Friday, March 31, 2006

It's Spring, Dammit

But you'd never know it from the weather in the Bay Area. We've had rain, hail, snow, wind, freezing temperatures — all in March. In fact, this is the wettest March on record.
Even so, we found some asparagus at the market yesterday, and I knew exactly how I wanted to enjoy them: Simply.
A few years ago, during a pouting spell (or maybe it was just a languid, ingenuous moment), I asked Cranky to make me some toast with asparagus on top. Whole asparagus, laid lengthwise on richly buttered country bread.
It was amazingly good to eat.
Then, a few weeks ago, I ordered a simple, vibrant, pagan lunch of eggs fried in breadcrumbs, atop spears of asparagus, at Sausalito's upscale restaurant, Poggio.
I thought I could do that dish one better, and today I did.
No, not fancier — Simpler. Heartier. Better.
Alas, I could not find an announcement for End of Month Eggs on Toast Extravaganza for March. I've never joined this fun event, and finally, when I whip up the perfect entry, I can't find mention of it anywhere. I don't even know what the clever theme is, if there is such an event this month.
Well, I'll choose my own theme: It's Spring, Dammit.

Sources: Eggs from Triple T Ranch in Santa Rosa (no Web site), Italian sourdough from Pan-o-Rama in San Francisco, asparagus from Zuckerman's Farm in Stockton, butter from Clover Stornetta in Petaluma, salt from — psyche! — not my own Marin-harvested salt. Savin' that for May.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Fresh Start

On Day 13 of the Ice Harvest, we have decided it's all right to return to normal.
The freezer doesn't look much better than it did at the beginning of our plan to eat up all of its lurking, languishing, hoary, gelid contents.
But we're OK with that. Most of the fresh produce remaining in the refrigerator is manageable: a little cauliflower to roast for some soup (Hm! That would work well with the leftover vegetable broth) and some jalapeños that simply make brilliant ad-hoc additions almost anywhere (cauliflower soup, say?).
Besides. It was farmers' market day at the Civic Center today. In this incessant, horrid, rainy weather, Cranky and I feel some obligation to go and buy from the stolid farmers who set up their stations, rain or shine. They do fine when the sun's out, as it was the Sunday before last (and what a zoo it was, according to reliable reports). But on miserable days like this, the poor farmers need some support.
We chatted with Chris Zuckerman of Zuckerman's Farms in the Delta. He has some gorgeous asparagus, and we bought a bundle. Chris said the San Rafael market is known for its loyal customers (!), and he told us Thursday is the big restaurant pick-up day for local chefs. How cool. (Obviously the chefs are there a lot earlier than I can bother to wake up for... I didn't run into any of them.)
Chris also told us he has darn-well imprinted on his brain the fact that the drive from his farm to Marin is 95 miles. So he's perfectly within the 100-mile radius of the food-provisioning limit for the Eat Local Challenge, coming up in May. (And he said there will still be asparagus in May. Apricots, too! Boy, spring — what a head-twisting season.) I told him about the Challenge, and he thought that was neat. Chris reads blogs, I learned. (Not food blogs, but...)
So. We have the dual disciplines of Clean Out the Freezer and the upcoming Eat Local Challenge.
I am so happy to let the one fall away, as I prepare for the next.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

[Takes Deep Breath, Reconsiders]

So it's Day 12 of the Ice Harvest, and we decided to go out for lunch.
The reality is that we're simply not going to snowplow through that freezer and eat up everything, down to the bare walls, within two weeks.
It's been a very interesting project: creative, disciplined, kinda Girl Scout rah-rah merit badge.
But a little unrealistic.
Eh, so what? Most of the stuff still in the freezer is stuff we tend to want to have on hand in the freezer: tomato sauce, local whole-wheat flour and some local wheatberries. A few packets of meat. And the real clutter-bomb — frozen broth in large, one-quart containers inside freezer bags.
I'm maniacal about broth, since soup is my very favorite meal to cook. Being a little bit thrifty, I'm also maniacal about saving broth ingredients until there are enough to boil up another batch: bones, meaty carcasses, vegetables, even vegetable trimmings.
OK. Yesterday I discovered a red onion that was ready either for the compost or for the retirement home. A quick rummage through the fridge turned up a bag of the fleshy center ribs trimmed from two bunches of chard, a couple of carrot halves and the strongly scented tops of a celery root. Not a lot to go on.
I dashed out onto the rainy patio and snipped a basketful of herbs: garlic chives, tons of marjoram, some paltry parsley (and the brawny stems from this plant, which is past its prime), a couple of frail rosemary sprigs (the plant is new and trying to get its bearings), plus about five fresh bay leaves.
Cranky was polite, but it was clear the question on his mind was "Why? Why are you making an anemic vegetable broth when there's so much in the freezer?"
I couldn't help myself!
And soon, as the reinvigorating, steamy aromas rose from the pot, he understood. It smelled like summer. It smelled like hope. It smelled like life.
It was too good not to do. And it was decidedly not anemic. (Hint: I usually toss in a small handful of lentils and two or three dried shiitakes, to add bass notes. I leave out salt and pepper, allowing the dish this broth will go into to govern those choices.)
So, without apologies, I present to you my fresh vegetable broth... Which we have decided NOT to freeze, in honor of this silly and rewarding experiment. We're just going to dive in right away.
Mushroom-rice-chicken soup tonight, made with fresh broth and a trickle of cream.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


We might not get everything eaten up before it goes past the peak of perfection.
Our poor onion looks like it's trying to shuffle off this mortal coil. Maybe it's reaching for heaven.
I don't actually have plans for it, so it will probably end up in a pot with any other items in the crisper that are ready to surrender their ghost for a little vegetable broth — which will then go into the freezer. Sigh.
The freezer is now rid of much of the leftover meat. All that's left is two chorizos, some Kentucky ham, a small amount of duck and a nice, useable amount of chicken. Oh, wait, and the marrow bones.
(What has she been eating while she boasts of this Ice Harvest, you wonder?)
We made a nice, bastardized gringo version of a Caldo Verde, using leftover greens and the pot likker, a frozen chorizo, and some dried beans from the pantry instead of potatoes (and I've decided beans are just little potatoes anyway).
We made a brilliant tomato soup from frozen tomato sauce and some spring onions (brilliant in both taste and color; I've discovered I'd rather not add cream to tomato soup).
Most of the dishes we come up with are soups or stews, but tonight I'm making a gaijin version of a sushi platter, with seasoned rice and the pickled turnips and radishes. And even there, we're once again hauling a dry ingredient out of the pantry in order to achieve a logical, appetizing dish.
It's very hard to simply eat up all the fresh and frozen food otherwise.
But I will confess I'm not playing fair. Yesterday I had an egg-salad sandwich — a purchased egg salad sandwich. And for lunch today I had a burrito made with beans from a can (wouldn't you think I'd had enough beans by now?).
OK. Fire up a pot of water, boys. I'm going rummaging again.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Refrigerator Superfund Site

We are still actively cleaning out food from the freezer and refrigerator, on Day 10 of the Ice Harvest.
In our search and rescue mission, we found a bit of produce that has ceased the productive portion of its stayover in the crisper drawer.
A few (a few??) weeks ago we bought a mini red cabbage for [scratches head] I can't remember what! Something purple, I believe. I recall we didn't think we'd need a lot of it, so it was convenient to find such a little one.
But we failed. Failed to make the dish (or even remember what it was supposed to be). Failed to reassign the little red cabbage to another use. Failed to rescue the poor purple globe before it bit the dust. Er. Or, the "rotties" bit it.
It had to be ejected from the house today, as part of the EPA's Contaminated Sediment Remediation Guidance.
I hate when that happens.
On the other hand [brightens visibly]!
I finally pickled the radishes, turnips, cauliflower and a sack of nearly-dead mushrooms in the leftover sake-soy sauce pickling mixture.
I'm not sure I got to the mushrooms in time — they may be a bit too sticky for my liking — but the other veggies are now tinted with a dreamy, Rembrandt-esque shade of golden brown.
And the salt in the bath will surely help preserve them a few days longer.
Until I can finally regain a vestige of my appetite and get around to eating them.
Amana Freezerburn, reporting live.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Purge and Binge

We have successfully eaten sacks and tubs and wads of frozen meat for our Ice Harvest.
We instinctively blend the meat with soup, rice, beans or other "extenders," so we're not gobbling as much pure animal protein in each meal.
And after this purge is all over, I doubt I'll be buying that much meat in the future.
(Have you read Michael Pollan's doubtful paean to murdering, butchering, and eating his own meat? Link will expire in one week.)
I'm craving fresh vegetables and fruit. We have some on the premises, but I'm not allowing myself to buy any more until the backlog of stored food is a bit more diminished.
Speaking of butchering your own meat: I do approve of the practice, especially if you're able to procure real animal protein in a humane way, and able to render it edible in an intelligent way.
However. I had an ex-brother-in-law who thought it was clever to catch fish out of the ocean, haul them on board his boat, and slice off fillets from the still-living animals — whose not-dead carcasses he would then cavalierly toss overboard. What a prick. I am embarrassed to tell you this.
But I'm not entirely finished eating meat.
Just a whole lot closer.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Freezer Spelunking, Day 8

You'd be surprised how well you can eat for a week without buying groceries.
Put that another way: I'd be surprised. And I was. Am.
It now looks as if we'll be able to finish off all the stored comestibles in less than two weeks.
Some stuff will remain cryogenically suspended, intentionally. I don't want to use up all the frozen tomato sauce before July, for instance, and I think the frozen vegetable broth is safe for now in the freezer.
But most of the leftovers — meat, mainly — have been accounted for.
Today for lunch Cranky made a most wondrous soup with half a small bag of chicken (there's still a whole bag left), some sautéed spring onions and sliced mushrooms, chicken stock that I made from frozen chicken bones, a splash of cream (still a little bit left of that, too), and seasonings.
The best thing about the soup — well, it was really delicious, so the second best thing — is that Cranky made it. He's very tentative about soup (and he's scared to death of my critiques, poor softy). I'm the soup-maker in this house.
But he did it all by himself and it was fantastic.
He's walking on air.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Meat Mining

Look at all that frozen meat!
You're looking at a picture Cranky took of duck leg, a duck sausage, half a pork chop, some chicken, some turkey, and a short segment of homemade pork sausage.
Cranky has been valiantly burrowing through the freezer, for our first full week of Ice Harvest. He came across some completely forgotten Marin Sun Farm grass-fed beef hot dogs. A bag of bones. Another bag of bones. A few tubs of vegetable broth that we knew were back there somewhere. An inexplicable tub labeled "roast beef roux with wine, 12/27" (I think we were saving it for a gravy that never happened). And a bag or two of frankly unidentifiable things. Anybody mind terribly if I don't mention the nine-month-old kielbasa? Didn't think so.
In general, it seems we freeze leftover meat.
Which is why Cranky's endeavor in the kitchen yesterday cleared out so much space in the freezer.
He made another batch of slow-cooker cassoulet. A super-meaty version. So meaty, in fact, that he had to put the little piece of pork sausage back in the freezer, with a lot of other meat he wasn't planning to use, together in a handy freezer bag, awaiting a future cassoulet.
Cranky cooked this cassoulet with a hefty dose of leftover corned-beef water from St. Patrick's Day (pre-empting the necessity of freezing it; it's too good to throw out).
The result — apart from the fantastic meal — is that we can now see the back wall of the freezer.
And we know what's in there.
Sort of.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Stealth Shopping

Trader Joe's. Big news these days, especially since a branch just opened in Manhattan.
My take on Trader Joe's is: Nice, but big whoop.
Because I can get all the fresh produce I want almost anywhere around here (I live in California; it's not a hangin' crime). Because organic and healthy are bylaws at so many of the places where I already shop for food (I live in California; it's not a hangin' crime). Because, frankly, a lot of the produce sold at Trader Joe's is imported from south of the Equator, and I'd rather eat local food — and I can. (I live in California; it's not a hangin' crime).
But I do like Trader Joe's. A branch just opened in the town of Novato, in Marin County — and Novatoans are very happy about it. I drove by it yesterday, and the parking lot is not as zooed out as the lot in the strip mall of the TJ closer to my house. I might pay a visit.
I like the olive oils at TJ's. I haven't bought the pre-made pizza dough, but I hear it's a good deal (about a dollar, right?). Of course, there's Two-buck Chuck, the cheap rather-palatable wine. Occasional bargains on butter, soy milk, cheese.
So I'm in there once in a while.
Like today. I needed a bottle of white wine to make a risotto from thawed chicken. It's all part of the Clean Out the Freezer project (which all of a sudden, is going better than I expected, but more about that tomorrow — and thanks to Cranky).
There I am in Trader Joe's, and I'm not allowed to buy anything (except the wine). Because I have a moratorium on buying food, until the fridge and freezer are at least manageably trimmed down.
Wow. Bummer.
Hard to describe my feelings about not being "allowed" to buy food.
Suddenly, I spot a pyramid of matzo boxes. Matzo made in Israel! Under the supervision of the chief rabbinate of Jerusalem! For $1.69! ("Name" brand matzos are about $4 in the chain supermarkets.)
Holy non-levity!
Well. It's not exactly breaking one of my rules, if the matzos are going to help me clean out the fridge and freezer, is it? I gotta use up those eggs... And I'm really good at making matzo brei, although in my goyish way, I prefer it un-sweet (no jelly or cinnamon; I prefer salt).
Happiness happened.
Brought to you by your Ice Harvest correspondent, Amana Freezerburn.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Trying to Empty the Freezer

It's been harder than I thought it would be.
I'm so not close to clearing out the freezer.
The primary obstacle has been the *refrigerator*. And I swear, we haven't bought any fresh food since last week.
Which is weird. But it's a PROGRAM.
The fridge is still stuffed with groceries: fresh cauliflower (oh, god, a week old by now), half a cabbage, all those little turnips and radishes I mean to pickle. And I forgot to mention a celery root. A whole new bag of mushrooms.
So most of the freezer contents are kind of off limits.
For now.
Wow. This is hard.
What's worse is you can hardly go out for lunch without wrecking your grand plans for eating up the bounty.
Oh, yeah. I'm suffering.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Freeze Frame

I discovered these mushrooms growing in a pot in the patio.
It's a collision of sunlight and rain. The equation produces beautiful funghi. A time-of-year phenomenon.
I just wish I knew if they were edible; I love the idea of foraging for wild food, but I'm not stupid enough to eat unknown toadstools.
Still, aren't they cute?
OK. Ice Harvest, Day Four. We have a sack of shriveled cremini mushrooms from the farmers' market in the fridge. (Store them in a paper bag, and they just get more and more wrinkled and concentrated — but not slimy!) We have lots of frozen chicken. And, of course, bags of frozen tomato sauce.
So I was thinking. Chicken pot pie. But not your usual chicken pot pie.
Crust made from flour, butter and grated cheese (all in-house). Filling made with chicken, onions (in-house), potatoes (in-house), shriveled mushrooms, and — oh! — tomato sauce thickened with flour and cream (in-house).
Has this ever been done before?
Thoughtfully submitted by your correspondent, Amana Freezerburn.
(Why aren't any of my Bay Area readers laughing at my pseudonym? Think.)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ice Harvest, Day 3

I guess you could say progress is being made.
Some food from the freezer was consumed today: One-half of a small freezer-bag of frozen chicken.
Oh, sure, we had to mix it (or, in the correct but unfortunate parlance, "extend" it) with some cooked canellini beans. Some fresh stuff in the fridge — jalapeños, tomatillos, onions and a pasilla pepper — that had to be used up. A splash of chicken stock, that if not used soon, will end up IN the freezer. Some flavorings from the pantry.
But we scored. It turned out to be a most delicious white chili.
So this is all doable.
I'm just not sure it will all be done within two weeks, my original goal for eating my way through the horribly congested freezer.
However. Different topic. Today's post is about an old pal.
I used to have a business relationship, strictly by telephone, with a nice young man. I could tell he was what you might call sensitive — That is, he loved the arts, he was interested in food, he was devastated when his kitten died. This, I knew from our non-business chit-chat, which is almost always part of business chit-chat.
I got to talking to Vini one day about the collard greens I'd been learning to cook, southern-style. He brightened.
"Do you ever add diced turnip?" he asked.
Wow. No, never thought of it.
"How many peppercorns do you usually put in?"
Huh? Peppercorns?
I began to pump Vini for more suggestions; he sounded like he knew his stuff.
He also sounded like a pale, skinny, solitary guy: tiny voice, unassuming manner, sweetness and light.
When I finally met Vini in person, I realized I'd been right about everything but the physical impression I'd formed of him. Vini is a huge man. Huge in height, huge in girth. And not only is he not light in avoirdupois, he's not light in skin color.
Well, as I live and learn!
I'd been learning how to make stewed greens from the right guy, a man with deep southern roots (annual family reunions, cornbread, cornrows, the whole deal).
Vini's greens include, besides the wads and wads of cleaned, chopped, mixed greens (mustard, collard, kale, etc.): smashed garlic, whole peppercorns, a chopped turnip, a chopped carrot, a couple of strips of bacon, a couple of cloves, a dash of hot sauce, some vinegar added close to the end of cooking. And. And.
Oh, I have it all written down somewhere, but it doesn't really matter. When I was learning this from Vini over the phone, he would often drift off for a few seconds, and then say: "Oh, maybe a bay leaf. Hmm. A small drizzle of honey."
It was a riff, built around a general theme. Each day's version could be a little different, and it would still be the same... but different. Maybe a different kind of greens (today I used carrot tops and two colors of chard). Maybe turnip but no carrot. Salt pork instead of bacon.
One constant was long cooking. I find that many of the greens found in markets today can't bear long cooking; you be the judge.
Another constant was pot likker. Make sure there's enough water in the pot (an inch or so) to keep things soupy; the greens will collapse into silky ribbons.
So how does this fit in with cleaning out the freezer? Hey, I'm ever-vigilant.
1) I used leftover corned-beef cooking water to stew the greens in; that means less that will have to be frozen. 2) Um. We had to use up the chard. 3) We already had turnips and carrots in the crisper.
Oh, god, this is going to be so hard!
But yummy.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Well, this is just fracking nutty. But it can't be helped.
On day two of the Ice Harvest project, Cranky and I have discovered we're still slaves to the non-frozen portion of our large, stainless-steel refrigeration device.
The goal is to inventory and USE all the forgotten, still-viable items in the freezer. But it's stupid to let the fresh stuff in the lower compartment of the fridge go to waste while we tackle that ultra-chilly box up there, with pitons and crampons and screws and axes. (Oh. Not that we'd need such equipment. It's a clean freezer compartment.)
However: One mission was accomplished today. We did not go to the Marin Civic Center Farmers' Market. No new food was brought onto the premises.
Progress Report: Last night we knocked together a bunch of leftovers (cooked beans, cooked pasta, some frozen oven-dried tomatoes, some chicken stock) with a few fresh items (onion, chard) and came up with a stellar minestrone. Today we created a killer hash from the leftover St. Patrick's Day corned beef, the leftover boiled potatoes and carrots, plus a few more goodies. Screamingly good.
There is still a lot of chard to deal with before we can move on to the freezer. There's also a cauliflower, some turnips and radishes. And cabbage.
What I'm thinking of doing is pickling the radishes, turnips and cauliflower. Then I'm going to make long-stewed southern-style chard (with a couple of baby turnips and carrots, plus garlic). Whatever we don't finish eating tonight will go into (oh good lord) the freezer.
Then we'll take it from there.
Thank you kindly,
Your correspondent Amana Freezerburn

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Frost Bites

I'm in trouble. I know it. I blame blogging.
I have a freezer full of food that desperately needs attention.
The problem is that I cruise through the other food blogs, and all of a sudden I find I have a deep, searing, drooling need for [crepinettes, panna cotta, artisan tofu, exotically flavored potato chips, fill in blank _____]. So I buy those things, before I've even managed to consume the fresh food already on the premises.
Then into the freezer it goes.
It's all still edible food, I believe; we've only lived in this place a year and the refrigerator was bought just after we moved. What I'm saying is: The food in there has accumulated, glacially speaking (and we are speaking glacially), relatively recently.
It's all packed well: We wrap food in plastic or store it in plastic tubs, which we then protect with zippered freezer bags.
The problem is I've sort of forgotten what some of the stuff is.
The other problem is we've run out of room.
Oh, I know there are several bags of last summer's tomato sauce. Some great sausages. A couple of tubs of homemade vegetable stock. Um, some turkey... and ham... and chicken... and half a pork chop...
But I've lost control.
May's coming up, and I want to be ship-shape for the Eat Local Challenge. Besides, it's time for a little spring cleaning.
So, for the next two weeks (or however long it takes), I've got a project.
My new name will be Amana Freezerburn.
I'm going to take inventory. I'm going to create meaningful menus. I am not going to buy any food, other than what is absolutely necessary to palatably eat my way through my freezer. (Current contents of the refrigerator are definitely allowed under this diet. Dry or canned contents of the pantry may be used if they will help make logical, intelligent use of the freezer items. Come to think of it, I have a pantry problem too. OK, that will be my next project. After the Eat Local Challenge.)
And I have a name for my plan: The Ice Harvest.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Recognize These Seeds?

Yes, they're the ubiquitous pickling spice blend that gets thrown into the pot with the corned beef while it simmers.
Apparently corned beef and cabbage is a horrifyingly American tradition; not at all a holiday meal in Ireland.
So what? I'm not Irish. I just like stealing holiday food traditions. And if this one happens to be a kooky New World invention, consumed on a day celebrating a saint (I'm not Catholic either), well, that doesn't make it any less tasty.
The house smells absolutely fantastic right now, and tomorrow I get to eat a corned beef sandwich made from the leftovers.
UPDATE: My dad sent me a note just now informing me that actually, I am a little bit Irish. One eighth. Slattery clan, from County Kerry. And I just thought I was American.
Huh. Makes you wonder what we talked about at the dinner table when I was a kid. School? Cool hair-dos? Politics?
I don't think I recall ever hearing about the Slattery clan. I don't even know if they're on my mom's side or my dad's, or how far back they go.
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona dhaoibh.
(Cool! I'm channeling the Slatterys.)

Thursday, March 16, 2006


I've been having problems with Blogger today. I don't think it's anything I'm doing wrong, because I'm not doing anything different. But I've been trying all day to get a post up about a recent poll that caught my interest.
Maybe DHS doesn't like my stuff and — whoa, tin-foil hat territory. Heh. Never "mind."
Anyway, here's a nice, benign, unpolitical photo of a completely, uh, well let's say "Republican" rosemary plant in my patio. Republican, OK? Oh, yeah. It's going in the stew. Hot, steaming, bubbling, smother-cating stew.
This rosemary, forgot the exact variety, is so fragrant. It gives off huge wafts of (Republican) rosemary aroma even when I'm just watering it. Which I don't have to do much lately, because of the thoughtful Republican global warming that is giving us relentless waves of rain (which rhymes with Republican amber waves of grain).
So will you guys please let me blog?


I know. This is supposed to be a food blog. But I EAT AND I'M MAD. You knew that when you came here.
So, more polls and political stuff. However, I do have your food and drink art. It's a Photoshopped version of an ad that ran in sometime back. I'm sorry I don't know who did the alteration, so I can't give credit.
Anyway, in a nutshell (see! more food and drink!), the American Research Group polled 1,100 voters on Wednesday, asking their opinions on censuring the president (46% agreed with that idea), and their opinions on impeaching him (43% said go for it).
Here's a link to a quick-read version of the story, and here's a link to the actual polls (look for the March 16 data).
A whopping 70% of Democratic voters — that's a lot — are in favor of Senator Russ Feingold's proposal to censure the preznit. So it's odd that, so far, only two Democratic senators (Barbara Boxer and Tom Harkin) have agreed to support Feingold's resolution. Weirder still, you'll see nothing about it on either of their Web sites.
Absolut beating around the Bush.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released this report today, putting Bush's overall approval measure at 33%, the lowest rating of his presidency.
In the aftermath of the Dubai ports deal, President Bush's approval rating has hit a new low and his image for honesty and effectiveness has been damaged. Yet the public uncharacteristically has good things to say about the role that Congress played in this high-profile Washington controversy.
So. Hooray, Congress. And hooray, public.
Oh, one more quote from the Pew report:
Bush's personal image also has weakened noticeably, which is reflected in people's one-word descriptions of the president. Honesty had been the single trait most closely associated with Bush, but in the current survey "incompetent" is the descriptor used most frequently.
What took ya so long, America?
Aw, never mind. Beer and pretzels at Cookiecrumb's!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Waste Not

I hate wasting food, although I do it sometimes.
I might let an ingredient get soggy and unuseable in the fridge. Or I might just make too much of a dish, and not feel like eating leftovers for the next six days. (I need a bigger freezer.)
But I really hate the idea of removing food from food.
Yes, I will trim off stems, take seeds out, peel away rinds. But that's not food.
This came to mind as I was making soup from (leftover) roasted squash today. I thought of Thomas Keller's remark (I got this quote from The French Laundry Cookbook): "Not a single liquid or purée moves from one place to another at the restaurant except through some kind of strainer."
How elegant. Just for once, I would liquify the sautéed jalapeño and spring onion with some chicken broth in the blender, and add it back to the soup pot through a strainer, for some sinfully velvety soup.
After the really wet stuff went through the strainer, though, I was left with a glistening pile of beautiful green pulp that wouldn't go through — on the "throw-away" side of the strainer.
So I threw away that idea, and threw the beautiful pulp into the soup.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Tax Entitlement

Just after we met with our accountant last week, we felt we needed some comfort.
No, not because we'd gotten bad news. It was looking pretty good, actually, given all the real estate transactions and deferred capital gains we had recently gone through.
But it's stressful, and I don't need to tell you that.
So on the way home from the CPA, we pulled over in Sausalito for a glass of wine. Which, of course, turned into lunch.
I've been to Poggio on a couple of previous occasions. I liked it every time. But I don't know why it hasn't been one of my regular restaurants. It's good, but is it destination-good?
Well, I can tell you this: The chef (Chris Fernandez) grows greens on the rooftop of the restaurant. So, in my book, this is destination-good. But I think it's even better than that.
I've lived in Marin County for about 15 years, and it has taken a lo-o-ong time for this supposedly sophisticated place to get some sophisticated restaurants.
While I lived in Mill Valley, I haunted a wonderful, insider-y, no-great-expectations place. Friends. Reliable food. Good scene.
Anyway. For whatever reason, I didn't make it back to Poggio often. And it turned out that I was glad to have returned last week.
I enjoyed a simple dish of emerald-green asparagus topped with bread-crumb sauteed eggs. Pure, heathen, innocent. (And sexy.) How many restaurants dare to offer a totally simple, completely naive (yet sexy) selection like that?
Cranky had a chicken-under-a-brick with stellar vegetables (secret's out: he liked the vegetables best!).
This is not a restaurant review. This is just me, Cookiecrumb, boring you with one of my most recent, bestest, meals.
The picture is boldly swiped from Poggio's website; go visit — there are more!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Anonymity Issues

I'm still new to blogging; less than one year so far. My first couple of posts were under my real first name, but I quickly yanked that down and started going by Cookiecrumb.
(If you haven't already figured it out, Cookiecrumb is an entirely inappropriate name for me. I'm nasty, I can't bake, and I rarely eat sweets.)
I don't have anything to hide, but at one point, I was afraid, due to my insignificant past employment and its connection to my meager, but real, interactions with the local food mafia, that I might say something on the blog that I'd regret.
Well, that hasn't happened. So I'm inching, by baby steps, into the light of day.
Jen posted a good topic at Food Blog S'cool on blogging anonymously, and it generated a lively discussion. Then the other day at daily kos, a poll was taken of how many of us blog anonymously (the result was about two-thirds; can't find the original diary at daily kos to link to; sorry). Update: A new diary at daily kos again addresses anonymity on the Web. This topic is hot.
I replied to Jen's post that I'd never deny a fellow blogger the courtesy of knowing my real name, should we ever meet in person. Also, more and more lately, I'm conversing offline with food bloggers, so of course I tell them my real name.
Well. Anyway. Food for thought. I'm sticking with a handle for now. No real good reasons, other than inertia. Oh, here's another reason: What would it possibly tell you, other than what you've already gleaned from reading my blog, to know my real name? Not much.
However, I'm enjoying a rather recent phenomenon. Some of my favorite bloggers have just posted photos of themselves. Some of my other favorites have always run their pictures. I have discovered I really like finding out what my cyber friends look like.
So here's my portrait, with Cranky and the little puppy you already know by his real name, Bean Sprout.
This photo has a cute story. Last month while we were enjoying a brief getaway on the coast, a stranger approached us with a crayon drawing and a camera.
She introduced herself, and she introduced the drawing as "Flat Stanley." Seems her cousin's son's school in Massachusetts was engaged in a project of seeing how far Flat Stanley could travel, and they needed photos as proof. (I assume there were also Flat Melissas and Flat Emilios and Flat Condoleezzas — er, no, scratch that last one. Hey, are those pseudonyms?).
We volunteered. She snapped. Weeks later she e-mailed us the resulting picture. And I liked it.
So here we are.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

I'm Sad and I Eat

Life goes on for me and Cranky, but last night, two people died in Marin County because of a freak snowstorm. There was a 28-car pile-up just north of the tunnel that burrows through the earth on Highway 101, right after you cross the Golden Gate Bridge.
It's a twisty, scary, downhill stretch of mountain highway. I used to hate driving it on my way home from work — competetive, macho speedsters; oblivious, cell-phone using hucksters; floaty, make-up applying dingbats; anxious, stressed-out, over-commuting, underemployed mensches.
This accident involved none of those stereotypes, per se, as far as I know. It happened in the wee hours, and surely the slick coating of unexpected snow (we don't get snow in Marin County!) was to blame. Maybe alcohol. Certainly the dark night.
Cranky first learned about the accident at Starbucks this morning. He bumped into a former fellow elbow-bender, an Irish guy, from our "pub" (oh, to put it nicely) in the town we recently moved from. At Starbucks. (There, I've outed Cranky. And the Irish guy.)
Anyway, the old pal had been planning to drive to San Francisco this morning to watch some rugby, and was turned away because the freeway was still closed.
Man, I'm really hating this winter.
The picture is of a camellia, upside-down, that dropped off the tree today.
They seem to drop off at the prime of their life.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Flavor of Sunshine

I like winter food. Stews, soups, braises. Slow cooking, fragrant steam, warmth from the oven. Hurry up and wait food.
You do a little planning ahead, some chopping, some searing, some combining, and then you lean back and let the gentle heat and moisture do most of the magic to your meal.
I added some of my own magic to my braised lamb shanks with white beans the other day. A little bit of summer.
I wanted to use some of the tomato sauce I froze last summer, made from nothing but fresh, sweet tomatoes and a little olive oil. Perfect for bathing the kind of bone-rich cheap cuts that need long simmering to get tender and release a bit of gelatin (and when did cheap cuts stop being cheap — have you noticed?). A good glug of red wine. Handful of diced carrots and a minced spring onion. A bay leaf from the tree on the patio, tied up in some cheesecloth with a short sprig of rosemary and two little cloves.
To those flavors I added a few pinches of dried fennel powder that I had collected last summer and put up in a little jar. It was like instant sunshine.
The pollen has mellowed since last year, its sharp anise edginess softened now to an almost caramel flavor, much milder than fennel seeds. It still tastes weedy, wild, even a touch illicit (why, because I picked it from the parking lot behind the Mormon church?).
It was kinda THERE, but barely.
Nice touch.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Sister, My Daughter

These days I'm feeling like Faye Dunaway in "Chinatown," being slapped back and forth by Jack Nicholson as he demands the truth.
Faye Dunaway: "She's my daughter."
Jack Nicholson: "I said I want the truth!"
Dunaway: "She's my sister... She's my daughter... my sister, my daughter."
Nicholson: "I said I want the truth!"
Dunaway: "She's my sister and my daughter!"
(You can't handle the truth!)
Is it winter or spring? I'm a reasonably smart person. I know spring officially begins in a couple of weeks. But damn, it's still formidably wintry out there.
What's more frustrating, the sun peeps out every now and then, but then the sky clouds over again; we're due for a bruising rainstorm Friday.
So, today's photo. A robustly healthy blade of garlic chives, warmed by midday sun, and still wearing a raindrop.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Just Noodling

I'm a proponent of what I call "pushing" leftovers. By that, I mean converting an already prepared food item into an entirely new beast.
I'm sure it's not a novel concept at all. But it makes for fun, and sometimes easy, cooking.
Well, I had a dab of leftover tomato soup. And I had a small amount of fantastic shrimp stock made from shells (the shrimp were covered with roe, so when we peeled them — for an entirely unrelated meal — the shells were studded with the goods — too good to throw out, so I made stock).
It seemed obvious to me to combine the stock with the soup. Flavors: compatible. But then what?
I couldn't get over the idea of ladling the resulting sauce, very liquidy (and still conceptual at this point) into bowls, and twirling in some angel-hair pasta. Cranky was dubious. He likes pasta. He likes soup. But he wasn't so sure about pasta soup.
I thought it would be faintly Italian in nature.
Until we actually devoured the meal for lunch.
Then I realized I had created an Asian noodle soup. With Marco Polo flavors.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Live Active Cultures

This may be the earliest we've ever pulled together our tax statements and mortgage documents and paltry income records, to trot over to our CPA for our appointment today. Cranky was up before me this morning, searching for various papers and receipts, filling out the tax worksheet, trying to remember all the possibly allowable deductions. Good fella.
But then we were just wiped out after the appointment. (We? Cranky laughs.) We got good news on how much we'll have to pay, but mentally (here it comes... incoming!) it has been taxing.
So I'm going to let Sam write my blog today. I'm using my own photo, but she gets all the credit for promoting a super, intelligent, responsible product — and its creators, Saint Benoît Yogurt — which happens to be "local" for Sam and me and a whole bunch of our homies.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Brokeback Recipe

I know, you're all watching the Oscars and I'm still sitting here with my head up my food problem.
Well, no problem at all, today. It's raining so hard that some units in our townhouse complex have a flooding situation. We're OK for now; we're keeping an eye on things. But because the rain is about as effective as Martha Stewart's electronic ankle monitoring device at keeping us inside, we stayed home and cooked up a batch of beans.
Brett at In Praise of Sardines wrote about a divine-sounding Spanish tortilla (i.e. omelette) filled with white beans and green garlic. As food bloggers know, these recipe suggestions spread like plague — you notice the recent spates of scone blogging, marshmallow blogging, and the like? We caught the bug too, and Cranky and I immediately came down with a bad case of Brett's Truita de Mongetes i All Tendre.
However! A funny thing happened on the way to the toga party. Cranky cooked up a stellar batch of Sacramento Valley Great Northern beans, seasoned with fresh rosemary and bay leaf from the patio... And we pounced on it for lunch. With just a trickle of the cooking liquid. Seasoned with superb olive oil, a crack of pepper, and some chunky sea salt. I guess the tortilla will have to wait.
Look closely at the beans (click for enlargement); you can see the salt melting like icicles.
Now look closely at my sodden roof line; you can see huge raindrops as big as icicles.
I think we'll be safe indoors.
Oh, wait, was that George Clooney? Bye.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Yes, I Had Dinner

No, you don't care about what I ate.
(OK, well, just a teeny bit. Some paella. Made with wild shrimp. Blue Hubbard squash from — horrors! — last November, when Prince Charles was visiting Marin County. An Anaheim pepper that was a bit hotter than expected. A little Spanish chorizo, from the Bay Area's Fabrique Delices. A whole jar of saffron my mom gave us when she and dad moved.)
But I got nothing to say, so I'm going to watch Napoleon Dynamite, and then go to bed.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Who's Shroomin' Who?

When I was in 10th grade, we lived next door to a family of gourmands. They knew how to eat, and they really liked to eat. I believe the Mrs. died early of a heart attack, and I doubt the Mr. is still alive at this point. I'm not saying food did them in, but they were not known for restraint. Liquor, cigarettes, butter.
I don't think I'd actually tasted real butter before I met the Gregorys. Their daughter Kathy baked up a batch of rolls one day after school, slathered something unctuous onto one, and popped it into my mouth.
Whoa. My brain twirled, trying to identify that unknown dairy sensation (we used margarine at my house). Cheese? Cream cheese? I was baffled, but I played it cool as my eyes scanned the counter top, finally alighting on the unfamiliar butter wrapper. Ah!
Butter played a role in another food sensation chez Gregory: One night for dinner, my family was treated to a first course of whole, sauteed mushrooms. Sauteed in butter, of course. My mom couldn't stifle her outburst: "These are cooked in butter!"
"Well," said Mr. Gregory, "naturellement."
And why not?
What was even more baffling for a 10th grader — me — was the idea of mushrooms as a "course." We'd only ever had mushrooms from a watery can, or in salty condensed "cream of" soup, or maybe in meatloaf or in a pot pie. Well, that's not entirely true. We'd had good Asian preparations of mushrooms when we lived in Hawaii, but that had been so long ago.
A confluence of food happenings leads to today's post. No, nothing to do with butter.
But everything to do with mushrooms as a whole course.
A few weeks ago, Jack and Joanne at Fork & Bottle gave me a taste of a very special Japanese soy sauce, Ohara Hisakichi Shouten, available only online from The Grateful Palate. Oh my. It's deep. Perfumey. Roses. Wine. Evil. Luscious.
So I ordered some, and it arrived the day before yesterday.
OK, then yesterday I bought a sack of mushrooms.
Completely without coaxing, I dreamed up the idea of marinating the mushrooms in a combination of soy sauce and sake. And just to make sure I was somewhere within reason, I googled "soy sauce sake pickles."
First thing that turned up was a recipe for mushrooms. So, clearly I was on to something.
Here's how easy it is: 1/2 cup dark soy sauce. 1/2 cup sake. 1/2 pound cleaned mushrooms. Simmer, until you like the flavor of the mushrooms. The recipe said "until the liquid is almost gone," but that would be too salty.
I drained off the liquid, and I'm going to use it to pickle some radishes and turnips.
The mushrooms?
All gone. Already.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Why I Live In Marin

Phil Lesh -- the Grateful Dead guy they never let sing -- and I shop at the same market on Thursdays. I know for a fact he buys bread, because I saw him buy some today, although I'm not sure if he goes to the Marin Civic Center market for mushrooms.
But I do.
(No! Not magic mushrooms!)
Boy, he has a skinny ass.
Eat more bread, Phil!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Praise for Ink-Stained Wretches

I'm going to let a couple of local newspaper writers do my job today.
First, Rick Polito of the Marin Independent Journal. He writes a daily roundup of TV programming, in a hilarious half-truthy, half-jokey way. I love one of yesterday's, where he announced "Kitchen Gadgets of the Future" on the Food Network:
A look at new technology for the kitchen, including a breadmaker with legs that can walk itself out to the yard sale when you inevitably figure out that you're not using it.

Next, Olivia Wu of the San Francisco Chronicle. In today's food section, she writes up the food service at the Google campus in Mountain View. Free meals for employees. Three a day. Five cafeterias, with nine more to open by fall. Handmade Chinese sausages, just for an example. Fresh mozzarella. Locally sourced, organic ingredients.
Look, I don't really want to work at Google. I just want to eat there.
Bravo to Google (and nice job, Ms. Wu).