Friday, December 21, 2007

Spread the Biscotti Love

Wow. I got to work this morning and found a note on my desk from a friend of a friend, someone whom has long been a fan of my baked goods (which is funny because I am SO not a baker!) and who, at one point, had offered to help me turn my granola-making hobby into a business.

But you know how life is.... we get busy, we get distracted, we get lazy... so I never really gave it another thought. After much consideration, I decided that production baking wasn't for me, and that I'd rather just bring people little bags of goodness when the mood strikes, and be thrilled by their happy responses, like this one, in response to my dark chocolate cranberry hazelnut biscotti ...

"Dear Val,

I am by far the most critical person I know. Especially when it comes to food, I have a very, very specific way I envision things. I analyze every minute detail, every aspect of asthetics, presentation and consumption, and when I find any disagreeable detail it is commented on with tactless disdain. So it is a wonder that I continue to fall in love with your baked goods. They are, simply put, flawless. Your biscotti met all criteria and far beyond, they are a catalyst for content. Perfect texture when dipped in tea, just the right amount of chocolate to keep the palette interested and excited, not too sweet, and certainly not a burden on the conscious after three or four. How foolish I am to have not prioritized helping you get your products on the market shelves; everyone deserves to appreciate a product made with so much love. Again, if you feel you can use me in any way, I will do my very best to help. Bravo!"

So yeah, no production baking for me. Just little bags of joy. Speaking of which, I gotta get back into the kitchen now...!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More Fun with Preserved Lemons





Oh, how I love preserved lemons.

I'm not even sure how to describe their amazingly fragrant, sweet and tart and salty and super-lemony flavor. If you made lemon perfume, it might smell the way these taste. I find them to be a complete delight to the senses. Preserved lemons are frequently used in Moroccan cooking, and contrary to what your intuition might tell you, it's only the rind that is used.

It isn't that difficult to preserve lemons; just takes a little advance planning and some patience!

First, get yourself a nice sized jar with a tightly fitting lid; I like to use a jar that's about the size of a big mayonnaise jar. You'll want to boil a big pot of water and very carefully use tongs to drop both the jar and the lid into it to sterilize them for a minute or two. Using the tongs, pull them out and set them onto a clean rack to dry.

Now you'll need to prep your lemons. You'll need not only enough lemons to fit into the jar, but you'll need a whole bunch of extra lemons to juice, because you'll need enough juice to completely cover the lemons.


Start by scoring several slices into the rind of each lemon, being careful to only slice into the skin and not go all the way into the flesh. You want the whole lemon to remain intact.

Next, you'll want to take some nice coarse kosher or sea salt, and pack it into the spaces where you just made the scores. Pack in as much salt as you can, and place each lemon into the jar.

At this point, I like to add a cinnamon stick, a smattering of whole cloves, a few whole black peppercorns, and a few coriander pods. Perhaps you'll like to add these spices also, but you could just as easily leave them out, or improvise with different spices.

Next, you'll want to use a clean utensil to press the lemons down so that they release some of their juices, and then you'll need to pour fresh lemon juice over the whole lot of it, so that the juice completely covers the lemons. You can also add another generous sprinkling of salt at this point.

Now, seal the jar tightly, place it in a cool, dry place, and be patient! It should take about 3 weeks until your lemons are completely preserved. During this time, you should pick up the jar every couple days and turn it and shake it gently.

Don't be surprised it there's pressure build up when you remove the lid, and do use a clean utensil to remove each lemon before you use it. And, make sure to replace the lid tightly when you're done!

These beauties will last a long, loooooooong time in your fridge if left to do so, but duh... they won't last because you'll be using them all the time!


To use preserved lemons, remove a lemon and rinse it gently. Cut off the rind and discard the flesh. Chop the rind finely. It adds dazzling flavor to any dish, and here are a few suggestions:

Add a sprinkling of preserved lemon to a salad of steamed beets with olive oil, lemon juice and goat cheese. Add some to a stew with chic peas and chard. Make a Moroccan tagine with chicken or lamb, and add preserved lemons and green olives. Stir a little bit into some basmati rice and top with a sprinkling of fresh mint....get the picture??

How sad is it that I'm writing this posting with NO preserved lemons in my kitchen?? I guess I know what I need to do this week!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Bedtime Story about Wild Fermentation and Biscotti

The last three days have been so action-packed with music and food and deliciousness that I couldn't begin to summarize it all in one posting. Probably not even in two postings. But alas, we've gotta work with whatever little bits of inspiration & motivation we've got, and right now, sleep is calling so...

... I'll just rattle off the highlights, in no particular order: A chamber chorus concert! A totally kick-ass, hands-on workshop on wild fermentation, with a live soundtrack by a great band playing Eastern European music! A marathon biscotti making session in my own sunny kitchen, led by yours truly, with a little help from a few friends and a steaming pot of mulled wine! My cup runneth over and I find myself unable to stop using exclamation points!


I love people who aren't afraid to get their hands all covered in chocolate, and who don't mind that I am geekily stopping to take pictures every five minutes.



And I really love a man who isn't afraid to get beet juice on his hands.

I love pretty aprons and lovely women adept at the fine art of glazing.





I love the way raw vegetables get transformed into something new and altogether different, not unlike the way two simple chords can be transformed into a classic song like Merle Haggard's The Bottle Let Me Down .

I love to experience the way flour and chocolate and nuts and fruit and eggs and sugar turn into this...



... then this...



... and finally this:



I love my happy kitchen, and all that comes to life in it.


But I also love my bed, and that's where I'm headed now, with a full belly and a grateful heart.

The End.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Restaurants Galore

Although my kitchen has been a bit on the quiet side as of late, it's been a great couple of weeks for eating out. In the span of two weeks, I got to eat at three different restaurants I've wanted to try for quite some time now: Colibri Mexican Bistro, Burma Superstar and Cafe Gratitude.

Each place is worthy of its own entry; I ate something at each place that completely delighted me but I'm feeling a little lazy this morning so I'm just going to quickly summarize:

My friend Erik gives Colibri the thumbs up. Erik is from Mexico City and he knows his Mexican cuisine. He's been telling me about this place for awhile and when we finally went there with a posse of people, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Since there were a bunch of us, I got to sample many fine dishes and it was just exquisite. Three words...ok wait, six words...no, ten words. Best carnitas EVER. Best guacamole EVER. Better than Dona Tomas. No shit!

Burma Superstar.... wow! I've been wanting to eat there since I first heard of it three and a half years ago. The Tea Leaf Salad is legendary, and it only took one bite to understand why. Coconut Rice? Oh yes, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. And I can't believe I had to wait 38 years to enjoy the refreshing combination of beer with ginger and lemon. Who knew? I didn't, but now I do.

And then there's Cafe Gratitude. I must say that the vibe of the place is far too crunchy for me, and I just can't say the names of the dishes without smirking... i.e. "I Am Extra Giving" (Asian kale-sea veggie salad), "I Am Divine" (Fiery Carrot Avocado Soup), "I Am Elated" (Special live Enchiladas)...BUT, the food really IS divine and dazzling (not unlike the company with whom it was shared!). We're talkin' fresh, mostly raw, organic, flavorful, healthy and beautifully presented.

So, my fridge is empty and I am a little on the broke side, but I am happy and well fed. No complaints here!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Welcome to December

I nearly made it to 50,000 words in November. I came so damn close that it's laughable that I didn't finish those last 300 words. But alas, it was a good experience. I think I may have purged some demons, and while it wasn't exactly fun, and it definitely was not a novel by any stretch of the imagination, it was a worthwhile experience.

But man, am I excited to get back to regular blogging, so don't give up on me, dear readers! There's so much to report - like the fact that I learned how to make beer recently... a dream come true! 'Tis the season for baking and roasting vegetables and making soup and hunkering down with the heat cranked with a big pot of mulled wine on the stove, oh yeah!

So truly, more is coming soon. In the meantime, won't you enjoy this little bit of shameless self-promotion? I promise I'll be back real soon with pics of the beer making process, and much, much more....

Monday, November 26, 2007

Quinoa Risotto on the Fly

Aw yeah, I love those kitchen gods and goddesses. Tonight was one of those “Shit-I’m-hungry-what-the-hell-could-I-possibly-throw-together-with-what-I-have-in-the-house?” kind of nights…the kind of night that also occurs in the midst of my frantically trying to complete my cranking out of 50,000 words this month (and happily I am up to 43,351 as of this very moment!).

So there I was, starving and in a hurry. And then this magical recipe happened. And while I am surely not the first to make quinoa risotto, I was darn pleased with the results, cause I don’t usually whip up things like this without lots of planning and grocery shopping.

Here is how I did it, and I have to give credit to my dear friends Steve Lucky and Miss Carmen Getit for recently bestowing me with a fat bag of dried porcini mushrooms – a key ingredient in this recipe!

First, I sautéed half a yellow onion in some olive oil with a little slab of butter. While that was sautéing, I dry-toasted the quinoa in a separate pan (don’t forget to rinse your quinoa well, boys and girls!).

While the two skillets were doing their respective thangs, I soaked a fat handful of said dried porcinis in hot water. Then after about 10 minutes, I took the porcinis out of the water (being careful to reserve the water!) and coarsely chopped them and added them to the onions, along with a couple splashes of Madeira wine. That sautéed for a few minutes and when the onions and mushrooms were golden brown, I added the toasted quinoa, plus the reserved mushroom water (about enough to cover the quinoa by an inch or so) and a fat splash of half & half. Topped it with a couple sprinklings of fresh grated nutmeg, and brought to a boil. Then I lowered the heat to a mild simmer, put a lid on it and ran back upstairs and typed another couple hundred words, because I heart multi-tasking and I am insane!

After about 10 minutes, the liquid had mostly been absorbed and the quinoa was close to being done. At this point I added a couple handfuls of frozen peas and a little more mushroom water. Then I chopped a little bit of aged gouda cheese and added it to the pot, along with a handful of parmesan cheese. Turned up the heat and gave it all a good stir so the cheese would melt. Added salt and pepper, scooped it into a bowl and devoured it as I wrote these very words you are reading.

I am really digging this because it’s rich tasting but not as heavy as risotto made with Arborio rice, and it’s exactly the kind of comfort food I was craving tonight. And it's high in protein, too. It’s nice when this sort of magic happens. Thank you, kitchen spirits.

Monday, November 19, 2007

And On That Note...

My recent obsession with Merle Haggard inspired a friend to buy the 4 CD Box set. This friend was kind enough to pass along this little quote from Merle:

"Probably the happiest moments of my life have been on stage, playing music. I can be living a life with all kinds of problems, but when I step on stage, everything is left behind. The stage is kind of a refuge for me, and it always has been. Over the years, I've climbed inside my music when things went wrong. I still do that. My music is where I really live."

Beautifully put, Merle. And yeah, I second that notion.

I can remember a time around two years ago when I was in the midst of every kind of pain. My body hurt and my emotions were raw and my will was slipping and I seriously did not know how I was going to find my way out of it. I had a gig that evening and I spent many hours that day crying, the kind of sobs that just take over your body. And it seemed the longer I cried, the more tears I found I needed to shed. I was utterly inconsolable. And the hours passed and my eyes grew more swollen and I felt like there was no fucking way I was going to be able to make it to this gig, to get on stage and act like a normal person.

But somehow, I managed to put ice packs on my eyes to get the swelling to go down, and with a little help from my friends, I was able to drag myself to the show. Cause the show must go on, after all!

And once I got there, I swear that I went from sitting at a table feeling wrecked with pain, to on stage singing and completely transformed. For that 40 minutes that I was up there singing, every bit of pain left me. It's like I became someone completely different than the person I had spent the whole day being. Very cool, and something that I've noticed happens to me almost every time I am on stage. Climbing inside the music, indeed. That Merle knows a thing or two about living.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Perfection is Two Chords, an Empty Bottle and a Broken Heart

This song has been floating around my consciousness for the longest time now, and I finally found the impetus to learn it, thanks to my friend Berge. The song is the classic hit by Merle Haggard "Tonight the Bottle Let me Down". Berge busted it out at our little friend Monique's first birthday party last week, along with Lucio, our friends Steve & Patsy (parents to the lovely Monique) and a few others.

Berge played this song and I thought "... my God, I've been wanting to learn that song FOREVER...", and I must have said as much. And Berge said (or rather, exclaimed in amazement) "...It's TWO CHORDS...!" which I had never actually considered. The song is a BONA FIDE CLASSIC HIT, one of the greatest country hits of all time in my opinion, and it is so very simple in both its sentiment and its structure. So simple and painful and funny and just cutting straight to the heart. It's everything I love in a song.

Tonight I learned how to play it and now that I have, I don't know how I can possibly leave it off my next album, which will be all covers. I can hardly wait to start recording it even though I'm not quite ready yet. But the holidays are coming and time seems to speed up right about now. So I'm sure the time to record will be here before I know it.

In the meantime, you'll probably find me hunched over in my chair with my guitar in my arms singin' this:

The Bottle Let Me Down
Merle Haggard


D
Each night I leave the barroom when it's over
A7
Not feeling any pain at closing time
A7
But tonight your memory found me much too sober
D
Couldn't drink enough to keep you off my mind

CHORUS:
D
Tonight the bottle let down
A7
and let your memory come around
A7
The one true friend I thought I'd found
D
Tonight the bottle let down

I've always had a bottle I could turn to
And lately I've been turning everyday
But the wine don't take effect the way it used to
And I'm hurting in an old familiar way

CHORUS

Tonight the bottle let me down...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Novel Writing, Chicken Roasting, and the To-Do List.

Note to self (and anyone else out there who may be reading this):

Blogging is fun. Writing songs is fun. Listening to music is fun. Playing music is fun. Roasting chicken is fun. Attempting to write a novel is not fun. Not even close.

Yeah so lest you may think that I've gotten swallowed up by this "novel" thing, I'm here to dispel some myths (and also procrastinate on actually attempting to up my word count). So far, I've written 15,364 words. I'm pretty sure that most of them are shit. It started out as a novel with a very, very vague theme that could not even be called a plot. And it morphed into some character sketches, and morphed again into not even a novel, not even fiction, just me blathering on and on and on about what a stupid idea this was in the first place.

My attention span is short. Songs are short. Blog entries are short. Novels are long and I am not one of the people who writes them. Do you follow me? I hope so cause I lost myself a couple of lines back. I was busy obsessing over roasting chickens and making a to-do list that looked something like this:

1. Learn how to roast chicken; investigate vertical roasting racks.
2. Clean and organize office.
3. Write 3,000 words today.

So tonight I logged on to write a few words about roasting chicken and my new vertical roasting contraption that kicks ASS (and of course, roasting chicken was the only thing on my to-do list that I came close to accomplishing today!).

And then I discovered this blog. And I perused it and I laughed and laughed and laughed as my chicken in pomegranate molasses roasted away in the oven. I made mental note to write more about that later. I made mental note to get back to the actual things on my to-do list.

I laughed and laughed as I looked around my office which is filled with piles and microphones and toy keyboards and amplifiers and sequined dresses and cowboy boots and speaker cables and scraps of paper with phone numbers, lyric bits, song arrangements, recipes, notes that say things like "taxes!", "pay attention!", "prescription" "swim" and "back up files!".

I laughed at all the lists that I have made only to discover them six months later under a pile of "things that I've been meaning to attend to". I remembered a book called "The Power of Focus" that my dear sister gave me a couple years ago, which I would frequently misplace and occasionally rediscover under one of those insidious piles.

So much for my focus. So much for my novel. I don't care. The chicken is just about ready to come out of the oven, the house is warm and smells intoxicating, and tonight, that's enough for me.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

We Interrupt our Regular Programming to say...

... "pardon me, I'm writing a novel...!".

Did you know it's National Novel Writing Month? Well, it is, and, however badly, I am participating. So forgive the meager postings this month. I've just finished more than 9,000 words in 6 days. 9,000 words that so far, I'm not planning to share with a soul.

Don't ask me why I've felt compelled to write a novel. Or if you do, I'd tell you it has something to do with pushing myself beyond my comfort zone and trying out a different medium. I'd also tell you that so far, it's not all that satisfying to be writing the things I've been writing.

And, if pressed, I might also tell you that I'm going to continue in spite of this, and that once I reach the fifty-thousandth word, I'm going to print it and throw the pages one by one into my fireplace and watch them burn. And I am never going to look back.

Ha ha, I might tell you these things, or I might not. I might tell you that it's all fiction and that I have no idea how I've come to find this voice that I've found myself writing in. It's a strange and uncomfortable place to find myself, but this is where I am. And, like our old pal Forest Gump, "that's about all I have to say about that right now...".

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Canned Enchilada Sauce? We Don't Need no stinking Canned Enchilada Sauce!

I recently made enchiladas for a client who is not big on enchiladas, and made a believer out of her!

The actual enchilada recipe is the wickedly good one from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, featuring a savory, slightly sweet, velvety mixture of goat cheese, toasted pine nuts, golden raisins and sweet corn.

The sauce however, is my own creation, and it got rave reviews so I thought I'd post it. It takes a bit of work but it's worth it. Bring your patience and your spice grinder, and of course, your appetite!

First, take about 6 fat cloves of garlic and don't peel them. Heat up a dry skillet.

Roast the garlic in the pan until it's blackened all over. Then let it cool and peel it. Throw it into the food processor or blender.

Now, roast these spices, one at a time, in the same hot skillet:

-about 1 1/2 t. cumin seeds
-about 1/4 t. black peppercorns
- about 1/4 t. whole cloves

Take the spices and grind them, one at a time, in a spice grinder (or very clean coffee grinder).

Now, pour the spicy goodness into the food processor where your garlic is waiting.

Now, add some ancho chile powder (as much or little as you like, depending on heat - I used about 1 teaspoon) and a pinch or two of dried oregano.

Now pour in a teeny bit of water or vegetable or chicken stock, just enough to wet it so it'll make a paste when you process it.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a sauce pan and scrape the paste into the pan and stir constantly for a few minutes. Doesn't that smell good?!

Now you're ready to add a little more stock (maybe about a cup) and one 14 oz. can of tomato sauce (I like Muir Glenn organic).

Simmer for a little while to blend flavors, add salt to taste and if you like it more spicy, add more ancho chile powder.

It's a little time consuming, but very good! I advise making a double or triple batch and freezing what you don't use.

Enjoy!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Tale of Two Soups





What a difference a day (or sometimes two) makes.

Now is the part where I get to report that I finally got my ass into the kitchen and cooked my worries away.

Much happened in between that occurrence and my last posting. A big show! Unexpected (and yet very welcome) well-dressed house guests, with whom I lingered over strong coffee and pastry from La Farine this morning. A trip to the Berkeley Bowl. A pumpkin carving party...

...and then there were two soups. And all was right in the world again.

Today I'll post the recipe for this Kale & Cauliflower stew that I adapted from Rachel Ray.

In a big soup pot, sautee 1 chopped yellow onion & 4 or 5 big cloves garlic of garlic, plus about 3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary over medium heat until the onion starts to soften.

Add 2 diced (& peeled) russet potatoes & sautee until potatoes just begin to become tender. Add 1 whole head of cauliflower, quartered, cored & diced into bite sized bits. Also add 2 roasted red peppers, rinsed & diced. Here the recipe called for 6 cups chicken stock but I wanted this to be veggie-friendly, so I used 6 cups vegetable stock, and later added a manchego cheese rind. But we'll get back to that.

After you add the stock, season with salt & pepper and bring to a boil. Now, add that cheese rind - this will lend a richness & depth of flavor to the soup, adding body. It's an especially nice option if you're not using chicken stock, but you can do this even if you are. The rind can be from parmesan or romano or asiago or manchego cheese - as always, use your intuition and your imagination!

Now, lower heat, cover & simmer for another 10 minutes or so until cauliflower is becoming tender. While the stew is simmering, rinse & remove the stalks from 2 or 3 bunches of kale and slice the greens into thin slivers. When the cauliflower is nearly tender, add the slivered greens, a handful at a time and let them wilt before adding the next batch of greens.

Once you've added all the greens and they're all nicely wilted, grate some fresh nutmeg into the pot (about 1/2 teaspoon or so). Let it sit for a few minutes on the stove, taste and adjust seasonings, and serve it up with crushed red pepper and shredded parmesan or whatever suits your fancy. Don't forget to remove that unsightly cheese rind! It's not pretty, but it WILL do its job of richening this stock.

This might all sound like a lot of work but really, it takes about an hour or so from start to finish. All you gotta do it crank up the tunes which for me today were (aforementioned house guests) Peculiar Pretzelmen, Stevie Wonder (a much loved gift from a very dear friend) and KALX Radio 90.7 FM.

I do believe that's quite enough for tonight, but...

Soon I'll also post the recipe that I'm still adapting from Food & Wine Magazine.

This one features a luscious combo of yellow split peas, pumpkin & butternut squash with cumin & curry. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Popcorn and Advil

Sometimes the things that make your heart feel heavy also make your eyelids heavy, and you want to sleep but you can't, because your mind is racing.

I wish that this could be one of those blog postings wherein the next words would be "... and then you find yourself in the kitchen cooking all your troubles away...", but alas, tonight I'm far too exhausted for cooking or creativity, or forced optimism.

Tonight, it's popcorn and Advil for dinner. Sometimes that's just where you find yourself. In the middle of your empty kitchen feeling empty. It isn't very romantic or sexy but it's real.

The other day, someone randomly said to me "...is everything perfect?". And I said no, but that everything is perfectly fucked up in its own perfect way. I'm sure there's some meaning in there but I think the perfect thing for tonight is to forget about finding the meaning, and focus instead on finding the path to sleep.... wish me luck...

Monday, October 22, 2007

When in Doubt, Frittata

Oh, thank goodness for frittatas. They are the kind of thing you can whip up on a school night without too much trouble, embellished with a few good bits you've got lying around your fridge. I know I've written about them before, but it's my blog and I'll repeat if I want to! Here is a refresher course in how to whip up a tasty dinner without too much fuss.

First, keep some eggs lying around. No eggs, no frittata.

Second, remain creative in your approach and keep your mind open.

What do you have in that fridge of yours??! Tonight I had a few potatoes I had steamed a couple of days ago, some fresh basil, an onion and some shitake mushrooms.

The basic drill is that you want to sautee your onion or garlic (or both!) slowly in butter, then sautee the other bits (in my case, the potatoes & mushrooms) in this savory concoction. Your bits could be steamed squash, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, steamed chard or kale, sausage, bacon, or, you tell me! Cheese is good too, but add that, along with your fresh herbs, right at the end.

So after you've sauteed the onions and/or garlic, toss in whatever you got, and then, beat a half a dozen eggs and pour it over this good stuff. Top with fresh herbs and parmesan cheese if you have it.

Now, put the skillet with all this goodness into a pre-heated oven that is about 350 degrees. Bake it for about 15 minutes or until it's done but not overly done. Come on people, I know you have intuition and I know you know how to use it! Follow your nose and your gut. They won't lead you astray.

Once the frittata is golden brown, turn it over onto a cooling rack. Eat a slice or two, and then bring it to work the next day so people can have it for breakfast.

See? It's not that hard. Life can be hard, but frittatas are not that hard. This is a good thing for which to be thankful. And I am.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hooray for Hollywood

Wow, that was a blast. Some gigs can be so thankless, and every now and then you get thrown a bone to make up for all those blown sound systems, cans of budweiser, $27 dollars split by 5 people, and playing to 3 people on a Monday night at 12:30 a.m.

Yes, once in awhile, you find yourself in the Southern part of our Golden State, playing to an attentive and appreciative, CD-buying audience, with a dressing room, a cooler of real beer and a couple bottles of wine, and food that would have been delicious if you'd remembered to eat it before the show. Oh well, can't complain!

What we're talkin' about here, is the El Mirage show that happened in Hollywood a mere couple nights ago, opening for our friends, stellar musicians and delightful human beings Missy Gibson & Mike Flanagan of the band Breech. It was a fabulous celebration and a real treat to be a part of it. Breech is so good, so very very very much better than much of what you can hear on commercial radio these days. Don't take my word for it; just go buy their CD & find out for yourself!

While in L.A., we also got to enjoy some fine food and sights, like these most jumbo of shrimp at a little place in Thai Town called Relax. Are they shrimp or are they giant creatures come to eat YOU?!










Warning, if you are afraid of clowns,
especially the evil two-headed kind,
you might want to avert your eyes for this one,
taken at a store called the Dapper Cadaver, oh my!










Carol Powell, the artist who did the cover art for the Breech CD, creates some mighty fine paintings, illustrations, and creatures, like these:










Those are just a few highlights of what was a wonderful and action-packed 24 hours. I also scored a seriously killer pair of cowboy boots, but will have to post that photo another time, because this posting is long overdue.

One of these days my life will settle down and I'll get back to cooking, I swear. Soup season is coming! Until then, stay warm and dry, and I'll try to do the same, no thanks to my slumlord :(

Monday, October 15, 2007

Please Stand By...

... I swear I'm gonna post something new soon, but the rain that's pissing down through my ceiling into my once-cozy bedroom has me a little distracted right now.

Go here and listen to this and I'll be back, and in a much better mood, soon...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Adventures in the Lone Star State

Once again, so much living has been packed into a week that I hardly know what to tell you about first so I'll just dive right in while the granola is in the oven, soup is on the stove, wine is in the glass, and the Mommyheads are cranked on the stereo downstairs.

I just got back from a whirlwind weekend trip to Austin with my friends and fellow musicians Sue and Suki of She Mob. We were storming the streets of Austin, hanging with our beloved Oakland transplant Camille, and just generally having a great time. We ate Mexican food and Barbeque, the likes of which you can only find in Texas, and boy, did we enjoy every last bite, which we naturally washed down with ice cold beer and margaritas.










Just like the Bay area, Indian summer was in full force and it was hot and balmy and muggy and it seemed to stay light late into the evening, and when the sun went down the sky was noisy with crickets and birds and music.


We saw a great show on Friday night called the Golden Hornet Project that featured a ten-piece horn section w/ bass, drums, guitar and vibraphone, and man, was that just completely smoking. We were sad that we couldn't rally to stick around & catch the Invincible Czars, but our cheap plane fares caused us to rise at 4 am that day to catch a plane that had two layovers and ended up taking the better part of the day to get our butts to the Lone Star State, and well, some of us are old and tired and just can't party like rock stars anymore.

Saturday's highlights included a quick drive-by past the Soup Peddler's Headquarters...








...and a visit to a toy store that reminded me a lot of Berkeley's Mr. Mopps, where I simply could not pass up this fabulous photo opportunity.











As Saturday afternoon turned to evening, Sue, Suki, Camille, Jo (Camille's friend who also happens to be a Meat Purveyor) and I found ourselves in the midst of what turned out to be a little bitty all-girl hootenanny in Jo & Camille's living room, and this was my most favorite part of the trip. Suki played drums with her hands, we all sang and passed the guitar around, and once again I found myself feeling like the luckiest creature in the universe to be in such fine company, with a belly full of fine food and the warm summer air blowing in through the window.


Monday, October 01, 2007

The Second Best Chili You Will Ever Taste

If you read my last post, then you already know that I won second place in a chili cook-off recently (well, TIED for second place in fact, and that's another story!).

I used a recipe I found on the good ol' internet by doing a search for "chili recipe". Although tons of links came up, I simply couldn't pass up a recipe that contains two of my favorite things: beer and strong coffee. And also, with a name like "The Best Chili You Will Ever Taste", it's gotta be good, right??

Of course, I had to make my own modifications; mainly, upping the amount of spice and reducing the amount of sweetness. The version you see below is my adapatation and it's definitely worth checking out the original recipe for the sake of comparison and to see what I added/changed. Prize or no prize, this chili seriously rocks and has a depth of flavor as sublime and potent as the bass line to a Toots & the Maytals song, which is what I was listening to when I made this:


First, let's look at the ingredients:

2 teaspoons canola oil
2 white (not yellow or red, but white!) onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound grass fed ground beef
1 pound grass fed beef sirlion, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 14 1/2 ounce can tomato sauce
1 can Young's Double Chocolate Stout (original recipe calls for 1 can stout plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, but I think omitting the cocoa and using this chocolate stout is key)
1 cup strong black coffee (I use Cole coffee and nothing but!)
2 cans tomato paste (I was skeptical about this part but have faith!)
1 1/2 cups beef stock
3 to 4 tablespoons Pickapeppa hot sauce (accept no substitute!)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons whole coriander pods
1 chile negro (dried)
1 teaspoon cayenne
salt to taste
8 cups cooked (scratch is best!) or 4 cans kidney beans
4 jalapeno peppers, diced fine
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
chipotles in adobo sauce (really, you just need the sauce and I like the Embassa brand)

I like to start by sauteeing the onions in the oil over medium heat in a large cast-iron pot until they start to just turn golden brown. Then I add the garlic, lower the heat and continue to sautee.

While this is happening, I heat my smallest cast iron skillet and first add the cumin seeds and shake the pan constantly for about 30 seconds or until they start to just toast and release their aroma. Toss those into a bowl and do the same thing with the coriander pods and the whole chile negro, and turn off the heat. Next, I grind the spices, one at a time, in my little grinder (I use a coffee grinder that's dedicated to spices). You want to measure out about one teaspoon of the chile negro and you may have a little more or a little less, depending on the size of the chile.

You didn't forget about the onions & garlic did you?? Now it's time to add the meat to the pot and continue stirring over medium heat until the meat starts to brown.

Once the meat is starting to brown, pour the beer into the pot and stir, followed by the tomato sauce, tomato paste, coffee, broth and Pickapeppa sauce. Stir it well and then add the oregano, cumin, coriander, chile negro and cayenne. Now add half the beans and all the peppers. Reduce heat to a low simmer and let the flavors mingle and mature for a good one and a half hours.

Now, add the remaining kidney beans, one tablespoon brown sugar, about two teaspoons of adobo sauce, and a generous teaspoon or two of kosher salt. Simmer for another thirty minutes and then remove from heat. Let it cool completely and then let the flavors mingle even more overnight, and heat it up the next day. Enjoy it preferably in the company of good friends old and new, with great music courtesy of the Shut-ins, Yard Sale and Loretta Lynch (featuring yours truly!). Raise money to help feed the homeless. Drink whiskey, eat pie and dance your ass off until you can't dance no mo'. And be very, very grateful to be able to experience every last perfect moment. I was, and I am. Enough said.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Winning and Losing

There is so bloody much to catch up on, that I scarcely know where to begin.

There was a chili cook off and I won second place out of around twenty entries, which on the one hand makes me glad, and on the other hand makes the little doubting voices chime in to say "...second place! story of your life! Second place = loser!".

And then of course there's a rational voice that chimes in to remind me that second is still a pretty good achievement in the scheme of things, and then, a third voice speaks up to say "...Jesus, why the competition? Why the need to win? Why not just be ok the way you are? Who gives a bloody damn if anybody likes you, or what you do, or what you create? The only thing 'loser' about you is that you're worrying so much about not being the winner...'".

And then there's even a fourth voice that says "...do you know how lucky you are that you even get to do things like play music with your friends and have the money to buy grass-fed sirloin to make chili in the first place?". Cause so many people don't. So many people would kill to be able to do the things that so many of us get to do. And we should never take these things for granted. And yet, somehow, we do...

Alas, I have nothing more profound than this to say tonight, and tomorrow, I shall post the Number Two Winning Chili Recipe for all the world to enjoy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

La Farine, Won't you be my Neighbor?





Oh crap, am I ever going to be in some trouble.

Why? Well, I just discovered that there is a La Farine bakery opening right down the bloody street from my house.

Walking distance, baby.

Nearly spitting distance.

And that is bad, bad news for my waistline (and probably good news for the property values in my little 'hood!).

I'm afraid that with La Farine, my most favorite Bay area bakery, as my neighbor, I'm going to have to do more than Pilates twice a week. I'm going to have to do more than jog down the street every morning and stuff my face with a chocolate croissant, all flaky and buttery and golden and still all warm and oozing chocolate.

I'm going to have to bite more than the pastry.

I'm going to have to bite the bullet and join the bloody gym...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Song Lyric(s) of the Week

Every week I listen to tons of music. Sometimes I listen to the same things over and over again, and find myself thinking "oh god, I love that lyric". Here are a few favorites that I listen to over and over again as the seasons and years pass, and that still get me in my gut every time. But really, I think part of how it all gets to me is to hear the lyric while hearing the music; I'm not sure how it translates when you're just reading some words on a page, but for what it's worth...

Karry Walker, a.k.a. Ultralash, has a brilliant song called "Cabernet":

"If you made a meal of me, I'd taste like brie and cabernet sauvignon.... I'm setting the table for two, I'm making a large plate for you, I'm letting, the dinner grow cold..."

Lhasa, from the song "Anywhere on This Road", from the album La Llorona:

"My heart is breaking, I cannot sleep. I love a man who's afraid of me. He believes if he doesn't stand guard with his life, I'll make him my slave for the rest of his life..."

Oh, there are so many more great lyrics that are escaping me presently, but surely there will be more coming...right now I need to get back to Aretha Franklin singing the blues on the stereo in the next room. Time to crank the volume.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Quinoa Breakfast Porridge




Yeah, I dig the quinoa. Usually I eat it as a side dish with dinner, but recently I made a very tasty breakfast porridge out of it. This meal was one of those "what do I have in the fridge and pantry and what can I make from it?" moments, and although you never know how those endeavors will shape up, this one turned out quite nicely.

As always with quinoa, remember to rinse it very well to remove the saponin or outer coating, which will lend a very bitter flavor if you skip this part!

First, start cooking the quinoa. Put about a cup or so of the rinsed quinoa in a saucepan and add enough liquid to cover it by about an inch. For the liquid, I used a combo of coconut milk and water. You can use just water if you like, but the flavor is truly sublime if you use coconut milk. You could also use juice for the liquid. Bring it to a boil and then turn down to a low simmer and partially cover the pot.

While this is simmering away, dice an apple or a pear and sautee it over medium heat in a small amount of butter or ghee. You can also add a dash of maple syrup or honey at this point if you like your cereal a little sweeter. This will also help to carmelize the fruit. After a few minutes, toss a handful of slivered almonds and a handful of currants into the skillet and continue to cook for a few more minutes, till the almonds start to become golden. Sprinkle a little nutmeg and cinnamon over it and set aside.

The quinoa should take about 15 to 20 minutes to cook. You'll know it's done when it's tender and most all the liquid has evaporated. If you used coconut milk, your kitchen should smell quite nice at this point.

Now, it's time to serve. Spoon the quinoa into bowls, top with the fruit and almonds, and if you happen to have some, top with a little bit of plain yogurt, and enjoy the early morning sunshine.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Purely for the Love

Wow, have I seen some damn fine music lately. There is so much that I haven't reported on musically.

Just last week, I saw my local faves High Diving Horses at the Starry Plough, which, to those not in the know, is a bar that I've played at for about ten years now, and have been the official booking agent of for the last two years (and that tenure is coming to an end, but more about that later).

I cannot begin to tell you about all the amazing shows that I have seen on that stage, or that I have played on that stage! Idiot Flesh, Charming Hostess, Nels Cline, 20 Minute Loop, Black Heart Procession, Joe Rut, Penelope Houston and Eric McFadden, and that's just to name a few!

So there I was just last week with High Diving Horses, with SF songwriter Chris Jones opening the show.

Chris Jones was the bomb and left me wondering, where the hell have I been that I haven't known of him before? This Tenesee native can write a top-notch song and play a mean guitar and tell a story with grace and charm, and man, can he croon. Imagine a voice that sounds something like a blend of Jeff Buckley and Dwight Yoakam and Chris Isaak. I really look forward to hearing more of him, and you might want to, too!

HDH were captivating as always, and when the sound system was misbehaving, were easily enticed to come down to the center of the room and play acoustic and take requests, and we all sang along to one infectuous HDH song after another.

Then on Saturday, it was another great show at the Plough with Japonize Elephants, The Fuxedos and Polkacide. Pinch me; am I dreaming? Could one show possibly feature this much brilliance, cacophony, talent, humor and pure entertainment in one evening? Why yes, I think it can, and did, judging from all the sweaty bodies that remained until the very last note was played!

Am I going to be sad to give up my job as booker? Not really, because I'll always be a person who is obsessed with music, and I know that I will continue to put together really cool and interesting shows as long as I continue to know and discover so many talented musicians and artists, and so far, that hasn't even come close to coming to an end. It will just be so nice to get back to doing it purely for the love of it, though. That is for sure.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Posole Revisited

Due to popular demand, it's time to post my posole recipe again. I've been slowly refining it over the last year or so, and judging from the reaction of all who enjoyed the last batch, it seems I've hit my posole stride.

Regular readers of this blog know that I am wild for all things chipotle. And the chipotle in adobo sauce is just the thing that gives this recipe its kick, its heat, and it's rich, rusty red color that reminds me of the Crayola crayon color Burnt Sienna. Remember that?

Well put your crayons away and grab your apron, cause it's time to make posole.

Cut about 1 1/2 lbs. pork shoulder or butt into 1 inch cubes and lightly brown in a splash of olive or canola oil in a cast iron pot that could hold ideally up to 5 quarts.

Cover the pork with water or chicken stock to make about 3 or 4 quarts, and add half an onion studded with 4 cloves, plus two bay leaves and four cloves of crushed garlic. Also add a generous tablespoon of crushed dried oregano, and the same amount of freshly toasted ground cumin seeds.

Take one chipotle in adobo sauce and pound it with a mortar and pestle with about one tablespoon of the sauce, till it's relatively smooth. Stir this into the soup. Bring it all to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let it simmer for at least an hour and a half, till the pork is tender and surrenders when you entice it with a fork.

Now taste the broth. It'll be spicy, and it may need salt. It it's too spicy for your liking, add some water and continue to adjust the salt/water/spice ratio until it's to your liking.

It is helpful at this point to have James Brown cranked on your stereo, or perhaps some Rick James. Lydia Mendoza works nicely, as does Calexico or Lhasa.

Now, remove the onion chunks and bay leaves, and smash the softened garlic cloves into the side of the pan and stir into the soup.

Next it's time to add two 14-oz cans of hominy, and continue letting the flavors simmer and blend for another 45 minutes to an hour. At this point, it's all about tasting and adjusting. You may need more cumin or salt or oregano. You might like to add a skinny twist or two of fresh ground black pepper as you like. Or not. You should by now have a stock that is rich, lively and spicy, with plentiful morsels of tender pork and corn.

Now it's time to garnish -- a very integral part of your soup so don't even THINK about skipping this!

Top with little bits of the following:

*Thinly sliced radishes
*Finely diced cilantro
*Minced white onion that has been chopped and rinsed in water, then drained
*Crumbled cojija anejo cheese
*Very thinly sliced napa or green cabbage

All of the above will make this half-soup, half-stew both full of flavor and texture and nearly as colorful as a box of Crayola crayons, but much more pleasing to the tastebuds.

If you can serve this with homemade corn tortillas, all the better. But store bought tortillas work just as well. No tortillas required in fact, but do try to enjoy in the company of friends who friends who make your heart sing. In fact, try to enjoy many of your meals that way, because that will make your heart sing even more.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Did Someone say Chili Cook-Off?


Why yes, someone did.

Rumor has it I'm going to be participating in one, so I best get to collecting and testing those chili recipes. Like my Italian cuisine, my chili can be rather hit-or-miss. I've been known to make some pretty good batches, and a few mediocre ones too. But there is no room for mediocrity if you're going to be the grand prize winner of the great Koi Pond Chili Cook-Off! And of course, I want to win the prize. I don't even know what it is, but I hear it's going to be good.

So by all means friends, pass along your tips and point me to your favorite recipes, won't you?

Stay tuned. Later this week I'm going to post an updated posole recipe, and a yummy quinoa breakfast porridge recipe too. But for now, sleep is beckoning me to come to it and let it wrap its comforting, dreamy arms around me, and I am more than happy to comply. Oh yes, I am already half way there...

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Don't stop crying, you'll flood the streets...

...we'll take our boats out, just you and me...

These are lyrics to a beautiful song by Noe Venable that I have found myself listening to over and over again recently. One of the things I love about Noe's songwriting is that she has a way of drawing you into another world, making you feel what the characters in this world feel, even if you don't know exactly what it is that is happening there. You just get find yourself lost in this world, and for me, anyway, I am happily lost as I listen to her angelic, striking voice and the way the guitars perfectly support the sentiment of the song.

...it's like the ocean when you rush in....

She sings this line and I feel like I have been carried out to the sea, floating on warm waves, with all my troubles behind me. It's both a comforting feeling and a deeply sad feeling, and I love the contrast, and I love music that can make me feel both of these emotions at once.

This song, called Don't Stop Crying, is from Noe's first album, which is a very lovely debut. She's released two more since then, and with each offering, her songs and voice and the way it's all delivered reach another level, and I find myself having more reasons to appreciate her and her muse, for what a powerful duo they are.

Thanks, Noe, for providing the soundtrack to my Sunday evening. Tonight, your song is the remedy to all the things that have made me feel weary.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

It's Unresolved


I will be the first to admit that my moods are all over the place. I live my life on a rollercoaster, and I have never known any other way to be.

Just the other day, I found myself in the kitchen, feeling so content and dreamy, feeling like all is as it should be. I was listening to Toots and the Maytals, and making a perfect batch of poblano rice. The weather was perfect and sunlight was streaming through the curtains in the windows. I thought to myself, I am happy right now, however imperfect much of my life may be. And it felt like such an achievement to be able to have that thought.

And then, within the span of twenty-four hours, I found myself in the midst of what felt like certain relationships unraveling, while other relationships were dangling in the air like question marks hanging from a telephone wire, swaying precariously in the wind. It's wild how some situations can sneak up on you without you having any idea, how the undercurrent of what brings them on seems to remain obscured in your blind spot until it hits you squarely between the eyes, leaving you wondering...

WHAT

the

F*CK

?

?

?

I can't help but think of one of my favorite She Mob songs, wherein the tension is churning and the two voices are shouting back and forth to one another "I want closure!", "you can't have it!", "I want closure!", "you can't have it!", "IT'S UNRESOLVED", and the guitars and drums freak out and everything explodes into beautiful chaos.


Yeah, I'm about ready to crank that song right about now ...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Drunken Pinto Beans




It was blissful weekend, and I spent most of it either cooking or eating with friends; that's the life for me! Most everything I cooked over the weekend was Mexican-inspired, and these beans were a particularly big hit last night (sorry, vegetarians!).


Drunken Pinto Beans

8 oz. dry pinto beans (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/2 cup cubed pork shoulder or pork butt (about 2 ounces)
4 slices bacon
1 small white onion, diced
Couple sprigs of epazote***
Hot fresh geen chiles to taste (serrano or jalapeno)
Salt to taste
Couple splashes of tequila
Couple handfuls of diced cilantro


Rinse the beans and put them into a pot, preferably an enamal coated
cast iron. Cover with about 5 cups water, and add the pork shoulder
and the epazote sprigs***. Bring to a boil and simmer gently,
partially covered, until the beans are tender. This should take about
one and a half to two hours. Gently stir the beans occasionally and
add water as needed, keeping the water level about one half inch above
the beans.

Now, it's time to cook the bacon! Do it however you like. I like to
bake it, putting it on a cooling rack placed on top of a baking sheet,
so the drippings fall down into the baking sheet. When the bacon is
done, set it aside and take some of the drippings and put them into a
skillet and now, it's time to fry the onions and chiles in all this
glorious fat! Once the onions are nice and soft and golden brown, add
them and the chiles to the pot 'o beans. Continue simmering for
another 15 - 20 minutes to blend the flavors. Now it's time to taste
it and add salt to taste. Notice I did not say to add the salt in the
beginning! With beans, you always add the salt AFTER the beans are
cooked.

And now my friends, you will finish the dish. You've simmered the
beans until they're nicely tender, and you've added the porky onions
and chiles. You want the consistency of the pot 'o beans to be
something like a brothy bean soup. Perhaps you may like it thicker;
if that's the case, then puree some of the beans and throw them back
into the pot. However you like it, just be sure to add these final
touches before serving: crumble the bacon into the beans, stir in the
cilantro, and splash that tequila into the pot! Be sure to not get
too drunk DRINKING the tequila that you forget to leave some for the
frijoles! And also, when you're trying to get your guests attention
to direct them to which items are appropriate for vegetarians
(certainly not this one!), make sure to wear oven mits, and
schlurrrrrrrrrrr. It's very effective.


***It is said that in Mexico, no one soaks beans overnight and that in
fact, that doesn't do SHIT to make them easier to digest. It is said
that the only way to make it easier to digest beans is to eat more
beans. It is also said that cooking the beans with epazote helps with digestion,
but the jury is still out on that one.***

This recipe was adapted from the Rick Balyess 's Mexican Kitchen
cookbook. The smartass comments are mine alone, so don't let that Rick
Bayless try to tell you differently.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Dry Farmed Tomatoes are Back....






... and I can't tell you how much this thrills me! My heart leapt out of my chest when I saw these in the Berkeley Bowl yesterday. Call me a geek and a food whore; it's true. Taste these tomatoes and you just might become a geek and a food whore too.

I'm no farmer; in fact I can barely keep my houseplants alive, so I can't really explain how this dry farming business works. It has something to do with minimizing the amount of water used in the growing process, thereby concentrating the flavors. This article explains it.

I'd love to post a recipe about how to best enjoy these tomatoes, and in fact, I will:

JUST EAT THEM!

Yes, they're perfect off the vine, perfectly divine. Slice and eat. Or just eat. Don't drown them in dressing, and no need to even add salt.

JUST.

EAT!

I'm going to do exactly that right now.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Binge Listening: Sun in Mind


Some time ago, my friend Lucio Loud wrote a post about binge listening, and I've been meaning to add my two cents on the topic.

I am a frequent binge listener, surprise surprise. And lately, it's Sonya Hunter's Sun in Mind that I am feasting on. I inhale these sweet sounds into my pores and it's like medicine for my soul. I crank the stereo up loud and let Sonya's gorgeous melodies and choruses of exquisite harmonies wash over me, making me a little drunk.

She sings tales of the reckless abandon and joy and longing and emptiness and exuberance and cynicism that are all a part of the landscape of being human and of loving someone, and each tale resonates in my heart while delighting my ears.

The harmonies in particular, on the song Be My Baby, just flat knock me out. I keep listening to this one over and over again, and every time, these harmonies floor me.

This album has been with me every day lately in my car on my commutes to and from work, and it's been the soundtrack to everything that I've created in my kitchen this week.

Binge listening indeed - I am savoring each note, each finely crafted lyric, each sweeping melody - as much as I am savoring these last long, hot days of summer sun.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Someone's been asleep on the job - Now let's get back to preserved lemons, shall we?

I do believe this is the longest I've ever gone without posting something. I am just now starting to catch my breath after what was a very long string of long days and long nights. Long, long, long I tell you.

I wouldn't even begin to know where to begin to tell you about all the music and food and fun that was packed into said long days and nights. But oh, it has been quite a week. I can hardly believe my good fortune. Friends keep taking me out to nice restaurants and cooking me amazing meals, and who am I to complain?

Heirloom tomatoes are in season, good music and people are all around me, and the weather has been beautiful. The only thing I've been lacking is sleep. Thank goodness we have a cozy couch at work, and that I work for the kind of people who don't seem to mind when they see me laying there snoring in the middle of the day with a blanket over my head. God I love my job!

Anyway, I used the David Lebovitz recipe for preserved lemons. Click on this link to not only read his recipe, but to read comments from others on the topic of preserved lemons and how to use them.

Well now my friends, it's time for me to at least attempt to look alive. I'm in the middle of a very fun project at work right now, which involves putting together a local restaurant guide for folks who come to visit our company. Now if I could just get them to pay me to eat at each and every single place I review, THAT would be delightful!

Until next time...Ciao, and, Chow!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Figs, Preserved Lemons and Beets, Oh My!


I've been meaning to proclaim my love for preserved lemons on this blog for some time now, and I do believe that day has finally come. This might be a topic that requires a couple of entries, so thanks for your patience.

Tonight, I'm going to tell you about two very simple yet very lively tasting salads that feature preserved lemons, and later I'll post the directions as to how to make your own.

Try this recipe in the heart of summer when Black Mission Figs are exquisitely ripe. Take a basket of figs and slice them into quarters, and gently place them in a medium bowl. Cut a couple of ounces of firm feta cheese into bite-sized cubes, and gently place them into the bowl with the figs. Now dice a little bit of the rind of a preserved lemon, say... one quarter of the lemon or so. Sprinkle this over the figs and feta. Drizzle with olive oil, and give it a couple twists of fresh ground pepper. Thinly slice about four to six fresh mint sprigs, and sprinkle over the top. Give it a couple of gentle tosses, and serve immediately.

Here's another very easy and tasty salad. Steam three or four beets until they are just tender, and when they're cool enough to handle, slip them out of their skins. Dice them and place into a small bowl. Dice about one quarter of the rind of a preserved lemon and sprinkle it over the beets. Thinly slice three or four springs of fresh basil or mint, or a combination of the both, and toss this over the beets. Crumble a little bit of feta over the whole mixture, season generously with salt and fresh ground pepper, and enjoy!

In both of these recipes, you could use lemon zest in place of the preserved lemon rind, but if you've never tasted preserved lemon, you really ought to experience the flavor. It's totally vibrant and effervescent, so much more than mere lemon. You don't actually use the lemon's flesh, you only use the rind. The flavor lends itself nicely to Mediterranean and Moroccan cooking. I've been really wanting to experiment with creating a preserved lemon-influenced ice cream flavor. I shall add that to the list of upcoming obsessions.

Next time I'll get more into the nuts and bolts of how to preserve lemons. Until then, beauty sleep is calling...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mint and Pea Pesto

Well I can't take much credit for this recipe except perhaps for the manner in which I bastardized it, based upon hearing about it from my friend Adam, who got the recipe from Gourmet magazine. I don't know how they did it in Gourmet, but it sure rocked when I made it, and it was so simple. And when it's your turn to make it, do it like this ...

First, put some water on to boil while you're making the sauce.

Roughly chop about three cloves of garlic, and sautee them lightly in a liberal bit of olive oil over low heat for a few minutes. Now, toss a handful of pine nuts into the skillet, turn the heat up a bit and shake the pan every minute or two for a few minutes. Next, add half a bag of frozen peas, cooking and shaking the pan for about another three or four minutes until the peas are just done.

While the mixture is cooling, rinse and thoroughly dry about half a bunch of fresh mint, and remove any big stems. Put the mint into the food processor and now pour the pea mixture into the food processor as well, and add a couple of fat sprinklings of nice parmesan or romano cheese. As you are processing this beautiful green goodness, you'll want to slowly drizzle more olive oil into the mix. You will of course need to set your wine down to do this. Remember, safety first!

By now it's probably time to add the ravioli to the water, so don't forget to do that. You can't survive on just pesto and wine alone.

Now, just keep processing your pesto until it's nicely blended and add enough olive oil so the consistency is right - you want it to be somewhere in between a sauce and a paste. And don't forget the salt and freshly ground pepper, friends.

By this time, your ravioli should be just about done, so of course you'll want to drain them, and spoon some of the pesto over them, and give it all a good toss and maybe one last twist of pepper.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I Feel the Earth Move under my Feet

Tonight's earthquake:

3.2 magnitude, occurring at exactly 12:13 a.m., centered two miles ESE of Oakland.

It was a good reminder that I need to update my earthquake kit which currently contains pants that are too small for my newly acquired ass, plus water, vicadin and arnica, dog food, flashlight, nasty old canned food, and nothing much else.

Dear Lord I hope that when the Big One happens, I'm at work. Because at work, we always have lots of food and booze, plus we have a bazillion flashlights and batteries, and a special emergency stash of chocolate.

Hopefully there will be no more shaking tonight, for the hour is late, and beauty sleep is calling...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Song Lyric of the Day...

... I can't get this out of my head. It's by Joe Rut. It's from a song called Hole in Space that just sears my heart to its very core every time I listen to it, which is often lately. It's so simple, and it's so stunning...

"...I like now
Now is enough
Now is the only time we have to love...".

Probably, it doesn't do real justice for me to just mention is here, but I felt compelled to mention it nonetheless.

I will never forget the moment I first listened to this song, the way the big fat full moon hung over my head at 2:30 in the morning on a cool summertime Bay area night that was soon to ease into morning. I can remember exactly what I was feeling, and exactly what kind of emotions this song awoke in me at that particular time. How I was so lonely and how this song gave me some kind of hope that I would not always feel so desolate.

Oh, that is the beauty and the power of a good song. For me, anyway...

Later, I shall tell tales of ravioli with pesto made from fresh mint and sweet peas, and of pan-seared asparagus with olive oil, garlic, homemade preserved lemon, and feta.

But right now, I want to lose myself in the splendor that is the music of Joe Rut. Cause this song is rocking my world right about now, and a little hope is always a good thing.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Fine eating, Binge listening, and my Ever Shrinking Pants

Once again, my cup runneth over and I hardly know where to begin to report about the last couple of weeks I've had. So I'll just begin here...

I've eaten at some damn fine restaurants lately; so much so, that I'm a little on the broke side lately, and my jeans are feeling rather uh, tight. But oh, it's been so delightful getting this way, with meals at Tamarindo, Kirala, Luca's and Cesar in the last two weeks. Each meal featured not only great food and wine, but also old friends, new friends, or family. Now if I could just get someone to pay me to eat at fine restaurants, and pay for a personal trainer so that my pants won't keep shrinking....anyone??

And then, there has been music.

Lately Miss NoNo and I have been on a PJ Harvey bender. Each of her albums is like a beautiful baby; you just love them all for the unique creation that they are.

The album Dry just never fails to incite a bittersweet enthusiasm in me that makes me want to crank the stereo to epic volumes and recall the sting of the end of my relationship with my First Big Love, about whom I could write volumes regarding the depth of feelings that loving him inspired in me.

Wow, that was a mouthful. And perhaps not even proper sentence structure, but it's late, and I'm tired and don't feel much like self-editing.

I could go on blathering about what I love about each PJ Harvey album, but instead I think I'm going to pop one into the CD player; maybe Stories From The City, Stories from the Sea, and let those sublime, earthy grooves lull me into sweet, sweet sleep.

That sounds like a plan.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Shameless Self-Promotion

Go Cry me a River, won't you?

This is me. I thought you might enjoy seeing my alien eyes. They are what makes the meals I create taste soooo good.

Anyway it's my little brother's birthday and I'm off to enjoy massive amounts of sushi with him. In the meantime, you can watch this. Go on, do it!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Huh?

Hmm... I don't know what happened to the photos posted on my last entry. They seem to have been replaced with little boxes with question marks. Sometimes, that's the way all of life feels. I just wander around with these little boxes with question marks hanging over my head. I find them in my pockets, underneath piles of things on my desk, parading their way through my consciousness. So many question marks! I stagger around with an utterly confused look on my face. One thing I've noticed though, is that the less I care about the answers, the better I feel. Sometimes, apathy is a good friend. That's my rant for today!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Gluttony Loves Company

Goodness, where to begin?!!!

Should I first write about how perfectly delightful it feels to drive up the winding coastline that is Highway 101, with its breathtaking scenery featuring soul-soothing blue ocean waves that seem to have no end?

Or, should I tell about how much fun I've been having exploring the recipes from the Dona Tomas Cookbook? Recipes like Sopa de Lima...









...Corn Pudding, and Enchiladas w/ Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Poblano Peppers?






But wait; as long as we're on the top of Mexican food, I should post the recipe for the salad I made recently that featured sweet cherry tomatoes, buttery ripe avocado slices, queso fresco, lime juice, olive oil and a pinch each of fresh-ground allspice and cumin. Yes, I really should tell you about that. But basically, that IS the recipe. Just toss it all together with love in your heart, trusting in your intuition, and it'll be better than you even imagined it would be. Top it with a little dried oregano, if you wish.






If I don't mention the bottle of 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon from Cakebread Cellars that my friend Claire was kind enough to share with me, Laurie, and our Gay Husbands just a mere few nights ago, it could be considered blasphemy, and we wouldn't want that. Suffice it to say that not a drop went unappreciated.







And no, I am most certainly NOT done reveling! Because I have to tell you, that when you find yourself waking up in a beautiful place on the California Coast to be greeted by one of your Gay Husbands bringing you a perfect cup of drip coffee, and then he and your other dear friends create the most delightful breakfast of hash and poached egg for you to enjoy before sliding into the hot tub - you'll feel you surely must be dreaming, or maybe on second thought, that perhaps this is a new habit just waiting for you to adopt it.






Yeah, three cheers for Gluttony! I think I need a nap now.

Friday, August 03, 2007

R & R, Here I come!

I wonder if something's going on with the planets, or if perhaps all my years of trying to figure my shit out is finally paying off. Lately I've been feeling good thanks to the simple realization that when I slow down and relax more, the tension just leaves my body. Duh! Ok I know this is a no-brainer to some, but it took me a long time to figure this one out. So here's to more rest, more fun, more relaxing, less worrying!

That being said, I'm headed out of town to Gualala spend the weekend eating, drinking, hot tubbing, being lazy in the sun, and playing guitar by the fire with my Two Gay Husbands and a couple of other dear friends, plus our gaggle of four-legged beasts. I expect that by the time Sunday rolls around, I will be very relaxed indeed....and then, perhaps I'll get around to writing about my latest experiments cooking recipes from the Dona Tomas cookbook. Perhaps....

Monday, July 30, 2007

Open Foot, Insert Mouth

It was another action-packed and highly eventful weekend in my little world, and it included, among other things, playing three sets of music with my band El Mirage on an organic farm and vineyard in the beautiful town of Healdsburg.

The food was fantastic, all of it locally grown and organic. The wine was lovely, also organic (hey Dad, you'll be getting your bottle soon, don't worry!). It was a gorgeous day and rumor has it that our music was enjoyed by all the merry wine drinkers.

Really, it was all perfect. There was even homemade bread by the owner of the vineyard, who baked it in his wood-fired oven. One of the women who works at the vineyard had earlier in the day told me about this bread, and I was looking forward to enjoying it. In fact, maybe I was just a little too excited, because when I met said baker-of-the-bread-and-owner-of-the-vineyard, I got my words all screwed up and I said to him "I HEAR YOU ARE QUITE THE BED BREAKER!"...to which he replied "Well, I can't guarantee that but I do bake some pretty good bread!"....as my face turned beet red.

Uh, yes, this was before I'd had anything to drink. Fortunately besides baking delicious bread and growing good things to eat and making fine wine and paying the entertainment well, he also has a sense of humor. Ha, and I bet he won't forget me now! And the band thought it was so funny that they've decided to change the name of our project from Val Esway & El Mirage to Val Esway & the Bed Breakers....coming soon to a winery near you!

Friday, July 27, 2007

And the Secret Ingredient is....

Just moments ago, I finished a great book. As a side note, I would add that I finished this great book while sitting at work, drinking a glass of wine. Yes, my job has many great perks! But I digress.

The book, which I read over the course of the last 24 hours, is called Coyote Cowgirl, by Kim Antieau. My friend Sue passed it on to me after I catered a dinner party at her house last weekend (Moroccan food for twelve, and it was sublimely delicious!)

Anyway, this book involves a few of my favorite things - food, and the desert. Without giving too much of the plot away, I can say that I was really struck by the fact that several of the main characters in the book had a sort of spiritual relationship with food. In this book, food is not only something you eat, but it's something that sustains you and nourishes you on a soul level. The cooks in this book put love and spirit into the dishes they created, asking the food to give nourishment to whomever ate it. Yep, the secret ingredient really is love!

It is so satisfying to create and prepare a dish that looks beautiful and tastes amazing, but even more satisfying to share that nourishment. Now I feel inspired to run out and buy beautiful tomatillos, fiery peppers, fragrant herbs and deep dark greens...and maybe call a few friends to enjoy whatever I end up creating with it...and I certainly can't think of a better way to end what has been a very long week.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sometimes...

... you don't know what you're going to write until you sit down to write it, and the words fly out of your fingertips while you've barely had a chance to think of their meaning or edit yourself.

Sometimes, these are the best kinds of bits, because they come straight from the heart. And sometimes, these are the worst kind of bits, because they reveal parts of you that are perhaps best left inside your cluttered mind, where there is no one to offend or confuse or drive away - except yourself, that is...

But the problem is, you're always stuck with yourself; you can't run away from you! You can confuse yourself, and you could possibly offend yourself. But you can't drive yourself away. But oh, how we keep trying.

Believe me...there have been many times when I would like to find myself 10,000 miles away from myself.

Sometimes, you don't know why you're proclaiming the things that you're proclaiming as if these things were the gospel truth, because you know full well that soon you'll be singing a different tune, possibly even shouting it from the top of some mountaintop. You know this and it pisses you off a little bit to think that you could even be spending this much time pondering this subject. In the time it took you to write what you wrote, life and death and most everything in between circled around hundreds of times, and you sort of missed it.

Sometimes, it's good to remember to crank up your stereo, to be grateful, to keep your heart and mind open and your cup full. And maybe not to think quite so much.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Exhausted...

... thanks to a weekend that included hot sunshine, hot kitchens, hot stages, hot sauces, cool herbs, savory stew, sweet berries, strong coffee, strong beer, spicy wine, sweet friends, saucy music ... and, not nearly enough sleep.

But really, I can't complain. And in fact, I especially can't complain now as I sit here with the Joe Rut song Hole in Space cranked, with it doing to me what it does to me every time I listen to it, which is to just completely hypnotize me and take me to such a perfect place. It is the perfect soundtrack to the stillness of this moment that I have finally arrived at after a non-stop weekend. Thanks, Joe. Your song is a gift that keeps on giving.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dress up your Greens

And now back to our regularly scheduled progamming...






I'm still enjoying cooking things that are green. Or rather, it keeps working out that I have green things in my fridge that need to be loved, and so I improvise based on little snippets of recipes that I recall from faded cookbooks and magazines of days gone by.

And sometimes, it turns out just right.

The other day I woke up at 7 am and was inspired to steam dinosaur kale, broccoli and zuchinni because I knew I wouldn't be home in the evenings for the rest of the week, and I wanted to make sure that it didn't go to waste. But I didn't have much time before work, so I did this:

Heated a little lemon-infused olive oil in a skillet and added a couple handfuls of pine nuts, several cloves of roughly chopped garlic, and a couple handfuls of currants. Sauteed it all until the garlic was al dente and the pine nuts were golden. Tossed it all over the steamed green goodies, and off to work we went. Although I just used what I had, I bet this would be delightful over basmati rice or pasta. And if you didn't have lemon-infused olive oil, you could use regular olive oil and give a squeeze of fresh lemon juice at the end. Use what you have, including your imagination!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

First Impressions and Too Much Information

I was just thinking about first impressions, and how so many of us strive to put our best face forward. Of course, it's human nature, isn't it?

I mean, we all want to present ourselves as having our shit together, being grounded, being desirable and clever and evolved and just all around perfect, don't we? Yes! I do! I want to be perfect, or at least, I want you to think that I am! Or I want to somehow prove to myself that I am, or could be. But damnit, it takes so much work to keep up that kind of charade. Let's hear if for laziness and apathy!

Sometimes, I want to meet a person and say "HI! I'M FUCKING NEUROTIC AND YEARS OF THERAPY HAVEN'T CHANGED THAT! I'VE GOT BAGGAGE! I'M A MESS! WELCOME TO MY MELTDOWN!".

I want to say this and so much more. I want to talk about the qualities you and I may find charming in one another at first but that we eventually will find grating upon our nerves like sandpaper across a chalk board. I want to meet you and disect you and find out what makes you tick and I want to love you and drive you away simultaneously so that I can sit around feeling sorry for myself and blaming you for my problems. And I want it to happen all in my mind so that I never have to risk anything and so that I never have to feel the coolness of your rejection.

I want to rail in that land of Too Much Information with more than just my own issues as entertainment... I want to hear all about yours neurotic ways, and then I want to sit around and psycho-analyze us all to death, so that I can firmly prove to myself that you are just as screwed up as me and then sit around feeling smug.

Yes, that's uh... what the voices in my head instructed me to write about tonight. Those voices are such cranky, buzzkilling little buggers, eh? But at least, they make us laugh. Or, they make me laugh. And in the end, laughter is what gets me through. So let's hear it for the voices! Woo hoo!

p.s. All the names have been changed to protect the guilty, and any resemblance in this story to any persons living or dead is just really tough shit.