Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Another winter holiday, another delicious crab feed -- our new holiday tradition. This time at friends' lovely Glen Ellen pool side party barn complete with outdoor heaters, crackling fire pit and starry dark sky.

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Man From Brussels Made Us Brussels Sprouts

"I'm from a cabbage country," he declared as a simple fact.
I immediately ceded him the task of preparing dinner's brussels sprouts.
First he precisely cleaned the tiny beautiful cabbages and parboiled them until just tender.
"This is the way my grandfather did it," he explained as he dropped the drained sprouts back into the pan where bacon was crisping in a knob of butter. I stirred the decidedly not European cheese grits while he tossed the sprouts in the pot grinding in pepper and sprinkles of salt.
Brussels sprouts have been cultivated in Belgium since 1587. Before the first King James bible, before the Pilgrims set out for Plymouth the Belgians were perfecting sprout cookery. You'd think when a genetic expert comes to cook in my kitchen I'd have been ready with at least a point and shoot camera or iPhone. But, I missed it all. I was too busy ogling my stunning new pre-seasoned Lodge dutch oven a Christmas gift from the man from Belgium and his lady love.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The End (I hope) Of Excess

The holidays are over -- well at least part one -- and I'm more than ready to get back to simple, clean(ish) eating and cooking. Tonight a crispy chicken cutlet (I love Ian's gluten free panko bread crumbs) with a zesty bitter salad of radicchio and arugula. Step one towards getting back to the new normal around here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Crab For Christmas

"You can eat turkey anytime," James reasoned. He didn't feel like ham. He's never really been crazy about prime rib (I'm the one that loves it and I always eat way to much since he only tastes). 
"Crab," he said. "Let's have crab."
The holidays fall right in the middle of dungeness crab season and here close to the very waters the boats fish we couldn't think of a better holiday treat. 
"What about Christmas eve?" I said. 
"Christmas Day?"
We started the holiday off with my usual roasted crab recipe. I leave the cracked cleaned crabs to marinate in a mixture of fennel seeds, chili flakes, parsley, S&P, and olive oil for a couple hours and then roast them for about half an hour at 400º.  Super easy and messy fun to eat.
"Salad? Potatoes? Vegetables?" I offered.
"I love potatoes but anything else on the table is space I can't use for crabs. James explained his theory on crab eating. "If I eat potatoes I'll eat less crab. If I eat cauliflower I'll eat less crab." Reasonable, I thought. Just crabs . . . and a little bread to soak up the zesty marinade.
 Christmas morning brought an unexpected crabortunity. I shelled the leftovers from the eve's crab dinner and, after a quick sauté in butter, softly scrambled eggs into the warm crab meat. On the side, fluffy biscuits whipped up from the beautiful self rising White Lily flour I carried home on the plane from Florida for just such an occasion.
 For Christmas dinner -- probably not typical -- spaghetti with crab. Maybe the best spaghetti dish I have ever made. I started with olive oil warmed in a pan and added plenty of chopped garlic, with a sprinkling of fennel seeds and chili peppers. After a minute or so I added in my secret ingredient, 2-3 TB of the yellowy delicious fat I saved while cleaning the crabs. I let the fat dissolve in the warm oil and added in about a pound of crab meat, 1/4 cup of chopped parsley and the juice of one big lemon. I tossed the drained pasta into the sauce with 1/3 cup pasta cooking water, gave everything a good toss and served James' Christmas dinner -- even though some would consider it blasphemy -- with a light sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
"I'm totally crabbed,: James said contentedly. "I'm walking sideways."

Monday, December 23, 2013

It Started In A movie

James and I watched David O'Russell's latest film American Hustle today. At one point in a crowded old school Italian restaurant Jeremy Renner's character asks for the "skinny" chicken, "very thin" and out comes a beautiful pan of scallopini.
"That looks good," James leaned over. "What is that?"
"Scallopini," I said." Do you want that for dinner?"
Now in truth being New Jersey in the 70's that could have been chicken scallopini, francese, marsala or piccata. All similar dishes of thinly pounded chicken breast with quickly reduced pan sauce. I like scallopini's lemon and caper sauce combination (without the egg dip of francese).
I dredged two thinly pounded chicken breasts in seasoned flour (gluten free for our current diet craze) and browned them a mixture of butter and olive oil (2TB and 2TB), about 2 minutes on a side. Setting the chicken aside to keep warm I added 1 cup of chicken broth (if I'd had some white wine I would have done 1/2 cup wine and 1/2 cup broth), the juice of half a lemon and 2 TB of capers. I let the sauce reduce for about 2 minutes then stirred in 2 TB of butter and a sprinkling of chopped parsley before serving the chicken quickly swirled in the pan.
"If you make chicken you should always make it like this," James said between bites.
Not quite an oscar, but good enough for me.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Life With Baba

Scout can never be replaced. He was quite simply the world's greatest cat and 19 years with him was just not enough.
A couple weeks after our cat Scout passed away James and I both admitted more than once we thought for a moment we'd seen him. James said he missed a cat around the house. Days went by.
"Maybe we should just go look," James said one afternoon. I could see his screen showing a search of kittens available for adoption. "We can just see what's there," he continued and I think he actually believed it. We stopped to make sure the cat carrier was in the car before we left. I knew.
At home James spied a kitten the humane society was calling Aiden. We walked in and the little gangly orange brown youngster was right up front. Minutes later we were in the "meeting room" with Aiden. A little orange blur dashed from side to side, jumped up to a high shelf and declared the cat tube the most fun he had ever had. James played and I watched. Maybe I wasn't ready. This cat wasn't my Scoutty. He was something different altogether and I didn't know how to feel. I looked at him and felt nothing while James fell more and more in love.
How would this cat -- barely more than a kitten, fit into our family of three dogs? James praised his confidence and independent streak. He was no scaredy cat. I veered and cuddled a pair of clingy tortoise colored kittens. They felt sympathetic and needy. James played with Aiden's tail and laughed happily.
"Can we take him home, Honey?" A variety of sensible reasons why he was the cat for us followed. It didn't matter. There was only one answer. I went off to do the paperwork and make a donation to the humane society while James got to know our dogs' new baby brother.
After about 3 days commandeering our small bathroom and making supervised strolls through the house Aiden was ready to run with the big dogs. We tried out names (Radley -- keeping up the To Kill A Mockingbird theme -- Winston, Buster, Henry and many more) while a little orange streak tested his boundaries.
We're back to having an orange cat in the bed. Not quite cuddled up to the dogs but inching ever closer. I was out of town and James declared our new kitten, "Riley." As in Life Of I thought -- appropriate. He started as Riley. I heard James call him O'Riley a couple times and then like the Who song almost everyone (including me) but James thinks is called teenage wasteland there was Baba. Baba O'Riley after a song named for Pete Townsend's musical influences is our new teenaged cat.
He is not Scoutty. He is young and energetic and everything is an exciting new experience to try out. He sits in our chairs, chases invisible mice and makes us laugh. It's different having a youngster in the house. Nothing is safe. Not even my heart.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Is Coming

So often the plate I fix or the package I ready doesn't live up to the picture in my head. This Christmas, with a little help from my friends, my office gifts are exactly what I'd hoped they'd be. Our friend Denis made these little wooden crates that precisely hold 3 jars of homemade preserves. Natalie shrink wrapped the jars in tight and then with a little burlap and jute this year's Christmas look was born. I like it so much it may become a house standard -- at least for a couple years.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Last Stop In Jacksonville

Strolling past the very contented looking cats making their home on Singleton's front porch you know you've arrived at the real thing, a completely unpretentious, friendly, bit rough around the edges fish shack.
Walking to my seat past the kitchen ice table not showing off but simply storing the day's catch for hungry customers I spy a telltale bumper sticker -- "Friends Don't Let Friends Eat Imported Shrimp." This somewhat ramshackle plywood (yes even the ceiling) shack isn't the refuge of Sunday fishermen and water borne adventure seekers but home away from home for men (and I suppose women) who make their living on the water, pulling in beautiful fresh fish and seafood.
"What's fresh and local?" I asked my very attentive waitress. Her eyes lit up as she told me today's flounder and sheepshead were "beautiful." She didn't need to inquire, she didn't question. At a glance this experienced waitress knew what the best dish would be. Unlike the other fish camps I visited in the Jacksonville area the staff at Singleton's knows their fish, and how to size up a customer.
Surrounded by personnel from the nearby navy and coast guard bases I bit into supremely fresh basically unadorned sheepshead filet. She was not wrong, this was a beautiful piece of fish of ultimate freshness and highest quality in a plywood shack along the sleepy water.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Clarks Fish Camp

 Plunked down in the midst of what I'm sure were once rural homes (many still have a boat in the front yard) and churches (lots of churches) is a theme park of a restaurant, Clark Fish Camp. Built on piers over a beautifully still meandering river,  Clarks' setting seems right out of a 1960's Disney "adventure" movie. Poles and planks elaborately lashed together hanging out over water where I'm sure gators who don't know they are on the menu swim up regularly. The interior may boast a quirky and somewhat frightening collection of taxidermy befitting the collection of "wild things" (gator, quail, kangaroo, etc) featured on the menu but the back deck is positively serene. Assuming you can call a seat in full view of a motorboat decorated with light up giraffes, Santas and flamingos serene.
Clarks menu is huge, but oddly I get the impression fish (unless it's fried) may not be the best choice. Tables all around me were gnawing on gator toes and ribs, followed by prime ribs and fried baskets. Repenting for my last fish camp fried fare I stuck with steamed oysters and grilled trout. Tender local St Augustine oysters and two giant slabs of trout filet. Maybe not the best I've ever had but looking out at the still water with the warm Florida sun on my face, it didn't matter at all.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Whitey's Fish Camp Orange Park FL

Whitey's Fish Camp is exactly the kind of place I am always hoping to find. Locally owned, no frills, with homemade specialties worth driving for. Perched right on the water at Doctor's Lake the large gravel parking lot holds not just the restaurant but a bait and tackle shop, boat rental (and launches), RV spaces, campground and -- believe it or not -- a hair salon. I was in love before I ever walked in the door.
The area around Whitey's has grown up in recent years. I passed shopping malls and apartment buildings on my way, but perched on Whitey's deck watching the boats go by I reveled in the brief glimpse of old Florida culture. Cheerful waitresses not in any way svelte enough for their oddly tiki themed Whitey's tank tops pass by regular customers refilling beer glasses and exchanging friendly banter. College football flickers on a corner TV. The whole place feels vaguely like a waterside biker bar with families, fishermen, boaters, bikers and couples in corvettes as customers.
Whitey's specialty is catfish, wild caught from nearby waters. This isn't the muddled mild taste of farm raised catfish. Rolled in a sandy cornmeal crust and fried to a fragile crisp, the moist flesh (cooked whole on the bone) is rich and savory and perfumed with the flavor of local waters.
Down home cooking for locals and friends.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Time had come for the last tomatoes ripening on my kitchen windowsill. All of them far from pageant winners, sauce came to mind. I cooked down those roughly chopped tomatoes with 3/4 cup of wine (I usually prefer red but we had white open and waiting), 1 cup of olive oil, 8 smashed cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, dried parsley, chile flakes, dried basil ( could had eased fresh but out's cold up here and the plants are long gone), and 4 bay leaves. Mashing the tomatoes a little the mixture simmered for nearly 2 hours. Taking the lazy girl's way out -- instead of peeling the tomatoes at the beginning or passing through a food mill at the end -- I gave the whole melange a turn in the vitamix and -- presto! smooth sauce. This is the recipe I use when canning sauce to use through the year in quick dishes and other recipes, my basic sauce. Probably due to sad end of year tomatoes and maybe the white wine, the sauce was a bit more acidic then usual, so today I warmed the sauce with a bit of whole milk (about 1 cup leftover in the fridge) and dropped in simple panfried meatballs (ground beef, ground pork, chopped onion, chopped garlic, 2 eggs, gluten free bread crumbs, dried parsley, oregano, tiny bit of grated parmesan) to cook through in the savory goodness.
Despite the one day biscuit and pie vacation for Thanksgiving we are still in the midst of our gluten free experiment around here so these meatballs topped a bowl of beautiful steamed Romanesco cauliflower.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday Night Lentil Soup

The air is turning crisp up in these parts and that calls for soup. Quick cooking lentils are just the thing for busy Mondays.
I started with a recipe by Melissa Clark, writer of The New York Time's " A Good Appetite" column. It seemed simple enough, I had a few other chores going and I was just going to follow a simple recipe and make sure dinner was on the table relatively early. I'm not sure where it is I go astray. Dutifully following along suddenly my mind started to wander to the tube of harissa, a North African chili sauce of which I am absurdly fond, in the fridge. Once I'd gone in that direction the simple pot of soup called out for warm spices -- saffron, cinnamon, ginger, coriander. My adapted version was just the right dish for an evening turned cold. Try it at home.

Monday Night Lentil Soup

4 TB olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large shallots, chopped (I could have used two onions but I didn't have another)
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 TB tomato paste
1 1/2 TB (or to taste) harissa
salt (about 3/4 tsp kosher salt) and pepper to taste
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 quarts chicken broth
2 cups red lentils
3 carrots, peeled and diced
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

In a large pot heat the oil over medium heat until hot and just shimmering.  Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, harissa, and all of the spices (except the saffron threads). Let cook about 2 minutes longer. Add the broth, 2 cups of water, lentils, carrots and saffron threads. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for about 30 minutes until lentils are soft. Taste and add salt if needed. If desired, purée half the soup with an immersion or countertop blender for a slightly thicker soup with smoother texture (don't go too smooth). Return the soup to the pot, reheat slowly and stir in the lemon juice and 12 of the chopped cilantro, reserve the rest or garnish.

If we weren't in the midst of "clean eating" challenge at home I might have drizzled the top of the soup with olive oil or better yet fried up some garlicky croutons but even on it's own this simple soup got no complaints.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A New Source Of Inspiration

A friend recently sent me a link to The Kitchy Kitchen, a sumptuous blog by food photographer turned commercial director Claire Thomas. Scrolling through the luscious photos I felt inadequate at best and then quickly became intrigued by the simple, approachable recipes. A couple days later I still couldn't stop thinking about Thomas' harissa roasted carrots with chick peas. James doesn't really like cooked carrots (I can't explain it) so I set out to make her spicy recipe with cauliflower (I couldn't resist a few roasted carrots in with the mix). Thomas calls it a side dish but with salad and maybe rice this could have been a great main dish. But, strolling past the fish counter I saw beautiful wild halibut filets. I rarely cook fish but these beautiful steak-like slices (and a best choice from the Monterey Aquarium shopping list) caught my eye. I pan roasted the fish with a sherry vinegar, tomato wine sauce and served the harissa kissed cauliflower and legumes on the side.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Two Kinds Of Beans

A trip to the farmer's market and a vegetable dinner wasn't far behind. A bundle of fresh green beans instead of calling out for crisp cooking and  tangy lemony vinaigrette as they do in summer seemed to ask to be slow cooked until sweet and melt in your mouth tender. I started a pot with chopped onions, chopped carrots, crushed garlic cloves and olive oil. After about 5 minutes I added in the beans and a good sized pinch of salt. While the covered pot simmered I splashed in a little chicken broth here and there to make sure the beans didn't scorch. After 40 minutes what emerged was in no way a modern dish but comfort food from years gone by before haute cuisine gave vegetables a new identity and a new resilience on our plates.
Another market treat -- fresh shell beans, right from the pod. I dropped my shelled beans into a pot of boiling salted water with a smashed clove of garlic and one bay leaf. The beans simmered for about 30 minutes until tender and creamy. While still warm, inspired by Marcella Hazan's fresh bean salad, I dressed the beans with a vinaigrette of juice of one lemon (a beautiful shiny Meyer right off our tree), 1/4 cup olive oil, minced garlic, crushed red peppers, 2 anchovy filets, chopped parsley and S&P. I tossed the warm beans in the dressing along with a handful of fresh arugula and parmesan cheese. The arugula wilted slightly and soaked up the lemony dressing making a dish as good in summer and it is in late fall -- whenever fresh beans are ready for harvest.
Two Italian dishes, two types of beans one weekend dinner from our little kitchen in the valley.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Remember Those Tomatoes?

The tomatoes are all harvested and Christmas is coming.  That mean plenty of preserving for holiday gifts and treats through the year. First up tomato jam. A tangy tasty better than ketchup accompaniment for roasted meats, grilled cheese sandwiches and the best ever BLTs. From the flavor no one will ever guess how simple these preserves can be.
For inspiration I turned, as I often do for food in jars, to Edon Waycott's Preserving The Taste, an invaluable compendium of jellies, fruit butters, pickles and more. Waycott's tomato jam uses peeled fruits. I opted instead to seed some, and chop them all allowing the skin to give texture to the final product. Searching the internet I found a host of recipes that start by rough chopping the whole tomatoes in the food processor. I gave a rough chop by hand and combined the tomatoes (Edon's recipe was based on 8 pounds but I doubled it) with 4 tsp salt, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp of white pepper, 2 tsp of cinnamon and 2 tsp of crushed chile peppers. The whole mixture cooked down for almost an hour and after a taste I added in a heavy TB of honey and a rounded tsp of saffron threads. After almost another hour cooking the jam was shiny and sticky and ready for jars.
Nothing left to do but process the jars for five minutes in a hot water bath, top with homemade labels, and wait for Christmas gift giving opportunities to come my way.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Sweets for my sweet. Sweet potato tartlettes. Happy Thanksgiving Honey!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Another Thanksgiving Eve

Another year gone by and already we are deep into the fall. Tomorrow, pretty much my favorite holiday,  is sure to be a big eating day -- even though we are boycotting turkey and the usual sides this year. Preparing for our Thanksgiving eat-a-thon I thought a light soup with fresh, crisp flavors was just the thing for stomachs in training. I made a quick stock with shrimp shells and flavored the broth with minced lemon grass, chiles, garlic and ginger. The shrimp and some nice small mussels I found at the store poached in the broth which I then flavored in the traditional Thai sweet tangy sour way with fish sauce, soy, and lime juice. Fortified with brown rice and topped with a shower of fresh cilantro this soup was an unusual welcome flavor for our table. A little something from far away before the most American of American days.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Volunteer Ear

We've gotten used to (and look forward to) the cheerful site of summer sunflowers popping up around our bird feeder. This year we had not just sunflowers but a couple leggy stalks of corn. I didn't even suspect until I went to pull the brown sunflowers (after the wild birds had eaten all the seeds) that corn was growing right under our noses, and -- not just stalks -- one lonely, feral ear of corn. A volunteer ear and a special treat for our silly little chickens.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Stew

I don't remember exactly what I did. Not much help am I? I started early in the day. I know I roasted the leftover poblanos in the fridge. I know I had plenty of tomatillos -- our best crop this year -- and chicken breasts. I remember cutting up the tomatillos and sautéing them along with garlic, onion and hot peppers in the tiniest, diet friendly bit of olive oil. Then I think I just piled everything in. Cubed chicken breast, peeled roasted poblanos, cumin, chopped cilantro, oregano, S&P, and chicken broth.  And, I can see from this picture, a can of white beans. Everything simmered for about 35 minutes. I remember it was warm and flavorful and that it felt positively virtuous. Not much of a recipe.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Our New Dinner Staple

Bean burgers. Easy to whip up and prepare in advance veggie bean burgers will be showing up at our table pretty often as we try to skinnying up our diet and cut down on meat.
To prepare this batter I tossed some cooked white beans, a couple cloves of garlic, shitake mushrooms (I like the "meaty" flavor they give a vegetarian dish), parsley, cumin, oregano, a couple carrots, oatmeal, an egg (or maybe it was two), and a handful of raw cashews in the food processor. Sorry I didn't keep track of amounts. I pulsed everything together into a thick paste which I refrigerated until very firm and formed into patties I rolled in gluten free bread crumbs for a bit of savory crunch.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Couple Nights In LA

 I'll go years without eating it, but every now and then (sometimes for months on end) I'll crave the bubbling hot, flavorful stew known as soon tofu (or soondubu). Basically a chili broth supporting soft fresh tofu and a choice of flavorings (I like kimchi for the double chili hit but pork, seafood, and dumplings are all good choices) the spicy stew is reportedly an American invention that migrated back to the motherland from Los Angeles' Koreatown. Home to the largest Korean population outside of Seoul, LA's Koreatown hosts a collection of small restaurants specializing in the perfect for rainy day (yes they even had ether in LA) food.
Although it's not generally on the most popular list, BCD tofu (pictured above) is a mini chain open 24 hours (I love this stuff for breakfast) that serves a more than respectable bowl with good collection of "pan chan" the array of side dishes traditional in Korean restaurants. Diners in every tofu house are offered a raw egg to poach in the bubbling stew. Say yes. The creamy yolk is the perfect foil to the signature Korean chile paste.
Always in competition with Beverly Tofu House across the street for best soon tofu in LA, So Kong Dong is not pretty. The absolutely no frills dining room (if you can call it that) off a constantly crowded parking lot is worth the trip for their superior broth. I like to dip spoonfuls of rice into the stunning red soup to savor every bit of delicious chile.
Since I first started skulking around Koreatown nearly 20 years ago the faces of the diners around me have changed but the food remains comfortingly familiar and refreshingly foreign.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I'm Back In The County Fair Business

After an epic jelly failure last week that I'd rather not describe I sadly thought I would have no entries for 2014's county fairs. No more ribbons for the wall. And then I started to clean out the last of the garden beds and remembered -- green tomato marmalade, green tomato jam, pickled green tomatoes (last years double blue ribbon winner). What was I thinking? I am back in business.
Updates to follow.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Legumes and Eggs

James is trying to eat less meat, gluten free, no sugar, and low fat. Makes for challenging menu planning to say the least. When we decided to have the neighbors over for dinner and a movie night I was really scratching my head and searching the pantry for ideas and landed on a long forgotten bag of Umbrian lentils. Tiny and brown, Umbrian lentils, grown exclusively in Italy's Castelluccio valley, cook to a creamy texture and nutty flavor in just 20-30 minutes. They are hand processed, grown in alternate (or maybe third) years and are tastier and more expensive than any other lentils I've cooked.
Starting from a recipe by Nancy Silverton's restaurant chef Matt Molina (Silverton's Italian home is in Umbria) I sautéed chopped prosciutto in a tiny amount of olive oil  and added in 2 small carrots, chiles, shallot, and basil leaves I chopped in the food processor along with a chopped onion and several cloves of garlic. I let the vegetables soften for about 7 minutes and then added in 1 Tb of tomato paste. After the tomato paste cooked just a bit I added in 1pound of lentils, 4 cups of chicken broth and 1 cup of water.
I'm to sure why Molina instructed to add another 2 cups of broth after the lentils had simmered for 25 minutes, but I did. and then after another 10 minutes of simmering, as instructed, I added in the last cup of liquid (by now I was using vegetable stock I had saved in the fridge) and let the stew simmer gently for another 10 minutes.
Our girls are enjoying a nice long post molting vacation from laying so I had to use store bought eggs -- the horror - which I lightly fried in the thinest slick of olive oil possible. Serving family style instead of plating as Molina recommended I layered the eggs on top of the stew, drizzled on balsamic vinegar, sprinkled just a whisper of parmesan cheese and a tossed handful of bitter arugula leaves.
Rustic, homestyle Italian

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Am I The Last One To Know?

If the internet and best sellers are to be believed, French women don't get fat because between glorious meals of runny cheese and crispy duck they subside on simply boiled leeks very lightly dressed with olive oil, lemon zest, salt and pepper. In between dipping into very small amounts of the cooked vegetable they -- as the reports seem to go -- drink the cooking liquid. Leeks, mild diuretics, are reported to kick start a weight loss. I'm feeling more French already.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Not Quite As Light

What's that saying about the best laid plans?
I started off with soaked beans, innocent enough. Big beautiful white beans not gathered from my garden or some tony farmer's market but plucked from the bins at The Napa Valley Olive Oil Company, a ramshackle Italian grocery in St Helena.  In addition to beautiful jugs of their own olive oil this hidden gem offers a small selection of cheese, meats and imported groceries. It's one of my favorite places. They have a new, show place store in Napa but I've never been and will probably never go. I'll stick to my fantasy life of mom and pop olive oil and casual pleasantries in Italian.
But back to my simple bean dish. I cooked the beans in simmering water with a head of garlic cut in half, sage, bay leaves, onion, and a pinch of chile until creamy and tender. In a separate pot I sautéed garlic and diced onion in olive oil and that's where I veered off path. Suddenly this simple virtuous vegetarian dish cried out for sausage. There was hot Italian sausage in our CSA box this month and before I knew it I was pan frying links along with the onions. When the sausage was just about cooked through I put it aside and added a few diced tomatoes to cook down into a flavorful sauce. Next went mounds of chopped kale picked fresh from the garden (still a little wet from washing). The kale wilted into the tasty oil and I let it cook until almost fully tender (about 15 minutes) and added in the drained beans, sliced sausage and gave everything a good stir to heat through. Topped with a drizzle of grated parmesan our simple dinner was hearty, rustic and filling if not exactly spa cuisine.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Turning Over Another New leaf

I can't say that I'm fatter than I have ever been but I am certainly fatter than I want to be. I'm starting a new -- going to the gym, fitting in pilates, and eating better, lighter foods. Just the opposite of how I usually feel with winter around the corner but none the less -- no time like the present as they say.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Starting Over Again

A change of season and I'm changing over the garden over again. Out come the last of the peppers and eggplant and I'm readying the beds for garlic and onions and our yearly crop of beautiful and tasty fava beans. A brand new start . . . again.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Salad For Dinner

Fresh and green and perfect for new leaf eating carefully at home diet. Spinach, avocado, home-grown cucumbers and lean chicken breasts grilled with a spicy coating of za'atar, a middle Eastern favorite blend of sumac, thyme, sesame and more perfect of grilled pita, meats, and steamed vegetables.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Peel And Eat

Created in the 50's at New Orleans' Pascal's Manale restaurant, barbecued shrimp quickly became a Southern staple. Despite the name these shrimp never come near a grill, but instead are cooked in a garlicky buttery sauce perfect for dipping crusty French bread.
Recipes varie but I generally melt a stick of butter in a heavy iron pan and toss in several sliced cloves of garlic, chopped rosemary, a good splash of hot sauce, chili flakes, two lemons sliced and juiced, S&P, and 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce. The shrimp cook until just pink through and ready to peel and eat.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Fall Garden Salad

A home grown combination.
I started cleaning out the garden. Clearing vines, pulling squash plants, gathering teepees and fences and tucking them away for spring. While I cleaned I harvested the last of this year's beans. I combined those shelled beans and some of our last potato harvest into a dinner salad with Italian tuna and a fresh lemon rosemary vinaigrette. An antipasto for everyday.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Trying Something A Little Special

I try to find little treats for James when I can.
The fish monger at the farmer's market had beautiful dry scallops just waiting for my skillet. Dry scallops are shucked on the boat much like wet scallops but instead of being plunged into cold water (and often preservatives or chemical salts) they are kept dry. They don't plump up absorbing water so the flavor is more concentrated, more pure scallop.
I didn't have to do much to make these special. I seared the scallops (seasoned with salt and pepper) quickly in a hot pan with about 1/4 of cup olive oil, 3 sliced cloves of garlic and a bit of butter then removed them to a waiting bowl. Scallops cook quickly and in about 3-4 minutes even these jumbos were finished. Into the pan went the juice of 2 lemons, 2 tsp chopped rosemary, and a pinch of red paper flakes. I let the juice reduce and then added in the scallops (and collected juices) and a small pat of butter, gave everything a good toss to coat with the lemony butter sauce and served the mollusks over steamed broccoli and tiny new potatoes from our garden. Three of James' favorites on one simple but still special plate.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Long Time Away

Houses and families have their own rhythms. Unspoken schedules and systems that evolve into practice and keep what may, on the surface, seem like a very uncomplicated machine moving forward.
Traveling for work is not like vacation. You are alone. You quickly fall into patterns though unacceptable at home (eating dinner of crackers and cheese standing up, leaving laundry in a pile by the closet, stashing dirty cups by the sink) seem normal for a life on the "road."
As many times as I go away I am always surprised by coming home. I picture a joyous reunion back to the perfect life and love I imagined while I am away. Instead, "re-entry" is hard. I'm out of step with our house's normal. Each little change seems like a reason to fear I've lost my place. I struggle not to comment on those differences and have faith that James can manage without me, and remember that I should want him to -- but inside I don't. We've forgotten how to stay out of each other's way and instead of unbridled joy those first days at home are tense with awkward pleasantries, thinly veiled digs and uncertain sparse conversation.
Dinner helps make us normal. No matter the series of clumsy mis-steps that precede it I always make dinner and it becomes a window into who we usually are and will be again. After many weeks away and not wanting to impose errands as soon as I arrive, James picks me up at the airport and we come straight home. Our first dinner is always some sort of scavenger hunt. I wade through the garden, nearly neglected for the more than six weeks I've been away. Bright green tomatillos smile from behind papery husks. Ever present kale shifts in the wind. I start picking. Padrone peppers, now bright red, are easy to find.
I start by broiling the husked tomatillos, whole peppers, and unpeeled cloves of garlic until just tinged with dark spots. I purée that mixture (stemmed peppers, garlic with no skins) along with a touch of chicken broth, olive oil, and what was a last minute inspiration -- a handful of blanched almonds -- and add it to a skillet where I've softened onions, more peppers, and garlic. I wish I had cilantro. The sauce simmers for about 10 minutes before I add in seared chicken breasts to finish cooking in the tangy mixture. The chicken cooks through while I sauté that home-grown kale
"That's our kale," I say a bit too cheerfully, "and tomatillos." I like to comment on our garden. I like to think James appreciates the food he didn't fully know was there waiting. An aspect of our life together we both enjoy.
Another first dinner together. Another first step back to being a couple.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

We'll Miss You Scout

For nearly 19 years a big orange cat named Scout purred through our lives.

When Scout was young and first moved in he wanted nothing more than to be friends with Ezra, an energetic extremely focused border collie. Though genetics got the better of that budding relationship, Scout never stopped trying and never seemed put off by Ezra's refusals. At the end when Ezra's time was close Scout stayed nearby him on the floor as if they had always been friends and at last they really were.

I wasn't looking for a cat when I met Scout's mother. Back when I lived in Colorado I'd gone to help at a neighbor's branding when a spring snow blew in. We moved the calves into the cover of the barn and I stayed at the back of the herd gently pushing the skittish cattle forward. I could barely believe my eyes when I spied a bright orange cat heavy with expected kittens strolling through the mass of fidgeting hooves and swooshing tails. She strode right through the herd and rubbed her head on my leg. "I'll take one of her kittens, " I said without thinking. Scout inherited his mother's confidence and outgoing nature,
Scout grew up patrolling the yard, visiting the neighboring feed store and taking leisurely dirt baths with the chickens. He always loved the birds like family. He would stroll through the run taking sips from the bird's waterers and nibbles of corn.
When James came along Scout took a minute to assess the changed situation and then quickly decided (just liked I did) that James was worth keeping. He slept snuggled between us, close enough so James' hand would rest on his furry back through the night.
Scout welcomed new additions. For the last nine years or so Scout benevolently ruled our bustling household of (first a puppy and now) 3 dogs and greeted crowds of visitors with the same confident saunter his mother won me over with nearly two decades ago.
The dogs love(d) him. I love(d) him. James love(d) him. We will all miss him so.
R.I.P. Scout the wonder cat, There will never be another like you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

An Unusual Moscow Restaurant

In most cities with a sizable Middle Eastern population Bosfor would probably not be much of a standout restaurant. The food is reliable if not quite the tastes I remember from Turkish restaurants I have frequented in other cities. But in Central Moscow Bosfor may in fact be one of a kind. It's not part of a chain (international chains and their related Russian versions abound), the service is warm and friendly, and you can actually eat a sit down meal of appetizer and entree for less than $40 -- not quite a trick in other cities but somewhat of an accomplishment in Moscow.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Russian Room Service

Believe it or not, here in central Moscow it's easier to find a pizza than a good bowl of borscht. Oddly enough for a taste of something local i searched the "Russian Specialties" section of the Golden Ring Hotel's room service menu and came up with pelmeni, small round (often) meat filled dumplings floating in warm salty broth. Considered a treasure of Russian comfort foods, regional variations abound but pelmeni are thought to have originated in Siberia (no doubt with the influence of surrounding Asian and slavic dumplings) as a way to preserve meat (within the frozen dough) through the winter.