Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Few Sorenson Meals

But first, cocktail hour ... because it comes first.
Mark usually has a beer, an ale, around 4:30pm. As you can see, he likes his beer with two olives. They float at first, and this is when you should eat one - with some foam. Foamy, salty, hoppy all at once. You let the other sink and save it for the end. I must say that I love Mark-style cocktail hour.
Mark adjusted meal time so that Sam was eating his dinner with us every night. It usually worked out that we all ate around 6pm. Sam didn't always eat what the adults ate, however. And I am starting to wonder about this. I mean, kids in cultures that eat spicy foods, do they start eating the hot peppers right away? When they are three? When? Sam did not eat the soup above because it had some spicy sausage in it. But maybe he should have.

Why, yes, that is the bread that Irene and I made together paired there with the soup. Thank you for noticing. You are such loyal fans.

Pork with green peppercorn sauce, asparagus, and Melissa's favorite rice. Melissa is my sister. What makes the rice her favorite is that it is browned in butter, then cooked all the way through with chicken stock. I tried to make it once, but failed because I didn't wait long enough for the rice to brown, so I didn't get the nuttiness that you really want on this dish.
Now this looks like something Sam might eat! I don't remember if we gave him a taste. Ohhhh, maybe not because it was a Mexican style macaroni skillet casserole. "Mexican" in that it had chili powder, which really isn't hot. I think Sam had his own meal. Probably chicken nuggets or Cheerios.

That's a pretty good sampling of Sorenson meals, actually. I didn't take a photo of everything we ate, but this is a fair representation. We like hearty soups, pasta with meat sauces, and meat as a classic three-part American meal - that is: protein, carbohydrate, vegetable in a 2:1:1 ratio.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Sweet Treats

An obligatory part (like it's torture or something!) of visits to San Bruno are pastries and coffee ... as often as possible. Daily, Dad makes a run to Peet's for Mom and himself and, as I previously mentioned, I allowed myself to slip into caffeine addiction once again because morning coffee is just so nice. Nice with a double shot! Thankfully, Peet's does not do pastries, or I would not fit into the clothes I brought down anymore. Sweet treats are usually had at Copenhagen Bakery in Burlingame.

I like Copenhagen very much, and have a set few pastries that I find superior. I have discovered these treats through trial and error, naturally. For the first visit, with Mel, I decided to try a cinnamon twist thing. It was pretty good, but has not been added to the list of regulars. For my second visit, pictured above, with Mom and Sam, I settled upon two regulars. What. I swear I was not going to eat them both! I planned to share/give one to Sam in the event that he did not like the croissant. Sure enough, that's what happened, although I managed to choke down most of what I was supposed to share before realizing that Sam was not keen on the croissant as much as he was on whatever I had. Of course. Copenhagen's puff pastry is not very good - too buttery and the flake isn't right - maybe because they are Danish. Those Danes have to do things their own way, don't they. I forgive them. Back to my Regulars: (1) What you see in the forefront: a raspberry ring. It's pastry, twisted, with preserves and crystallized sugar chunks. That's my third favorite. (2) I neglected to take a photo of what I shared with Sam, which is a shortbread sandwich with raspberry preserves in the middle. That's my second favorite. (3) My very favorite is the raspberry half moon, which is dipped in chocolate. They didn't have any on this particular visit. I love to dip it in my coffee so that the chocolate melts. As you can tell, I am a sucker for raspberry. It's the best berry.

I did take lots of photos of the pan dulce that I finally got on my second to last day in town. I love this stuff. I like my pastry dry and crumbly, I have come to realize. And pan dulce is that. It means "sweet bread," in Spanish, and is made with AP flour and yeast - simple. I have a recipe, but I haven't tried it. Because I am afraid. I really need to find the multi-colored flour used by Mexican bakers, but I haven't seen it around here - not that I have looked very hard.
That's a vanilla custard filling. I am not one for fillings, but my dad and Sam liked it. There are always several different shapes and sizes of pan dulce, with the different colors, as I mentioned. But they all taste the same. There's even one that looks like sheet cake - with sprinkles and everything. I didn't get one.
I'll tell you what, though, pan dulce is fabulous not only because it tastes good, but also because it is priced right! I bought five pastries for $1.70! How much do I usually spend on ONE croissant? $2.50? Yeah. I bought a $2 cookie the other day, for goodness' sake. Everyone is using the same flour and sugar, right? Does croissant flour have pulverized gems in it?

I had pastries from another place, near my sister's apartment in SF, called La Boulange. (Again, no photos! Ug.) I was merciful in my Yelp! review, but the more I think about it, the more I think I should go back and eviscerate it. Pray, tell, why? I got a pain au chocolat, which they call simply "chocolate croissant." The pastry was spongy and chewy! No no no. There were no flaky layers whatsoever. Now, if it was not labeled croissant, then they could get away with calling it something else and pretending that they did not completely wreck puff pastry, but you can't just shape it like pain, call it croissant, and then let that happen. And then it got worse. On a different day, Mel brought blueberry bread over for Sam. Sam loved it, so I can't complain too much. But it was nasty! I mean, totally overbeaten and tough. Yuck. I did have - and forgot to photograph - an orange pastry. It is lightly toasted, rolled in cinnamon sugar, and brushed with orange marmalade. It is a puff pastry and it is a bit chewy. Nevertheless, I will forgive because it is also a unique creation with no claims on croissant provenance.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Salmon Pot Pie

I offered to make lunch on the day Irene came over to bake bread. I chose Salmon Pot Pie from Dad's Test Kitchen binder. I thought it would be a crowd pleaser, as well as easy and quick. But I did what I always do when I am cooking for people other than just Josh and me - I started to doubt everything. I doubted my choice of meals, my ingredients, my abilities, everything! I just get so keyed up with adrenaline that I worry worry worry. Ug. Relax already. Why so much worry? Well, Irene is a good cook, good with a knife ... then there is my dad, who is no slouch in the kitchen either. So, lunch had to be good. Lunch had to impress.

Allow me to segue into a gush about Irene's kitchen prowess. She took a cooking class with my dad and I can't remember if it came up here or at another class, but there was an opportunity to work behind the scenes of Yan Can Cook, with Martin Yan. This is an old school cooking show on PBS. Is it safe to say it was one of the first cooking shows, along with Graham Kerr and Julia? If not, Yan is at least part of the older set from the pre-celebrity chef days when cooking shows were on public TV, only. So, anyway, Irene gets in line to show her skills to see if she has what it takes - and does she. Knife skills! So she gets to chop for Yan, who is particular and demanding and actually has no Chinese accent at all. It's a put-on for the show. And he went to UC Davis, my alma mater. So, I had Irene mince my garlic because, as you may recall, I find the task odious AND I wanted to see her skills. I should have taken a photo. That was the finest most finely minced garlic I have ever seen.

Back to the pot pie. The recipe required fresh dill, and I found the biggest bunch in all of the San Francisco Bay Area. I maybe used 1/4 of it when all was said and done for this meal plus the beets I made the next day and forgot to take a picture of.
I'll spare you the suspense and tell you that the meal came out well.

Of course, I learned a valuable lesson while preparing this meal because how could I go on with this blog if I wasn't constantly making errors to learn from, or going through existential crises in the kitchen? Right.

The grand lesson: When a recipe tells you to let something sit for X number of minutes, DO IT. I would add to this: especially if said recipe included a thickener like flour, as this one did. You can see it in these shots of the final dish, actually; see the lesson, that is. So, we were hungry. The recipe says to let it stand for 7.58 minutes, but I was like Oh, 1 minute sounds good. I could hear everyone's stomachs growling. So I slice into it and tears immediately begin to well because it looks ruined! Ruined. Bad. Awful. Well, I had cut into it before it had time to gel or something. When we all went back for seconds, it looked fine and solid. Lesson learned.
Any recipe which calls for a bechamel, or anything remotely resembling a bechamel, makes me nervous. This one has you mix in your milk after you put flour in, and I think my hands were shaking. The naysayer in my head was all You suck at anything that requires flour and water! If it doesn't clump, it will be grainy, or worse! How can it be worse? Well, all the water can separate out and it can look curdled, as it did when I sliced into it too soon. Ug.

In the end, it tasted good, I learned a lesson, and everyone's seconds looked normal. In fact, my serving for lunch the following day looked even better.

And the dill made a wonderful centerpiece.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rustic Loaf

My family plans things - meals, outings, things. So, when I was to visit my family in San Bruno for an indeterminate amount of time, a schedule arose. My mother and sister were the main contributors, with my input, naturally. There was an excel spreadsheet involved. One activity was "Bread with Irene." Irene is my mother's friend from the blood bank (nurses), who is now more of a knitting, beading, cruising, etc., retirement buddy. And it seems that Irene has a little yeast phobia.

Was I chosen to work with Irene because I am a bread-making maven? Not exactly. I think what happened was that Mom described how good my white bread loaves were. I made them when she was visiting and we gobbled them up with butter, then cheese, then plain, then jam. And, oh, the crust on these things was divine. So, the description probably went something like that, and I was recruited as Irene's instructor. Well, bread buddy, really.

For my first couple of experiences with yeast, I found the little buggers mysterious. I just put these wee gray things into this liquid with a little sugar and they come to life? Like zombies? Irene had many good points about bread instructions: What does "warm" mean? How do I know if they are "foamy" enough? And so on. There are a lot of not-so-technical, technical terms in bread-making and you have to sort of dive in to figure them all out. For example, in this recipe, it says to stir the dough, with a plastic spatula, until it is "shaggy." I knew what that would look like because, again, I watch too much food TV; but Irene was stumped. Heaven forbid you have never seen food TV and you're working from something like Fannie Farmer who has how many pictures? Three? Any of bread making?

In bread-making, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that each loaf is unique. Each loaf is an adventure. I mean, you should even give some thought to the weather when you're making bread. There is a lot to worry about. My mother opened the garage door while our loaves were rising, letting in a gust of cold air, so Irene and I decided that we would blame any failures on that.
The rustic loaf is different from any bread I have done before. First, the yeast doesn't hang out in sugary water for 15 minutes to rise. Nope. You mix it in with the flour, et. al., then add warmed milk and stir until shaggy. Here is where we let our yeast zombies activate. So, maybe not the best loaf to do with someone afraid of yeast. ... Or, maybe it's the best loaf to do with someone wary of yeast! Once the zombies are clearly out and looking for flesh to consume, we knead; the we do the first rise in a bowl. Then we shape for the second rise on cutting boards. Do you like the green plastic wrap. I think it's fun.

The rustic loaf is, well, rustic in that it is shaped but not baked in a loaf pan. And it did come out good - chewy, with a thin leathery-but-in-a-good-way crust. But there were some major glitches. It was one of those events that you can see in perfect relief, after the fact. The signs are there; the writing was on the wall, but you hoped against hope that things weren't the way they seemed. I ignored my instincts.

It went something like this:

Omen #1. The pans. The recipe calls for a pizza stone because it maintains heat well and bread bakes nicely on it. I would have settled for a 1/4 sheet pan, but there were none of those. Actually, my parents' ovens don't even fit 1/4 sheet pans. So I was using thin, round, flimsy pans.

Omen #2. Irene says that she saw my loaf was brown and spotty ... during the first 3 minutes of baking. That should be the description after about 15 minutes of baking. This should have alarmed me. And I thought of checking it, I did, but figured no way it was browning that fast. Because it wasn't supposed to.

Omen #3. The bread smell 4 minutes into the baking process - too early. This should have told me that the bread was baking to fast and to turn down the ovens.

Omen #4. The burning smell 6 minutes into the baking process. Way, way too early. This time, I checked. Irene's loaf was okay in the top oven, but my loaf was singed. I immediately starting hooting and hollering about how awful my parents' ovens are. I don't think I cursed, but I would have been justified if I did. Irene remained calm, and somehow order was restored.

There is that singe. Everyone liked the bread, even Sam. So, triumph amid travails.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reclaiming my kitchen

"Our kitchen," Josh would say.

This is what we say, don't we? We married women. As in, "Get your shoes off my couch," and, "She had the nerve to come into my house and treat me that way!" We know that these are shared things, but saying "our" in certain situations takes the power out of the statements.

So, you may have been doing the math. I was gone for THREE weeks, with Sam, to California. That's a long time to leave a man alone ... with a cat ... in my house. So what was it like? No, no, not the trip. What was the house like? You know you want to know. What state of disrepair, what kind of chaos did I encounter? What did the kitchen look like?

First, there were NO eggs. Who doesn't have at least one egg in the house? Sure, there was one carton of egg whites - that I bought before I left so that Josh had a supply - but no real eggs. Second, NO milk. Oh, I exaggerate. There was about 1/4 cup of skim milk. Uhhhhh, Sam is 19 months and drinks full-fat ... daily. Maybe you would want to have some on hand since we got home in the afternoon and he would presumably go right down for a nap after having some milk? No? Third, there was a lot of laundry. A lot. Like three weeks' worth. That I am doing today.

Fourth, and maybe the best, was that the garbage was really full. I mean, oddly full, since only one person was here. NO! He didn't! I hear you, dear friends. But he did! He forgot to take it out to the curb on garbage day! In his defense, there were three garbage days and I think he only neglected the can on one of those days. I think.... That was a lot of garbage, though ....

The good news: We have a new fan in the bathroom - one that works and doesn't sound like a lawnmower. AND, the furniture in the rumpus room is arranged in a new way that works much better than the old way. AND, the house is generally clean. He even did a load of kitchen towels that were folded and waiting to be put away. (Because I know where they go.)

I can forgive the trespasses, even the grocery oversights. Really, he just shopped in that way that men do ... you know, for things they need like undershirts, protein bars, and tangerines. He can't be bothered with staples or things that would be useful to have when one gets home with a baby. He also can't be bothered to replace things he used almost all of, like perhaps the diced tomatoes that I assumed were still there for my use in Sunday night's dinner. (Lentil and rice soup with Isernio's sausage and kale)

I blame myself. I was out of practice. Out of the anticipating practice. You know, as a wife who does the shopping, you read between the lines and get things and know things. In hindsight I knew that the diced tomatoes were gone because he told me that he made chili and stew. That positively screams at me to check on my spice, bean, and canned tomato supply.

To Josh's credit, he ran out to the store (after I yelled "You can't just use all of something and not replace it!") and bought canned tomatoes.

So it sent me pondering, this episode. The chores have become divided, and the more years that pass, the more specialized Josh and I become at our work. For example, Josh is all about the installation and maintenance and understanding of electronics. If I were a single gal in my own house (wait, it is my house), I would need to do this all myself. But I remain blissfully ignorant because I can be. My specialty is the store run because I plan the meals and I know what Sam and I need for our meals at home during the day. In other words, I know what we need. Josh will volunteer to go, but it's really more than the list, isn't it? You have to be ready to bob and weave when life throws you curve balls like no Arctic char. To send him means that I have to go through the list and be really specific. Also, there is the whole Inspired Shopping element. You know, you are going down the list when you spot *gasp*chocolate covered almonds and you think, Yes, I need those this week. What will I miss out on if Josh goes to the store? There are lots of psychological layers to this shopping thing, is what I'm saying.

I think a therapist would have a field day with his stuff.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Italian Chicken with Polenta

Let's talk about polenta, shall we? How do I always make a truckload? For this recipe I was determined to make just enough, so I used 1/4 cup polenta and 1.5 cups water. It worked! I like polenta very much ... I like it when it's called "grits" too. Although I would classify polenta/grits as an easy and accessible dish, I would also say that it's difficult to make delicious. I mean, sure, throw in enough cheese if it's polenta, or cheese and hot sauce if it's grits, and yeah, it's delicious to a certain extent. Sort of. But making it a stand-alone, excellent dish is tough. First there is the liquid - broth? milk? water? You need a good balance of a couple liquids, and I don't know what that is yet. Another issue with the liquid is the amount. I like my polenta to be like lava, so you need 5 or 6 parts liquid to polenta. But regardless of how lava-like I get it, it is gloppy once cool. That means seconds are gloppy and leftovers are definitely gloppy. The additions are also an issue: butter? cream? what kind of cheese? I have tried quite a few polenta recipes and I do have a couple that I make - they use milk and Parmesan and butter - but I'm not in love. I have yet to encounter a polenta recipe that gives me butterflies.

The green addition in this polenta is arugula. We were leaving and I needed to use it. I can't wait until I have my own arugula in my garden. The stuff you buy at Trader Joe's already has bad leaves in it, so you have pick through the bag and that's tedious.

In between arugula dishes, like when I have gone without arugula for a month, I forget how bitter it is. Cooking brings out the bitter and downplays the pepper, I have found. I'll take peppery over bitter, therefore, raw over cooked. I love that the Brits call it "rocket." Yes, it is rockety.

This is the last set of photos I saved before I left Seattle. I am in my final week in SF, and have been taking photos of meals here so I will have updates since I will be no doubt eating out of the freezer once we get back home. I can't wait to see what is in the bachelor fridge upon our return! I was thinking that I might just find the milk that I meant to throw out before we left - the 3 drops of 1%. Yum. Will the beef broth still be hiding at the bottom of the door? What about the soy milk?

Josh will no doubt bristle at the implication that he is some sort of slouch in the kitchen, or even the rest of the house. He is not. He merely has not the time to cook or clean and those things are part of my job description right now, so we pretend that I am not only in a position to do these household chores, but also gifted at both, while he falters. It's part of our domestic charade.

These were the chicken breasts I got at Safeway. They look enormous on the bone, but were reasonable once off. I continue to marvel at the well-known culinary fact that if you throw some meat and vegetables into the oven with a little liquid and seasoning, you might just get greatness out of it. This meal was darn tasty and simple. I don't have the recipe in front of me, but can add it later.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I'm thinking about burritos as of late. I have had Mexican cuisine five times during this visit, so far. Three out of five times I had a burrito, once I had a chile relleno, and once I had tacos. I still have to get pan dulce one of these days. It is mandatory that I consume at least one burrito whenever I come to the San Francisco Bay Area because (1) they are abundant, and (2) they are good.

I got some flack for a Yelp! review I did of Mr. Villa's, a Mexican family restaurant on Lake City Way, in Seattle. The guy wrote to me to let me know, in a rude and condescending manner, that being from California gave me no authority on Mexican food. I was ticked off, swearing that his charge was off the mark because he is from Seattle and therefore knows not a whit of what he says. But it got me thinking. What gives us the authority, being from San Francisco, and not being of Mexican descent, on Mexican food? Because I'm sure all of us from this area do indeed think we know what we are talking about in the burrito department, the chip department, the salsa department, and so on. So what is it?

My flow of consciousness on the matter: California is what, 50% Hispanic? There is even a term used in California, possibly originating in California, definitely found in CA universities as part of the ethnic studies programs, to describe those of Mexican descent: Chicano. I never hear that word in Washington State. Even though I am a white Californian, part of my identity has to include Latinos as my brothers ... sort of ... at least this place has part of its identity as once part of Spain, then Mexico ... that translates to its people somehow. In fact, my neighbor in Seattle says that she is Californian and means that her family is from the time when this was "California part of Mexico," which is an identity of place and people frozen in time. Gosh, flows of consciousness can be messy. Surely, though, we Californians all grow up knowing at least a little Spanish in this state - well, most of us. I'm sure people in Ukiah and McCloud are not well-versed in Spanish, but who knows? maybe they are. The point is that there is a huge Mexican influence in California, especially along the coast in all the cities along El Camino Real, which connected all the missions. Just look at the city names, for goodness' sake. I am from San Bruno, a suburb of San Francisco, which is north of Los Angeles, the other big city that everyone knows. If I want to get family style Mexican food, or pan dulce, or attend church services in Spanish, I have lots of venues to choose from. If I wanted to, I could stop speaking English all together and just speak Spanish and I could perform all my business without a problem. So is that it? I have authority because of the mere glut of Mexican food and the sheer number of burritos I have eaten in my life. Burritos eaten at establishments owned and run by Spanish-speaking peoples who may be Chicanos or Mexican immigrants.

People from Seattle can talk up and down about salmon and coffee and go unchallenged on the source of their authority. They can also go on and on about sushi because of the scads of fresh fish that have come into the harbor since the 1800s. That fish wasn't always slapped onto vinegared rice, but it is now and I don't think that the authenticity of a person's sushi prowess would be challenged just because that person is not from Japan, doesn't speak Japanese, and has never even seen Mt Fuji. Right?

So, I am from California. I know what a good burrito is, what a bad burrito is, and I like my chips thick and lightly salted! Tomatillo salsa needs a little sweet in it; guacamole needs a little acid; and pickled veggies are a must. Your pastor should have some crust and your carnitas should be unctuous, but not over the top. Lard in the beans? I can take it. Why? Because I am from San Bruno! Respect my authority!

I would love to extend this conversation if people have comments and questions and musings of their own.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I'm thinking about service today - specifically, the kind you get in a restaurant. My sister, Melissa, and I went to SPQR in San Francisco. The food was exceptional. I had my first taste of sunchoke and was dazzled. I also ate 2/3 of a serrano, as part of our fritto misto, and was singed.
The service was awesome. And I mean that in the true sense of the word, not in the California slang sense. When I started doing Yelp! reviews I focused on the food, but am coming around to believe in my core that the service and atmosphere are also vital pieces of the whole. I know, duh. If the food borders on the divine, but the staff is clearly from Hades, I am not going back. I recall the Green Cat, now gone, in Capitol Hill, Seattle. I loved their food, but was greeted by such hostility that I refused to go back AND I told everyone else not to go.

So, SPQR. My sister and I sat at the bar. Normally, I don't like to do this because my legs feel funny when they have to dangle on bar seats. I also dislike sitting so close to others, and what do I do with my jacket? In this particular case, I was only next to Mel because we were at the very end of the bar. This meant my knees bumped the water station and I had to maneuver my drink around the bartender's pile of napkins. I was okay with that because I had a hook for my jacket! What I was NOT okay with was the gal behind me who was having a drink while waiting for a table. She sneezed in my general direction, several times, and the direction of the water pitchers, THEN put her glass in front of me and asked the bartender to watch it for her. I gave my very best over the shoulder sneer, then made a motion with my elbow to knock her glass over. My sister admonished me. The bartender smiled and revealed that she was thinking, "I doubt they want your drink in front of their faces." More points for the bartender.

I also don't like sitting at bars because the bartender usually has divided attention: she has to pour for the restaurant and play server to all these stools. But the SPQR bartender gets kudos because she pulled it off adroitly. Mel and I sat; down came the cocktail napkins and the menus, and out came the greeting. Melissa and I pored over our choices, reading descriptions to one another. Then Mel drops the bomb: "What do you like?" to the bartender. Now, I was a server in a former life and I was bad at it. I, at best, was indifferent toward my customers; at worst, I had outright contempt for them. I hated the above question because I felt that it wasted my time. Now, however, I expect a server to be able to answer it with aplomb, and most definitely not with something contrite like, "Oh! Everything!" This bartender pointed to four dishes and explained exactly what she liked about them, using a different adjective or analogy for each. Melissa then asked after one specific dish and got more adjectives. Same thing when we wanted to order a glass of wine: "Are you thinking red? Do you like light or full-bodied?" Then she described her favorites, likened one to "a pinot, but with more depth." I was impressed. Mel and I ordered two different glasses and oohed and mmmed our way through each. I think I can honestly say that was the best glass of red I have ever had. And, no, tragically, I don't remember the name.

Mel and I shared the aforementioned fritto misto, rationing our wine. Our primi arrived: hers - sweet potato ravioli; mine - sunchoke tortellini. Hers was delicious. She not only liked it, but also finished it! I think sweet potato (and the ever-popular butterut squash) in pasta can be too sweet, but this dish was nicely balanced with the butter sauce and cheese. My dish was sublime. There were Brussels sprout leaves - 5 of them - and a few toasted hazelnuts which, although pretty, were also intentional ans complemented the pasta. And sunchoke! Sunchoke is like an artichoke and ricotta had a baby together. Brown butter is all you need.

But back to the service. The bartender worked her bar expertly, she checked in with us, she cleared plates at appropriate times, set out new silverware after the appetizers, constantly refreshed waters. She was on fire. I looked around the room and noticed that one guy's job was to look at all the plates, add garnish here and there, wipe clean, and then send out. What? He never moved from a 1x1 square of space. The expediters and servers came to his station to take the plates to the tables. I also noticed not one, but three gals in the kitchen! I am tired of seeing nothing but men on the line and it was nice to see my gender representing! Also, the hostess was lovely when she sat us AND followed us out to say goodnight - something all nice restaurants should definitely do.

The complete package, this place.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Spinach and Gruyere!

Spinach and Gruyere Sauce, with Chicken, over Pasta

Jennie Foote, and old friend, gave me this recipe. That is, she and I became friends when we were wee lasses; she is not 84 years old. I believe it is an Anna Karmel recipe. She has baby cookbooks out there ... I think I have one. As you can tell from the bowl, it is another attempt to sneak vegetables into my son's stomach. Not so clandestine when the sauce is a glaring green. I have made sauces like this before: green something, plus cheese and garlic. Put it over pasta and voila! Sam likes them, so good to go. I thought this one would be a nice addition to the repertoire because it uses frozen spinach - a boon because I don't have to get that darn salad spinner out. That thing is impossible to clean! The lid takes three days to dry out. Why would you make a lid that water and detritus can get into, but your sponge can't; as in, you can't take it apart to clean it. It's like my refrigerator.

The sauce goes something like this: saute frozen spinach - which I did (half a bag) with a shallot and a garlic clove; grate gruyere over and stir around until it melts. I probably put about 1/3 cup in. Put all into a food processor, add some milk so you can blend it, done. I added 1/4 cup of ricotta because I had it on hand and wanted to use it. I thought it was a wonderful sauce and the pasta was nice with the chicken, too. Unfortunately, Sam preferred to eat it like this. Note the complete lack of sauce. Yes, Mommy, I'll take an order of that balanced dinner you worked on. Please subtract the balance. Thanks.

I don't know about the rest of you, but when a meal doesn't work out, for whatever reason, I often shed tears over it and rail against the gods. This time, I was so hungry that I settled for eating the rejected meal. The key to meal time sanity is to be hungry when you serve your child! You don't want it? Fine. Mommy will eat it. Here are your Cheerios. I froze the rest of the sauce hoping that one day I can put it on pasta for a changed Sam or perhaps another, more grateful, future child.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Split Pea

I added a few photos before we left Seattle and saved them so that I could show you what I have been making! That's how much I care.
In order to make this soup - Split Pea - I had to get smoked ham shanks. Of course, Uwajimaya has them ... because they have everything under the sun, in terms of meat cuts, as I have previously discussed. Wait. I could not find bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts when I was looking for them. In truth, I didn't ask. I bet, had I asked, I could have witnessed them killing, defeathering, and fabricating a chicken right then and there. I didn't ask. I went to Safeway.

Split pea is quite easy and quick. I don't have the recipe in front of me, but it goes something like this: saute a mire poix (2:1:1 - onion, celery, carrot), add your herbs (dried marjoram, here), split peas (a bag) and your liquid of choice. I used half chicken broth and half water, and just filled it until it looked good. Nestle the pork in, bring up to a bubble, then let simmer for 30 minutes. The peas should be nice and tender; some will be falling apart. Remove the pork to cool, and take a stick blender to the split peas, et. al. I blended the whole thing because that is how I like my soup, but you can leave it chunky. Cut the pork up, or shred it, or whatever, and add it back. Voila! Smoky, delicious goodness.

I did not tidy the bowl for this shot. The problem with a food blog is that I am often taking snapshots of dinner ... at 8pm ... when Josh and I are ravenous. So I don't have the patience to set myself up for the beauty shots. When you have a toddler you are faced with a unique conundrum: Do we eat with the child or after the child goes to bed? Each option has its challenges. Jacques Pepin once said that he never made "special meals" for his daughter. She ate what the adults were eating. This teaches children how to eat, that eating is social, what goes on at the table, and countless other things about culture and food and that you are not a god in this house and you have to eat what is in front of you, gosh darnit! And that's great. Compare that to my working memory of different meals for my siblings and I. I recall the classic tater tots, chicken nuggets, and carrot sticks. My mother swears that some nights we three children had three different meals, and then Mom and Dad sat down for theirs. It's possible. Sometimes Sam has what we have, but usually it is something unique because, and I have said this before, you are sitting there thinking that there is no way this tiny person has consumed enough calories to make it through the night and there is no way I am waking up at 3am because the kid is hungry. So, if he wants Cheerios, fine! Eating as a family is super and all, but that means Junior has to actually allow me a certain amount of time in the kitchen. Ha. It also means that Josh gets home at toddler dinner hour, i.e. 5:30 or 6pm. Double ha. So, Sam eats alone (read: while Mommy drinks) and Mommy and Daddy eat separately. The easiest. When Josh comes home I can either get cracking, or continue what I started in the kitchen in order to have dinner on the table when Josh walks out of Sam's bedroom around 7:45, having put the boy to sleep. The table being the coffee table, at which we sit cross-legged to watch what we TiVo. How was your day? Fine. Fine. What do we have on TiVo, pass the wine.

I made oven fries to go with the soup. I love this recipe.

Get yourself 3-4 russets and slice into wedges. Put the wedges into a bowl of hot water and let them soak for 20-30 minutes. This step is to leach out some of the starch, which enables these to become "fries" and not just wedged baked potatoes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 475 and prepare your baking sheet with 3-4T peanut oil, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Yes, you in fat sprinkle the pan with those seasonings. Drain and rinse the potatoes, then lay them out to dry. If you want to help the process along with paper towels, go right ahead. Toss the wedges with 1T peanut oil and then lay them out - in one layer and not too crowded! - on the sheet pan. Cover the pan with heavy duty foil and bake for five minutes. Oh, the rack should be on the lowest rung in the oven. Remove the foil, then bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. Flip the wedges, and bake for 7-15 more minutes until GBD. That's "golden-brown and delicious." I have tossed my fries with minced garlic, butter, and parsley at this point, and have enjoyed the results. I have also simply dipped them in ketchup or BBQ sauce.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


I'm thinking about our food and liquid addictions right now ... as I rock the gluten bloat and caffeine high. I have allowed myself to indulge in both, damn the consequences, during this visit to my parents' humble abode. In the short term, anyway. I have grand designs to take up my P90X challenge once I return home. This challenge eschews such dietetic frivolity and blase attitudes, naturally. More on that when I put it in motion.

So gluten-free is very in vogue in the States. There are many adults out there who have low-carbed it for a while now, post-Atkins. People report feeling "cleaner" and "lighter." And, if we can agree to get a bit intimate, "less gassy." Your carb cravings disappear, too. How do they do that, those carbs? Well, I suppose it's not an actual mystery. What are we but mere bags of chemicals responding to stimuli. Put chemicals in and watch how the body reacts.

My friend, Anita, received an admonishment from a friend whose wedding she was going to be in: If you stop eating bread, you can get rid of some of this back fat. This advice was given as the woman poked Anita's back. Nice. Oh, and I can use real names because Anita doesn't follow this blog. Do you, Anita? Nope! Too busy bartending and making jewelry to follow my little blog!

So carbohydrates get themselves on a nice little chemical cycle in our bodies - driving us to crave and eat more of them. The wee devils. Oh, you simple simple sugars. How dare you?

And caffeine. I love black tea, and that was all I drank in the morning until recently. Darn you, Peet's delicious double shots! Dad goes on his morning run, and I cave again and again and again. I know I'm an addict when I am in a piss-poor mood before my latte hits the veins. I wanted to rip my sister's head off this morning for putting the "wrong" diaper on Sam. There are three diapers to choose from. I told her last night that the ones with the elephants are the "night" diapers. Why the hell would she put a night diaper on in the morning? How could she not remember this conversation, and then act so cool when I told her that there were three diapers and, very simply, which one did she put on because I brought "just enough" night diapers and I want to know just how upset I should be at this very moment. Is the coffee here yet?

Coffee caffeine causes me a beautiful high and an ugly crash. I feel on top of the world - witty, brilliant, inspired, bedazzling - when I am indulging. And then. I am not the most patient person, and the fall from this drug, in me, is nothing to be trifled with. "Short-tempered" and "impatient" are euphemistic, at best, when describing the gorgon I become around 3pm.

So tomorrow I will try again. Try to refuse my father's Peet's run: No, Dad, thank you. I will just have tea here in the house. English breakfast with a wee bit of honey and a splash of milk. I will dip a cookie in it, in fact. Then I will ignore the craving that drives me to grab another cookie. And then Irene will come over and we will make bread! I'm not even kidding. I'll take photos.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Genius, is what pickles are. I know that Korea, Japan, and Mexico have a pickling culture. Germany, too, I suppose with that sauerkraut. The US does, sort of, but it's limited in the mainstream, isn't it? I mean, you say "pickle" to Joe on the street and the picture in his mind is of a cucumber pickle. And he eats it with or on a sandwich. We have relish for hot dogs, but the hot dog eating world is divided on its application. The aforementioned countries, however, have some serious pickling of a wide variety of items. Well, does Germany do more than kraut? Is there a plethora of kraut flavors? I understand that, in Japan, it's customary to have something pickled with breakfast. I assume that kick starts one's digestive system. Genius.

I have a mental block for pickles in the morning. Now, that is. I also had a mental block for fried rice and samosas in the morning - then Beijing happened. So, I could do it, I'm sure. Fried rice, one of those black (tea-boiled?) eggs, and some pickles. Yum.

What has me waxing philosophical about pickles, you ask? And where is the photo?

First, I just had some lovely and picante pickles of the Mexican variety. I LOVED them. Cauliflower, carrot, and peppers that are softened ever so slightly by the vinegar. You get the satisfying crunch and then the spice hits you. I could eat a plate full of just those. My respect and admiration for a taco joint surge when I get a scoop of pickles on my plate. This recent one was a meager scoop, but the establishment scored points nevertheless. I had to contain my excitement, sitting there with my mother, sister, and Sam, so that I could gush it all to you, fair readers.

Second, no photo because we are on the road and this computer is no where near what I am used to. It keeps telling me, in fact, that my blog is very complicated and I really should update software. Not happening.

I do have an excellent pickles recipe that I will include once I get home. And I'll pickle something and take a picture.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I watched an episode of Jacques and Julia about eggs. On the show, they make several variations on a theme, so on this particular one about eggs, they did souffle. Jacques cracked his four eggs straight into a copper mixing bowl and then lifted the yolks out! Julia asked what he would do if he got some yolk in there accidentally. He looked at her like she was nuts, and answered that that had never happened to him. Oh. The egg shell-to-shell method is no good because you lose 1/4 of the white, according to Jacques. What would he say about those useless "separators" often sold as part of measuring cup sets? One of his jobs, in fact, as a young apprentice in France, was to "clean out the shells." That's what he said. I assumed he meant that he was supposed to make sure all the white got out of those shells and into the bowl where they belonged, this being post-war France and 1/4 white would eventually add up to many whole whites that could feed many an underfed child, or restaurant patron, in France.

Sara Moulton was the first TV chef whom I started watching back in the 90s. She also had an egg episode on which she made a souffle. She told a story about how she had made that particular souffle with a friend at his house. They walked across the street to his neighbor's to get their eggs, walked back, and made the dish. Sara said that the lift on this thing was unlike any souffle she had ever seen. The moral of the story being that there is much to be said about fresh eggs.

Already my mother is going to comment about how few photos there are in this egg entry. I only snapped one, and yet I have a lot to say. Plus, I am on the road and don't have a photo hookup I am familiar with, so there.

Remember when you weren't supposed to even eat eggs? During the 80s when so many things were verboten and yet you could eat a whole bag of fat-free cookies? I believe eggs were anathema because of cholesterol. Now they are fine, of course. Although I think the yolk is something to be wary of. When it comes to food, I think I can safely say that Americans are crazy. I have heard this food naivete and craziness blamed on our ostensible lack of food culture. Some people might get ruffled feathers reading that last sentence. Oh, we so have a food culture, vis a vis, celebrity chefs, Top Chef TV shows, food stylist is an actual occupation, for goodness' sake. And yet. Look at Italy and France, Japan - those are food cultures deeply ingrained in the identity of each inhabitant. I don't know that it is that way here. I can say that I am cultured in food, but not that I pertain to a food culture, per se. California cuisine? What does that even mean? I think it has something to do with sprouts and avocado. I am making light, surely. And we can get regional. Someone from New Orleans could take serious issue with my (pejorative?) generalization. I can see it.

And yet.

So my egg dish. I eat an egg nearly every day. Love them. Scrambled, over-medium and poached are my preferred types. Oooooh, I like hard-boiled, too. If you inspect the photo you might notice some golden color peeking out and wonder what the heck is wrong with me. I like my eggs dry. I know I know. But the thought of wetness in there makes me gag. My brother is the same way. He will pull the waitress aside and make her repeat his order: Burn my eggs! I mean it. This creates a problem because there is a fine line between dry and totally ruined. If you cook eggs on a high heat for too long, they seize and all the water comes rushing out. You get your eggs in a puddle. I have had puddly eggs at a restaurant and it is not okay. I'm sure some of you also want to get to the bottom of hard-boiled v. soft-boiled. I recall being in Norway, staying with friends, the Cherrys. Hope was making soft-boiled eggs. I asked if she could leave mine in to make it hard-boiled. What? Does not compute. I would rather lay an egg than eat a soft-boiled one. Perhaps it's texture ... that warm, sulfurous, viscous mass moving over my tongue? Nope. But I do like my poached and fried eggs with the yolk runny. A paradox? Perhaps. But one I am comfortable with.

I would feel oh so refined, however, if I sat down with my soft-boiled egg in a egg cup every morning. With my special soft-boiled egg clippers and egg spoon. So very refined.

I saw a marvelous recipe on a blog I follow - eggs with eggs. In other words, you add some caviar. Don't mind if I doooo. I have never had beluga or sturgeon caviar, actually. I've had salmon roe and that was delicious. It was like the sea exploded in my mouth with every wee egg. A delight.

My daily eggs are simple: one whole eggs plus about three egg whites. I scramble those and add cheese, veggies, or just some Spike. I like to fold an omelet in between the halves of an English muffin for a nice little breakfast sandwich. Yum.