Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Luxury Item

Last week, My Beloved and I schlepped out to San Remote for a meeting and, while we were in the Blackhawk area, we stopped at Draeger's Market to see how the other half lives.  We enjoy skimming through fancypants markets like this, just to see what's different from our own favorite, somewhat more downscale, markets.

This time, we spied a tub of truffle butter, quite pricey but then, what the heck? What fun we could have with this $10 purchase!  The package had several suggestions for ways to use it, so we popped it into our basket and called ourselves lucky to get out of there for less than ten smackers.

Last night, we had pasta bathed in truffle butter and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Highly recommended, although I think we skimped a little on the butter. We used the wide, flat pappardelle pasta, tossing it hot into a bowl with the butter before sprinkling with Parm. Even with minimal butter, it was deeply savory and earthy. Happily, there is always a next time when we can slather on some more.

This morning, I made My Beloved an omelet with truffle butter to grease the pan, and buttered his English muffins with it. He was in truffle heaven - head down, silent, fork flying - that's how I can tell he's fully engaged with his breakfast.

My next experiment will be truffle buttered toast under poached eggs. Stand by.

Monday, July 29, 2013


We've been eating a lot of tortilla lunches lately, because we finally figured out that a) they are lighter than bread and b) you don't need mayo or butter to slick them up - the salsa gives moisture and flavor without quite so much fat - and c) we love the convenience of rolling up various ingredients in tortillas for lunch in a hurry.  We usually just fill the tortillas with whatever is left over from last night's dinner - flaked salmon, sliced chicken, chunks of beef - and the usual Mexican suspects, such as lettuce, tomatoes, white or green onion, salsa, hot sauce, avocado, cucumber (especially nice with the fish), mild cheese. Sometimes all of that, sometimes part - depends on what's in the house.  We had some spicy corn salad left over from our last foray to the farmer's market (they sell it at the Roli Roti truck) and that went in, last time.  It's all good.

You'd think that living in Norte California we could easily find good tortillas. After all, our neighbors to the south have brought us a wonderful cuisine to enjoy, so wouldn't you think their most basic bread would follow?  We find flour tortillas to be fine, but uninspiring, and while we like the taste of corn tortillas, they are often unappealingly rubbery. What's a Mexican food loving couple to do? Hybridize! 

My Beloved found this brand at our local market and brought them home for the "whole grain" aspect. Turns out they are made with a mixture of corn and wheat flour. They are flexible, so they don't tear as easily as some tortillas. They are tastier than most, too. We heat them briefly in a warm frying pan and fill them with goodies. The sweet, nutty corn taste predominates, but you can tell there is wheat flour in there, too. And they are made locally. Even better!

My Beloved's Boston daughter is moving back to the bay area, bringing her sweet husband and our two grandchildren. We can hardly wait to have a party with them in which we will offer all kinds of fillings and let everyone make her/his own.  Such fun now that we have found these hybrid tortillas.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Feast For The Eyes

After many a foggy, chill, overcast morning we awoke yesterday to this.

The fog was hanging just at the coast, not pushing inland, promising a warmer day. The sky was blue at 6am, no waiting until late morning for it to clear.

Summer in our neck of the woods doesn't usually begin until September and October, when the fog goes away for days on end and we have really warm weather. The summer months mean a morning quilt of fog that slowly lifts and burns off in the late morning, and sometimes not at all. To love it, you must cultivate an appreciation for the slow, subtle, flowing rivers that are the fog. You must become a connoisseur of black and white and shades of gray.

Afternoons here are usually brilliantly sunny, as if the steel wool of the fog has burnished the sky to a deep blue. The fog lifts, the wind picks up, and all of a sudden, the sun wins the daily struggle with the cooling fog, pushing it back to the coast again, a territorial dispute that has been waged for eons.

With a little moon still hanging in the sky, and clouds and fog painted with pastel colors, yesterday morning was a little change of pace, a presage of the warmer days to come. Truly a feast for the eyes.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mrs. Whitebread Suburbs

White bread has gotten a bad reputation, so bad that "white bread" is used as a pejorative term these days, indicating something bland and boring, or stupidly naïve. But, if you grew up, as I did, on the East coast of the United States, back when Pepperidge Farm was a one-woman phenomenon wrapped in waxed paper, you know that white bread can be something wonderful.

Mrs. Rudkin made her first loaves of white bread because her husband was having allergic reactions to store bought breads. Others tasted her bread and begged her to increase her production. She initially delivered her loaves by hand to New York city customers, taking the train in from her Connecticut home, until her bread became so famous that she had to open her own bakery and give up the bread run.

After many years, she sold out to Campbell's Soup for what seemed like a fortune back then (reportedly $3.2 million) and, sadly, Pepperidge Farm white bread has gone downhill ever since. It has become the same gooshy loaf you get in any other industrial brand, an insult to the original. 

I was fortunate that, as a young bride, someone gave me a copy of her 1963 cookbook, in which she gives her original recipe for firm, delicious white bread. For years when First Husband was in grad school, I made our bread from this recipe because it was much cheaper than buying bread. Then, when he graduated and we both had jobs, I kept making it because it is so much tastier. 

I have fallen out of the habit of bread making now that I live in California where good breads of any stripe can be purchased at the supermarket, but last week I got the yen for that very special Pepperidge Farm taste, so I hauled out my bread pans and went to work, kneading and raising, shaping and baking two of these flavorful loaves. It takes the best part of an afternoon to do that, but the results are far beyond worth it!

The toast was transcendental. The sandwiches were superior. Those loaves disappeared in no time, reminding me why it was that I used to make six at a time and wrap them for the freezer. The ingredients have never changed, but I have somewhat simplified Mrs. Rudkin's process, so I'll give you the recipe as I make it, and hope you enjoy every single white bite.

Standard White Bread, process adapted from The Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, by Margaret Rudkin.

1/2 cup milk
1-1/2 cups warm water
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 package dry or cake yeast
5-1/2 cups unsifted flour (about) or 6-1/4 cups sifted flour (about) (I use unbleached white flour and I don't sift, but I do kinda fluff the flour with a spoon before measuring)

In a small saucepan, add milk, water, and butter and heat until little bubbles form at the edges; butter need not completely melt. You want it to be good and warm but not hot enough to kill the yeast. If it gets too hot to leave your finger in it for several seconds, set it aside to cool before adding it to the dry ingredients.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the dough hook, combine the 2 cups of the flour and the rest of the dry ingredients, and whirl a few times to mix thoroughly.

Pour the warmed liquids into the food processor and mix, scraping down the sides a couple of times to include all the flour. Pulse a few times to thoroughly mix this slurry.  Add the rest of the flour by cupfuls and process until the dough forms a cohesive mass - when the lid is removed, it should be shiny and only a little sticky. If still quite sticky, add a bit more flour, a little at a time.  Let the machine knead for a minute or two, once the desired stickiness is reached.

Oil a large bowl and move the dough into the bowl, turning to coat all sides in the oil. Cover and put in a warm, draft-free place for about an hour, until the bread has doubled in bulk.

Punch down the dough and knead briefly on a countertop or board to remove any large air bubbles. Divide the dough into two pieces, shape into long loaves, and place in oiled loaf pans about 9 by 5 by 3 inches. Cover again and leave to rise for another hour or two, until the loaves fill the pans and begin to rise above the rims.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, 20 minutes before loaves are ready to bake.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 25-30 minutes. Remove loaves from pans and cool on a rack. Wrapped in plastic, they keep well in the fridge. Or wrap for freezing and they will keep well for 3-4 months.

Sliced, this bread is firm and elastic, with a dense, fine crumb.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Lazy Bones

If you have been reading this blog for more than a week or two, you have no doubt figured out that I am a lazy cook. I like to eat well, and I love feeding My Beloved well, but I don't like to spend hours in the kitchen. I'd much rather be reading a book, walking the dog, or swimming. I do enjoy cooking once I get to the kitchen, and sometimes I'm downright inspired, but mostly I'm just happy to cook fresh food simply and quickly.

Last night's dinner, however, was a new high (or would you call it a low?) in my quest for easy meals. I figured out that if you stuff a whole Cornish hen with your favorite garlic croutons*, drizzle said fowl with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and throw it into a 350 degree F oven for close to an hour, it comes out quite delicious. The croutons inside the bird soften to form garlic-infused stuffing. The ones that hang out a little stay crisp and give extra texture. You can even sprinkle the crumbs from the bottom of the package over the skin for an artsy effect.

I'm not sure I'd serve this at a dinner party since I'd have to admit when the guests ask for the recipe just how ridiculously simple it was, but the flavors merit inclusion in a festive event and Cornish hens always seem a little special compared to full-size chickens.

If you have lazy bones, like I do, feel free to borrow this idea. People will think you worked hard.

*I used Semifreddi's garlic croutons - they add sesame, poppy, and fennel seeds for extra flavor, but any crouton made with good bread would work. Eschew the ones made from industrial bread.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


When you've been cooking as long as I have, sometimes it's hard to get inspired about one. more. meal. It can seem like a forced march when inspiration is lacking. Nothing new about pork chops with thyme, grilled corn and broccoli. Same old, same old.

Except when a friend, in this case Cassie of Garden Girl from whom I get my free-range eggs, gives you an unexpected gift of old-fashioned Gravenstein apples from her own tree. One rarely sees these old varieties in the supermarkets - they long ago decided on Pink Lady, Fuji, Red Delicious, and Granny Smith, easy keepers and predictable sellers. I love those varieties, too, but it's fun to try different ones from time to time.

When I lived in western New York state, apple harvest was a wonderful time of year. The cool springs and buffering effect of the Great Lakes make it a splendid fruit growing region. Macintosh came first, followed by all sorts of other varieties, Rome Beauty and Cortland, Jonathan and Braeburn, to name just a few. Everyone had their favorite varieties for canning,  pies, cider, and eating out of hand, and would discuss them with serious intent, comparing and proselytizing, the way Californians discuss restaurants.

All the orchards sold bushels and pecks of apples for sauce and baking. I used to make my applesauce with apple pie flavors and give it as Thanksgiving gifts. 

Many orchards also ran presses during the harvest season - you have never tasted cider so good. It was cloudy and rich with fresh apple taste. On a crisp fall day, nothing tastes better. It is the custom there to pair the cider with an old fashioned raised donut, heavy and sweet. I ate one each year, just for the sake of tradition, but our preference was really just for the cider.

Returning from memory lane, for our pork chops I peeled a couple of Cassie's small Gravensteins and softened them in a buttered pan with some onion, the added a dollop of Dijon-style honey mustard. Mixed that around, covered, and let it cook for five minutes or so. The Gravensteins soften immediately, so fast that clearly they'd make great applesauce; the onions took slightly longer. But, overall, it was a quick and easy way to dress up some plain. old. porkchops.

With some of Cassie's ripe tomato sliced on the plate, it made for a colorful and inspirational dinner, and some mellow memories of an earlier life.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Vive La Révolution!

While I am usually pretty loyal to tradition, every now and then I feel the need to heave out the old order, change up the game, and try something a little different. Because that happened this year on Bastille Day, I decided it was the Salade Niçoise that was due for a change.

Who ever heard of mahimahi, prosciutto, and grilled corn on the cob in a Salade Niçoise?  In France until quite recently, corn was food only for pigs, not for humans. I can almost hear the gasps of dismay from loyal Francophiles. And avocado?  Heresy! 

But I had a gorgeous piece of mahimahi left from my brother's gift and a small package of prosciutto that I thought would look pretty folded into the empty spaces on the plate. And if the French could grow avocados, I know it would be the national fruit. Who doesn't love avocado? Even the French couldn't be so contrary.

I kept with tradition to a certain extent - soft lettuce lining the plate, poached cold asparagus spears as thin as a French woman, puckery cornichons, zingy picholine olives, colorful cherry tomatoes, a driz of balsamic vinaigrette - but I curried my deviled eggs and grilled an ear of corn rather than adding a potato salad.

I'm not sure that a loyalist would even call this a Salade Niçoise. Maybe it's a Salade de la Révolution, or a Salade Americaine, since it includes a big mix of nationalities. Whatever you want to call it, it was the perfect ending to a warm, sunny afternoon of gardening.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Post Vacation Slump

I'm in a post-vacation slump. 

Ever since we returned from Hawaii, I've been very tired, without ambition or energy. I can't seem to face deadheading the garden or tying up the tomatoes or even swimming in the Plunge - it was all I could do to get unpacked. 

It's not just leaving Hawaii's blue skies for Point Richmond's chilly morning overcast. Nor is it having to grab a jacket each time I leave the house instead of waltzing out the door in a breezy little dress and slippahs. It's not about eating hamburgers when last week I was having Hawaiian plate lunch. It's not just the piles of laundry and bills to be paid and weeds in the garden. 

It's all of the above.

But, here, there is Cora, so happy to be home that she moaned with joy when we turned into our street. And cousin Jan, with whom I walked and talked and told all about the vacation. And our friendly neighbors, who stopped to hear about the trip and to tell us about the horrible heat wave we missed while we were away. 

And there are strawberries. Beautiful, bright red strawberries, so sweet and rich with fruity flavor that biting into one is truly an amazement. I didn't eat strawberries in Hawaii - the ones for sale in their markets are shipped unripe from here and have no vestige of strawberry scent or flavor. Our local strawberries alone make up for a lot.

I made strawberry scones with the last of a ripe basket purchased at our farmer's market, where the Rodriguez Brothers sell their incomparable fruit. (You can get the same ones at the San Rafael market, too)  I used the same recipe from Molly Wizenberg's "A Homemade Life" as I did a few days ago, just subbing in chunks of strawberries for the cherries I used back then. 

The strawberries react to baking by making jam - sweet-tart little pockets of strawberry jam studding the dough. The only regret I have is not using more and bigger pieces of strawberry. They were a strong end-of-vacation consolation all by themselves.

My skin my be drier here, requiring daily lotion application, and the air cooler, but thank heavens there are strawberries, and Cora, and My Beloved in our funny, angular house - or I'd be back on a plane to Hawaii in a heartbeat.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mahimahi Express

My Hawaii brother is a fisherman. That's not how he earns his living but it's how he fills his soul. He loves nothing more than getting a bunch of friends together to go out looking for really big fish in those deep blue Hawaiian waters. Time on the water is time apart for him, time when job cares and family concerns evaporate and he's free to just appreciate his island home and its surrounding waters. He reads the water and the clouds and the movement of birds the way I read a fascinating book. 

When he is successful, he shares his catch with the guys on the boat and with his friends. In fact, he met his wonderful wife by offering her some fresh fish as they ascended the elevator at their apartment building. He has a pillow on the couch in their current house which reads, "Here lives a great fisherman with the catch of his life." Amen to that!

The day we left Hawaii, he sheepishly asked permission to go out fishing with his friends rather than spend those last few hours with us. Knowing how much he loves it, we readily assented and, boy, are we glad now!

Yesterday, we received an express shipment of fresh mahimahi from Hawaii.  

He and his pals caught two mahis so he carved off one of the fillets with his enormous, wickedly sharp knife and sent it to us packed with ice in a cooler. If there is any better fish on earth, I'll be surprised. It's mild and white, but firm and athletic in texture. You can pan fry it, broil it, poach it, grill it - a very versatile fish and delicious no matter how you fix it.

We simply rubbed ours with olive oil and grilled it on the JennAir grill since it was cool outside, and topped it with a salsa recipe I found on As usual, I didn't have all the ingredients (the story of my life) but I did have the world's sweetest cantaloupe and an avocado, so I played around with the rest of the ingredients and came up with a pretty good mix. I'll post what I did in case you happen to receive a beautiful gift of fresh mahimahi in the mail some day.

Mahalo, bruddah!  Hana hou!  (Thank you, brother! Do it again!)

Grilled Mahimahi with Melon/Avocado Salsa (adapted from

1/2 ripe avocado, diced
1/4 ripe cantaloupe, diced
2 limes, zested and then squeezed for juice
3 slices of onion, minced
2 or 3 celery leaves, minced
fresh black pepper
2 or 3 dashes hot sauce (I used Cholula)

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and taste. Adjust for your preference. We found it needed lots of lime juice to counteract the sweetness of the melon, and we liked it peppery with both black pepper and hot sauce.

Grill your mahimahi until barely opaque and when the "blood meat" (the dark meat down the middle), is easy to lift off. (Cora got ours and loved it). It's easy to overcook mahimahi until it's dry, so watch closely and remove it just minutes before you think it's done. Let it rest on the cutting board for a few minutes, and it will finish cooking through but will still be moist.

Plate and top with the salsa. Easy peasy. The salsa would be good with halibut, too.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Romance Is Not Dead

Warning: Nauseatingly Sweet Content. Read at your own risk.

Fourteen. My Beloved and I have been married for fourteen years. Our history is actually much longer than that, as we were in love back in the mid-sixties, too, but parental disapproval served to separate us for 25+ years while we were married to other people. Some very good things happened in those intervening years, so we don't mourn them, but each year we celebrate the day we found each other again. And yesterday was our formal wedding anniversary.

My Beloved is very romantic - all my friends are envious and I, myself, am continually surprised by his romanticism, even after all these years. Because it was close to the date, he wanted to celebrate our anniversary while we were in Hawaii, so he made reservations at a very swishy restaurant in Waikiki and we dressed up (yes, in Honolulu!) and had a splendid dinner overlooking the beach. 

Not content with that, he also wanted to celebrate on the actual day, once we were home. We don't usually give each other anniversary gifts, so that meant another dinner out. He took me back to the restaurant where we had what he calls "our second first date." The food was disappointing but I still get a thrill holding hands and looking across the table at those loving blue eyes.

We have a little after-dinner ritual that we perform there in Tiburon every time we go. We each throw a penny into the water with a wish to spend the rest of our lives together and we share a big kiss, right there in public with the passersby wondering what has gotten into those two crazy old folks.

Earlier in the day, I made a light lunch in anticipation of the restaurant meal, and we ate it outside on the sunny deck. Just a plate of smoked turkey slices, melon and prosciutto, Irish soda bread that I found in the freezer, cherry tomatoes, and crackers with a tiny round Inverness cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. The colors were summery, the flavors rich. We picked our way through the offerings, idly talking about this and that. 

I know this just sounds like bragging and, in a way, it is. Sometimes, I can hardly believe my luck. But I like to celebrate the good things in life as a way of balancing the inevitable sad ones, and he is the very best thing in my life, past, present and future.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Old Friends And New Foods

In all the years I have lived in and visited Hawaii, I had never tasted certain Hawaiian foods. Oh, I had been to a commercial luau many years ago, but I can't call that true Hawaiian food, and the one I went to didn't include laulau or purple sweet potatoes. So, when my friend Litheia invited us to join her for lunch at the Pacific Club and they offered a Hawaiian plate, complete with lomi salmon, poi, laulau and purple sweet potato, I was eager to try it in this kama'aina (native born) establishment. 

The Pacific Club in downtown Honolulu is a funny one - once a bastion of white power, physically very open and elegant, but socially closed until fairly recently. It allowed no non-white members up until the 1960s and even later to allow female members. It had to be dragged into the modern era. It retains that special air of old money and privilege, which I have to admit I enjoy, but now it is much more inclusive. Now my dear friend Litheia, who is of Chinese heritage, can belong and the lunch crowd there was very mixed in that special, delightful way that is so happily Hawaiian.

I met Litheia when I worked at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, my first job out of college. I was a general dogsbody there, laboriously typing catalogue cards in the Robert Allerton Art Library, writing tiny catalogue numbers in black India ink on pottery sherds with a quill pen, and doing the annual inventory of the collections (which, by the way, is the best job on earth, as I got to handle and admire every single piece in the collection at least once a year). Litheia, or Mrs. Hall as I called her back then, was the secretary to the Director of the museum, a post she held through at least five Directors and 50+ years. She knows where all the bodies are buried, she has all the dirt about the local elite, and she keeps it all to herself. Discretion, thy name is Litheia.

Over many years, Litheia has become a dear family friend, first as a friend of my mother's when Mom was a docent at the Academy, then as a mixed doubles tennis partner with my Dad. Now that Mom and Dad are both in heaven, she and I still get together whenever I am in the Islands to "talk story" and catch up, and she is a frequent guest at holiday dinners at my brother's house. Litheia would not thank me for telling you her exact age, but she has left her eighties in the dust and she is still playing tennis every day. She is a wonderful woman.

But I was going to tell you about the food, wasn't I?  Like all of Hawaii today, it was a mix of cultures. The pork was truly Hawaiian, salted, wrapped in leaves and cooked in an imu (a hole in the ground lined with rocks heated by fire), then shredded. Laulau and poi are also cooked in the imu along with the pork.

The laulau is native to Hawaii, butterfish and pork wrapped together with taro and ti leaves, then steamed. The taro leaf imparts a unique flavor to the contents of the wrap, a strong, almost sea weed flavor foreign to my tongue, but rich in vitamins. 

The poi, also a Hawaiian native and very important in early Hawaiian diets, is made from cooked and pounded taro root. It can be bland and almost tasteless when first pounded or fermented to a sour state a few days later, as the Hawaiians like it. Ours was "three finger" poi, very bland and thinned with water to a thick soupy texture, so we used spoons to eat it.

The lomi salmon, raw salmon with onion, tomato and herb mince, features a fish not found in Hawaiian waters, but it has become quintessentially Hawaiian anyway. 

The purple sweet potato was simply baked and served sliced - an import from Okinawa in Japan that tastes like any other sweet potato but has a beautiful deep amethyst color.

We could only eat about half of all the food on our plates as we talked story and enjoyed the quiet gardens just outside the dining room. The puakenikeni lei we had given Litheia sent a waft of delicious scent on every breeze and cheeky mynah birds cackled in the trees. For a Hawaiian experience, it could hardly be beaten. 

*Sorry about the quality of the photo - the light was so strong that I couldn't see the screen to frame the picture.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Too Many Cherries

Is it possible to have too many cherries? It is when one buys too many to be eaten before they start to soften and lose their shine. I keep doing this - being seduced by the sight of all that dark, shiny red sweetness into buying Too Many Cherries. Plus, at this time of year, they compete with the ripest, reddest, sweetest strawberries, so I buy too many of those, too. 

The other day, contemplating a bowl of cherries that was threatening to become compost in a day or two, I had to take action. I thought if I made scones, I could freeze some for another breakfast, so that seemed like a good idea. I pulled out Molly Wizenberg's charming memoir-with-recipes, "A Homemade Life," (If you haven't yet read it, do yourself a favor - it would make a great summer read!) and looked up her recipe for scones. She has made hers with all kinds of creative ingredients like strawberries and ginger, but I just wanted to add my fast-sinking cherries to mine.

The scones were delicious. The dough is toasty on top and buttery without being crazy. You don't need to butter her scones - they are internally buttered. The crumb is not as heavy as many scones, because you only knead them very briefly before baking. The cherries make little dark pockets of rich sweetness and a nice contrast to the crisp crust. 

I could go on and on, but the upshot is that none of these made it to the freezer and I'm already thinking of buying a more cherries at the farmer's market this week. I guess it's not possible to have too many cherries.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Meet The Artists

As we park our car, shed our flip-flops, and head for the beach, this is the glimpse we get of the water. Look out for the tiny casuarina "pinecones" - they are tough on our "malihini" (newcomers) feet. We pick our way to where the pinecones end and the softest white sand on earth begins. After that, it's all paradise.

Enjoy the third video - this one introduces the artists you saw in the two previous videos and gives you a little insight into their outlooks.

Oh, and Happy Fourth of July!  Aren't we lucky that we got Hawaii as our 50th State?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Hawaiian Music Is "Ono!"

This picture was taken several years ago but the beach we love best hasn't changed a bit. We grab a cup of coffee from the Kalapawai Market and stroll down the beach in the early morning, stopping to pick up shells and only going as far as we feel like. We call that exercise, Hawaiian style.

Enjoy the next Hawaiian music video as you imagine yourself with your feet in that warm water up to the ankles. Hawaiian music is "ono" - the best!