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 " 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.'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...







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

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:


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.



I'm going to do exactly that right now.