Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Well howdy, stranger! The months, they keep a flyin' by.  I've been enjoying a fair bit of winter hibernation, and not enjoying a sore lack of culinary inspiration.  It all makes for a big lack of blogging.  Boo.

Many of the meals I've made these past months have been rather blasé'.  Not necessarily bad, but not much to be chirping about either.  Simple soups made with some kind of legume and whatever kinds of vegetables are flopping around in the fridge.  Unremarkable frittatas.  Boring pastas that just make me depressed when I consider all the amazing pasta dishes I was lucky enough to enjoy in Italy.  And then, for the times when I can't even muster up that stuff, there has been takeout.  Burritos and Indian food mostly.

I did make an awesome but small batch of refried black beans a few nights ago, which inspired me to buy a big bag of pinto beans the next day, and cook them in the same method, and the second batch was just so-so.  Nonetheless, I find refried beans to be such a delightful comfort food.  Even a so-so batch really hits the spot for me on these cold, blustery days.  If the worst problem I have is boring food and so-so refried beans, well then, I could be doing a lot worse!

Tonight, however, I made the WORST stir-fried tempeh & green beans that a person could ever make.  It should have been rather healthy, you know?  Tempeh, green beans, quinoa, all the makings of a good meal.  Except I managed to make it charred black, artery clogging, greasy and heartburn inducing.  I told the little mister that we might as well have eaten bacon for all that fat and grease.  At least bacon would have tasted good.  He finds the mere idea of bacon to be revolting, and he swears he actually liked tonight's dinner, which is good, because I wouldn't dream of eating tonight's leftovers, as much as I hate to waste food.  I don't know if I'll ever come close to mastering or even *getting* the art of the stir fry.  I think I might need to take a class or something, or just stick to ordering Chinese takeout next time I get the itch.

To add insult to injury, tonight was the night I was going to make the first batch of holiday pizzelles, but even though I had thought I had all the ingredients on hand, it turned out I didn't have enough flour, and only had anise flavoring as opposed to real anise extract.  And after that greasy heavy heartburn inducing artery clogging meal, the last thing I wanted to do was to duck out to the store and wander around in search of real anise extract which they may or may not have at the market down the street.  So, no pizzelles tonight, but hopefully,  later in the week.

Wish there was something more exciting or inspiring to report, but sometimes, you just do the best you can, and your best is boring, uninspired,  greasy, and charred. And in those times, I find it helpful to remember that it's a very great gift to be able to have any kind of food, and a kitchen in which to cook it, inside a warm, cozy home, shared with a loving partner and sweet, devoted furry four-legged pals.  When I think about it in those terms, it's hard to complain about  a single thing, and in fact life feels very inspired after all!

Everything changes and passes eventually, after all. I have total faith in that.  But in the meantime, if anyone out there has any tips on the art of the stir-fry, by all means, please do pass them along!

Until next time, warmest winter wishes to you and yours.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wow, that was some show!  Thank you to all friends near and far who made the journey to enjoy the evening with us.  We were blown away that so many people turned out to pack the Freight & Salvage, and what a glorious treat it was to play on a stage with such exquisite sound.   I'm still basking in the glow.  Here are a few pics of the show, courtesy of my pal Michael Z.

There was so much work leading up to that show that I hardly had a moment to think or cook or clean my filthy house for weeks on end leading up to the big day, and so it was a huge treat to have nothing much on the calendar for the rest of the weekend but sleeping in, spontaneous brunches with friends, and lots of playing in the warm sunshine with dogs, as well as a birthday celebration for my sweet friend Monique, whom I've been lucky to know for the entire 5 years of her life!  Icing on the cake, or pie, as it were:  Monique's dad Steve  made incredible homemade pizza at the big birthday bash.  What a perfect way to finish off a perfect weekend!   By the time I collapsed into bed on Sunday night, I felt so satisfied and serene and just plain giddy, and it still kind of felt like summer.

And then, just like that, all of a sudden, seemingly in the blink of an eye, summer slipped away.  But the tomatoes in our garden didn't seem to get that memo yet.  I'm happy to report that the last dregs of our Bloody Butcher heirloom tomatoes are still making a valiant attempt, and I can hardly believe it, since it's nearly Thanksgiving!  But somehow, we still keep plucking red, ripe, juicy, gorgeous beauties from the plant that I was sure would never even see enough sunlight to produce anything at all.  I am SO happy to be proven wrong!

Still, the days are suddenly so much shorter and it's hard to bid farewell to those long, lingering summer days and all the glorious  rewards that come with them.  I take sweet comfort in the fact that the lemons on our tree are starting to turn from green to yellow, and I start to get excited about things like winter squash and brussels sprouts and leafy greens, a few of which are doing their best to grow in our garden.  Well really, only chard and potatoes are growing at the moment, damn the critters that destroyed and ate the rest of it!  I figure this is a good opportunity to let the soil rest & replenish, and instead, I find myself spending more time indoors playing with a crazy silly puppy and getting some really good use out of the oven and the stove top.  Slow roasting tomatoes, baking bread, roasting squash, braising vegetables, and making lots of soup.  Nothing really remarkable to report, just enjoying the chance to hunker down and slow down and enjoy the moments as they come.  And I'm happy to say that so many amazing moments have been coming, one right after the other.  It's been an incredible year and it's not even over yet.  So I don't mind so much that summer is gone, because I know there is still so much to look forward to.  I'm happy to be able to catch these moments as they come.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Home Fires

Believe it or not, I don't spend all of my time cooking and dreaming of cooking and gardening and dreaming of gardening and playing with dogs and (not dreaming of) cleaning up after dogs.

Some times, I still find time to make actual music.  And in fact, I made some recently!

In fact, a new baby has finally been born.  This one was a year and a half in the making and created by a team of five, and brought to life with a little help from several more talented souls, cause it takes a village to make a record.

Yes, Loretta Lynch has a new album, and we are so excited to unleash it into the world!  And we'll be doing just that on Friday, Nov. 4th at the venerable Freight & Salvage.  I am so pleased to be able to play on that sweet sounding stage again, and happy to be able to make music with Ari, Heather, Dan and Nathan, whom I adore not only as fine musicians, but as wonderful and inspiring human beings, too.

I wish all my family and friends (and friends I've yet to meet!) could come to the show.  I wish YOU could come to the show!  And guess what?  Even if you live far away and can't come to the show, you can watch the show from wherever you are (as long as there is a computer where you are, that is...) because it is being webcast!

So join us, won't you?  Tune in on Friday Nov. 4th before 8 pm Pacific time and point your browser here.  Choose the single show pass, and from the comfort of your own home, sweet home, let us entertain you.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Puppy Love

This is Stella (aka Stellllaaaaaaaaa!), the newest member of our family and stealer of sleep, bringer of chaos, bringer of joy!  We're smitten!

 I'd love to post some more pics, but, being the squirmy little creature that she is, it's hard to get her to hold still long enough to pose for the camera.

We're having so much fun with her!  She came home with us last Saturday, Oct. 15th, from the Berkeley Animal Shelter, the very same place that dear old Spider once resided.  We've been missing that old gal like crazy, and we always will.  And also, we've been feeling for awhile that we're ready to have a new dog friend, not only for ourselves, but for big Bloom, who's been pretty lonely without his old pal.

This is a pic of Bloom & Spider together on her last day of life.  Still breaks my heart!!

We thought we'd wait until the end of the year, but oops, we just couldn't resist a visit to the shelter last Saturday... and when we met this little bundle of energy, it didn't take long to come to the conclusion that the time was going to be now, and the dog was going to be her.  Our fates were sealed!

The listing on Petfinder.com said she was part of a litter of Great Dane mix puppies, but the paperwork they sent us home with says she's part Mastiff.  We saw a picture of her mama, and she looked kind of like a chocolate Lab, so who knows?  As of now, she weighs 31 pounds and is approximately 4 months old.  She'll probably be bigger than Spider was, but not as big as Bloom.

We start dog training class tomorrow, hooray!  It'll be a great learning experience for all of us, I'm sure.  Having a new dog has got me reading a lot and thinking a lot about how to best raise her to be happy and healthy pup who'll live a good long life.  I'm quite intrigued by the possibility of a raw foods diet, or maybe even a cooked foods diet.  I've read a lot of articles that seem to say that at worst, dried kibble dog food is full of all sorts of awful things, and that even the higher quality brands are very highly processed.  I don't want to consume many processed foods or meat from factory farms, and I would rather my pets didn't either, but I still have some research to do.  Food for thought.

And speaking of food... I'm still searching for the perfect recipe for Ribolitta, that amazing Tuscan soup with kale & cannellini beans that we had several times in Florence.  I made my own  version last week, and while it was good, it wasn't insanely, dreamily good like it was in Florence... but then, I guess most things aren't!  But I'm going to keep trying out recipes so if anybody out there has tips, please send them my way.

Lastly... I'm trying out some new looks here at Soup and Song, so apologies if things look funny for awhile.  Thanks for checking in. Hope all is well in your world!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ah, Italy!

Ciao, friends!

We made it back from Italy.  What an experience for the senses it was - the tastes, the sights, the sounds!  Warm breezes, blue skies, blue waters, red wine, salty anchovies, bright and beautiful vegetables, impeccably dressed Italians whizzing by on mopeds and motorcycles,  the hypnotic sound of water lapping against the side of the ferry, the musical sound of Italians speaking their language to one another, the scent of bread baking, that first bite of pistachio gelato, oh my.  Words can't do it justice.  It was an absolute pleasure to soak it all in, and I am still soaking in the memory of it all.

I so wanted to fill my suitcase with practically everything we saw - beautiful vegetables!  Delicate glass jewelry!  Prosciutto!  Bottle after bottle of wine!  Espresso!  Espresso makers!  Pasta!  Cheese!

Well, the suitcase wouldn't have been able to make it onto the plane if I'd done that, so we didn't bring a whole lot back with us.  We mostly bought what we could consume while we were there, and that was enough to keep us perfectly happy.

But I just couldn't resist that big, salty hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano...no worries that I had to lug it around for a couple of days and pack it up nicely in my suitcase!  I just this moment finished chopping it into smaller chunks to give to friends.  Some people show their love with sweets and some of us show it with cheese.  Yay for cheese!

More coming soon!  But for now, a few photos and a quick moment to give thanks for the opportunity to enjoy such a wonderful experience, with such a wonderful human being by my side.  I am so, so thankful!

One of the greatest meals of the trip, or maybe my whole life, was inside these humble walls in Florence.   It was here I had my first taste of ribollita, with which I am now obsessed.  More about that later!

Spaghetti with freshly caught anchovies from the sea in Cinque Terre, at Trattoria Lanterna.  OH. MY. GOD. Another food highlight.

Produce market in Lido.  Such beauty!

        Masks in Venice.

The pizza of my dreams, also in Lido.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Summer Squash: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Ah, summer squash. It just keeps coming, and in a way, I think I can finally say that I have *almost* become sick of it! Or at least, I've reached the point where there is plenty of it to eat around here, and plenty to share with friends, too. Win win!

 It's been a busy busy week - the last week before we leave to Italy, OMG!!! And also, Loretta Lynch has a brand new album, more than a year in the making, that we are scrambling to promote prior to our big CD release show on November 4th. Since several of us band members will be traveling over the next month, we're doing our best to get things in order now. It's a little insane, and it's all good! But in light of all that, the house has been a mess, sleeping patterns are all messed up, and eating and meal planning has been sporadic at best. Thank goodness for all that squash!

 Last night, a lovely salad came together, inspired once again by the wonderful cookbook Plenty. The recipe in the book suggests a simple combination of grilled squash with fresh basil, hazelnuts, balsamic vinegar and shaved parmesan. But I used walnuts instead of hazelnuts, and beefed it up a bit by adding lentils and cooked barley, since I happened to have that in the house. The final touch was pepper cress directly from the garden (pepper cress:  my new favorite garden item!  hot!  spicy! peppery!).  I was quite thrilled with this lovely meal that came together  in the midst of chaos all around, and in spite of a mostly bare fridge.

Here is a loose guide:

First, slice some summer squash:  about 1 medium squash per person.   Toss it in olive oil and add a light sprinkling of salt & pepper.

Grill the squash or cook it in a grill pan, as I did.  Get it a little charred on the outside but stop cooking before it gets too tender - you want it to have a bit of bite to it still.

If you like, you can also grill some sliced red onions or shallots.

Set the squash & onions or shallots aside in a bowl, and toss with a light sprinkling of balsamic vinegar.

Take some fresh basil and tear the leaves and sprinkle into the bowl with the squash.  Toss it all together and divide the squash mixture onto plates.

If serving with lentils & barley as I did, combine the lentils & barley and add more olive oil, salt & pepper, basil and a bit more balsamic vinegar.  Add a scoop of this mixture to each salad plate.

Top each salad plate with toasted walnuts & shaved parmesan, and garnish with pepper cress and another little drizzle of olive oil.

And there you have it, dinner!   Good with bread, if you've got it, or croutons, or lots of wine, or all of the above!

Can't wait to post all kinds of updates about Italy - and more importantly... can't wait to GO TO ITALY!  Much to do before then - things to pack, music to promote, squash to pick.  Life is good!  Ciao for now!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Carpe Diem!

Seize the moment, seize the day. Pick, pluck, cull, crop, gather, make use of, enjoy. It's a good way to live life. Sometimes, I am able to do this. To live and love and be grateful in THIS moment, knowing that THIS moment is all there is.

And sometimes, it takes death, suffering and loss to remind me of this. This year has been a doozy. Hell, this month alone has been a doozy. My dear friend Sabine lost her dear friend Pam to cancer just last week. Pam was a loving mother and wife and daughter and friend. Many of my friends who knew and loved Pam are grieving, hard. I wish I could have known Pam beyond meeting her a couple of times. She was no doubt an amazing soul and has left a huge hole in this world, in this life of all who knew and loved her.

My Uncle Pat also left the world and lost his battle with cancer earlier this month. His cancer was sudden and shocking and brutal. He was a wonderful friend to my Dad. He was the one who would come and visit my Dad during his illness and brighten his spirits, bringing him treats from the Italian store, a family member who was also a dear friend. The last time I saw him, he was strong, healthy & vibrant. I was so glad to know that he was there to support my Dad through my Dad's illness. I can still hardly believe that he is gone, and heartbroken at the way cancer snatched him away from his loved ones so fast. And I can't even get started here about how much my Dad is suffering now, not only over the loss of his dear brother, but through his own illness. He has been so strong for so long now through this journey. I'm proud of him and inspired by him and doing my best to take each moment as it comes, thankful that he is still with us.

My friends Steve & Patsy lost their dear friend & musical co-conspirator, Scott Petersen, to cystic fibrosis, this month as well.

The last email exchange that I had with Patsy, she said something about us needing to get together more, to seize the moments while the moments were still ours to seize. So I invited them over for dinner that night and to my great delight, they didn't have a gig. And so last Friday, we managed to pull together a very spontaneous barbecue, along with our dear friend Lucio, who was in town for some shows, and Berge, another treasured friend and musical partner who is dealing with a landslide of difficulty and illness in his own life right now. Sabine would have been there with us, except she was at Pam's memorial that night.

I wanted to make something fabulous but didn't have the time or the wherewithal. We got some fish & veggies to throw on the grill and I made some cole slaw, and we had each other and plenty of beer & wine and guitars, and that was all that was needed. It was summer in the bay area - by the time the sun went down, the fog had rolled in and we were freezing and had to start a fire in the fire pit just to keep warm. But it didn't matter, because we were all together. Anything else was just icing on the cake.

Steve & Patsy's 4 3/4 year old daughter Monique cracked me up all night long. I've known and loved Monique all her life and it's been an absolute pleasure watching her become the person that she is. She ate all the tomatoes we'd recently picked from our plants, straight out of the bowl, with pure delight, the way Sabine had taught her to do. When she later asked me for a blanket so she could lay on the couch, I gave her one, which she proceeded to sniff and then proclaim indignantly, "… you need to wash things more!!! This stinks!!". I couldn't help but agree with her and laugh through my horror. The blanket did indeed smell like dog. We must have used it in the car at some point, and I swear it was clean and had been washed, but somehow that dog smell has a way of lingering. If you ever want the truth about just how much your shit stinks, just ask a kid. They'll tell you straight up!

Monique also brightened my spirits by letting me play with her Grouch Marks glasses. I got a little obsessed with taking pictures of me and that nose and mustache. I think the pic below pretty much sums it up. I hope it will always serve as a reminder to me to not take myself too seriously, to remember that not only does my shit stink, but many of my the things in my house do too, and to love, love, love and be grateful for every single moment. Carpe Diem!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Let's Make Mustard!

Recently I experimented with making mustard. I started with this recipe for a Spicy Beer Mustard that I found in Food and Wine Magazine. The flavor was great, but be warned - the recipe makes a huge amount of mustard! Definitely enough to share. I ended up adding even more mustard powder and seeds than the recipe called for. In the end, I was pretty happy with it but have been wanting to try out some different recipes.

Luckily, today I stumbled upon this post on the awesome blog Food In Jars. I have never canned anything, but I love this blog and am thinking it may inspire me to give it a try one of these days.

The mustard post is actually a guest post, written by Kaela Porter of the blog Local Kitchen, another fine and inspiring blog with many lovely photos.

Enjoy the blogs, and enjoy making mustard! I plan to make another batch soon, and will report back.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lotta Frittata

Lately I've been going to the farmers market every week, sometimes twice per week, and the produce has been blowing my mind. I've developed a sweet summer ritual of making a frittata every week with fresh farm eggs from the market, and whatever produce I pick up there. Lately that's been corn that is explosively sweet, sometimes chard or potatoes, and sometimes squash and fresh herbs from our garden. Tonight's frittata featured corn, chard, sweet red onions & juicy early girl tomatoes from the market, basil & sliced padron peppers from our garden, and shaved imported parmesan. The simple tastes of summer abundance. It doesn't get much better than that and I'm savoring it as it comes and enjoying it while it's here.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Hello, Summer. And Thank You, Portuguese Bringer of the Fava Beans!

I'm finally sitting down after a good five hours spent in the kitchen, and wow. It was such spontaneous joy.

It all started with a little Portuguese woman. I don't know who she is, only that my co-worker Todd knows her, and that every year around this time, she brings him garbage bags full of fava beans. And he never has the heart to tell her that actually, he just isn't quite up to growing callouses on his thumbs to shell & peel them, and so he brings them to work & implores that we take them off his hands. And that is how I find myself, once a year, with my own callouses after having shelled & peeled a big old mess of them like I did tonight, so they could enjoy a starring role in tonight's amazing impromptu summer bounty bachelor dinner!

That's right! No pizza or mac & cheese for this gal tonight. Tonight was all about those fava beans...

and shaved zucchini from our garden...

... and lots of other garden goodies too, like sweet as can be cherry tomatoes, cool and crunchy cucumbers that I can hardly believe I finally managed to grow, preserved lemon from our bountiful tree, and freshly cut parsley & marjoram (and shallots from the farmers market!).

It all would have been perfect just like that, but then there were fresh eggs from Riverdog Farm that I couldn't resist poaching in homemade vegetable broth, because I had just made it using all the ends of the vegetables from the week, so why not enjoy it right away?

All this chopping and slicing and poaching and shucking and shelling served as the perfect way to pass the time for hours while a big batch of granola slowly baked to perfection. Lots of dear friends & loved ones have birthdays or other occasions they're celebrating right about now, and I bet you can guess what they'll be getting from me! Yes, all my love and some of my granola. The gift that tastes good *and* keeps you regular!

But, I digress a little. There's no recipe really, nor much of a point to all my rambling tonight. I just had to stop & share my pure joy & gratitude for the fact that summer is here, and for all the sweet, crunchy, tender, vibrant gifts that come with it. Thank you, summer, and thank you, Todd, and most of all, thank you, little Portuguese woman of mystery for helping me to complete this warm & breezy summer night!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

You May Want Your Own Tagine for This One

Today, like many days, was spent more in the kitchen and garden than in any other place or pursuit. The kind of day that just thrills me. There have been so, so many of those days recently and I realize that I haven't been documenting them much, but tonight I'm here to change that.

You see, tonight I tried out a recipe that my dear friend Ari (amazing chef and musician) passed along to me, along with her adaptations, that she'd found via the SF Chronicle. I added a small adaptation of my own, popped it into the oven and waited with great anticipation while out in the garden planting a new batch of lettuces, greens and herbs. And when that timer went off and it was time to take it out of the oven, and more importantly, when it was time to eat it, I couldn't get over how wonderful it was. I served it with a quinoa pilaf I made that was inspired by the cous cous recipe in this posting, and all told, it was one of the finer meals I've made so far this year. Too good not to share.

And so here I am, sharing.

Original recipe says to use "halibut, true cod or any other firm fish". I used a couple of swordfish steaks that together equaled about a pound. The original recipe calls for only about a 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes, but Ari suggested using more, and so I did - and since I had them, I added some preserved lemons too. Ari suggested making some extra chermoula sauce cause it's so damn good, and using canned artichoke hearts instead of futzing with fresh ones, which I happily did, because I just so happened to have a can of them sitting on the shelf, which is what inspired me to attempt this recipe in the first place. Lastly, my little mister isn't a fan of the cilantro, so I used much more parsley and much less cilantro, and no one was any the wiser!

The tagine calls for a chermoula sauce which, besides adding incredible depth of flavor, adds moisture to the dish and helps all the ingredients to come out juicy, tender and so very succulent. Instead of using the extra sauce for dipping, as Ari suggested, I used it to flavor the quinoa pilaf.

Fish Tagine with Olives, Potatoes and Artichokes, with Quinoa Pilaf:

For the Sauce:

1 1/2 cups parsley leaves
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 small yellow onion
4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 T. lemon juice
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1 t. paprika
1/2 t. cumin
1/4 t. cinnamon

For the Tagine:

2 halibut, swordfish, true cod or sea bass or other firm-fish steaks, about 1 pound total, and ideally about 3/4 inch thick
1 can artichoke hearts, cut into quarters
2 t. olive oil
2 medium potatoes, sliced very thin
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
16 oil cured black olives
1 to 2 cups diced tomatoes, with their juices (I used early girls from the farmers market!)
1/4 preserved lemon, diced
chopped parsley & cilantro to taste

For the Pilaf:

3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 1/2 cup water
Chermoula sauce
1 - 2 T. dried cranberries
1/4 preserved lemon, diced
2 scallions, diced
1/4 c. diced parsley & cilantro, in whatever ratio you like
1/4 c. diced green olives

To Make the Sauce:

Combine all sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add more olive oil if needed.

Take half the sauce and coat the fish on both sides, and refrigerate the fish for an hour or up to 3 hours.

To assemble the tagine, pre-heat the oven to 350. Smear the olive oil on the bottom of the tagine. Add the potato slices - you should have enough for about 2 layers. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Top with the fish steaks. Scatter the artichokes & olives over & around the fish. Dot with half of the reserved sauce, the tomatoes & their juices, more salt & pepper and a final sprinkling of the chopped herbs.

Put the cover on the tagine & bake for about 1 hour & 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the fish is moist, tender & simply divine.

Since the tagine magically makes a broth that is nothing less than transformative, it's good to have some bread or a pilaf to soak it all up.

To make the quinoa pilaf:

Bring the quinoa, water & chermoula sauce to a boil, along with a bit of salt and the dried cranberries. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed & quinoa is tender. Off the heat, stir in the preserved lemon, scallions, herbs & olives.

To serve:

Spoon some of the quinoa pilaf into a bowl and top with a spoonful of the fish, potatoes, artichokes & broth. Enjoy, savor and enjoy some more!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Garden Joy

On a brighter note, it seems like summer is finally, finally here! There is no end to the amount of thrills I get from going out to the garden every morning and every evening to see what has changed, what new blossom has appeared, what ripening has transpired in the twelve or so hours from when I checked it last. Every morning and every evening feel like Christmas used to feel when I was a kid - such surprise, wonder, delight and gratitude!

Tonight, I discovered the first tomatoes beginning to ripen. The same tomatoes that last night were green. It made my day, made my week, made me delirious with joy to know that the spot we've placed these girls turns out to be sunny enough after all.

And although the radishes we planted from seed a little over a month ago only netted a modest crop, I was and still am so delighted with each and every one of these beauties that I pulled from the dirt tonight.

There was also a questionable meyer lemon tree here when we moved in. We thought it might be diseased and considered cutting it down, but it has turned out to be a wild, lovely, incredible jackpot of fragrant, sweet lemony goodness that is still producing sweet gorgeous fruit, even now. There must be some kind of metaphor in there about how the thorny, hard to understand, imperfect situations bring the most growth and reward, but I'm not sure I'm feeling eloquent enough to put it into words just now.

I still feel like I hardly know what I'm doing, placing seeds in the soil and doing my best, hoping for the best, hoping nature cooperates, crossing my fingers, trying to learn, paying attention as best I can. It doesn't always work out, but it is so gratifying when it does. I'm sure it sounds cliche' but it is no less true: it's a lot like life. Best to enjoy the journey and celebrate and give thanks when it all works out. And tonight, I most certainly am.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi, is my current new favorite cookbook. And it's fitting, because right now, I'm feeling plenty. Plenty good, plenty bad, plenty scared, plenty perplexed, and plenty grateful in the midst of all of it.

Tonight, rock star husband had a recording session, so for me it was a bachelor dinner night, but I wasn't in the mood for my usual old mac & cheese or pizza, and since I'd just gotten my hands on this inspiring collection of recipes thanks to my pals Jamie & Eve, I decided to dig right in and treat myself to a solo summer dinner as fine as anything I'd make for company.

The food was sweet comfort in the midst of difficult family times. My heart is pretty broken at how badly my Dad is struggling again even though he was here only a month ago and looking and feeling strong and healthy. And in the meantime there has been news that several of our other family members are struggling too, despite everyone's best efforts to be healthy and do all the right things. Sometimes I feel myself going down that dark road where I think, what does it even matter if you try to eat healthy, exercise, and do all those other things that are supposed to be good for you? As my friend Kathleen says, you still have to breathe the air. You still have to live in this world and come to the realization that cancer doesn't discriminate. Cancer doesn't care what you do. There's no eloquent way to phrase it. It just sucks.

So tonight, I cooked my worries away, at least temporarily, and enjoyed the fruits of my labors all by my lonesome. I practically jumped for joy at the goodness, the vibrance, the sheer freshness and delight of this perfect marriage of flavors and textures: lentils and watercress in a watercress vinaigrette with asparagus and manchego, a squeeze of lemon and toasted walnuts.

I adapted this recipe a bit - it called for walnut oil but I used toasted walnuts instead, and I used french lentils instead of green, because that's what I had in the house. I can't take too much raw garlic so instead of a raw clove, I used the piece of garlic that I'd cooked with the lentils, which was nicely mellowed but added just the right bit of subtle garlic flavor.

It was my first time using watercress at home. I've enjoyed that intensely peppery green in salads at restaurants, but never ventured to use it myself. And never would have considered pureeing it as part of the dressing while at the same time serving it as part of the salad - it's a winner, to be sure!

So without too much more adieu, I will post my adapted version of this recipe from this fabulous, inspiring book, which I can't wait to dive into further. I will urge you to make this for lunch or dinner while you can still get good asparagus, and to enjoy it, if you can, with someone you love. I will continue to give thanks for food, for family, for friends, and for every moment spent being healthy and strong in my body, and I will wish the same for you.

Lentils, Asparagus and Watercress
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe in Plenty

Serves 4 generously

1 cup french lentils
4 cups watercress, thick stocks removed
1/4 - 2/3 c. parsley (original recipe called for 2/3 cup but I only had about 1/4 cup on hand, so that's what I used)
1/2 cup olive oil (original recipe called for 2/3 cup, but to me, 1/2 cup seemed the right amount)
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic
salt & pepper
1 large bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), cut into roughly 2 inch segments
shaved manchego cheese to taste
toasted walnuts to taste
lemon wedges

Rinse the lentils and place in a saucepan with plenty of fresh water and 1 plump clove of garlic, peeled and smashed, and 1 bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer, add a generous sprinkling of salt, and cook until just tender. This could take about 20 to 30 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, put half the watercress, the parsley, olive oil, vinegar, salt & pepper into your food processor. After the lentils have been cooking for about 10-15 minutes, fish out that clove of garlic and add it to the food processor. Blitz until smooth & creamy, and pour into a big salad bowl.

Once the lentils are tender, drain them well and dump them into the bowl with the dressing, and toss it all together while the lentils are still warm. Taste & adjust seasonings - you may well need more salt.

Steam or boil the asparagus for about 2 to 3 minutes, until just crisp-tender. Original recipe suggests boiling but I steamed them. I also think it would add another whole dimension of flavor if you grilled the asparagus!

Now it's time to serve the salad, warm or at room temperature. Add the drained asparagus to the lentils, and toss it all with the remaining watercress. Pile onto a plate or into a bowl and shave a little manchego over it, sprinkle a few toasted walnuts, and don't forget to squeeze a bit of lemon over it, which really serves to bring all the flavors together. Enjoy every bite, welcome summer, and then enjoy some more bites! You'll be so, so glad that you did.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


Geez! It seems that now that I'm a married lady, I can't seem to get around to this here blog!

It's been a delightful couple of weeks of feasting and celebrating with friends and family. The truth is, I'm still taking it all in. We have the greatest friends and the most wonderful families, and I'm still completely blown away by what an awesome wedding ceremony and celebration we were able to have, thanks in large part to the kindness & generosity of our friends & families. The food was divine, the music outstanding, and the company could not have been better.

We had a pretty limited budget, and our friends came through BIG TIME, pitching in to take care of every last detail from the music to the food and drinks and organization and photographs and flowers...oh, the flowers!

It was so great that parents and sister came out and finally got to see the new house. I am incredibly grateful that my Dad was here & feeling good & strong, and it made me endlessly happy to make his favorite potato soup for him and the rest of the family.

There was much feasting, did I mention that? Some of the feasting was done at places like Venezia and The Lake Chalet, some of it was done at home. It was an extra treat to be able to cook with some of the food that was grown in our garden! A good time was had by all. We chose Venezia for the dinner the night of the wedding, suspecting that it would appeal to every last one of us, and we were right on the money. Classic Italian food done perfectly, excellent service too. And we had an excellent brunch at the Lake Chalet featuring not only great food and a stunning view, but a really good Bloody Mary, too.

The week passed way too quickly, and when it was over, there was a short honeymoon in Big Sur, a prelude to the not-so-short honeymoon in Italy that will happen in September (OMG! I FINALLY GET TO GO TO ITALY!!!). Big Sur was gorgeous as always, only much colder than it's been when we've been there in the past. But that didn't stop us from feasting and relaxing in front of the fire, nor did it stop some of us from enjoying a hot soak in the glorious outdoor tub!

All in all, it's been wondrous, and I still feel elated from it all, and ever thankful for this sweet life and all the people and places and experiences that make it so.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Super Quick Smoky Chic Peas & Wilted Greens with Goat Cheese

Have I ever mentioned my love affair with smoked paprika, aka pimenton? I use it so often, in so many ways. Love, love, love that smoky goodness, in bean dishes, soups, stews, marinades. And these little cans that it comes in are great for storing pencils & pens when the can is empty, as an added bonus!

My love of paprika grows ever deeper on a night like tonight, when a little dash of it is added to a meal that took all of about ten minutes to make, and was thoroughly satisfying. Win-win!

You can make this with any kind of beans you have around, and any kind of greens too. If you happen to have creamy goat cheese around too, by all means, invite it to the party.

First, just mince some garlic and saute' it in a bit of olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes.

Next, add the chic peas...a cup or two if you've made them from scratch, or a whole can, rinsed & well drained, which is what I happened to have on hand tonight. Add a sprinkling of salt & pinch of crushed red pepper and cook for a few minutes, shaking the pan a couple of times. And then, add a little sprinkling, or a big sprinkling if you like, of smoked paprika. Stir to incorporate, and stop to appreciate just how delightful the kitchen is smelling right about now.

Now it's time to toss in your greens - I used a bunch of wild baby arugula. You could also use spinach, or perhaps coarsely chopped mustard greens or chard. Now would be a good time to add another sprinkling of salt, too.

Keep on stirring and once the greens are just wilted, it's time to flick in a few dollops of goat cheese, if you've got it. And around here, we're fairly addicted to it so we've almost always got it!

And before you know it, before you've even finished your first glass of wine, you're pretty much ready to eat. This dish is great to combine with a grain, and tonight we were lucky to have a delicious wheat berry salad that the lovely Kanteen was kind enough to share, and it was the perfect complement.

If you didn't happen to have something at the ready, you might start cooking some rice or quinoa a few minutes before starting this dish so that it'd all be ready at the same time. Or you could just eat it with some crusty bread. It's highly adaptable and the perfect remedy for those times when you need something healthy & delicious but are running low on energy & time, which for me lately, seems to be all the time!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lasagna!

Last weekend I went to my friend Jamie's to prepare 7 lasagnas for the family wedding dinner, and my friend Erin showed up to help. We spent the day in Jamie's perfectly gorgeous, well set up, and inviting kitchen.

The week prior had been very trying on many levels. I had had a supposedly minor procedure to have a cyst on my eyelid taken care of, and ended up with a pretty massive, long lingering black eye afterwards. I looked like a serious victim of domestic violence. The day after the procedure, the honey and I had planned to go to SF City Hall to get our marriage license, but somehow it would have felt strange to show up there looking like I'd just been beaten!

And then, there was the obligatory pre-marital argument that turned into a major blowout, the kind of blowout that has one or both parties threatening to cancel the wedding, divide the possessions and just bail on this whole thing. Fortunately, that one ended in forgiveness, commitment in tact.

But the bad feelings were hard to shake, and by the time Sunday morning rolled around, I was feeling pretty wrecked and emotionally hungover. I would have spent the day in bed in the fetal position if I hadn't already signed up to do this, but there was no turning back. And spending the day with sweet, generous friends in a warm & inviting kitchen, cooking food with and for people I love turned out to be just the remedy to everything ailing me.

As an extra special, most kind and utterly generous gift, Jamie not only did all the shopping, but paid for everything - that would be something like twelve pounds of local asparagus and six pounds of fancy imported gruyere and parmesan from The Cheeseboard, not to mention many, many boxes of noodles and many, many cans of organic fire roasted tomatoes. It really was a perfect way to spend a day, and feels so good to have that task completed. Jamie was also kind enough to lend us his freezer to store all the lasagnas until the big day.

As if all of that wasn't enough, he served us a world-class lunch featuring meltingly tender Rancho Gordo yellow-eye beans and fresh cod slathered in miso and baked in tin foil, all served over mixed baby greens. All of it was just the remedy to soothe my soul, and a reminder once again of how fortunate I am.

Monday, April 11, 2011

42 = The End of High Heels

Somehow my 42nd birthday came and went without my managing to attempt to turn the day into a national holiday. I actually had it in my head that it'd just be low key this year, but somehow the Universe (and my wonderful friends!) conspired to deliver quite a lot of fanfare in spite of this!

In the course of three days, I was treated to not only some wonderful company and inspired gifts, but also some seriously great food, including the acclaimed San Francisco institution Zuni Cafe, as well as other trusty East Bay favorites Dona Tomas and Burma Superstar, and new favorite Plum! More good food than a person has a right to eat! More good food than a woman who's going to try to squeeze into a wedding dress soon should even be attempting to eat! But, I did my best, oh yes I did!

One of the great things about turning 42 is that I feel like, for better or worse, I'm getting more comfortable at living in this body of mine, even when it gives me trouble. And BELIEVE ME, it gives me trouble, despite my best efforts to be good to it.

On my birthday, I was walking down the street looking live Olive Oyl, holding on to my honey's arm so I wouldn't trip as I walked in my mild 2-inch heels that I'd just bought. Mother f*cking DANSKO'S for f*cks's sake! Supposedly any old broad should be able to walk in these things! But alas, not me. I'd already twisted my ankle while walking in these shoes no less than THREE TIMES the previous weekend, and this was my last ditch attempt to try to train myself to walk in heels.... but I had to ask myself: why bother?!

Because really, the truth is, I'm a sneakers & cowboy boots kind of girl, and I have been for years. And in all my years of living, I've never had anyone in my life think less of me because I wasn't wearing heels, or more of me because I was. And as I gingerly tiptoed down that San Francisco street, desperately afraid of falling and twisting my ankle again, that realization sank in hard. In fact, my honey even asked me who exactly were these people I was trying to impress with my heels? Because he likes me no matter what.

So as I turned 42, my present to myself was the decision to ditch the heels and all the pretense that comes along with them, and focus instead on the things that really matter: the fact that I've got people who love me no matter what, and that I get to enjoy so much goodness on this earth and in this life. I've got quite a nice collection of cowboy boots and I just might be wearing them when I get married, and I'm happy about that!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What's This Food?

Forgive the long pause.

I haven't one iota of inspiration lately, culinary or otherwise. The world is too sad a place these days. I feel extremely lucky for my kitchen, my home, my life, and everything and everyone in it, no question about that. But that is about all the enthusiasm I can seem to gather lately.

Although I'm not finding much inspiration in my own kitchen, I am enjoying learning learning about "new" and unusual foods through the podcast What's This Food. I love the concept of this show - a new food explored every single day of the year. From the host, Daniel Delaney's web site:

WTF, or "What's This Food?", is a daily web show that profiles commonly unknown or unusual food ingredients, techniques or dishes. As part of his New Year's resolution, Dan, the host, sets out to discover and learn about a new food each day in 2011.

That is seriously badass. I've been totally digging watching and listening to Dan's daily podcasts, and learning about foods like lotus root, persimmons, starfruit, ghee, bonito, and so much more! Check it out, and if you're so inclined, you can subscribe to the show via I-Tunes.

Here in the Bay area it's been raining for what feels like a couple of months. I'm not sure what my garden thinks about that. It's been dumping rain ever since we planted the latest batch of plants, and I'm pretty sure the peas have drowned. But, the beets do seem to be growing, as well as the arugula, kale and broccolini, little bit by little bit. And the compost heap is growing too. Now all we need is some of that magical sunshine to warm us all.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

In Praise of Kale and More Gardening Inspiration

Kale has been a favorite in our kitchen as of late. We were lucky to get a very nice harvest of it from our garden - it seemed to grow better than anything else we planted last Fall. Possibly because our garden doesn't get full sunlight, it seemed to take quite awhile to develop, but once it did, it developed quite nicely, and we've been eating a ton of it ever since.

I love to make kale chips, and I also have been adding a couple of leaves to my smoothies in the morning. Believe it or not, it blends right in and tastes just fine. I also like to slice it thin and enjoy it in salad. And it doesn't hurt that it's considered one of the world's healthiest foods!

This morning I stumbled upon this excellent article about kale on Bay Area Bites, and thought I'd share, as there are several great recipes listed that I'm looking forward to trying.

In other news, just last weekend we harvested what was left in the garden - mostly lots of greens, and made room for the next bunch of plants. Since our garden only seems to get what is considered "partial shade", especially at this time of year, we stuck mostly to greenish things - more kale (of course!) and broccolini, arugula, little gem lettuce, beets and sweet peas. The day we planted everything, a heavy storm blew in and the poor little plants have been getting pummeled by the rain and wind for days now, so I'm hoping they'll survive!

In my efforts to become more knowledgeable about gardening, I recently enjoyed reading Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail, and learned a lot about how & when & even where to plant, even in small spaces or less than optimal conditions. Now I'm more inspired than ever to keep at it, and to grow more food than ever this year! Ms. Trail offers up so many handy tips in her book, including how to make your own compost, which is the next project I'm going to tackle, once that pesky, but much-needed rain, stops dumping out of the sky.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Garden Inspiration

A couple of nights ago, I was lucky to catch Joan Gussow being interviewed by Novella Carpenter. I was already a fan of Novella's after having read her awesome book Farm City, and now I'm a fan of Joan's too. I bought her latest book Growing, Older, and haven't been able to put it down.

Both women are pioneers in their own ways, and both women know a thing or two about food, farming, and writing. It was truly a pleasure to hear their insights, and my only complaint was that it was too short! I could have listened to them for hours!

After spending a short while listening to these two witty, engaging and inspiring farmers talk about growing food, I came away more determined than ever to really learn to become a better gardener.

In our old place, we had the garden placed in an area where it received abundant sunlight, and although we had our share of challenges, I was constantly amazed that it seemed like all you had to do was plant the stuff, water it, pull weeds occasionally, and then reap the gorgeous fruits of your labors! We were fortunate to grow some incredible tomatoes, peppers and squash.

In the new place, the garden lives in an area that only gets sun later in the day, and definitely not for eight hours per day. We started with cool weather crops - lots of lettuce, and also chard, kale, broccoli, beets & cabbage. I'm thrilled to say that we harvested all the broccoli recently (see a few pics on my last posting) and although the crop wasn't prolific, it was tender and vibrant green and absolutely delicious! There has also been a ton of kale which has also turned out wonderfully, and I've been enjoying that, along with some chard which turned out only partially well, in my salads almost every day.

We were also very lucky that the yard came with a meyer lemon tree which, despite the need for serious pruning, still turned out bucket loads of top-notch fruit! In addition to giving bucket loads away, I made a pretty large batch of preserved lemons recently. I had to stop while eating my lunch today to appreciate that the great majority of food in my bowl came from our yard - kale, chard, broccoli, and preserved lemons, hurray!

As for the beets, they didn't fare so well because I forgot to thin them, and the jury is still out on the cabbage but it does seem to be growing. The lettuce did just fine but didn't quite thrill me the way the kale & broccoli did. Some of the lettuces and chard and beet greens developed some kind of brown rot and I never quite figured out what it was or what caused it.

The point I'm getting to here, is that there is still so much to learn! I feel like an absolute beginner, and I also feel that if I'm able to get this many good results when I barely know what I'm doing, I can hardly wait to see the kind of results I'll get once I apply myself a little more proactively!

But where to learn? I'd bought the book How to Grow More Vegetables but it seemed far to complex for an absolute beginner like me. Today I was poking around on the old interweb and I stumbled upon the Alameda County Master Gardeners site, which is a great resource for someone growing right here in Alameda County. Just perusing their site and clicking on their links, I've already learned a lot, and I am more excited than ever!

If anyone out there reading this has a good book to recommend for beginners, I'd love to hear about it.

In other news, can you believe I've nearly made it 21 days without coffee, sugar, alcohol, dairy, eggs, corn, gluten or soy! And would you believe that I've eaten better than ever during this time? It's true! I'm sure I will enjoy adding some of the things back into my diet that have been left out these last weeks, but I'm also really excited to continue many of the healthy habits that I've learned. The whole goal was to get to feeling good, and it feels good to be able say that I'm feeling good! Here's hoping this finds you feeling good too!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Greetings From a Whole New World....

...Today is day 16 of a 21-day cleanse, during which I'm not consuming any alcohol, caffeine, sugar, gluten, corn, soy, dairy or eggs. And you know what? I feel pretty good!

Truth be told, I've had a few moments of cheating, including a couple of cups of green tea, and the other day I splurged on something that felt extremely decadent: "ice cream"! Actually it was sorbet from Scream Sorbet, my absolute favorite local "ice cream" shop. The flavor, coconut thai basil, was out of this world. It featured only four ingredients: coconut milk, basil, lime and sugar. Yes, white sugar is something I'm not supposed to be consuming right now but I won't beat myself up too much, for it was a tiny scoop, and I've done really really well with giving up all this other stuff, most of the time without feeling terribly deprived. But on this day, that little scoop of bliss was just what I needed! I think I could give up dairy forever as long as long as I knew that Scream Sorbet was around.

The first day without caffeine was beyond brutal, and I really wasn't prepared for how awful I would feel. I'd only been drinking half a cup a day, so I figured it wouldn't be a big deal to give it up, but oh, was I wrong. The pain in my head was absolutely unbearable, enough to make me think I might have to never touch coffee again, or if I do, then NEVER EVER GIVE IT UP AGAIN! So the next day, I drank a little green tea to help keep the headache at bay, and that seemed to work. I'm happy to report that now I'm doing just fine without the coffee or the green tea, and without all the other stuff too.

And as for the foods that I *am* eating, I'm loving them! Lots and lots of vegetables and fruit and some grains and legumes and fish. I'm not finding myself hungry during the day and I feel much more energetic, too. And I'm still having fun trying out new recipes, some of which I'll post soon, so don't despair! For now, I'll leave you with some pics of one of the first harvests from the garden at the new house - broccoli, chard and kale. Perfect timing cause I've been eating a LOT of that stuff lately!

Until next time, have some cheese/eggs/pizza/beer/wine/nachos/etc.... for me!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

In With the New

Suddenly it's 2011. Seems like it just crept up when I wasn't looking.

The last couple of the weeks of 2010 were pretty rough for me, what with losing my dear furry friend and then getting sick, so I didn't exactly feel as if I started this year with a bang. It was more like a pathetic little whimper. Although I'm almost entirely over the head cold sickness, I'm sure the heartsickness will be lingering for a long, long time. Damn, I miss that old gal.

On the up side, I had a wonderful visit with my family, and am happy to report that my Dad is doing great, and that I finally got to learn how to make the family recipe for sauce & meatballs & homemade pasta. Thanks, Dad! I'll make it one of my goals for 2011 to make it on my own and report back.

Along with the arrival of the new year, so too has the annual alcohol-free January arrived. I was really looking forward to it and feeling very excited about all the benefits: more energy, improved health, clearer skin, dropping a few pounds, sleeping better. But so far at least, my insomnia seems to be worse than ever, and I feel nothing but sluggish and uninspired. Nothing like feeling crappy to make a person want to drown her sorrows in red, red wine! I know, I know... it's only been 5 and 3/4 days! I'm not really giving up that easily.

In fact, today it occurred to me that since I'm already feeling so cruddy, I might as well go all the way with this detoxing thing and do a real cleanse, something I haven't attempted to do in years. So starting this Saturday, besides the alcohol, I'll also be losing dairy, gluten, soy, corn, caffeine & sugar for 21 days, something I've never attempted to do before (possibly because it's INSANE!!!). The goal is to get to the point of feeling good, but I imagine that before the feeling good starts, there's going to be a LOT more feeling bad. Oh well, I've felt bad before and I've gotten through it, and at least in this case, the feeling bad comes with a purpose.

Not sure how much posting I'll do in the next 3 weeks but will do my best to update periodically once I recover from the sheer shock of it!

For now, I'm wishing you all a very happy, healthy and inspired 2011! Feel free to have a glass of wine or three for me this month, won't you?