Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Adventures in Salsa making

So... my birthday approaches, and I'm very excited to carry on the tradition I started a couple years ago, which is to cook an amazing feast for a whole bunch of friends, one of whom shares the same birthday. That would be Janet - awesome friend, entrepreneur, apron-maker, and woman of many talents.

Last year's feast was tamales, mole, enchiladas, guacamole and blood orange margaritas. I've learned so much about cooking Mexican food since then; I can hardly wait to outfit myself with a fancy apron and start cooking for this year's meal!

The mole will be so much better! All the salsas will be made from scratch! There is a rumour about homemade corn tortillas! And there will be Sangria... oh yes, there will be Sangria. Janet gets her own personal gallon and perhaps if she's in the mood, she'll share it with the rest of us.

I've been pretty much obsessed with Mexican food in recent weeks (and that will be true in the coming weeks as well, I'm sure!), and last night w/ my friends Miss NoNo and BathTub, a fine meal was enjoyed. It featured a fire-roasted chipotle salsa that was passed along by our pal Camille, who as you may recall, has recently relocated to Texas. There she met a man named Mete who was kind enough to share his salsa recipe which I have adapted ever so slightly below. It's a good thing Camille gave me this salsa recipe, otherwise I'd still be mad at her for leaving us!

We also enjoyed a black bean and quinoa pilaf, buckets of Sangria, and a spinach salad with blood oranges, radishes, cilantro, pumpkin seeds, pickled red onions and lime.

And the salsa goes like this:

Under a flame, or just plain in a cast iron skillet on your stove top, roast 2 - 4 jalapenos, 3 - 6 serranos, and a whole head of garlic till it's all blackened and blistered. Mete said to peel the garlic first, but I roasted it with the skin on, and peeled it after.

Mete did not say to remove the seeds from the peppers, but damnit, I'm not a Texan, and so I did. I knew it was already going to be plenty spicy due to the next step...

Throw the peppers and garlic into a food processor along with a 7 oz. can of chipotles in adobo sauce (I used a little less!), a 28 oz. can of diced or stewed tomatoes, an entire bunch of green onions, salt to taste, and a liberal sprinkling of cumin. Now pulse till it's smooth, but still a little chunky. Squeeze several limes into it and dump it into a pan.

Now Mete's recipe said to bring to a boil and simmer for a half hour, but I happen to know that cooking intensifies the spice, so I didn't cook it for quite that long. And it was still plenty hot. And mighty delicious. Spicy and smoky and just about right! I brought a bunch of it to work today and my co-workers agree....

Alright y'all, stay tuned for more adventures in Mexican cuisine!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

If you Try sometimes, you Get what you Need...

One of the highlights of my job is that I get to help plan the parties, and fortunately for all of us, we enjoy many parties. Today was Derek's birthday and, being fluent in Japanese and in love with Japanese culture, he requested sake. I learned from Carl, another of our co-horts well experienced in Japanese culture, that I should stay away from the sweeter sakes that are served warm, and go for something cold and dry. And so I did, and we had a lovely afternoon sake break, also featuring seaweed salad, wasabi peas, edamame, red bean jam cakes, and rice crackers. Seriously, I am the happiest grunt you ever met. Days like this, I adore my job.

But later, I got the hankering for sushi. Like, bad. A few of us were talking about sushi, sashimi, sukiyaki... and a few of us almost went out to eat some, but at the last minute I found myself heading home, lacking an eating partner and not sure if I felt like venturing out on my own.

After a lovely near-sunset walk with Miss Nono and two beloved furry creatures, I found myself running out in a sashimi-crazed daze. I called both Kathleen and Anton to ask them the name of that place they love in the Grand-Lake area. I reached both of their machines. And I headed out the door feeling partially starving and excited to eat, and partially not feeling up for heading out on my own, but not wanting to let that stop me....

And so off to Grand-Lake I drove, and followed my Spidey senses around the lake until I found Coach Sushi, which I was pretty sure was the place both Kathleen and Anton had mentioned. And as I was walking through the door, dreaming of hamachi, who did I spot but Kathleen and Anton, beaming smiles and welcoming me to join them! A true moment of delightfully perfect timing.

And the food was splendid, the hamachi was so delicate it was like sinking your teeth into custard, and the cold dry sake hit the spot, and the company was so warm and welcoming. I wasn't even sure of what I wanted when I set out to greet this day, but I can say one thing for sure - I got what I needed, and boy am I thankful for that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Unexpected Sweetness arrives Just in the Knick of Time

Oh thank goodness for little things, which really are the big things.

It's been a rough several weeks. One day up, next day down, every day new. Welcome to the rollercoaster of my life.

Yesterday rain, today, sunshine. I stopped by my post office box this morning to discover to my utter appreciation and delight, a special S.O.S. package of Sweet Stuff from a lovely siren named Joni Davis who happens to be in the U.K. right now.

I met Joni because we are both musicians, and she wowed me from the first time I ever heard her sing. We've been fortunate to develop a sweet friendship in a roundabout way - she has been in London ever since the day after our last show together in October of last year, and we hardly knew each other then, but have become penpals since she's been gone. What a treat to get to know her!

She knows I've been struggling, and she also knows that music is one of the main forces that sustains me. And so she totally surpised me today with this package featuring organic dark chocolate, and some of her favorite music. Man, what a treat! I haven't made it all the way through the music yet because I want to enjoy each song as it comes... but so far there's Nina Simone, Tom Waits, Daniel Johnston, Jolie Holland... it's all right up my alley, it's all perfect, and it's so very much appreciated that I can hardly put it into words.

I am really looking forward to Joni's return to the U.S. so we can get to know each other better outside of cyberspace. We share a love of food and music, and I can't wait to make a fat feast together and sing some harmonies.

Until then, it's nice to know that occasionally the p.o. box holds something more than bills and junk mail! Hello, people! Send love letters, fancy treats, random thoughts, and whatever strikes your fancy (as long as it is nice!) to p.o. box 3231, Oakland, CA 94609. ok???

And by the way, go and listen to Joni's music, y'all! She will simultaneously hypnotize you and revitalizing your senses with her deep, gorgeous, rich and velvety voice and her dark, sublime songs. I know I'm a little bit biased, but I swear I'd say that even if I wasn't!


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Lemon & Garlic brined Shrimp

Food and music continue to be the remedy for all that ails me lately.

Saturday evening I was fortunate to spend the evening with friends preparing a feast that featured a recipe I've enjoyed at least once every summer since I first tried it - the lemon & garlic brined shrimp were once again a hit.

The menu also featured Steve Lucky's homemade babaganoush made from eggplant charred on the grill, and Lucio brought a home-baked strawberry rhubarb pie, and I made a salad with snap peas and rice noodles in sesame-vinaigrette, and grilled potatoes tossed with fresh oregano, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Berge brought the wine, and since it was St. Pat's day, Steve & Patsy also provided whiskey. And guitars. And what more do you need for a perfect evening? Well maybe just a sweet little baby named Monique to provide dazzling smiles all night.

Full disclosure - I used frozen shrimp that I bought at the Berkeley Bowl... it had been a long and draining week, and the last thing I felt like doing was peeling and de-veining 2 dozen shrimp. And you know what? You'd never know if I hadn't told you! I think the brining makes the shrimp extra succulent. This recipe originally appeared in Sunset magazine, and it goes like this:

In a large bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons salt and 2 tablespoons sugar.
Add to the bowl: 2 dozen shrimp or prawns. Stir to coat, cover, and chill for about 45 minutes. Rinse the shrimp well and dry them. Rinse the bowl and dry it too. Now put the shrimp back in the bowl and add about a tablespoon of lemon zest, a big handful of chopped fresh italian parsley (about 1/4 cup), 2 - 4 cloves finely minced garlic, and a light sprinkling of olive oil, just enough to coat. Season with salt and pepper, give it a good toss, and now put your shrimp on skewers and slap 'em on the grill. Shrimp cook really fast - if your coals are good and hot, it will only take a few minutes on each side. And that's all there is to it! Serve piping hot in the company of good friends, and give thanks for another perfect evening.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A little Black spot on the Sun...

So as I sit down to write this, I realize that I have no idea what I'm going to write about.

And my lovely housemate Miss NoNo is sitting in her room listening to music with the door open, and here I sit in my room, feeling like I need to write something and I am not sure what that something is going to be.

And the words float down from her room "... there's a little black spot on the sun today ..." and it feels somehow appropriate for the way I've felt this week.

Blazing sunshine, clear skies, divine Spring/Summer breezes have been the backdrop to this week. But in light of this loss, it can't be seen in total brightness. It can't be felt in complete lightness, because one who was here just last week is gone, never to return to this earth.

I keep thinking of his family, of his girlfriend, of everything that he left undone. I keep thinking about how terribly sad I feel - and how perhaps those who knew him more intimately than I did, must be feeling that the earth has been pulled out from under them. I keep thinking that once a person is gone, you never get another chance to appreciate them on this earth.

And indeed the world does keep turning, we keep moving and breathing and burying ourselves under piles of incredibly important things that maybe aren't that important in the end. And the sun keeps shining and everything carries on, but there's the little black spot to remind slow down, to appreciate, to just be...and oh, how I am trying...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Blazing hot nights, cold comfort foods, and grief

Once again, it's been an action packed and highly eventful week.

First, we had Camille's going away party on Friday - another incredible night of music and good people, the kind of night that just made me feel so happy to be alive and to be part of such a vibrant community of talented and generous creative people.

And then on Saturday, just like that, our little Camille flew away to Austin, and boy, was that a buzzkill. The sadness trickled in even as the happiness lingered. And I had another show to play, this time at my friend Dylan's place - Dylan's father had just passed away earlier that week, so sadness was in the air.

And then suddenly winter became spring became summer practically overnight, and there I was on Sunday morning in the hot sunshine when I got a call that my friend and co-worker Kimio, who was only 42, had died suddenly on Friday night. Gone, just like that.

And then I proceeded to wander through my day in a bit of a stunned daze, unable to focus, unable to relax, unable to eat. By 6 pm I was feeling practically manic, and I knew that only one thing was going to make me feel right again, so I headed off to the market so that I could head home and heal my heart through chopping, slicing, and dicing...

Within a few hours and with a little help from a couple friends, I found myself sitting outside amidst candlelight and flowers, eating a meal that we had prepared together which first of all totally hit the spot on a hot night - homemade tabouli, chipotle & roasted garlic hummus, marinated tofu, and a big greek salad with orzo.

And second of all, it's a meal the Kimio would have totally appreciated, being a serious foodie and big time lover of all things chipotle. Kimio would frequently lay out these beautiful spreads of food for all of us at work - fresh mozzarella & tomatoes w/ basil, sliced baguettes, olive oil & garlic, beautiful green salads, dark chocolate covered toffee, roasted garlic croutons, stinky cheese... the man knew how to eat and he also knew how to live. And sadly for us, his life was too short.

I don't know if there's a point to this story, except perhaps that I'm grateful for every opportunity to enjoy great friends, to be able to experience incredible music and glorious food. If there's anything I learned from Kimio, it's that the little stuff is all just that - little stuff, and seriously not worth the stress. Farewell, friend... you are greatly, greatly missed.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Another edition of Cook it if ya Got it

Damnit, how did I get sick again? Must be all that running around I've been doing, all that trouble I've been causing...

Tonight I got home, collapsed onto the couch to settle in for a couple episodes of the first season of Lost, and at around 10 pm I remembered that there was food in the fridge waiting for me to give it a purpose....and that it would soon die if I did not do so! I couldn't let that happen!

So first, I steamed 2 bunches of dinosaur kale, thinking I'd use it as an ingredient in another dish later. But you know what? It's so utterly and perfectly delicious just steamed straight up like that, why mess with perfection? I'm going to bring it to Judith tomorrow because where kale is concerned, she is like a kid in a candy store, and if anyone would appreciate the delicate deep green sustenance of this steamed kale, it'd be her.

And then, I made this very simple recipe that my friend showed me... the friend who is Norwegian and Indian and yet puts me to shame with his Italian cooking. So simple, and it's the bomb...

Slice an onion and sautee it slowly in a nice cast iron skillet till it starts to just barely turn golden brown. Then add a couple of zuchinnis which you've sliced into bite sized pieces, and sautee the whole lot of it slowly over medium heat till the zuchinni are tender and the onions are golden brown. Add lots of fresh ground pepper and salt.

Meanwhile, boil some water for pasta. Cook the pasta, about a half pound or so, al dente. Reserve a bit of the cooking water before you drain the pasta. Now combine the pasta w/ the zuchinni/onion mixture and add freshly grated parmesan, a bit of the cooking water if it needs it in order to be perfectly moist, and a little more salt and pepper. Boom, you're done. Simple, savory, sweet, and exactly what the doctor ordered. Never mind that you can't seem to spell zuchini tonight to save your life.

Now I'm sure that all I need tonight is a couple more gallons of vitamin C and I'll be ready to face the rest of this week...

Monday, March 05, 2007

Vintage Elvis and Roasting Vegetables on the Fly

Jeez, where have I been?

Sorry about the recent slowness in postings, folks. I could make excuses like...

...too busy to stop & write, too busy listening to vintage Elvis 45's courtesy of Miss NoNo (who is not the proudly displaying these covers, for the record!)...
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too busy roasting vegetables on the fly (so on the fly that the recipe will have to wait for another time, friends!),
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...too busy enjoying live music (left to right: Amy Honey, Adam McCauley, and Carolyn Mark at the Makeout Room, 3/4/07)...
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too busy making music of my own (yours truly and parts of El Mirage at the Hotel Utah, 2/24/07)....
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...and all those excuses are true!

So there. That's where I've been. And you???