Friday, September 30, 2005

Friday DogBlog

I was going to spill the beans on the three North Marin restaurants today, but Cranky and I had, em, well, "issues."
Seems he didn't realize he was the reason I'm not participating in IMBB this month — not that I'm a joiner! — and not that he rejects vegan eating! — but it just all fell apart and it's his fault and we argued and he's mister big, big fibby-head and I'm a poopy-faced pouter.
So we didn't go out today. Well, he went out, after I suggested that he should.
Just as well. It's Friday, and here's the beans I really should have been planning on spilling today anyway:
Bean Sprout and His Very Own Roma Tomato.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Hoping for a Trifecta

Cranky-husband-and-co-cook and I went to dinner at a North Marin restaurant yesterday with a couple of friends, and it was nice. To be honest, we just don't go out much for meals. I'd rather cook my own food.
But the company was good, the food was tasty, the surroundings were spiffy and the waiter was all-pro.
Without revealing any more, I'll just say it prompted the two of us to go out to lunch at a different restaurant in the same town today, and we were very happy. Nuff said.
Tomorrow we're going to try one more restaurant in that city that's been on our list, and here's hoping for a three-peat.
Then I'll tell you all about it.
In other news: A whole sack of Roma tomatoes from the farmers' market today, destined for oven-drying and then a little cryovac rest-
treatment in the freezer. Of course, by "cryovac," I'm really just saying freezer bag. I do have one of those vacuum food sealers that my dad gave me, but I don't know how to use it.
Who cares? We're going to be in 'maters all winter!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Amuse Bouche

Now, this is just really appetizing: Tom DeLay is indicted for conspiracy to violate Texas campaign laws. He's "temporarily" stepping down from his post as House Majority Leader (which probably means he'll be given a medal — heck of a job, Tommy — and get a fat consulting position). Look at that guilty, evil mug.
Meanwhile, Mike Brown was seen and heard flashing devil snarls at the House committee investigating the disastrous FEMA response to Hurricane Katrina victims. What a despicable guy.
And Bill Frist is twisting in the wind, having drawn an investigation by the SEC over the possibility of insider trading — did you see how pinched and phony he sounded as he read a prepared statement defending himself? Reviewing the video, I'd say my diagnosis is "dead meat."
Very amusing, indeed.
Enough to make me... not mad!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Couldn't Wait Until the New Year

I know this dish, law bock gow or turnip cake, is traditionally served on New Year's Day, but since I can find it all year round in dim sum houses, I help myself to a slice or two whenever I get the hankering.
And since I've discovered a place on Clement Street in San Francisco called Wing Lee Bakery that makes the most ethereal turnip cake, I get the hankering often.
I'm really no expert on dim sum, but this version is more tender, pudding-like, than the usual rubbery slabs I've enjoyed (and I do mean enjoyed).
For the uninitiated, turnip cake is made from Chinese turnips, which resemble Japanese daikon but are not the same. The cooked turnip is mixed with rice flour, some of the turnip-cooking liquid, dried Chinese mushrooms, Chinese bacon and dried shrimp, and then steamed in a cake pan for about an hour. When the cake is set, it's allowed to cool and then refrigerated.
At yummy time, the cake is sliced into flat squares like the one you see here, and fried briefly until golden, and then served with oyster sauce or soy sauce.
If your first reaction to this is, "I don't even like turnips, so why would I try that?" then I should warn you that these savory-tinged-with-sweet little bits of heart's delight are, admittedly, a little stinky. And I should probably just let you off the hook.
But every person I've managed to persuade to try them has become — well, hooked.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

I'm Not a Joiner

But I confess that I've been jealous of the obligatory weekend cat blogging going around like a virus. I don't have a cat. I have a super keeno, awesome genius, cute little dog.
I read a remark at Farmgirl Fare today that cat blogging has been a thing for the past 15 weeks, but in fact, Atrios has been doing Friday Cat Blogging for — oh, hell, I'm not a librarian, I don't know. But a long time.
Anyway, Sweetnicks is launching Weekend Dog Blogging. (OK, it started last week. Bad CookieCrumb. No treat.) And though I probably won't go to the trouble of sending her a picture of my boy, here he is at IMAIE.
Presenting: Bean Sprout and the Really Ripe Anaheim Pepper.
(Oh, right. We'll see how religiously I keep up with this endeavor!)

Gabba Gabba Hey

I'd like to say that Thanksgiving dinner walked up to my back door yesterday, but it's illegal to discharge firearms in my neighborhood.
So I discharged my Nikon.
Marin County has had wild turkeys (nonnative) since the 1920s, when several subspecies were introduced for birdwatchers' and game hunters' pleasure. Another flock of turkeys was established in Napa County in the 1950s, and either by migration or because, in at least one case, a rancher brought in some of the birds in 1988, they've been increasingly seen on the loose in Marin County.
Some are ugly. All are loud. They're dumb and fearless, and will waddle right up onto your porch.
This is the first time I've seen them so far south in the county, though. I wonder what the folks in wealthy South Marin are going to think when they get invaded... and they will.
The pair I saw yesterday was plump and shiny and actually kinda pretty, though their screeches sounded like a cheap car alarm gone amok.
Too bad I didn't think to grab the camera until they had turned their backs and wandered off. (That's them on the driveway; click on the picture for an enlargement.)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Miniature Crop on a Miniature Patio

Everything's coming in dinky this year, it seems.
Even the leaves.
It's our first fall in the townhouse, and we've been loving the change in the air. Couldn't even drag ourselves away to either the Ferry Building farmers' market in the City, or the sweet little Toby's Feed Barn market in Point Reyes Station.
Just as well we missed the latter, though. The New York Times travel section did a "36 Hours" feature (link dies in one week) on PRS yesterday, and it included many of the food secrets therein: the market, the new Marin Sun Farms shop, Hog Island Oysters. Not surprising, given that the author of the piece is a Bay Area food writer — and so, I'm surprised he left out Tomales Bay Foods, right there in town, which houses Cowgirl Creamery and other purveyors.
I'll bet he missed one more adorable local custom. At the Western Saloon across the street from the farmers' market, the lovely bartender (I believe her name is Ruby) tunes one of the two TVs over the bar to cooking shows every Saturday. The other one is set to sports, but everyone watches the cooking shows. And talks about them! ("Why's she putting so much oil in there?" "I never thought of lemon with those!" "Wish my knives were that sharp.") Every so often a patron jumps up from his barstool and runs across the street to buy another head of garlic, another slab of cheese, just before the market shuts down for the week.
And the market shuts down for the year after October, so I'll try not to miss next week.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Cry, the Beloved Saveur

I'm not resistant to change. One of my personal quirks is loving to take a different route whenever I go to a familiar destination, like the post office or the store.
My dad was a career Navy officer, so it was an entire childhood for me of uprooting every two years, or so, and moving to a new house, a new school, new friends. Fun.
People never know which "me" they're going to see on lunch dates: Hippie Cookiecrumb? Goth Cookiecrumb? How long will her hair be? What color? Is she doing nail polish anymore or was that just a bad experiment? Good shoes or cheapo rubber flipflops? Silly girl.
But yesterday my Saveur magazine arrived in the mail, and I kinda recoiled in horror. It was limp and flimsy, and the typography on the cover was very cluttered and noisy. Clunky, even. I had to check to see if Colman Andrews was still the editor.
It wasn't the same.
A peek inside proved me right. There's been a slight redo, a tweak, after 10 years of very classy design.
(I did see a couple of dishes I'm inspired to make, though. Whew.)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

In Praise of Sardines

Yes, I swiped that title from the very talented writer and eater, Brett, at (duh!) In Praise of Sardines.
Cranky-husband-and-co-cook and I asked our butcher/fishmonger, Bryan, if he could get us any fresh sardines, on special order, since he doesn't usually carry them in the Corte Madera store.
No, sadly, he said, since the minimum order is five pounds, and two merely hungry adults don't need five pounds.
Then, he thought — what if he ganged up orders from people who like sardines, and we could split the spoils? (And, boy, is "spoils" not really a good word here.)
About three days later, he phoned us to say we could come claim our catch.
"They're really fresh," he said. "They haven't been out of the water for very long."
Ooh. They were really fresh.
I've probably NEVER had a fresher fish I didn't catch myself (or, with credit to Cranky, Himself — and he can catch fish).
Here's the thing. The sardines — we grilled them briefly over briquettes flavored with soaked alder chips — were SWEET. No need for a squirt of lemon, no such thing as catchup or tartar sauce (not that I'd ever).
We toasted thinly sliced ciabatta (and thank you, Jack in the Box, for hijacking that name). Grilled the deboned, butterflied fish over the coals in a fish basket, so they wouldn't fall through the bars. Smeared the toast with roasted garlic. Slapped on the fish. Showered the plank with chopped Italian parsley. Oh, there may have been a little salt and dried chile flakes.
But. SWEET. (Apologies for the caps, and the repetition.)
My only discovery, besides the fact that super-fresh fish is heavenly (wait, did I not know this? I knew this — I just don't usually get it this fresh), is that chopped really fresh Italian parsley is magic on board.
I have only one other food memory that is as vivid as this, and it's from almost 30 years ago: An onion and tomato salad in Yugoslavia.
And yesterday, I figured out why it's such a standout memory. The food was astonishingly fresh.
That's what tastes good.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Zen and the Art of Blog Maintenance

Monkey Gland at JamFaced was tagged for a meme the other day, in a comment left on his blog with a link to the meme rules. I was curious about what it might be, but I considered it his own business, so I didn't follow the link.
Didn't have to, as it turns out. Lovely MG tagged me next.
It's easy. You just go look through your blog archives for your 23rd post, and pull out the fifth sentence. Then you contemplate it while listening to the sound of one hand clapping; very good, Grasshopper!
I haven't looked at my old stuff for ages (if a five-month-old blog can be considered ages), and I found some of the old posts laughable (mostly in a good way).
Until I got to the 23rd post, which was titled "Too Mad to Eat."
Here's the fifth — and final — sentence:

"Enough to ruin anybody's appetite."

You're welcome to go see what that was all about here.

So, who's next? I choose mrs d at Belly Timber, Tana at small farms, Kalyn at Kalyn's Kitchen, Susan at Farmgirl Fare, and Brett at In Praise of Sardines. And I'm not sending notices, so if they don't play, it's because they're not reading this... boo-hoo.
  1. Delve into your blog archive.
  2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
  3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
  4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions. Ponder it for meaning, subtext or hidden agendas...
  5. Tag five people to do the same.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I Was Hungry

Ever had this for supper? I first had it at a funny saloon on Fisherman's Wharf called Jack's Taps, which prides itself on a sort of fakey British pub atmosphere (and since I've never been to England, I can't really even comment). Oh, and something like 85 beers on tap, but I believe that's a bit of exaggeration.
This joint is in the former digs of a fakey British restaurant called the Ben Jonson, long closed: roaring fireplace, legs of — oh, I forget, mutton? No, this is America. I think they served prime rib. Sorrel soup, I do remember...
Anyway, this pub meal captivated me right away: simple and dumb and homey. It was one of those days when I just couldn't face anything too complicated, but I needed to be fed.
Same feeling swept over me today: Leave my brain out of it, but get something into my tummy.
Beloved husband and co-cook to the rescue.
Our version: Imported Heinz baked beans (they're vegetarian, and fortunately, they are available in at least two Marin County markets that I know of), warmed up nicely and slopped over toasted white bread that has had some good cheddar cheese broiled into submission on it. Some versions have the cheese melted on top of the toast 'n' beans; mine's inside-out. Also, I gather I'm supposed to have sprinkled genuine English Maldon salt on it, but I find the beans and cheese salty enough.
Not very local, eh? (However. The cheese was from Petaluma.) Hey, I got fed.

I Still Eat

I just don't talk about it every day. Some days, I'm actually tired of food — but one needs nutrients, so in they go.
Yesterday we made a fantastic melange of fresh cranberry beans with sliced Brussels sprouts, chopped onions and diced crisp bacon. It was screamingly good, but I didn't take a picture. We'll be doing it again soon, so maybe you can see it next time. By the way, I am adamant about either slicing Brussels sprouts, or going to all the trouble of separating the leaves, one by one. Slicing is easier — and you then get a much tastier result from cooking, because the little bastids aren't suffocating in sulfury steam.
In the meantime, here's what's going on the the cookiecrumby kitchen: More infused vodka.We bought a slightly better brand of hooch this time, so it's not as gassy as last time. The flavoring agents were a few sprigs each of mint and sage from the pots on the patio. I only left the herbs in there for about 20 hours (which was the same as my experience with fresh fennel flowers last month: doesn't take long to get all flavory). The mint slightly outflavored the sage, but I think that's serendipitous — the sage is the bottom note, if you speak perfume, and the mint is the top. (Wow, infused vodka is so gay.)
Today we had raindrops. Fall is intruding. Just this morning I was marveling at the beautiful autumn leaves that have been showing up on the patio.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Wagon, Schmagon

Local eating took a big dive today. We were too filled up from yesterday's salade niçoise for lunch and the cloying, over-dairied macaroni and cheese for supper. So we avoided even the semblance of lunch today until pure, biological craving took over. And where were we when that happened?
At the Sir Francis Drake Kennel Club dog show, right up the road where they hold a farmers' market twice a week.
We have too much produce in the house right now to patronize the market, so we dropped a few bucks on admission instead, to watch little packets of energy run the agility course, and gape at tall, gorgeous Afghan pooches, fresh from a shampoo and a trim, parading their stunning fur coats. Oh, and the humanity! The humanity! It seems the required costume for female dog presenters is a dowdy suit, straight skirt below the knees, sensible flat shoes... very Barbara Woodhouse.
Well, it wouldn't do to partake of the — gasp! — hot dogs being sold on the grounds, would it? [Employing best Barbara Woodhouse voice impersonation.] So we walked off the premises — Walkies! — and into the Santa Venetia Market across the street, where we were captured — leashed, corralled, placed in a crate, kennelled! — by a sack of Tim's Cascade Style Potato Chips, Wasabi flavor.
Now, I know that back in July, Fatemeh of Gastronomie posted a rave review of Trader Joe's Sesame and Ginger potato chips. And I've tried to find them, to no avail (though I admit that parking lots at all Trader Joe's are so nucking futty that it's hard for me to make attempts very often). But I loved her idea of using the tasty little snacks as platforms for a tuna tartare.
But! Now I've got wasabi-flavored chips! I'll just add the ginger and sesame seeds to the tuna tartare, and boy, will I have a dandy nibble.
For today, though, it was just grab from the bag and stuff mouth. Tim's chips are thick and snappy, just like you want. Dog!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

What It's Come To

See those? Those are my cherry tomatoes. They're about the size of Sevruga caviar pearls — meh, maybe a tad bigger. Even the larger, so-called slicing varieties (Black Prince, in particular) are coming in at way under size, about like a big marble.
Ah, well. No complaints. They made a pretty cute Salade Niçoise for lunch. I ended up saving the ahi poke from the restaurant the other day, and gently poached it in olive oil. Then, Marin Sun Farm eggs, lettuce from the patio, and all the usual ingredients. Dang, it was local!
(Do I seem to go on and ON about tomatoes? Uh-huh.)
Oh, did anyone notice how the president likes to button his shirt? The other day when he speechified from New Orleans, he apparently failed to line up the proper buttons with the proper buttonholes. Look at his collar. What a kindergartener.

Friday, September 16, 2005

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomautumn

Fall begins in a week, but in the SF Bay Area, we usually get about six more weeks of post-summer warmth.
And yet the sun is already low in the sky, lending the air a slightly sad feeling and a delicious golden tint. The weather's been strange this year, and I'm not at all sure we'll get our Indian Summer.
I'm torn between seasons right now. This will be our first autumn in the new (old) townhouse, and although I'm much more of a summer person than fall, I'm looking forward to the change.
And I'm planning on dragging a little bit of summer with me into the future.
Right now, I'm wallowing in tomatoes — still getting a few little ones off my patio vines (and if the warm weather holds up, it looks like I may get lucky with a new crop of blossoms that have been popping up). This time of year, the farmers are practically giving them away. The super-ripe ones are going for a dollar a pound, and I've been scarfing them up for oven-roasted sauce to store in the freezer. Got seven pounds yesterday.
Honestly, I feel a little like the Aesop's fable about the ant and the grasshopper. I want to be the grasshopper, frittering my summer away, but I can't stop "putting food by," as the old phrase has it.
And today, for the first time this summer, I got a serious hankering for stewy comfort food. I blame Dr. Biggles at MeatHenge, who posted a most amazing recipe for Wet Roast Chicken — you must check it out.
And yet... and yet. There's a nice dollop of sunshine out on the patio and some beautiful homegrown lettuce and tomatoes for lunch. Maybe it'll still be summer for a while longer.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Happy (Burp) Meal

Sorry, no photos. I thought of taking my camera along with me to Pacific Catch, the new restaurant in Corte Madera Town Center, but I just didn't remember at the last minute.
The place got a good review in the Marin Independent Journal yesterday, so it may have been folly on our part to brave a meal there so soon after a rave writeup. And, in fact, at 2 p.m. it was still pretty busy, and we had to wait for our server to take our order for quite a few minutes.
But! I didn't expect it to be so good. It's just a joint in a mall, after all. It's the spinoff of a fairly successful restaurant of the same name in San Francisco's Marina neighborhood, brought to us by the two guys who invented World Wrapps. All I wanted was a little taste of ahi poke, which came draped over a huge bowl of sushi-seasoned rice, garnished with daikon sprouts, wakame salad, slivers of nori, some avocado slices, preserved ginger, and for an extra $1.95, a healthy scoop of tobiko. Dang. It didn't have to be that good. I would have liked it anyway. (Heh. Lovin' Spoonful.)
I was knocked out.
I've got leftovers in the fridge right now, and I'm exiling cranky husband/co-cook from the house tomorrow so I can enjoy it again. All by myself.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Forget Dried Beans for a Minute

Do you find that you get stuck on certain recipes in your cookbooks? Of course you do. I have a bunch of books I've been determined to use, but I haven't made a single dish from their pages. And I have books that I know are wonderful, because I've made wonderful meals from their pages -- and yet, I can't seem to tear myself away from the standbys and try other recipes on other pages.
Case in point: Today we're doing, again, Deborah Madison's summer vegetable stew with fresh shell beans. We found amazing, plump Italian butter beans, grown on Iacopi's fields in Half Moon Bay. Look!
So they're mingling, as we speak, with baby carrots, new potatoes, green beans, red onions, zucchini and yellow crook-neck squash, tomatoes, garlic and herbs. All local.
I had thought the end of August would mean reverting to nonlocal food, but it's proven too important to me.
The house smells so good now, I can't wait for dinner.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Beans, Beans...

So what was compelling enough to dislodge me from bucolic Marin County and take a drive 75 miles into the middle of the state?
Would you believe the Tracy Dry Bean Festival? OK, how about the Tracy Dry Bean Festival and Car Show? Never heard of that, right? Well, it's not widely publicized. Even though this is the festival's 19th year, it's nowhere near as famous as the Gilroy Garlic Festival (which I attended in its debut year of 1979). In fact, it's such a dinky affair, admission is free. The whole thing takes place on a couple of intersecting city streets, one of which is filled with tricked-out cars with "Do Not Touch" signs in the windows.
I only know about it because I used to handle food event listings for a newspaper somewhat within hailing distance of Tracy. On a whim, I Googled it last week, and learned it was to take place the coming weekend.
Beans! How cool is that? As we left our house Sunday morning, we told a neighbor where we were headed, and (this is *so* Marin), she said, "That must be why the Rancho Gordo guy wasn't at the market this morning. If you see Steve, tell him he was missed."
Well, apologies to Steve for straying from his fine Napa crop (and no, he wasn't there). But it wasn't easy straying. At the Tracy Dry Bean Festival, there were exactly two booths featuring California dry beans (not counting the Cost Plus World Market alien beans, horrors — though they weren't selling well). All the rest of the booths were hawking time-shares, cell phones, real estate, airbrush tattoos, sparkly clothing, and non-bean food: funnel cakes, roasted corn, Thai food, BBQ sandwiches... There was a bungee-trapeze ride for kids, and a couple of sound stages for bands. Oh, and of course, a guess-how-many-beans contest.
When we finally found Shirley and Dave Mendonca manning an actual bean booth, we got all weepy. Shirley and I clicked right away. She told me her priority at the fair was to talk about beans, and she had found a willing patron.
Amid all the varieties, though, I'm a little embarrassed to say I selected fairly simple ones. A bag of Pinks, and a bag of white Great Northerns. As we were saying goodbye, I noticed a jar of stunning yellow beans that were new to me, so we grabbed that too. Called Mayacoba, it turns out this ancient variety is at the center of a peculiar legal battle over patent ownership. Too weird for words, but you can read about it here.
The trip to Tracy — an all-American, flag-waving, Marine-recruiting kind of town — was like visiting a whole new world, but one filled with great beans, and great human beings.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

What Kind of Restaurant Am I In?

If you've been to a place that serves this cuisine, you will probably know. (Hint: It's not Mexican.) The jar on the left holds a fragrant cilantro-chili-garlic-vinegar sauce that's just captivating, and the jar on the right is a potent chili sauce that I didn't run through the human-tongue detector device.
Yeah, those are Afghan condiments.
In a weird coincidence, I found myself in Tracy, CA, on 9/11. I'll tell you why I was there in a later post. Anyway, there I was on this day, wearing my black shirt with the image of the NYC skyline, Twin Towers still intact. It was meant to be an homage to the victims. I happened to be at a very public event, but nobody seemed to notice it. Fine.
Then, afterward, we wandered into a brand-new Afghan restaurant in a strip mall. Too late, I remembered what I was wearing. Would I offend my Afghan hosts?
Nope. The charming young waitress, a med student-to-be, pointed to my left boob and said, "I used to live right there."
(Here's a self portrait of "right there.") Her name was Shahira (meaning "renowned") and she was quite gracious in telling us about her experience on that horrendous day, scrambling for safety across the Brooklyn Bridge. She and her family eventually left New York, where they still have three restaurants, because they were made to feel no longer welcome.
Well, New York's loss; Tracy's gain. The meal was just superb. (I've had good Afghan food, and I've had so-so. This was good.) Aushack, essentially "ravioli" filled with minced leek and scallions, were topped with a tomatoey meat sauce, drizzled with yogurt and sprinkled with mint. I could barely get to the Italianesque tomatoey eggplant dish. ("Our cuisine is very similar to Mediterranean," Shahira told us.) Cranky co-cook husband (he never did like being called "beloved") had a combo plate of three kinds of kebabs with a seasoned rice that was redolent of ginger snaps.
My mouth couldn't stop cavorting with all the tastes. I wouldn't have said I've missed highly seasoned food during Eat Local August -- but today's food was just a joy. I just wish Tracy wasn't an hour and a half away.
Afghan Shish Kebab House, 2521 N. Tracy Blvd., Tracy, CA. (209) 834-2070

Saturday, September 10, 2005

M*A*S*H Unit

My tomato plants are on, uh, hiatus. Yeah, that's it. I picked scads of sweeties all through July and August, and then things tapered off. There are signs of a new crop of blossoms, so my fingers are crossed, but for the time being we've been buying 'maters at the farmers' market.
What I want to do is keep a freezer full of summer for the winter. So I've been making very simple sauces: nothing but roasted tomatoes with a splash of olive oil, which I can season later on for whatever purpose comes to mind.
I've been mixing varieties such as Shady Lady (intense! find some!), Early Girls, whatchamacallits and other whatchamacallits. Some plum tomatoes, too. That way I get a blend of sweet, deep and acidic flavors.
So far, I have nine little freezer bags of sauce, but I think it will go far. When it tastes this good, you don't use gobs of it.
We marinated a steak a while ago in a moosh of tomato, red wine, a little splish of vinegar, pinch of salt, drib of oil... and it was very nice. But the best part was reducing the marinade into an impromptu BBQ sauce. It came out sweet and ketchupy, without any artificial, commercial flavors. No sugar added! I don't think I eat sugar anymore. Don't have to.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Can't Stop Going Loco

Let's see... September 9th, and we've gotten a few nonlocal cravings out of the way. Last night, it was sticky rice stuffed with chicken and steamed inside a wrapper of delicious, flavor-imparting lotus leaves — which I didn't make, trust me. It came from a fantastic "bakery" (read dim sum shop) in San Francisco's other Chinatown, the Richmond district.
A couple days ago, it was a not-entirely satisfying tostada.
Last week, in fact just as soon as August ended, we had spaghetti with one of our old pantry standbys, Barilla Puttanesca (tomato sauce with green and black olives). I've always thought it was one of the better commercial jarred sauces. But both beloved husband and I found it shockingly artificial tasting, especially since we had eaten NO processed foods for an entire month. That was an eye opener. Er, palate cleanser. I mean, dirtier.
So we're pretty much back to local. We will now allow nonlocal wheat into our diet, along with olives (which I've missed), Asian foods and — well, we'll just have to see.
For lunch today it was roasted stuffed peppers from East Palo Alto: Innards were Rancho Gordo beans from Napa, Lundberg brown & wild rice from Richvale, onions from Wild Blue Farm in Tomales, and feta cheese from Marin Cheese Company in San Rafael. I haven't been able to figure out much about that cheese company... Do we even have dairy herds in San Rafael? I don't think so. Anyway, wink-wink, nudge-nudge. Still tasty.
And picturesque.
With this totally unseasonable chilly weather, a warm lunch hit the spot.
Meanwhile, FEMA chief Michael Brown has been dispatched to Washington — i.e., relieved of his "relief" efforts in the ravaged Gulf states — for emergency desk duty. Heck of a job, Brownie. Buh-bye.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Skip This Item and Read the Next

Oh, you just had to look, didn't you?
This image was sent to a diarist at Daily Kos from a friend who captured it off a Sky News Ireland feed.
Just when you think you'll shoot your TV if you have to look at one more news crawl, along comes the best one ever.
Now, seriously, go read the next item. Much prettier picture.

Read It and Eat

I want to keep this short, but I want to give you enough information to do justice to this lovely book.
I was sent a review copy of “The Real Food Revival: Aisle by Aisle, Morsel by Morsel,” coauthored by Sherri Brooks Vinton and Ann Clark Espuelas.
It is, simply, a paean to honest, healthful, delicious, and mainly local and seasonal food.
More specifically, it is a guidebook for eaters (for instance, shop at farmers’ markets, subscribe to community-supported agriculture programs,) with resources and contacts (for instance, and
It is a lesson in food production that clearly explains the difference between agribusiness and small, diverse-crop practices – and the health perils and benefits therein, including the effects on produce of chemicals, genetic modification, packaging, transportation, storage, and so on.
It is a cheat-sheet for shoppers, filled with advice on how to talk to your butcher and fishmonger, how to read labels, how to save money (make your own ginger ale!).
Best of all, it’s fun to read. No nagging or scare tactics, just information, anecdotes, the occasional recipe here and there – and it’s well written.
The authors (Vinton hails from New York, Espuelas lives in California) have traveled the country to learn about local food production – and it is a joy for me to discover that Marin County receives special accolades for our Straus Family Creamery, McEvoy Ranch, Cowgirl Creamery and the Marin Agricultural Land Trust.
I joked with coauthor Sherri Vinton by e-mail that for Bay Area foodies, she was preaching to the choir, that we already knew how to eat “real.” Sherri replied that rather than preaching, she believed she was harmonizing with the choir.
“I hope the book is a tool for the converted,” she said.
And it is. The bibliography alone is a wide-ranging syllabus of must-read food writing, including Rachel Carson’s 1962 classic “Silent Spring,” Deborah Madison’s “Local Flavors” and, of course, Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation.”
The descriptions of various types of alternative grains, oils and sweeteners serve as encouragement to experiment.
And as for the bad news this book delivers on industrially grown soy and corn – well, let’s just say that’s a particular issue with me, and I’m glad to see it addressed here.
If you think you already know all this stuff, fine. But now it’s in print, in one convenient paperback. Put it on your gift list for someone on the brink of eating “real.”
As Vinton told me, "A lot of eaters have said, ‘I've been telling my sister/neighbor/bartender about this stuff for ages. Maybe now they'll believe me!' "

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

In Which I Talk About Flavors

During the month of August, I didn't taste a single artificial flavor, that I know of. I'm aware that on at least three occasions I tasted food that I didn't make myself, and I can't vouch for all the ingredients therein. But I'm pretty sure that most of my meals contained only local ingredients, and that included the seasonings.
That meant no imported black pepper. No cumin. No -- er, well, those two are actually the only regularly used spices in my usual cooking that I know aren't grown nearby. To be sure, I'm known now and then to sprinkle cinnamon over "Greek" braised lamb shanks, to mull wine (oh, maybe every 14 years or so) with cloves, to smear wasabi on a fillet of fish... I've got shelves full of dried herbs and spices: Chinese star anise. Mustard seed. Saffron. Ginger.
OK, here's the thing. It's simply not "evil" to use nonlocal ingredients when you have nothing equivalent that grows within your foodshed. Why else did the spice trade of the Middle Ages flourish so? Not only were the difficult-to-obtain flavors exotic (and expensive), they really added something special to certain dishes, something that couldn't be obtained locally.
Or could it? I'm not going so far as to claim that you can recreate the flavor of a Moroccan bisteeya or a Hungarian gulyásleves or a Japanese sukiyaki without the original ingredients. But those original ingredients are not, per se, "native." Some are imported, venerated for ages, and seamlessly incorporated into the national cuisine.
For the Eat Local Challenge, though, I tried to circumvent the need for imported spices. I made a lamb stew, heavy on the carrots to compensate for the absence of "cookie-flavored" spices (clove, cinnamon). I even used carrot tops for additional "green" flavor in place of bay leaves. I used lemon peel in places where I thought it would make a difference. I subbed chili flakes for the heat of black pepper.
I never said I don't use thyme, oregano, rosemary, etc. But I do grow those herbs on the patio. They're not "native." Because I can walk 10 feet out the back door and pick a handful, though, I suppose they're now considered "local."
It's all semantics.
And I've become a bore.

Friday, September 02, 2005

I Needed a Laugh

I've been TOO bummed out to blog. If I'm on the computer, most of the time I'm checking news reports on CNN.
The rest of the time, I'm either watching television or out on the patio guzzling alcoholic somnifacients.
Yes, this is due to the craptacular situation in New Orleans, and our nation's shameful failure to bring about proper relief efforts in a timely manner.
I'm not even into eating. Which is understandable. I'm just doing basic nutritioning; shoved some cheese in my gob for lunch because I couldn't face creativity. Plus, now that the Eat Local challenge has ended, I'm withdrawing somewhat.
On a happier note: I've been communicating with Monkey Gland of Jam Faced -- what a dear. I love "hearing" (cybernetically) his Englishisms. Y'know, Briticisms. Capital! Eh, wot! (I'm a dreadful faker, MG, sorry.) He's helped me play with my blog banner -- huge, grand success on his part for walking me through the code; less so on my part for my naive design, but allow me to tinker.
And in his recent communique, he lifted my spirits with this: Funny. Go see.