Archive for the 'thoughts' Category

matza tastes good

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

It really does, when it’s done right. There’s nothing quite like a fresh, crisp, whole grain, handmade matzah with a schmear of whipped butter and a sprinkling of sea salt. Yemenite matzah tastes a lot like naan and not much like Ashkenazi matzah at all. And there ain’t nothin’ like a good bowl of matzah ball soup (light and fluffy please, not heavy and leaden). Here’s to flourless chocolate cake and pavlova!

Happy passover y’all!

!חג אביב שמח

comfort food

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

As a child, I craved macaroni and cheese from the box. So do most kids, I guess. But I had an unusual palate. Whenever we had Hershey’s miniatures for a special occasion at school, I’d trade any of the milk chocolate flavors just to get all the “Special Dark” bars. I loved the frozen spinach my mother would steam for dinner, flaky, plain croissants, and crusty European bread, a scarcity in the San Francisco peninsula back then. But the first time I tried that bright orange stuff from the box, I was hooked.

In our health-conscious household, there was precious little junk food. My first opportunity to eat the verboten dish arose at my friend’s house, naturally. I was mesmerized by the oozing, creamy sauce that so thoroughly enveloped the pasta elbows as to drench them. I savored the feel of the pasta between my teeth as I chewed it, and the tangy saltiness of the sauce. I enjoyed the accumulating warmth in my belly as I swallowed each bite.

Even more than a hot bowl of mac and cheese, I loved the cold leftovers with their slightly more al dente pasta and the clumps of sauce, the salty tang emboldened by a rest in the fridge. I knew this was gross, probably worse than my younger brother’s revolting habit of dousing ketchup all over our father’s perfectly cooked spaghetti. But I didn’t care. It tasted that good to me.

At home, I made my own version of cold mac and cheese with leftover pasta and cottage cheese. The tiny squeak of the curds between my teeth was almost as satisfying as the weird orange sauce. The combination of salty, creamy curds and dense pasta was delicious in its own right.

Pasta and cottage cheese—or its sophisticated sister, ricotta—is still one of my favorite comfort foods. It’s the kind of dish you make in a cereal bowl for one.

Climb into your favorite upholstered chair and take a bite. Close your eyes and taste it, familiar as a hug. Smile and remember.

pasta with cottage cheese and spinach for one

This a slightly dressier version of the simple dish, including greens and herbs for a nostalgic one-dish dinner for one.

pasta, cooked, any kind
butter, olive oil
2 handfuls fresh spinach, chopped
half a handful parsley leaves, chopped
1 green garlic leaf (only one piece of the long green part), chopped
good cottage cheese (preferably not nonfat)
salt and pepper

  • In the pot you used to cook the pasta, melt some butter with olive oil.
  • Cook the spinach until nearly wilted, then add the parsley and garlic greens. Stir.
  • Add the pasta, then some of the cottage cheese and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Remove from flame and pour into a bowl. Add more cottage cheese and mix to combine.
  • Settle into a comfy spot and eat.

Serves 1

the chron on foodbloggers

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Gasp! Random, non-journalist type people are criticizing restaurants on the internet! Restaurateurs are losing money! Food journalists are going the way of the dinosaurs! We must save our jobs! Let’s slam them in the paper, that’ll shut ’em up!

That’s the short version of what you’ll read here. Sam has already summed up her feelings here. Now I know I’m just an ignorant foodblogger without a degree in journalism or a certificate from Le Cordon Bleu, but I’ll weigh in just the same.

I only recently began reviewing restaurants on the web, and generally small, local restaurants at that. Although I will sometimes bore my husband, friends, and family with my views of an eatery, I feel uncomfortable about sharing my views publicly. Why?

First, no matter how small my voice might be amid the cacophonous din of the web, there’s a minuscule chance my review could affect the livelihood of people who work at the restaurant I criticize. I would feel terrible about contributing in any way to anyone’s unemployment.

Second, I am not an expert. I don’t know what proper bouillabaisse is supposed to taste like, for example. I have not yet been to Provence, nor have I sampled numerous five-star restaurants in several world-class cities. I don’t feel I have the right to tell you whether a technically complex traditional French dish served at a particular expensive restaurant has been executed properly.

But I know good food. I know when a dish is prepared masterfully, delighting all of my senses. Making my skin tingle with pleasure, stopping conversation with its excellence. I know honestly prepared, homey food, with its fresh ingredients and its simple, straight-forward charm. I know passion and care, diligence and exactitude when I see it in a dish lovingly made, a baked good skillfully baked.

I also know careless food, stingy food, food served with arrogance and condescension, sometimes at some of the “better” restaurants in this area.

So, I’ve begun to publish my own little reviews, or “visits.” Certainly, as the article states, I am not bound by the esteemed code of ethics to which food journalists are suggested to adhere. But I am bound directly to you, the reader. And unlike print media critics, I sure as hell am not getting paid for my words.

We foodbloggers are here for a reason. To fill the void left by the corporate ad booklets masquerading as culinary magazines. To cut through the noise of gimmicky television chefs. To bring cooking back home. To share recipes and ideas, successes and failures. To create community.

There’s a pattern here. Every DIY movement emerges in response to a bloated, self-perpetuating establishment. Most establishments take heed, self-examine, and change, if they care to stay relevant. Foodbloggers have thrown down the gauntlet. Will traditional food journalists pick it up?

muir beach

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

Today was supposed to be sunny and temperate. Instead, it was overcast and chilly. A and I took a drive to Marin all the same. Muir Woods was packed, so we went on a mini-hike at Muir Beach.

The beach is dotted by different colored smooth stones that wash up on the beach with the tide.

The beach is surrounded by green hills. There were some flowers out here and there, but I imagine spring will bring more wildflowers.

A hiking trail snaking up a hill.

A holds our lunch in an inside out Whole Foods bag. It was a bit too windy for a picnic lunch, so we ate in the car and watched the ocean from afar.

michael pollan

Monday, March 5th, 2007

In my haste to upload my thoughts about the recent Michael Pollan/John Mackey event, I neglected to say much about Pollan himself. Anyone who’s read anything by Michael Pollan knows that the man can write. While reading the first chapter of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan’s clear, turgid prose woke me up like a double espresso at dawn. “Wow,” I thought, “this guy can write.” His recent New York Times piece on what to eat had me doing cartwheels in my head while shouting “Yes, yes, YES!” Pollan had done a fantastic job of researching the issues and constructing a cohesive, persuasive argument. His piece resonated in my mind as it leapt from one related topic to another touching on recent articles and essays in the webosphere. Pollan has “a Mind nimble and versatile enough to catch the Resemblances of Things… and at the same time steady enough to fix and distinguish their Subtler Differencies.”

The other night, however, Michael Pollan was at times a witty, polished speaker and an empathetic journalist. That is to say, he graciously ceded the stage to Mackey. I suppose this was only fair, as Mackey appeared on Pollan’s home turf, but the conversation would have been more interesting had Pollan posed more difficult, perhaps uncomfortable questions.

I enjoyed Michael Pollan as a speaker, nonetheless. With his sharp wit, goofy grin, and hipster glasses, he’s actually quite sexy in a Woody Allen/Patrick Stewart sort of way.

mackey v. pollan

Thursday, March 1st, 2007

Thanks to the DairyQueen, I scored a ticket to the Michael Pollan/John Mackey smackdown in Berkeley the other night. I admit, I hadn’t really followed the controversial Pollan/Mackey dialogue on the web. Nor have I yet read the Omnivore’s Dilemma, although to my credit, I have purchased the book. Nonetheless, here’s a quick recap:

  • Michael Pollan writes a book called the Ominvore’s Dilemma in which he discusses four meals, one of them prepared from ingredients obtained from Whole Foods. Among these ingredients are non-locally produced asparagus from Argentina, with which Pollan is not entirely pleased.
  • John Mackey—founder and CEO of Whole Foods—reads the book and invites Pollan to his office in Austin, Texas. Mackey presents Pollan with an eleven page single-spaced letter in response to the Whole Foods chapter in Pollan’s book, as well as a $25 Whole Foods gift certificate to cover the asparagus.
  • Over the course of months, Mackey and Pollan responsa are published on Mackey’s blog.

The beef:

  • Pollan—Whole Foods supports “Big Organic”, huge factory farms that that adhere to loose organic standards and aren’t much better than non-organic factory farms in terms of humane, sustainable, biodiverse farming. By not buying enough from local farmers, Whole Foods is supporting the large producers rather than small local producers. Some products marketed with illustrious background stories at Whole Foods stores are not what they appear. “Free-range” eggs are packaged with illustrations of an old bucolic farmstead and a touching story about hens who are free to wander and peck outdoors. Some investigative journalism confirmed that these hens are indeed free to roam around the hen house, but have probably not set foot outdoors.
  • Mackey—Au contraire. Whole Foods buys most of its produce from private local farms. The company has been instrumental in helping to set and improve USDA organic standards, and is launching a number of programs to improve the quality of organic farms and food. Mackey admits that Whole Foods mistakenly promoted and sold products from farms they thought were small, private farms based on the accompanying marketing material, which turned out to be products produced by large companies with imaginative marketing departments.

Some salient points from Mackey’s presentation:

  • 78% of produce sold at Whole Foods comes from private family farms, while 22% comes from corporate organic farms.
  • 100% of Whole Foods’ private label milk comes from private family farms.
  • Whole Foods is establishing a 30 million dollar venture capital fund to promote local, artisanal products around the world.
  • Whole Foods has started a program for loaning money to small, local producers.
  • Along with Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance, Whole Food will launch the Whole Trade Guarantee—a program guaranteeing quality, price, fair labor, while reducing poverty and enhancing environmental sustainability.

Mackey skirted some issues I felt he should have delved into more openly, such as the high cost of healthy, organic food as a barrier to people who can’t afford it. His argument that Americans are getting richer is really beside the point. Perhaps the US GDP is growing, but I am loath to believe that this wealth is evenly distributed among US citizens. I’m no economist, but I’d bet that those who have money now have even more, while those who don’t still don’t. Mackey argued that Whole Foods can be affordable to those who shop intelligently. Maybe. How about a Whole Foods campaign to prove it? I’d like to see Whole Foods brochures explaining to low-income shoppers how to buy their groceries on a variety of budgets.

Mackey is a man of ideas. He talked at length about his vision for what he calls the ecological era. He noted the negativity of the current organic label—no GMOs, no pesticides, no chemicals, etc.—and called for a more positive organic vision promoting soil health, biodiversity, worker welfare, animal welfare. To achieve this vision, he proposes creating a new farm rating system. A nice idea, but one that will falter without sufficient attention to detail. Much like the idea of promoting small, local producers backfired when Whole Foods mistakenly promoted corporate products with misleading small farm packaging.

On the whole, however, I was impressed by Mackey’s intelligence and passion for ecologically grown food, as well as his openness to receiving and responding to criticism. It was refreshing hearing a CEO who seems to care about something greater than the bottom line. And what a joy to hear an intelligent dialog between people with differing views, instead of the pompous grandstanding that currently passes for debate in this country.

meyer lemons

Monday, February 19th, 2007

What’s a meyer lemon and how does it differ from an ordinary lemon? That’s what Sophie asked in the comments of my meyer lemon fettuccine post (Hi Sophie!).

The meyer lemon is a cross between an ordinary lemon and a mandarin orange, originating in China and imported to the United States by a guy named Frank Meyer. The meyer is a smallish, thin-skinned lemon that’s sweeter than than other lemons. The zest is more aromatic and easier to work with than an ordinary lemon, as the pith is quite thin. Meyer lemons are thus good for pickling, canning, and candying. Their thin, supple skins also make them easier to squeeze for juice. Given a choice between the thick-skinned lemons off the tree in the back yard and store bought meyers, I’ll take the meyers.

a new way to celebrate

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

It’s that time of year again. I’m not referring to one of those over the top shopping days when people trample each other to buy all sorts of junk at obscenely low prices. Rather, it’s the time of year when people trample each other to purchase vast amounts of chips, buffalo wings, and beer. All this in preparation for the Superbowl, the big American game pitting the greatest American football teams against each other.

Historically, men have been the primary spectators of the Superbowl. American football is a very aggressive sport, requiring players to wear helmets and heavy padding. This is a game for manly men. Men who mercilessly tackle their opponents. Men who brave the dangers of broken bones and concussions. Men who pat their colleagues on the rear on national TV.

But Superbowl Sunday is for women too. Who else refills the chip bowl, restocks the beer, and orders the chicken wings? And who cleans up the spills that invariably result from enthusiastic cheering and angry shouting? Superbowl Sunday turns the most modern American woman into Donna Reed.

This year, I’d like to suggest a different way to celebrate Superbowl Sunday.

Men and/or Superbowl enthusiasts: Make your own football party snacks. There’s a whole world of food beyond the kind that’s delivered to your home in less than thirty minutes. Make tapas. Pop some popcorn. Drink some decent beer. Most people own a vaccuum cleaner. Use it. You may feel like your life has ended if your team loses, but it hasn’t. It is, after all, only a game.

Women and/or Superbowl victims: Introduce your partner to the refrigerator, stove, and local grocery store, or better yet, the farmers market. Open on your partner’s favorite web browser. Bid your partner adieu and go out for the day. See a movie. Go shopping. Go to your favorite museum. Do anything you can to get away from drunken football fans screaming for more Cheetos. Have fun. It is, after all, only a game—one that interests you less than Paris Hilton’s views on race relations.

mystery box

Friday, January 12th, 2007

I love getting packages in the mail. Even if I know what I’m getting, I tingle with anticipation—tearing at the masking tape, prying open the box, ripping out the wrapping paper or rummaging around the packaging popcorn, wondering all the while what the contents will look like. Finally wresting my hidden treasure from its cardboard prison, I ooh and ahh, pleased that my new toy has safely found its home.

So it was the other day, when a box arrived, playfully sealed with colorful polka dot masking tape. What could this fun little package contain? I honestly had no idea. The customs declaration sticker gave me a clue: chocolate and a book. Aha! I had completely forgotten about the chocolate shop food destinations blogging event. The package contained the prize for the event, chocolate from Australia and a book about food. This is why I love receiving packages. Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.

Inside the carefully packaged box was my copy of Digital Dish, a little box of truffles from Melbourne’s Koko Black, and a lovely card from Emily, the event organizer.

The delicate truffles had melded together a bit, forming one large truffle. That’s to be expected though, truffles are so delicate. No matter. The chocolates are smooth, creamy, and delicious. Each bite is different, because it’s composed of a different truffle. I’m trying to make the box last by limiting myself to one luscious bite per day. Except for the day I got them, of course.

Thank you Emily, for the chocolates, the book, and the card, and for hosting this chocolatey event! And thank you for reading!

a sneak peek at my kitchen

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

Ilva of Lucullian Delights recently announced a fun little blog event, Show us your kitchen. So here it is, the crown jewel of my tiny, cramped apartment kitchen—my mizuya tansu, or Japanese kitchen chest. The photo doesn’t nearly do it justice, but it’s a beautiful yet functional piece of kitchen history.

My mizuya tansu is around one hundred and thirty years old. It has an ancient grace, yet its lines are clean and modern. I particularly love all its little details, the small sliding cupboard, the tiny, narrow drawer (for chopsticks?), the small, deep cupboard with the pull-out door (for tea? sake?), the decorative iron lock (a cash box for paying home-delivery food vendors?).

I’ve found uses for all the nooks and crannies of my mizuya. The tiny, narrow drawer is perfect for small or narrow items that get lost in larger drawers, such as meat and candy thermometers, a syringe and needle for injecting brine. The wide, shallow drawer holds a shortbread mold, a marble cheese board (good for rolling pie dough), some extra aprons, silicon muffin “tins”, and a madeleine tin. Pots are in the largest cupboard, bowls on the top cupboard, and baking dishes in the lower cupboard. The mysterious pull-out cupboard sometimes stores a bottle or two of olive oil, or loose bags of spices. Come to think of it, that unusual storage space might be a good spot for keeping tea and coffee.

The mizuya tansu is a silent testament to the past. Looking at it, I wonder about its previous owners. Were they rich or poor? Did they live in the city or the country? What did they store in their mizuya tansu? Were they good cooks? Only the tansu knows.

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