whittled away on the snacks. Cora hovered.

The paté was simply lovely. It has a tad more texture than the ones I buy in the store and we liked that. The flavor was mild and rich, but not as unctuous as chicken liver patés - and that's a good thing. This was meaty and a little hearty, halfway between a paté de campagne and a smooth paté. It rapidly and completely disappeared, which says all you really need to know about it.

If you get a chance to visit the Kensington farmer's market, stop and introduce yourself to Scott. He's a nice guy, proud of his work, and well deserving of the buzz he has created.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jamón A Roll

I don't know much Spanish, to my shame. Living in California, where many of the towns and streets - not to mention the state itself - are named in Spanish, I should know more than I do. There are also many Spanish-speaking people in my town - it would be fun to be able to speak to them in their own language. I learned French as a child and have continued with that but Spanish would make more sense for my life now.

Many years ago, I worked at a dorm at Stanford University where the maintenance man was a Mexican gentleman named Juan. He was a nice guy and we had good talks about his life and his family in Mexico. He also taught me a few words of Spanish when we had time. I learned to say, "I'm learning to ride horses," (because I was) and "There's a mushroom growing in the hall carpet," (because there was), still the only two full sentences I know. He saved me from saying, "Tengo caliente," which in Mexican Spanish means "I'm turned on," when what I really meant was "Tengo calor," referring to the weather rather than to my sexual readiness.

I moved away after a couple of years in California and returned twenty-some years later no wiser about Spanish than I had been when I left. Rochester, NY isn't exactly diverse. It's not much of an excuse, however, since I've been back for nearly fifteen years and I still know just a few words of Spanish.

One of the reasons I'd like a bit more Spanish is the food truck. Next to the gas station where I fill up once every other month (I don't drive a lot now that I'm retired), at noon there is a food truck that serves Mexican food. When I am by myself, it often makes me lunch or dinner.

The guy inside has a big smile, and it gets wider when I try to pronounce Spanish words. Jamón, for example, is pronounced hah-mon, not jah-mon. I learned that just last week when I stopped for a sandwich. I knew the word meant ham, but didn't realize that it is pronounced very much like the English word, "ham." When I ordered Torta de Jamón, I thought I was getting a sort of quiche with ham but it turned out to be a ham sammie, albeit with Mexican flavors and made on a soft roll. It took quite some time for the smiling guy to produce my ham sandwich, richly striped by his grill and loaded with lettuce, tomato, avocado, onion and jalapeño peppers, not to mention the jamón. It was a meal for two of me or one hard-working person, complete with chips and salsa in the paper bag.

I'm learning Spanish one word at a time.

Jamón = ham.

Torta = Sandwich.

Gracias = "Thank you for teaching me two new words in Spanish and for a delicious ham sandwich."


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Old Fashioned Spuds

Scalloped potatoes, layered with chopped onion, minced corned beef and wafer-thin Yukon golds. Bathed in milk and baked in Janine's little gratin dish. Salt, pepper. No cheese this time, just topped with a dot or two of butter here and there. Put the gratin dish on a baking sheet with sides, as it will likely bubble over.

350 degrees F. One hour.

Deeply, comfortingly delicious to my half-Irish heart.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Zucchini Season

I have been resisting Zucchini Season. Once it begins, it feels like a forced march - zucchinis everywhere, offered free by friends, left like orphaned babies at your doorstep in the dark of the night, on special at the supermarket. All those zucchinis, begging to be made into something. So much need. It's enough to make me retreat to bed with a good book, even when I'm not growing them myself.

This week at the farmer's market, I finally succumbed to Zucchini Season. My Beloved found four absolutely beautiful, medium-sized, dark green and bright yellow summer squashes, plus a nice bright red bell pepper and a couple of tomatoes, so we brought them home to make barbouille, which may or may not be a classic dish. I sort of invented it many years ago in Zucchini Season. I keep coming back to it because neither My Beloved nor I like eggplant, so the other most common Zucchini Season dish, ratatouille, is not in our kitchen vocabulary.

Barbouille is like ratatouille without the eggplant. I cut up onions in spears through the root end, which makes them mysteriously sweeter than chopping, mince a few (or sometimes several) cloves of garlic, sautéing them in olive oil, then add slices of bright summer squashes, coarsely chopped bell pepper and tomato, and a glug of white wine of some kind, plus herbs.

I often use thyme and oregano from the garden but sometimes I'm too lazy to saunter out to the front steps, so I just sprinkle in some dried Herbes de Provence, s & p, cover and let it simmer for at least half an hour. If the squashes and tomatoes are very juicy, you can lift the cover for the last 20 minutes or so to concentrate the pan juices. It's better if you cook this one day and eat it the next day, but even the first day, it's delicious. You can serve it over rice or pasta, or simply scoop it into bowls and eat it plain. You can also grate some cheese over it if you want but I like it just the way it comes from the pan. This time, I added some of the bright yellow flowers from the wild fennel plant that is volunteering outside my front door for a little sweet licorice kick.

When you succumb to Zucchini Season, I can recommend barbouille as an alternative to hiding in your bed.


Sunday, September 4, 2011


Tender, pink, corned beef, rather than pastrami - like a lady's cheek. Soft, creamy Taleggio cheese rather than Swiss - like soft, rounded limbs. Crackly wheatberry bread - can't think of a sexy descriptor for that.

No nasty sauerkraut.

Sizzle slowly in a buttered pan (rather than buttering the bread - that's too rich) until the cheese runs out and the bread browns and crisps (the low heat is important - otherwise the butter burns before the cheese melts).

Wait two minutes after plating before taking your first bite, or you'll scorch your tongue.

A masterpiece of a lunch.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Chicken Little

When I purchased Janine's kitchen wares from her estate sale, I bought her little enameled gratin dish more because I admired the look of it than because I thought it would be useful. It looks a bit funky and battered, romantically hinting at dinners past. I imagined displaying it in some way or using it as a serving piece. Turns out, I was completely wrong - I use it almost daily.

It's just the right size for an entrée for two or veggies for four. When I make hearty meals like mac and cheese, it holds plenty for both of us, with leftovers for lunch the next day. Janine knew what she was doing when she bought it.

For example, I laid in it two chicken legs that I had sprinkled with Herbs de Provence, then tumbled on top a generous handful of the roasted cherry tomatoes that I made yesterday, half of a chopped onion, two minced garlic cloves and five chopped mushrooms.

There was just a bit left of Sam and Naomi's bottle of dry sherry, so I poured about a shot's worth of that around the veggies and slid the pan into a 350 degree F oven for about an hour. It's an on-going mystery to me why any part of a chicken, or a tiny Cornish hen, takes the same hour to roast as a full-sized roasting chicken, but it's true.

I may have basted once or twice. At the end of the hour, out came dinner, all golden brown and wading in a beautiful confetti of veggies, complete but for the bright green peas.

If you happen across one of these little pans, be sure to snag it. Janine's looks like it has been well used, and now I know why.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Gold And Rubies

I have a habit of overbuying at the farmer's market. All that gorgeous produce seduces my money out of my pocket and I come home laden with more strawberries, or cantaloupes, or cherry tomatoes than we can eat in a week, even with house guests. Temptation is something I can rarely resist.

Luckily, there is a solution for the overabundance. Strawberries can be frozen or made into jam. Cantaloupes work as well as an appetizer with a little prosciutto as they do as a dessert, and I have even resorted to making cantaloupe granita, which is a wonderful way to use up extra melon.

And tomatoes of any stamp, even tiny cherries like these, can be roasted and stored in the fridge for quite a long time. I got my recipe from Molly Wizenberg and I've never found a reason to go looking elsewhere. It's simple and yields richly flavored, concentrated tomato goodness. It's like having money in the bank or, better yet, like having gold and rubies in your fridge. They can come out to pop a few as a snack, to decorate an otherwise plain burger, to toss into a salad or to add to other dishes where a rich tomato taste is welcome.

So, next time you are seduced at the market, you know what to do. Give in!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cake Day

The other day on Facebook, I saw an entry from a friend of mine, Pat Fusco, directing us to a website that extolled the virtues of Cake Day. Of course, I was curious.

I clicked and read and decided it was a great idea. Originally, the idea was to eat cake today, just for the fun of it - for breakfast, even. The idea expanded to the simple idea of taking a little time on this day to appreciate life, to savor it as you would a piece of cake. Seemed especially apt as it falls on my Dad's birthday, a guy who enjoyed his life fully.

Since I didn't bake a cake, I thought I'd share this little photo of the short curve of beach below our house. It has been called the Kozy Kove for as long as Richmond has been a city. Originally, it was the site for the kind of amusement park and bathing facility that was popular in the last century when women wore bloomers into the water. After that craze was over, people bought the land and built small summer cottages on it. Later owners winterized those houses and, one by one, the hill on the bay side filled with homes, no two alike and most are very quirky in structure and layout. One might even call the town a little haphazard.

Oddly, for the fourteen years we have lived here, it was rare to see anyone down on the beach except the occasional seal resting in the shallows or flaneur looking for driftwood or sea glass. It's not easy to reach this little stretch of sand unless it's low tide, and even then one must hurry back around the rocky border before the waves fill back in. Even the owners of the houses that border the beach didn't use it much. We would look down from our perch on the hillside and shake our heads in disbelief that anyone with access to the beach wouldn't be out there day and night.

But recently, a new family has rented one of the houses on the cove and they are obviously enjoying the beach. We see them frequently walking their two joyously free dogs in the evening and it's not unusual to see them stretched out on a blanket having a picnic. There have been beach parties and bonfires this year. It's fun to see the cove being used and enjoyed at last.

Yesterday evening, we looked down as the sun was setting and saw someone, presumably the new neighbors, had written and drawn in the smooth sand. Perhaps this is a message for those of us up on the hill? Or maybe it is drawn for a particular person. In any case, we enjoyed the words, "U R Perfect" and the smiley face that first caught our attention.

That's an idea for Cake Day - to appreciate nature's gifts for a conscious moment and to be thankful for people who write love letters to others.