Friday, December 29, 2006

And now, for something completely different...

Question: Why do I sometimes capitalize many of the title words, and not others?

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Answer: I have no idea.

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While you ponder that non-sequitur, here are some photos I took while in Arizona recently, most of them while my lovely niece Emily just looked upon me w/ a mixture of boredom and skepticism (the words "crazy" and "aunt" come to mind)...

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...but she sure was nice to drive me out into the desert and put up w/ me. She just got her license so I think she was just happy to have somewhere to drive.

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This, for no apparent reason, makes me want to launch into a tirade about being your own person regardless of how crazy people might perceive you to be... but on second thought, maybe not.

After all, it's getting late and we are all getting verrry sleeeepy...the sun is slipping away, and it's time for rest.

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Sweet dreams, and watch out for those sharp prickly points.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Mole Obsession Continues...

Today I got the best treat, courtesy of my amazingly talented co-worker Jamie. I bring food to Jamie a lot, and he in turn provides me with lots of encouragement and kindness, but man, is he modest. All along he's been hiding his culinary prowess from me! Turns out, this is a man who has spent a lot of time making mole! Who knew?!

So today, he brought me a lovely little (actually, BIG) package of blissful chicken in Oaxacan black mole, plus perfectly tender seasoned rice w/ little bits of squash, some kind of velvety white beans ever so subtly scented with some kind of fruit I've yet to determine, and a perfectly ripe avocado, and a beautiful little dark chocolate pot de creme for desert. AND, if all that weren't enough, he brought me one of his favorite Mexican cuisine cookbooks, by Diana Kennedy, who has travelled all over Mexico studying the different regional styles of cooking. Holy Mole indeed!

So then, my lovely friend and birthday-mate Janet called to invite me to lunch, but instead I invited her to come share this feast with me, and she brought a perfect salad, and there happened to be a leftover bottle or 3 of wine from our Christmas party, so we dove into it all with very little restraint. Dude, do I have like, the best job ever?

It only took one bite of the mole for us both to decide that we are now Jamie's devotees. And by the second bite, we'd decided that when our birthday rolls around in about... 3 months and 11 days, I will be making this exact meal using Jamie's recipes. And there will also be several kinds of homemade salsa, and the very necessary blood orange margaritas, and perhaps by then I will have begun to make my own tortillas. Who said getting older sucks? Actually, I'm having a blast, and can hardly wait to turn 38.

So there. Thanks for the inspiration, Jamie!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

My Parents Rock...

... cause this is what they gave me for Christmas... something I've wanted for such a long, long, time! A beautiful, cherry red, Le Creuset pot! Three cheers for Mom & Dad!!!

You realize now Mom & Dad, that now you're going to have to come back to the Bay area so I can cook something fantastic for you in this pot!

Tonight though, I used Mom & Dad's kitchen to make risotto w/ asparagus & peas, and a big pot of cannelini bean soup w/ pesto. And Dad grilled the salmon that I marinated. And we ate and drank and stuffed ourselves silly. And baked biscotti. And took lots of photos. And I got to hear stories of how my grandma Esway was a bootlegger who made her own wine.... I got my brother a book on carnivorous plants, and he told me he has a special plant growing for me at home... which I can hardly wait to enjoy!

Yeah, Christmas was a good one this year :)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

What I've Learned about Baking

Sorry folks, it's been a whirlwind couple weeks and the last week in particular had me feeling overwhelmed & uninspired.

I've been doing a lot of baking. In particular, I've been working on perfecting a recipe I found and adapted for chocolate-hazelnut-cranberry biscotti.

Sadly, I just spent an hour working on a batch of dough, and it simply wasn't happening. I was in a bit of a hurry as I embarked upon this baking session and after a good long time wrestling with the dough whilst getting increasingly aggravated, it finally occured to me that hmmmm... I think I forgot to add the sugar to the mix.

I practically cried, because there was just no way to salvage the dough at this point and frankly, nothing left to do but throw the big sticky (and very expensive) mess into the trash and pour myself a glass of wine and write in my damn blog.

But let's back up. I've made several batches of these lately and when I don't f*ck it up, they turn out wonderful and are receiving rave reviews. I'm pretty sure that my friend Judith has become my devotee based on these biscotti.

Last week however, when I was making a giant double batch so I'd have plenty to give out as holiday treats, I made the mistake of having a little too much fun w/ some friends who'd randomly stopped by. I mean, it's never a mistake to have too much fun w/ friends, but it is a mistake to try to bake while doing so IF YOU DON'T HAVE A F*CKING KITCHEN TIMER! I mean geez, I have practically every kitchen gadget known to man, but no kitchen timer? Something you can buy for a couple bucks at your local drugstore?


So, that batch got burnt, and a burnt biscotti is simply not a happy biscotti.

Hence, these are the lessons I've learned about baking this week:

#1. PAY ATTENTION!!! It may seem obvious, but my frantic mind needs to be reminded. That means, follow the directions and check them off as you go, and don't be plotting world domination or thinking about how dirty the floor is or anything else. Pay attention to what you're doing.

#2. USE A TIMER!!! Baking is so much less forgiving than say, making a pot of stew. There's a lot less room for improv. When it's time to come out of the oven, it's time. Sometimes it's time even sooner than you think, which brings us back to point #1 and paying attention. Ok? Ok.

Alright, I've got a potluck to go to so I'm going to drag my sad little self back into the kitchen and I'm going to do my damndest to make a beautiful delicious frittata. Wish me luck. I think I'm going to need it today.

Monday, December 11, 2006

If You don't Know how to Handle the Meat, then Stay the Hell out of the Kitchen

Well the good news is, I managed to make it 37 years without ever having experienced food poisoning. And the bad news guessed it. I spent the weekend becoming intimately acquainted with both my bathroom floor and my garbage can, thanks to that little bugger called food poisoning. Alas, I lived to tell the tale. And no, I didn't poison myself!

The ironic part is, it happened at an over-priced tacqueria where just the very night before said incident, I'd been at a party where we'd discussed whether these over-priced tacquerias (Picante, Tacubya for instance) are really worth the price. Well let's just say that in the case of Picante, I'd say...probably not.

It's also ironic that I've eaten one dollar taco after one dollar taco at all sorts of taco trucks in questionable locales, with carnitas and carne asada and al pastor (though usually not chicken), and never once gotten sick! And then, I go to the overpriced tacqueria (although granted, my pal Janet was buying, bless her!) and pay $7 for a bowl of chicken tortilla soup, and later, it comes back to haunt me again and again and again...

So remember, folks. It's all about safety. Food safety. Which equals human safety. If you don't know how to handle raw meat then you probably shouldn't be handling raw meat. Ok. Enough said?

I'll spare you the details of my projectile vomiting ;(

Friday, December 08, 2006

So I thought to myself as I was doing the dishes this morning...

... Womankind cannot subsist on coffee and wine alone ... but other than the big pot of chicken stew earlier in the week, that's about what I've been doing.

Times like these, I wish I had my own personal chef, or maybe a personal Superhero who would not only astound and amaze me in the kitchen, but give a perfect massage, do the dishes, pay the bills, regulate my brain chemistry, and strut around the house looking fine.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Asopao de Pollo - hearty chicken stew w/ olives & capers

I love to make this rich and comforting dish in the winter time - it has its origins in Puerto Rico and I'm told that every cook in Puerto Rico has his or her own recipe for it. This one was passed on to me from an old friend, and it really hits the spot!

Take one whole chicken, cut it up and rinse it all over.
Liberally coat a large heavy bottomed soup pan with olive oil and add a clove of crushed garlic. Brown the chicken over medium-high heat on both sides - you may need to do this in batches, so be patient! Drink some of that mulled wine while you're waiting...

Once the chicken pieces are all brown, turn the heat down a bit and add a big can of tomato sauce or tomato puree, about 6 - 8 cloves of crushed garlic, one thinly sliced onion, 4 - 6 coursely chopped carrots, one bunch of coarsely chopped cilantro (stems and all!), one small jar of rinsed capers (WITHOUT brine) and one small to medium jar of green olives - brine and all. Add enough water so the chicken is completely covered.

Simmer over medium-low heat for about an hour or until chicken is succulent and tender, and serve with rice. In this case I made baked rice w/ roasted jalapeno-tomato salsa, a Mexican recipe from Rick Bayless. When you can't travel all over the world, I guess the next best thing is enjoying the foods of other cultures...

Bon Appetit!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Mulled Wine and Squash Biscuits

Last night I had a very impromptu dinner party, featuring this delicious mulled wine. I scoured the internet looking for recipes and then bastardized what I found and created my own. Judging from the scarlet-stained smiles of my pals Miss NoNo, Heidi, Berge and Camille, I'd say the recipe was a winner. Of course, I ordered them to drink up & smile, but I sure didn't have to order them a second time.

I bastardized yet another recipe that was for squash biscuits. The recipe didn't call for buttermilk but I figured, of course you can put buttermilk in biscuits, right? And so I did. By this point however, I'd had quite a few nips of the mulled wine so I was getting sloppy and I kept on adding flour and it was becoming quite the gooey mess. I didn't have high hopes and I didn't have much patience, but neither did I care. Instead of cutting the biscuits into little round bits, I just glopped them onto the pan with reckless abandon, and I wish I'd gotten a photo, because they looked like weird scone-blobs. But guess what? They tasted fabulous and had a lovely texture inside. I guess the secret is to drink more mulled wine and cultivate reckless abandon.

Here are the recipes...

Mulled Wine:

1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
8 - 10 cloves
8 - 10 juniper berries
8 - 10 whole allspice berries
4 - 6 whole peppercorns
1 - 2 cinnamon sticks
A light sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tea bags of herbal tea - I used Good Earth decaffeinated herb blend
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
3 - 4 slices of orange zest
3 - 4 slices of lemon zest
Thinly sliced oranges and lemons
2 bottles red wine - I used 1 bottle Merlot and 1 bottle Zinfandel

Bring the water to a boil and add the sugar; whisk till it disolves and then add the teabags, spices, citrus and zest. Turn the heat off. Let this steep for about 10 - 15 minutes and remove the teabags. Now stir in the Grand Marnier and the wine, and turn the heat back on. The key is to heat it very slowly and don't ever boil it. When it's good & piping hot, serve it up and prepare for scarlet smiles all around!

Reckless Abandon Squash Biscuits

2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold butter
1 cup cooked squash (I used pumpkin)
2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 - 4 tablespoons buttermilk

Pre-heat the oven to 400. Combine the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into small pieces and work into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter or fork, until the mixture is the size of small peas. Mix the maple syrup into the squash; then stir this into the flour mixture. Add enough buttermilk to make a soft dough. Now knead it a bit 'til you have a nice pliable dough, adding more flour as needed. Now here's where the usual recipes call for folding the dough over a few times before rolling it out and cutting it. The reckless abandon method calls for just kneading it a few times and then dropping it by big fat tablespoonsful onto your baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes or so, and serve steaming hot, preferably with butter. And if you're really feeling reckless, just blow off dinner and fill up on these.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Completely Decadent Scalloped Potatoes

Oh man. I need to stop eating scalloped potatoes. But then again, it's awfully freezing in that meat locker I call home, so maybe I'll just keep eating them in the hopes of growing some extra fat to keep m'self warm.

Without further adieu, here is how I made 'em, entirely from leftover Thanksgiving day ingredients.

1. The Herb Butter - to refresh your memory, ya just take 1 stick of butter and bring it to room temperature so it's easy to blend the herbs into it. The herbs will be whatever you happened to have lying around - in this case, I used the classics: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme. Chop 'em fine and add about a couple of tablespoons of herbs to the butter. Also add about a teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest, a sprinkling of kosher salt, and about a teaspoon or two of finely minced shallot. Now you're done. See? That was easy.

2. The leftover ingredients - 3-4 cloves of chopped garlic, a good 6 - 8 light handfuls of breadcrumbs, another good 6 - 8 light handfuls of parmesan and just under 1 cup of heavy cream (though you can use milk, or half & half, or even broth if you wanna cut back on the decadence).

3. The Potatoes - peel about 8 - 10 medium sized russet potatoes. I think I used something close to about 4 pounds worth. Once you've peeled them, keep them in a pot of water so they don't discolor.

Next, slice them super thin - for this, I used my trusty mandoline. You don't need to pay a lot of money for a mandoline; I got mine at Target for like $10. It's a handy contraption for the aforementioned super thin slicing.

Now, let's get back to that yummy herb butter. Take little pea-sized dollops of it and dot them all over the bottom of your casserole dish. I used the rectangular kind of casserole dish. Now add a layer of potatoes, a light sprinkling of the chopped garlic, some salt and pepper, a sprinkling of parmesan and a sprinkling of bread crumbs.

Next add another layer of potatoes and keep repeating this process till you've used up all your potatoes and all your herb butter, garlic, parmesan and bread crumbs.

Next, drizzle some heavy cream over your innocent little potato friends, thereby sending them into decadent land! The trick is to add enough to coat the potatoes liberally, but not drown them. I'd say about 1/2 to 3/4 cup is just right.

Now cover tightly with foil and bake at 375 degrees for about 30 - 40 minutes. Then take off the foil and bake for another 15 - 20 minutes so the top will get nice & golden brown.

Oh yeah, come to mama. Next time you see me, in addition to my Beer baby, I'll be carrying a scalloped potato baby. You'll either run to me, or run screaming...but you're gonna love these potatoes!

Sunday, November 26, 2006


I've been cooking and baking for a week straight - the Thanksgiving day feast was exactly that - a pretty damn sumptuous feast that was worth all the work.

One of the highlights of the meal was the salad; regular readers of this blog know I love a good salad and boy, was this one a winner, thanks in part to the herby dressing I made - recipe to follow.

See, there were a lot of leftover herbs after I seasoned the turkey and the stuffing, so first I made this yummy herb and roasted garlic vinaigrette, then I made herb butter, and then tonight I used the leftover herb butter in scalloped potatoes - perfect comfort food for a cold and rainy day.

Here's the vinaigrette recipe. The herbs I used were finely minced fresh rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley, but you can just use it if ya got it; no need to be highly particular in your herbal selection.

So it goes like this:

Take a good heaping tablespoon or two of your finely minced fresh herbs and put them into your food processor, along with the zest of one lemon, and a couple cloves of roasted garlic. You can use fresh garlic if you prefer, but I love the rich mellow flavor of slow roasted garlic (note: if you don't have a food processor, just mince everything finely and whisk it in a bowl).

Next, add a fat grind of pepper, a generous sprinkling of kosher salt, something like 1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon, depending on your taste, and just a touch of olive oil. Now pulse the food processor a couple times to blend the ingrendients, and with the motor running, add 1/3 cup of olive oil.

Keep the motor running, and add two tablespoons red wine vinegar. Now give it a little taste to determine if you'd like to add a bit more vinegar. I like it tangy so I use three tablespoons, but some prefer it not so tangy. It's your salad damnit, so go to town! You'll be glad you did. And now you're done, so toss your greens and enjoy. You can also drizzle this over steamed vegetables or potatoes, or even rice. You can also drop a dallop into your soup.

So - after freezing some of the leftovers and then making turkey broth and herb butter and herby salad dressing, I still had food to use up...including russet potatoes and heavy cream, so you know what that means... ultimate scalloped potatoes! That recipe's coming in my next posting. Right now, I'm busy devouring said potatoes, and trust me... you're going to want to, too! So stay tuned for the recipe.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Music and Memory, part Two

Oh man, I should know better than to mix beer and holidays and... this damn cassette that just wrecks my heart every time I listen to it. But it is so damn good, I simply cannot help myself. I came across it tonight while cleaning and rearranging the house for the big T-day feast tomorrow, for which I've been cooking and cleaning for a good two days straight.

It's an old cassette that was passed onto me, with Yo la Tengo's "Fakebook" one one side and the Old 97's Too Far to Care on the other. There was a time in my life when I played the living shit out of this cassette. I was going through a Major Breakup, another version of Separating the Stuff and Starting Over, and living in my own little teeny tiny place in the East Bay. It was my first time living on my own in a good many years and I hardly knew where to begin or what to do with myself. And I felt raw to the core.

Sometimes it felt liberating; sometimes it felt so lonely that I thought I'd simply evaporate. It was in this little dollhouse that I wrote my first country song, and a few more after that. It was in this little shack that Loretta Lynch was born. So much loss, and so many things starting anew. There were times that I didn't know how my heart would survive. And then again, even though it did, I still have those times.

Anyway, through it all, this cassette was my soundtrack. I would crank it up and feel alternately inspired and hopeless. And isn't that just the way life is?

Forgive me for waxing nostalgic, or don't. I don't really care. It's the holidays damnit, for better or for worse. Tonight feels a little on the worse side, but I have a feeling tomorrow will swing a little bit towards the better.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Feels Like the First Time...

Pardon my recent lack of blogging. Truth be told, I haven't had much time in the kitchen lately and have been feeling a sore lack of inspiration. I did however make some tasty mashed potatoes last night, made all the more savory by the addition of roasted garlic and gorgonzola. Now there's some comfort food!

Last week my pal Denise and I went to the Prism Cafe listen to a lovely siren named Merrill Garbus. This woman has a powerful and unique voice and her delivery is a positively arresting - she really engaged the crowd. She absolutely played the shit out of her ukulele and I hear she's pretty crafty with loops too, but we missed that portion of the evening. I hope she comes back to town soon so I can catch her whole show.

After Merrill played, a gaggle of young-ish (she says with her old lady voice) boys rushed the stage to play their FIRST EVER gig, and it made Denise and Corry and I get all nostalgic. Well, it made me nostalgic anyway, thinking about that feeling of the FIRST EVER gig. I was 21 years old, standing in the corner of The Albion in SF. I was wearing a blue velvet shirt, which miraculously, I STILL have! I was terrified. My eyes were closed most of the time. I don't remember all the details, but I do remember that the p.a. broke during the middle of our set, and since the show must go on, we took it upon ourselves to have a Rock Star moment, and stood up on the bar to finish the rest of the set. People loved it. I guess I must've opened my eyes at this point to keep from falling off the bar.

I recently came across a journal I kept back then (see, all that lugging shit around for years was good for something!) and I wrote something to the affect that I could now die happy, for it was the most glorious feeling to finally do something that I had always dreamed of.

Although I'm surely much more jaded than I was back then, I honestly still get that feeling nearly every time I perform live, even when it's not perfect (it never really is!), even when hardly a soul is listening. There's just something magical that happens when I make music live, and for that, I am very grateful.

Time to get busy getting those Thanksgiving fixin's together...and hey all you musicians, drop a line w/ your experiences from your first gig, won't you?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Out to Lunch

So usually, I bring my lunch to work, and once in awhile I go home for lunch. On the rare occasion that I go out for lunch, it usually involves a taco truck, or Lanesplitter pizza.

But folks at work have been raving about 900 Grayson, and today I just had to go & see what all the fuss was about. I didn't exactly go out to lunch though; I went there for take-out and then sat at my desk savoring every beautiful, perfect bite...

Today I had a special featuring chinese egg noodles, grilled chicken and stir-fried eggplant, snap peas & bell peppers, lightly dressed in some kind of Asian vinaigrette, and it was dynamite. I can hardly wait to try the salad with Lemongrass-Kaffir Lime Prawns in Chile-lime dressing. Sounds like something I'd serve in my restaurant!

Oh, and I almost forgot the perfectly dressed salad of mixed greens in a sherry vinaigrette that utterly delighted the salad snob in me!

They have this cool brown bag lunch menu, with the items actually being packaged in little Chinese-style takeout containers, complete w/ a fortune cookie and a piece of fresh fruit. Nice touch!

Next time though, I do want to dine in, because it's a cute, bright little place with friendly staff; of course the atmosphere is a good thing, but in the end it's all about the food. And the food they're cooking up at 900 Grayson, quite simply rocks!

Next time I'm going there for breakfast...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Cook it If ya Got it

Wow, what a week for food. I was so busy wallowing in depression and whatnot that I didn't get to write about food. And boy, was there a lot of food. Such as...

#1: Sunday I made my FIRST EVER pot of Beef Stew using the Joy of Cooking recipe, with grass fed organic beef, and wow - I think that might have been the ultimate comfort food. Sorry, didn't get a pic but suffice it to say, it was loved by all who tried it, a couple times over - and that includes Berge, Vince, Lucio, yours truly and Ms. Spider the dog.

#2: Can ya believe it? It's beef again! I went to a work luncheon at Cafe Rouge, and just couldn't resist enjoying one of their steaks. I'd meant to only eat half and share the other half, but it was just so perfect that gluttony got the better of me. I couldn't eat like this all the time, but it sure was a nice indulgence.

#3: The work luncheon was part of a long week full of gluttony. Our company had guests in town to attend a training session, and we like to feed our guests well. That means gourmet lunch every day, snacks in the morning, more snacks in the afternoon, and at least one wine, cheese and chocolate party. Yeah, my day job is SO hard, huh? I get to help plan these lunches and snacks, and I went a little crazy at the grocery store (Mom & Dad if you're reading this, you'll be happy, or possibly dismayed to know that I have not outgrown that habit!). And that leads me to....

#4: All the guests were getting plump and there was still food left at the end of the week! What's a food obsessed girl to do but take it all home and get just a little more mileage out of it? We had pears on the verge of over-ripeness and a whole bunch of pita bread. Naturally that leads to...

#5: Friday evening was spent in one of my favorite ways - in the kitchen, with KALX on the radio, pita chips in the oven, and pears and apples poaching in port and red wine on the stove. Oh, and there was a raging fire in the living room. This is the life for me.

#5A: I was too impatient to look for a recipe for poaching fruit, so I just did it like this: I poured a mixture of port and red wine into a pot and brought it to a mild simmer, along with a cinnamon stick, 4 cloves and a few drops of vanilla extract. All told, it was about 1 1/2 cups of wine/port, and I used 2 pears and 3 apples. After peeling and slicing the pears and apples, I added them to the pan and stirred gently, letting the fruit poach for about 10 minutes while the wine thickened up just a tad. Then I took it off the heat and am going to refrigerate it for a few days till it's time to meet w/ my Gay Husband and bake it into a pie or cobbler. Or maybe I'll just heat it and serve it over vanilla ice cream...yum!!!

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#5B: Pita chips, pita chips, pita chips! The thing I love about pita chips, is that you can season them any way you want. Last night I was feeling curry-ish, so I first sliced the pita bread into triangles, and then tossed them with a little olive oil, garam masala, cayenne and sea salt. Baked 'em in the oven at 350 degrees for about 5-7 minutes on each side, and now they're done. And boy did the house smell good!

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#6: I can't end without mentioning my hero Rick Bayless - one night this week I was actually craving frozen pizza; don't ask me why! But I bought one if his Frontera brand four cheese pizzas w/ roasted tomatoes & cilantro, and I must say that it was so damn good! Spicy and roasty and much, much better than your average frozen pizza.

Yeah, so it was a good food week! Special thanks to all the folks at my day job who help me to eat so well :)

Friday, November 10, 2006


Miss NoNo posed an interesting question last night.

We were listening to the stunning vocal stylings of Joni Davis at the Starry Plough. I highly recommend giving her a listen; her voice is deep and rich and lusty - somehow calling to mind dark chocolate and cabernet and endless days of rain. She is full of soul, and one gets the feeling upon listening to her tales of dark strangeness that hers is a very old soul.

I also got the feeling, while listening to her cover a Nick Cave song, that she could really give Nick a run for his money. Now there's two people that I'd like to hear perform a duet together!

So the two-part question Miss NoNo posed was this: If you could perform a duet with anyone, living or dead, who would it be, and what is the song?

It didn't take me long to come up with my answer - I'd sing Amazing Grace w/ Jeff Buckley. Funny, I just did a Google search to find a link to Jeff Buckley, and had no idea that there's a documentary about his life, entitled Amazing Grace! Alas, my duet w/ Jeff will have to happen in another life, for he left this one far too soon - but not before leaving behind a spectacular musical legacy, thankfully for those of us who have been blown away by his songs and his beautiful, other-worldly voice.

Ok, there's my answer - now I'd love to hear yours!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Music, Food and Memory

Music and food have been such a meaningful part of my life that sometimes I have certain memories associated w/ them which I find impossible to separate.

My Mom says that to this day, she can't stand to see the bottle of Ivory liquid sitting on the sink, because the mere sight of it still recalls for her the morning sickness she had when she was pregnant over 35 years ago.

And me, whenever I think of meatloaf, I think of the last time I ate some - and how I later that night ended up in the hospital with a fever of 104, sicker than I'd ever been in my life.

Incidentally, this had nothing to do with the meatloaf, and everything to do with the fact that I was suffering complications from a "minor" surgery which turned out to be not minor at all, and ended up changing my life and my health in ways that I never could have anticipated.

And then, there is music that still stops me dead in my tracks - I can't listen to the Guided By Voices album Isolation Drills without feeling very, very sad for someone who's memory this evokes in me, a person who is no longer in my life. I would love to be brave and compassionate enough to call this person and tell them how much space they still occupy in my heart, but my pride won't let me. Instead, sometimes I just play this album and let the sadness overtake me. And I think of how easy it is to lose your appetite when you're full of pride.

And whenever I listen to Low, I think of another person, who is still very much in my life, but with whom my relationship has changed many times over since the very first time we ever listened to Low together. At certain times in my life, I can listen to Low and think of that person and feel calm and loving, and at other times I can listen to Low and think of that person and find myself crying my guts out for all the ways I miss everything that I've shared with this person - but regardless, I can never think of Low without thinking of this person. They are woven together, inseparable.

I can never smell garlic without thinking of my family - of my parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts, but particularly, my grandmother. Fortunately, this is a very comforting feeling. Also fortunately, I cook with garlic almost every single day, so I get a lot of mileage out of this comfort.

Then there is the very distinct reaction I get from cucumber "scented" soap - the Method brand, to be exact. I can't ever smell that without thinking of someone who is no longer in my life, and with whom things ended very badly - it smells like a mixture of loss and pride and anger and sadness; all of these things fill my gut when I get just the slightest whiff of that smell, and so naturally, I do my best to avoid it at all costs.

In those times, the best remedy is mincing garlic, because garlic smells like home, and that is the best remedy for sadness.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Love me Two Times, Baby.

I just love Mujaderra. It's a super comforting food that makes perfect use of leftover rice and leftover lentils so you can fall in love with them both again. Well ok - maybe you, dear reader, are not in love with rice and lentils. I do admit that I have a tendency to gush. But hey, it's my blog and I can gush if I want to. And you just might fall in love with them if you try them this way.

I originally found the recipe for Mujaderra from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and it has made regular appearances in my kitchen ever since.

The bonus about this recipe is that it is simple, adaptable, and just plain easy. And it goes like this:

Take 1 big fat onion and cut it into nice thin little crescents. Then heat a generous couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. I prefer to do this in a cast iron skillet. Sometimes I use a mixture of olive oil and unsalted butter. Next, add the onions and fry them, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes or so until they start to become golden brown. Now, turn the heat down to medium low and keep on cookin' those onions until they get nice and carmelized. Add some salt and freshly ground pepper as you go. There now - doesn't your kitchen just smell glorious?

Once the onions are soft, savory, golden and sweet, toss in those leftover lentils and rice. The proportions don't matter so much. I prefer mine heavy on the rice, but just use what you have. Stir it up so the onions mingle nicely with the rice and lentils and heat till it's just warm. Season with plenty of salt and freshly ground pepper, and you're done.

Feeling creative? Go right ahead and add some finely chopped herbs or steamed greens. My dear friend Kanteen mentioned that sometimes she adds a teeny bit of molasses. The possibilities are abundant! You can sautee the onions in clarified butter instead of olive oil. You can use green lentils or french lentils, brown rice or basmati or jasmine.

Use your imagination, or don't - you're still going to love this dish. You can eat it straight up or use it as a bed to serve under grilled fish. Or you can use it to stuff peppers or squash... you get the picture. Some things are just better the second time around!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Where the Rock Stars Eat, part Two

As promised, here are a few recommendations as to where to eat late at night when in the East side of the San Francisco bay, otherwise known as Eastbaynia. This list is pretty short but maybe some of you readers have suggestions that Soup and Song doesn't know about?

Koryo Sushi – late late hours and delicious! Now here's what I like - they're open till 1:30 Tues - Thurs, and till 2:30 on Fri/Sat (and till 11:30 on Sundays!). The food is great.

Lanesplitter Pub – 2 locations for all your pizza & beer needs. Pizza served till 1 am. They were on the Part One list, but technically, 1 am qualifies as late night, so they get to be on this list too.

Au Coquelet - this cafe is open till 1:30 Sun - Thurs, and till 2:00 on Fri/Sat. I can't find a web site for them, but they are located in Berkeley at 2000 University Avenue, near Milvia. The food is so-so in my opinion; you could certainly do worse at 1 am. They have a full menu w/ sandwiches & salads and a huge pastry selection.

Soon, I'll get back to writing about music. Soon, as in... right about now!

Last night I saw a great rootsy duo called Hollertown - lovely bluegrass harmonies led by Corry, a woman with some serious pipes and she knows how to use 'em too! I love it when a duo manages to sound so full. She and Dave trade off playing guitar, mandolin & banjo, performing a mix of really nice originals and well chosen covers. And it's not just straight up bluegrass either; there are some great gospel and country influences in there too. And, it rocks. What more could ya want?

Rock on yourselves, people. Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Where the Rock Stars eat, part one

I put this list together awhile ago in my capacity as a working musician/booking agent/night owl. I thought it would be nice to compile a list of places to eat to pass along to other musicians/vampires/food lovers who are touring through the bay area and the East bay in particular.

Today we'll focus on places to eat before the show, or possibly, the morning after the show:

Cha Ya Sushi – This is vegan sushi, dig it. Fast service, reasonable prices, beautiful presentation, and just delicious. You needn't be a vegan to enjoy it, and if you're on the road a lot, you'll definitely want to stop here cause come on, admit it - you can never seem to get enough vegetables when you're on the road!

La Calaca Loca – High quality Mexican food, low cost, what more could you want? Delicious guacamole, divine fried fish tacos, sublime soup. Cash only please.

Vik – World famous authentic Indian "chaat" cuisine, super low prices. Feed the whole band for under $20. Guaranteed to please both vegetarians & carnivores alike.

Bakesale Betty's – Besides being a place for fabulous pastries & baked goods, this is the home of the most perfect fried chicken & cole slaw sandwich you've ever had. Reasonable prices & friendly service too.

Cole Coffee – It's rumoured that some who drink Cole coffee (formerly Royal) can't drink coffee roasted by anyone else. Plus, you can hang out & look cool like the rockstar that you are. Or maybe pick up someone who looks like a rockstar.

Bette's Diner – Best place to eat breakfast if you made a few bucks at your show last night. They open at 6:30 a.m. if you stayed up all night partying like a rock star. They serve lunch too, and it's all good - from buckwheat pancakes to BLTs, everything on the menu is sure to please.

Lanesplitter Pizza & Pub - Delicious New York style pizza, gigantic salads, a generous selection of California micro-brewed beers, and chances are good that on any given day it'll be a rock star flinging your pizza dough or slinging your beer.

Bacheeso's – Did someone say "all-you-can-eat"? Need we say more? This is a seriously good buffet for carnivores and vegetarians alike. Stuff yourself for $7.49 including tax.

Fellini – This place is the baby of fellow rock star, Geoff Davis. Nice vibe, fine pizza & pasta, quality beer on tap and a nice wine menu, plus a good selection of vegan items too. Plus they have an organic coffee bar.

Party on, rock stars. Part Two will cover where to go after the show - and sadly that list won't be nearly as long, since I haven't opened up the Soup and Song all night rock & roll soup kitchen yet...

Monday, October 30, 2006

If at first you don't succeed...


Thanks to Bob for pointing out that my "How to roast garlic" link was a bum link - since then I realized that there was another error in that posting - the recipe actually calls for 1/3 cup lemon juice, not 1/2 cup as previously listed. So - I'm going to post the recipe for hummus again here, including my method for roasting garlic. Enjoy!

First, roast a whole head of garlic, even though you will only need about half a head. It's good stuff to keep around and you can spread it on bread or mash it into potatoes or rice or soup.

So, take your whole head of garlic and remove some of the outer papery skin, and slice off the top. Put it on top of a slab of tin foil big enough to wrap around it, and drizzle with olive oil and a little salt & pepper. Wrap the foil over the garlic and bake at 350 for about 30 - 45 minutes. Then peel the foil back so the garlic is exposed, and bake it for another 20 - 30 minutes - the goal is to get it nice & golden brown and completely soft. It should like kind of like this:

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Once the garlic is cool, throw about half of the peeled cloves into your food processor, along with 2 cups of cooked chic peas (I cooked mine from scratch but you can use canned if you must), 1/3 cup lemon juice, 1/2 cup tahini, and 3 - 4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I like this brand which doesn't contain anything artificial or nasty. It's a nice thing to keep around the house, and it keeps a long long time in the fridge. And also, a little goes a long way, so you might even want to start with just a couple peppers and work your way up depending on how spicy you like it. Now add about a half teaspoon salt and puree till it's nice & smooth. You may need to add just a bit of water to get the consistency super smooth.

Ok now, go get busy!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Pass the chic peas, please.

Last night I enjoyed another cooking frenzy. Sometimes you just find yourself with too much food in the fridge and too little time, so when a little time falls into your lap, you gotta get busy. And last night, it was all about the chic peas.

First, there was hummus with roasted garlic and chipotle peppers. Just this very moment I toasted some pita chips to go with it, and it's a perfect afternoon snack. If only there were beer to go with it...

I also made an Indian influenced chic pea stew with lots of veggies and greens - got the recipe for that one from a great cookbook that Judith recently lent me - it's the Cafe Flora Cookbook, featuring 250 vegetarian & vegan recipes.

I'm not a vegetarian - God knows I love all things pork! But I do love vegetables, and more often than not, I tend to cook vegetarian. The nice thing about this cookbook is that it has lots and lots of recipes with really bold flavors, combining influences from many different cultures. And of course it's perfect timing for a book like this to come into my life, considering my culinary path as of late.

And speaking of combining the cuisines of different cultures, the addition of chipotle peppers to the hummus has turned out to be a big hit (so say my co-workers who are gobbling it up as I write this!).

Here's the recipe - and I must add that this is sort of a first, in that I didn't just create it intuitively (or haphazardly as is sometimes the case). I actually kept track of my proportions and created my own bona-fide recipe (although I'm sure I'm not the first to come up with this variation on hummus)!

And it goes like this:

First, roast a whole head of garlic, even though you will only need about half a head. It's good stuff to keep around and you can spread it on bread or mash it into potatoes or rice or soup. For a tutorial on how to roast garlic, go here.

Once the garlic is cool, throw about half of the peeled cloves into your food processor, along with 2 cups of cooked chic peas (I cooked mine from scratch but you can use canned if you must), 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1/2 cup tahini, and 3 - 4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I like this brand which doesn't contain anything artificial or nasty. It's a nice thing to keep around the house, and it keeps a long long time in the fridge. And also, a little goes a long way, so you might even want to start with just a couple peppers and work your way up depending on how spicy you like it. Now add about a half teaspoon salt and puree till it's nice & smooth. You may need to add just a bit of water to get the consistency super smooth.

There - now you're done and you're the hit of the party once again. Time to reward yourself with a nice refreshing beverage... unless you just happened to drink a glass or 3 of wine while you were slaving away in the kitchen, in which case, don't forget to drink lots of water!

It's going to be a great and busy weekend complete with Dracula, a wedding, and the Murder Ballads Bash. Stay tuned for details...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Come to EdaMaMa

Lately I've been eating a lot of edamame - those tasty little green soybeans that you get at japanese restaurants. You can also buy them in the frozen section of your local market and boil them up in a flash. You can buy them in or out of their pods, and I've found that out of their pods, they make a lovely addition to salads (and stir fries and who knows what else?).

A couple days ago I made a nice cabbage salad with a lime and toasted cumin vinaigrette, and the edamame added such nice color & contrast.

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While the vinaigrette is awfully tasty, I think if I made this salad again I'd make a sesame dressing, but I happened to have lots of limes needing to be made to feel useful, and I didn't want to disappoint them. Incidentally, this makes a lovely dressing over a salad of black beans, seared corn and feta, but that's another story for another time.

The dressing recipe came from Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone", which I highly, highly recommend, cause it's not just for vegetarians and it has some amazing sauces and dressings and stews and baked goods - it's very comprehensive and just chocked full of great recipes. Dad, this is for you - go get this book or I'm going to have to buy it for you!

For now, enjoy your edamame. Next time, we're moving on to chic peas!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fun with Fusion

So I figured out exactly what kind of restaurant I would have, if I ever were to have such a thing. It'd be a fusion restaurant. I've been noticing a theme in my cooking that tends to center around spices and herbs. And lately I've been having a lot of fun combining spices & herbs in different styles and although sometimes it flops, when it works, it works really beautifully.

Last night I was thrilled with the results from combining the influences of Carribean, Thai and Mexican into the following dish which, I might add, made my pal Judith squeal with delight when she ate it for lunch today. Please don't be put off by making homemade salsa - not only will it make you a hit at parties, but it really adds something both subtle and delightful to this meal, and it's worth the energy spent.

This meal has two parts - a black bean and sweet potato stew and a coconut basmati rice pilaf - and features three recipes, because an essential ingredient in the stew is the homemade salsa. If you're feeling lazy or uninspired, you can use a jar of tomatillo salsa in a pinch, but it will be much, much better when you make it with your own two hands!

1. The Rice

2 cups basmati rice
4 cups water
Approximately 2/3 of a can of coconut milk
1 white onion, diced
2 - 3 cloves garlic
Approximately 1 tablespoon of finely minced ginger
1 finely minced jalapeno
a pinch or 3 of turmeric

I learned this technique of finishing rice pilaf in the oven from both Molly Katzen and Rick Bayless (and adapted these recipes as such).

Preheat your oven to 350 and bring a medium sized pot with the 4 cups water to a boil.

While that is happening, rince the rice until the water runs clear. When the water is boiling, add the rice and keep it at a nice rolling boil for about ten minutes or until the rice is partially soft but not completely done.

While this is happening, lightly sautee your onions in olive oil for a few minutes, and then add the garlic and peppers, and a light sprinkling of turmeric. Now take a moment to pause and just enjoy how good your kitchen smells!

Next, drain the rice and combine it with the sauteed onion mixture, salt to taste, and 2/3 can of coconut milk. Bake it in the oven, covered, for about 15 - 20 minutes, just until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is nice & tender. Now season to taste with salt.

2. The Salsa

You can make this in advance if you'd like. You'll need the following:

Approximately 3/4 lb. tomatillos
3 - 4 chipotle peppers in adobo
5 - 6 cloves garlic

Remove the outer papery skin on the tomatillos. Rinse them and roast them under a 400 degree flame until they are blackened - this will take about 10 - 15 minutes. Flip them and blacken the other side. Don't discard the juices - you'll want to add them to the salsa as well.

While the tomatillos are roasting, you can roast the garlic in a dry cast iron skillet on the stove. This takes about 10 - 15 minutes on each side with your flame on medium-high.

Cool the peppers and garlic completely and after peeling the garlic, put it and the tomatillos and juice in your food processor or mortar & pestle, along w/ your chipotle peppers and crush or pulse just till it's nice & chunky. You'll have much more than the half cup or so which this recipe requires, so be sure to have chips on hand cause you won't want to waste one drop!

3. The Stew

1 med. sized shallot, finely chopped
2 cans black beans (of course, it's better when you make them from scratch)
1 sweet potato
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
Zest of 1 lime
Couple squeezes of lime juice
Approximately 1/2 cup of the tomatillo salsa
Approximately 1/3 of a can of coconut milk

Optional garnishes:

Finely chopped cilantro
Thinly sliced scallions
A handful of perfectly ripe avocado chunks

Dice the sweet potato and lightly steam it for about 7 - 10 minutes or until nicely cooked but not too soft. Remove from heat and set aside.

Sautee the shallot over medium heat in a little bit of olive oil till it's lightly golden brown. Add the blackbeans and lime zest & juice and the remaining 1/3 can of coconut milk from the rice pilaf recipe. Now add the cooked sweet potatoes, the 1/2 cup salsa, and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Heat it up but don't overcook it.

Serve a scoop of the stew over a bed of the coconut rice pilaf, and garnish with the avocado, green onions and cilantro, and a little extra tomatillo salsa, if you desire.

Recommended listening:

Los Lobos - Kiko
Lhasa - The Living Road

Monday, October 23, 2006

Bring on the Baby Corn, Baby!

What the hell?

Baby corn is intruiging. It's weird and compelling. Crunchy and sweet and strange just like some of my dearest loved ones.

I've been wondering about baby corn lately. I had some idea in my mind that since it all looks so perfectly uniform, and has the most consistent texture, that it must not be corn at all and instead that it was some genetically manufactured item, like those weird floppy radish-looking things you get in your soup in japanese restaurants sometimes.

So naturally I had to get to the bottom of this and separate fact from fiction.

I did a google search, and as it turns out, it's no lie - it's really corn! And that's not all...

"Baby corn
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Baby corn is a vegetable taken from standard maize (corn) plants harvested early, while the ears are very small and immature. Baby corn is typically eaten whole, cob and all, in contrast to mature maize, whose cob is typically too hard for human consumption. It is consumed both raw and cooked. When cooked, its culinary and physical properties (from the point of the human palate) do not change significantly; texture remains relatively the same, as does taste, which is relatively bland either raw or cooked.

Usage in cuisines of the world

Baby corn is used in a wide variety of dishes in many cuisines throughout the world. Such usage includes soups, salads, stir frys, and vegetable dishes. In the West, it is often sold canned in water or in brine.

In the United States, it is generally considered a component of East Asian cuisine, particularly Chinese cuisine (and American Chinese cuisine), though it can be found in American cuisine as well. In Germany, it sometimes appears as an accent in salad.

Nutritional value

Baby corn is low in calories, high in fiber and, like all vegetables, cholesterol free. It contains zinc and vitamin B3."

Well I don't know about you, but I've got that peaceful easy feeling now that I understand the true nature of baby corn and I know I'll have dreams of maize all through the night.

Probably one of the dreams will have to do with my brand new tortilla press that magically appears in my life, and of all the many delicious tortillas that I lovingly create with said press.

I'm not sure there will be any baby corn tortillas, but you just never know...

And if you have a favorite recipe featuring baby corn, why not drop me a line?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Finally, it's Bob!

Frequently I tend to find myself with dozens of thoughts and ideas (and recipes, and songs, and plots for world domination...) running through my head simultaneously. One might say that I can be a little high strung, and one would be right.

I'm telling you this so you'll forgive me for threatening over and over, months ago no less, to write about the fabulous Bob Wiseman. I really meant to, but somehow this idea got away from me for awhile.

Well now it's back, and it came back to me a couple nights ago by way of literally pulling me off the edge of that wall of depression that I found myself teetering upon. Well I guess the depression is what waits for you on the other side of the wall, or perhaps, at the bottom of that well that you just might plummet into if you're not careful.

Anyway - I first discovered Bob because he produced one of my all time favorite albums by Carmaig de Forest, called El Camino Real. Now, I will need a separate posting to sing the praises of Carmaig and don't worry, that'll be coming.

But the important thing to mention now is that there I was, feeling all cruddy. I had tons of food needing to be cooked and it was my only free evening to do it so there was no time to waste.

So I rolled up my sleeves, turned on the oven, cracked open a beer, put El Camino Real into my stereo and cranked up the volume, and I have to say, it was magical.

Before I knew it, I was feeling happy as a pig in shit, singing along to every single song. And the kitchen was filling up with the intoxicating scents of curry and basmati rice with coconut, jalapenos, garlic and ginger, and roasted squash, and roasted garlic, peppers and tomatoes for salsa, oh my!

SO - we'll get back to Carmaig but I have to mention that ever since I first heard that album, before I even knew Carmaig personally, I thought, "I want Bob Wiseman to produce an album for me some day".

Now, fast forward a good 7 years into the future, and I won't bore you with the details, but recently I had the good fortune not only to meet Bob, but to have him stay at my house while he was on tour! And let me tell you, he is a man of many talents - a clever songwriter and engaging performer in his own right, plus he makes really cool films. He is also a major food lover, and an all around nice guy to boot! This guy is the real deal, and it was a joy to meet him and to get to see him perform live.

I had only recently moved into my house when he was in town and my place was a total disaster. But we had a great time anyway, talking about food and music. And we talked about having him be on my cooking show - "what cooking show is that?", you ask? That's another story for another time.

But for now, please go and see Bob perform when he comes to your town. And maybe talk with him a bit about music, film, or food. I think you'll be glad you did. Hell, I'll be glad you did!

The moral of the story, if there is one, is that music heals - and that it's an absolute crime that there is SO DAMN MUCH incredible music in this world that only touches upon a very small audience.

So this is also a shout out to all the musicians, famous or wallowing in obscurity, alive or dead, young or ancient - that have ever touched me or blown my mind or changed my life in some way. The list is long and ever expanding.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I could never thank you enough. Your music feeds my soul.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Art of Salad (as explained in a very bossy and opiniated way)

So I can't believe I haven't mentioned Judith previously. She and I work together, and she is a badass - a woman of many talents. And she's probably the biggest fan of my cooking. And I love to cook for her, because of course one huge part of cooking is sharing it, and she makes such a damn appreciative audience.

And I guess the performer in me enjoys creating for an audience (she writes in the third person: "could she secretly have burned the microwave popcorn because she was feeling a wee bit neglected??).

But I digress.

Anyway - I made such a fine Fall salad for Judith and I today, and she loved it, and so did I. And so will you:

Prepare the greens - mix some nice red leaf lettuce (or better yet, red oak) with a generous few handfuls of arugula.
Toast a good tablespoon of pine nuts in a dry skillet. Toast, don't burn!

Sprinkle the pine nuts over the greens. Sprinkle, don't dump them carelessly!

Crumble a nice portion of Maytag blue cheese and set it aside.

Now make the dressing:

Finely chop a good little chunk of shallot.
Combine it with 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 fat teaspoon dijon mustard and a bit of salt. Some like it salty.

Now stop daydreaming; we are almost done. Thinly slice a ripe red Barlett pear and put that in the salad. Now add a sprinkling of currants and toss with just enough dressing to coat the ingredients. Coat, not drown!

This reminds me. Part of the inspiration for starting this blog was over my obsession with the perfect salad, so the essentials beg repeating:

Spin your salad greens good and pat them dry with a paper towel. A wet salad is a sad salad!
ALWÅYS toss your salad.
DON'T put the salad on the plate and then just spoon the dressing over it.
A lightly dressed salad is a happy salad!

See? It's not that hard.

And now back to today's dish. Now that you've tossed your salad ever so perfectly, top it with the blue cheese and garlic croutons (I dig Semi-freddi's). Don't forget a nice coarse grind of fresh ground black pepper. go enjoy it with your favorite badass.

Bon Appetit!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Five course meal? No problem. Just stay away from the Microwave Popcorn.

Gotta love it when it's the end of the day on a Friday, and you're hanging w/ the bosses at the day job, having a nice beer in the kitchen, and hunger strikes.

It seems like a good idea to pop up a batch of microwave popcorn. So you put the bag in the microwave, set it for three minutes and innocently run back to your desk to do just a teeny bit more online searching for new bras because well, it's Friday. It's also payday, and the boudoir is in need of replenishing, especially since the local laundromat's wash & fold service happened to lose a whole load of your bras, undies & towels, but that's another story.

It hasn't even been three minutes, and you run back into the kitchen, cause you're quick like that, and for god's sake, you want your damn afternoon snack.

But when you open the microwave, it's too late. Large black clouds of smoke come billowing out, and you know that you are doomed as you try not to breathe that insidious smell of crispy partially hydrogenated rancid oil fumes which are just short of catching fire.


One of the bosses grabs the popcorn and throws it on a tray as you run to the window and fling it open wide. Out goes the popcorn to sit smoldering on the roof, as you run around apologizing to seemingly everyone within a five mile radius, who can no doubt smell that horrible stank.

Soon, the building's fire alarm goes off, and you're trying desperately to get the building manager on the phone, to no avail. Everyone in the office keeps running in and laughing at you/with you.

Next, you hear the sirens of the fire truck getting closer, closer.

Finally the building manager calls and says that you need to get out of the building. You explain that actually, it's just burnt popcorn, and you're so sorry for the trouble.

Everyone in your office marvels at the fact that you can cook so many amazing things, but that you can't make popcorn.

The CEO of the company gives you his recipe, and promises to make it next week...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hamachi from Kirala hits the Spot

I'm happy to report that I'm still keeping up w/ the daily four mile hike religiously, and throwing a little swimming and yoga into the mix too. For god's sake who knew that exercise could be the miracle cure to all that ails a person? It's sure working for me.

And it's sure making me ravenous.

Lately, I've been constantly craving protein and my body has been crying out for sushi for a couple weeks now. I simply couldn't wait another day.

So I today I headed to Kirala and had the most exquisite hamachi for lunch. It was so delicate and clean tasting that I could barely contain my joy. You know that feeling when you're just dying for something, and you finally get to have it, and it just hits the spot? Oh yes, I think you probably do.

It's something to revel in, cause so many experiences in life manage to miss the spot. You know, like getting busted at a local bar for smuggling in your own alcohol because you're a dork. Or taking a big bite out of an apple only to have your teeth sink into a pile of mealy brown mush. Or trying to be even slightly suave in the presence of a potential crush who barely even notices you're alive and then when he looks your way, you've got cilantro in your teeth.

I know nothing about these things...

I do know that it was a real treat to return to Kirala, and hopefully I won't wait another several years to pass through their doors again. Check 'em out, won't you?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Tumbleweed makes the Curry alright...

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I was all excited to unexpectedly have the night off, to gleefully dive into this recipe for a Thai curry that I'd been carrying around for about 10 years. I even went to the Thai market today to buy dried shrimp - stinky little things, but essential for the recipe.

And then, imagine my surprise when DJ Tumbleweed - one of my favorite KALX DJ's - was on the air.

Tumbleweed is usually on Friday nights, and his fabulous choices of music have been my company for many a Friday night culinary adventure. I've been a longtime KALX listener and one of my favorite parts about listening to KALX is you just never know what you'll get. Certain DJ's never disappoint - like Tumbleweed, Carnacki, Laura in the Living Room, and Jesse Luscious, just to name a few.

But Tumbleweed is not usually on the air on Mondays, just like I'm not usually obsessing over recipes on Monday nights. But here we were, off to a beautiful beginning.

I decided that I would adapt this recipe which was clipped from the SF Chronicle long long ago. And the risk you take with adapting is that, well, it might not come out quite right. But for better or for worse, here's what I did:

First, I followed the instructions to soak one tablespoon of dried shrimp in warm water, and then puree it in the food processor with four roughly chopped shallots, three jalapeno's, one roughly chopped stalk of lemongrass, and some water.

Then, I followed the instructions to warm this paste on the stove w/ three cups coconut milk.

Next, I added two cups chicken stock and the zest of one lime, just like the recipe said, and damn, did this taste good. I should've just turned off the stove and stopped right there.

But that's where I had to be a rebel. The recipe called for one pound pumpkin, but I happened to have four satsuma yams, a bunch of brocolli, a handful of blue lake beans, and a small slab of tofu just waiting to be enjoyed, so that's what I used even though I adore pumpkin.

So... rather than throw the veggies in the pot and risk them getting overcooked and soggy, I steamed each veggie separately: the yams and beans for six minutes, and the brocolli for four minutes. I also cubed the tofu and set all these chunky bits aside.

Meanwhile, I kept the curry sauce on a low simmer in the hopes it would thicken a bit, but it just seemed to be getting more watery with time, losing a little bit of intensity.

At this point, I went back to the recipe and added one tablespoon fish sauce, a little more than a half teaspoon sugar, and instead of the juice of one lime which was called for, I added the juice of two limes. This made it taste a little more balanced, but it was still watery and thin. At this point I also added the big fat handful of fresh basil leaves that the recipe called for. Man, basil is a reason for living but that's another story.

The recipe didn't call for tamarind paste, but I happened to have some, so I added two tablespoons. This helped, but it still wasn't quite right. The flavor was getting better but the sauce was still thin.

So then, I added a liberal tablespoon of cornstarch. Probably unorthodox but what the hell, right? It's my kitchen and I'll use cornstarch if I want. And so I did....but it STILL wasn't quite right, so I added about 1/3 cup of tomato puree. And now it was getting closer to what my tastebuds were anticipating. It was fiery, sweet and pungent all at once (just like I like my men...although I admit I have no idea what makes a man pungent!).

All the while, Tumbleweed played the tunes. I can't tell you what he played but I can tell you that it was all perfect in its own way. And maybe you should just tune in sometime and listen for yourself. 90.7 fm, if you find yourself in the Bay area. Program it into your stereo and send them some cash, cause it's listener supported. No stupid ads, no bullshit, just great music. 24/7. For you and me.

At this very moment, the curry is still sitting on the stove, and I'm hoping that time (and the cornstarch) will thicken it up a bit and am pretty confident that tomorrow it will be ten times better after having had a chance to mature.

The jury is still out, but I'm sure that regardless, it wouldn't taste half as good without the fine tunes from DJ Tumbleweed blasting out of the radio. So give him a listen, won't you? And I'll let you know how the curry tastes tomorrow!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

So long, single malt scotch, hello 20 Minute Loop

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The night started off splendidly - Emily, Heidi and I enjoyed an extremely spicy spread at my favorite Thai restaurant, Ruen Pair. Panang curry, papaya salad, and some other noodle dish I can't remember. I love, love, love this place.

And then we were off to SF to see 20 Minute Loop at Cafe du Nord...except the BART was late and we couldn't get a taxi to save our lives, so we walked the mile or so from Civic Center to the Castro, which wasn't so bad under the beautiful Harvest full Moon, but it did make us late.

For some reason earlier this evening I had decided that it would be a brilliant idea to fill my flask with single malt scotch (both the scotch and the flask were birthday gifts) to enjoy at the show. And for some reason I didn't consider that fact that duh, you have to be a little discreet when you do such a thing (could it been perhaps that I was too tipsy?).

So there I was, rocking away to the sweet, strange sounds of 20 Minute Loop, the sounds I'd been waiting to lose myself in all week long, when I felt a tap upon my shoulder.

Uh oh.

The big man in the beret says politely, yet firmly: "You have a choice. I can kick you out or you can give me the flask". Crap. Crap, crap, crap crap crap. So much for my brilliance, eh?

As it was, we were 20 minutes late for 20 Minute Loop, and we had worked so hard to get there. I was sweating in my fake fur coat, for god's sake. No WAY could I leave now.

Nothing like having your flask confiscated to make you feel like a juvenile with wrinkles.

So damnit, there went my flask, my single malt scotch, my few shreds of cool, gone, like that.

Never mind that it was scotch; the thought that kept coming to me was the line from Dead Man, where he says "I can't drink whiskey like I used t' could...".

I was sad to lose my liquor and its lovely container, but honestly, that music was so damn good that there was never any contest. Ok, I mean maybe for a second but the second passed.

You haven't really heard harmony until you've heard Greg & Kelly of 20 Minute Loop sing as in one voice. These folks have long been one of my favorite local bands, and it is always a treat to enjoy them live - liquor or no liquor.

But man, you know that bouncer enjoyed his loot. I mean I really really hope he has the same initials as me so he can enjoy his new personally monogrammed flask!

Till next time, remember: discretion, people, discretion!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Monterey, Murder, Mustaches

Suddenly it's gotten cold. Thusly, I just had to make another pot of the Knitty Otter's Vietnamese Lemongrass soup last night to warm the bones. This time, I got a photo. Mmmmm, now doesn't that look good?

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A couple of highlights from Monterey included getting to sing five songs about murder at Monterey Live - what a lovely stage, and a fine lineup of entertainment put together by the talented ladies otherwise known as Vermillion Lies. These ladies really know how to put on a show, and I strongly recommend you discover that fact for yourself. They will not disappoint!

The theme of the evening was "Murder and Mustaches". When I explained that I prefer to murder my mustache with hot wax and that I wish I could wear it proudly like Frida Kahlo but that I just can't, the ladies proceeded to draw both a uni-brow AND a mustache on me. And then I sang tales of murder, one after the other...

The best food experience was at The Red House Cafe in Pacific Grove - what a cute little place with top quality food - the fresh fruit with honey cream is worth the trip alone...yum!

And then there was the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This place is wonderful for kids of all ages. I think I could stand in front of the Sea Otter tank for endless hours - what joyful, hilarious beings. But they never stay in one place long enough to take a photo!

And oh, the jellyfish.


There's something about just looking at these beautiful creatures that gives me the same feeling I get when I listen (as I have been repeatedly lately) to Aretha Franklin singing the blues - it's this warm, ethereal comfort that is perfect for a chilly, overcast day. A day like today.

Just add a steaming bowl of soup, and life is complete. Thank you, Mother Nature!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

For the Love of a Perfect Dry-Farmed Tomato

Ok folks, it's summer after all. Or rather, it was, just about a week ago. And one of my favorite summer delights is the tomato, in all its glory. Well for the last couple days, I've enjoyed more than just a little tomato glory thanks to my pal Jamie for bringing me the exquisite gift of a bag of dry-farmed tomatoes.

"What is this dry farmed tomato of which you speak?" you may be wondering and well, I'm wondering the same thing. As I understand it, the fruit or veggie is grown with less water, thereby intensifying the flavor. It sure did the trick for these tomatoes. I went so far as to exclaim to Jamie that I was pretty sure I had fallen in love with this tomato, and that it was the best bite of anything I had eaten all summer. Damn, I love Mother Nature! I love Jamie!

So first, I just sliced one and ate it straight up w/ a little salt and fresh ground pepper. Perfect! You haven't truly tasted a real tomato until you've tasted one of these little jewels straight up like that, just the way Nature intended. Bellisimo!

Then, I tossed up a tasty, spicy, salty pasta w/ Puttanesca sauce (hello Miss NoNo and Martha Scarborough, this "sauce of the whore" is for you guys. I hope you also enjoy the very saucy self-portrait at the top of this page ;). This sauce is so simple! And it goes like this:

Put the water on to boil & get your pasta ready. Come on now, I know you know how to make pasta.

While that's working, gently saute a couple cloves garlic in olive oil, then stir in a couple of finely chopped anchovies and swirl it around in the pan for a few minutes. Add about a tablespoon of rinsed capers, a tablespoon of kalamata olive tapanade, as much crushed red chili flakes as you like, and a good twist of fresh ground black pepper. Lastly, toss in a couple of those lovely diced dry-farmed tomatoes and stir over medium heat for just a few minutes to warm the tomatoes.

Toss with the drained pasta, add some freshly ground imported parmesan, serve with a glass of cabernet, and give thanks for this abundance. Oh yes, I am thankful!

But wait, there's more - why not throw a dinner party and impress your friends with this sweet, savory, salty appetizer?

Slice a baguette at a nice angle. Brush the crostini slices w/ olive oil and toast them to golden brown perfection in your toaster oven. Then, spread each slice w/ a little soft goat cheese, add a dollop of kalamata olive tapanade, and top with a thin slice of your little dry-farmed tomato friends. Add a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper and just try not eat twelve of them. Go ahead, see if you can.

Awright folks, my gal pal Anita is visiting from Arizona, and we are headed to Monterey for a gluttonous weekend. I can't wait to report back about all of our adventures, culinary and otherwise!

So do stay tuned...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Soup Saves

So Friday I was bitching about being exhausted... and as the day wore on, it occurred to me that I was catching a cold. Hell if I was gonna let my ass get kicked by a cold just in time for the weekend. Obsessed with knocking it out, I decided that evening that I had to have something like hot & sour soup or Tom Yum - something spicy and pungent and warming.

After driving around in a daze trying to figure out where to get such a soup, I remembered that I already had coconut milk and ginger and miso and tamarind and various other asian condiments in my pantry. And I knew I had cilantro and chili paste and a couple limes - so even though I didn't know quite what I was going to make or how to make it, I decided to go home and figure it out.

I did a random search on blogger for "tom yum soup", and landed on the perfect entry featuring exactly the thing my body and soul needed. And I discovered a fun blog called Knitty Otter in the process! Yay for blogging and otters that knit!

Had to run to the market to pick up rice noodles, veggie stock and lemongrass, but let me tell you, it was worth the trip.

It was about 9:30 by the time I sat down to this steaming hot, citrus and ginger and lemongrass-infused, garlic and chili-spiked bowl of elixir, but wow - what a blessing. What a miracle in fact, cause it really did knock the cold right out of me.

Do check out Knitty Otter for the official recipe; below is my adaptation.

Bring several quarts of water to a boil in a big pot and turn of the heat. Add about 6 oz of rice noodles and let them soak for about 10 - 15 minutes.

In the meantime, dice a shallot, and use your handy microplane to zest a lemon and a lime. And then also reserve the juice of each. Peel, slice & dice about a big tablespoon of ginger. Take a stalk of lemongrass and cut it into several rough pieces, and whack each piece with the side of the knife to release the intoxicating aroma.

In a 2 quart saucepan, put the ginger, lemon and lime juice and zest, ginger, shallot and lemongrass. Add to the pot a generous teaspoon of chili garlic sauce (I use Uncle Chen's brand), about 2 big handfuls of cilantro, and a tablespoon of fish sauce. The recipe called for fish sauce but I used oyster sauce. Oyster = fish, right? Worked for me. Then, I added a quart of veggie stock but you could also use chicken stock. Simmer this for about 1/2 on up to an hour.

While the stock was simmering, I steamed a few sliced crimini mushrooms, some thin red pepper slices, brocolli and slivers of dinosaur kale, just until barely tender, and set them aside. Read the Knitty Otter version for variations - you can use chicken or shrimp but I just used what I had in the house.

Once the stock is done, strain out the bits and now you have your soup base - adjust the seasonings and add more lime juice if you like.

Now it's almost time to eat. Throw a portion of the rice noodles into a bowl and top with a scoop of the veggies and a ladel of the broth. Or hell, just drink the broth straight up. This will cure what ails you and it tastes so divine.

And then there was song....I listened to a lot of Johnny Cash this weekend; in particular: Unchained, American Recordings, and Now, There Was A Song. I also listened to Willie Nelson's Teatro - one of my favorites of all time - and Aretha Franklin Sings the Blues - let me just say that if you haven't heard this, you haven't lived. It's the perfect soundtrack to a Friday night.

Hooray for soup and song!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Pecan Pie Redemption

Suddenly it's Friday. This week involved too little sleep and not enough nourishment despite the fact that my kitchen was abuzz with activity on more than one occasion.

The highlights: Pecan Pie Redemption! Now I know it seems I could very easily be making this up, cause I've got no photo to prove it since I seem to have temporarily misplaced my digital camera. But I made it, and it was damn good. Not exquisite, but definitely decadent. Honestly, I have witnesses. Emily joined me for the first slice, hot out of the oven, oozing with velvety chocolate and topped with my own creation of molasses spiked whipped cream with a shot of Grand Marnier.

I brought the rest of it to work where it quickly disappeared. The second pie made its way to Loretta Lynch's final audio tweaking session (otherwise known as mastering) for our upcoming new album, where it gave us just the sugar buzz we needed to make it through the night, which came after a long day in a succession of long days....can I just say one more time how exhausted I am? There, I just did.

The other highlight was a birthday party at work which allowed me the chance to make not one, but two kinds of homemade, roast-a-licious salsa, to the great joy and appreciation of my co-workers. I could do much worse than to have a day job that allows me to get my cooking fix from time to time.

Obsessiveness has its price though; I had pecan pie and chips & salsa for dinner two nights in a row.

Fortunately today I'm headed to the Townhouse for a company paid lunch. Now if I could just find time for a 12 hour nap, all would be perfect. Thank god it's Friday.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Beer Heaven

It was a beer snob's dream. I got to re-experience my days as a bartender with all the fun and free beer and none of the drunken sloppy nastiness (except on my part!).

The event: the 11th annual "How Berkeley Can you Be" festival. It took place on an exquisite Bay area summer day - the skies were clear, the sunshine bright, and the beer icy cold.

It was a real treat to hang out in the beer garden with fellow beer appreciators & freaks, the kind that can only be found in... Berkeley. Never mind that I live in Oakland.

The breweries represented were Trumer Pilsner, Jupiter, Triple Rock, Pyramid and Bison. Holy crap, that's a lot of good beer to come out of one city! There was double IPA, smooth, golden hefeweizen, crisp pilsner, smoky pale ale, spiced porter that was like biting into a slab of gingerbread, and a cocoa spiked stout, which was kind of like, the mole of beers. I can't remember them all. Just go take your own damn beer tour and try 'em.

Besides being such a treat to be able to freely swill this embarassment of riches, it was a sweet opportunity to remember how much I still enjoy pulling the perfect pint. I mean come on, you can hardly fail to make people happy when you serve 'em up a tall cool glass of hops with a big old grin (and perhaps a wee bit of cleavage), now can you?

An added bonus was that I got to talk to several people about the fine art of homebrewing...and I learned that it isn't too costly to buy your own beer making equipment...and I'm afraid a new obsession was born. Guess I better get busy collecting hops, eh?

One of the musical highlights was a great performance by B-town hip-hop/funk group Live Audio Explosion. If it was a little challenging pouring those perfect pints with my booty shaking the whole time, you can blame it on these cats. Except you'll listen to their music and then you'll be too busy shaking your own ass to complain, and you'll probably be ready for a ya might wanna head towards Berkeley.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Into each life, a little burnt pie must fall...

It's been a long week, a busy week, and thankfully, a week of good food. That is, until we got to the chocolate pecan pie...

I was so excited; finally my two Gay Husbands (among others) were coming to dinner. Usually, we do dinner at their place, cause there's more space, a lovely garden and a big, bright kitchen with a Wolf range. But tonight I convinced them to take the journey to the exotic land called Fruitvale, for an evening of gluttony and red wine.

I decided to remain on my Rick Bayless Mexican food binge, and made another pot of Oaxacan Black Bean Soup, using the chorizo variation this time. Also on the menu: chips and homemade salsa - this one featured tomatoes, jalapenos and garlic, all roasted and smoky, augmented with bright, clean bursts of flavor from white onions and cilantro. So simple, so good! Then we had tacos with roasted chicken and spinach stewed in a roasted tomatillo-serrano sauce. I think I need to add "all things roasted" to my list of addictions! The tacos also featured savory red rice, baked with with some of the roasted tomato jalapeno salsa, and little crumbled bits of queso fresco. Swear to gawd, it was all smooth as butter. Rick Bayless is ruining me and I'm loving every bite.

And then there was the pie. It's not every day that I bake a pie, let alone a chocolate pecan pie. I had to even go against my better judgment and buy a bottle of corn syrup - cause ya just can't make pecan pie without it. And so I did. Along with molasses, dark brown sugar, and a ridiculous amount of eggs. And bittersweet Scharfenberger chocolate, and fresh cream. I was so damn excited about this pie.... so excited that I forgot to turn the oven down from 400 to 350.... so excited that apparently I didn't even smell the little lovelies burning to a crisp, until Emily called me from next door and said "Hey, don't burn the pies, man" which point it was too late, and the guests were arriving. "Hello, welcome to dinner at my house, and please don't mind the smoky smell of burnt nuts!".

Fortunately, my friends are a very forgiving bunch. Dinner was so good, and the wine so plentiful, that by the time dinner was over, we all decided that it would be fun to scrape off the burnt bits and see if there was any chocolately, nutty goodness to be had underneath. And you know what? There was! It was a treasure hunt, made all the more fun by using our fingers! Miss Manners would be mortified! We stopped just short of flinging burnt bits of pecans at one another, and a good time was had by all.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Addicted to Soup...

Well, I've been addicted to worse. It's about time I got addicted to something healthy in fact, and I am thankful that now I can count soup, hiking and music amongst my healthy must-have fixes.

Since I'm obsessed with all things food AND I live alone, it sometimes presents a nice bonus for many of my co-workers at my day job. I just can't cook for one, and I can't very well consume all those pots of soup all by my lonesome!

Our office has the added bonus of having a fully functioning kitchen with a very well stocked refridgerator, so it's quite easy for any of us who feel inspired to heat up leftovers or whip up something fabulous with just a little effort (soon I will have to do a posting exclusively about the kitchen at my office, for it's pretty dang good as kitchens go).

Last week I made some completely improvised chicken soup at work and not only did folks LOVE it, they loved it despite my last minute decision to extend the broth using what we happened to have on hand, which was V-8! Who knew? I didn't, but now I do...

And then of course yesterday was Sunday, another day for me to blow off household chores (hey, I live alone, so I can!) and spend the better part of the afternoon and evening in the kitchen roasting, toasting, and simmering away the hours. Last night's soup (and today's lunch) was a very comforting Fava bean soup w/ roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic, with mint, cilantro and pickled pasilla chiles. Courtesy of Rick Bayless. See, I told you to just go get the cookbook, cause I don't think I'm going to stop making his recipes any time soon.

So that's the soup. And as for the song... I'm happy to report that a new band called the Wenches was born over the weekend. That's right folks; you heard it here first. And you can hear us live on Saturday, Oct. 28 at the Starry Plough's 5th (sorta) annual Murder Ballads Bash. You might say the Wenches are... a subsidiary of the legendary Widows. And you might just be right. You might also be wondering just what the hell I'm talking about, but just nod your head and smile, and think about that big bowl of soup. You are getting very sleepy....oh wait, that's me.

Before I sign off here, I need tips on the best places to eat and trails to hike in Monterey and Carmel, for I'm headed there in a couple weeks for a real live vacation. Anyone?