Sunday Meals with Framily

I am delighted to find a way to offset the dreaded Sunday blues I have been feeling by having a “framily” dinner – a dinner with friends who are like my family.

This Sunday sadness is an odd phenomenon for me.  For many years I thought it was because on Sunday afternoon I remembered I had to go to work on Monday to a job I hated. As time passed and I changed jobs, then changed jobs again, I was in a series of long-term relationships with men who lived out of the City. Sundays meant either they left to go home, or I did, and there again leaving me feeling lonely at dinner and facing an evening of dread anticipating work.

Osso Bucco dinner

Work got better but I was always seemed to end up alone Sunday night and in my societally-programmed brain Sundays are meant to be spent with family or friends, with a well anticipated family meal capping off the weekend’s adventures with each other, or hopefully, at the minimum, the successful completion of chores that inevitably pile up. But that is not my life, and now that I am single and even without a cat roommate I find the sorrow and loneliness is sometimes overwhelming. Some Sundays I even spent watching Hallmark Channel movies and dabbing at the eyes with tissue, such a deplorable state in which to find oneself.  The Hallmark Channel!!

Last weekend however, I invited friends over for dinner and we had such a nice evening together, full of laughter, silliness and great food, even if it is a challenge to cook in my tiny kitchen astride a scooter. I realized, even after they went home, that I didn’t feel as lonely as I usually do, and this is because my dear friends are my family and that this simple family meal felt right and true and I felt like a member of a family, a family of friends, my “framily”.

I spoke honestly about my feelings over that dinner and found that some of my friends feel the same way.  Either they’re not in a relationship right now, or their partner lives far away like mine used to, or the child custody arrangements mean half of the Sundays they say goodbye to their children and go home alone.  I have proposed a standing Sunday dinner or midday supper going forward where we gather and relax and enjoy.  I know it can’t happen every weekend but I hope it will.

This weekend, despite the 6.1 earthquake that rocked the Bay Area and severely damaged the town of Napa, we in SF were in good shape, a little shaken but not stirred, if you know what I mean.  Saturday, before all of the excitement, I prepared an osso bucco with a large format beef shank from my amazing local butcher, 4505 Meats.  I love making osso bucco and it is very nostalgic for me and I haven’t made it for four years.

Osso Bucco dinner

I made a variation of my usual osso bucco and added shitakes and some local bell peppers, just because I had them, and used a bunch of whole carrots scattered across the top.  Everything cooked away in the oven while I practiced crutching around the apartment.

I was so proud of myself for using crutches almost the entire day, except when I made myself a sandwich for dinner.  It was quite a gourmet sandwich made from leftover smoked beef brisket but once I had made it I couldn’t figure out how to transport it to my dining table.  I tried wrapping it in a paper towel but couldn’t hang onto it while holding onto the crutches and it fell on the floor, happily still wrapped up.  Then I put it in waxed paper and tried sticking inside my tee shirt, but it fell out!  So much for passing the pencil test then, I chuckled to myself.  Then I put it in a ziplock baggie and held it in my teeth, like a dog.  Utterly hilarious.

When my sandwich was done, so was the osso bucco and I let it cool a bit on the stove before packing it up for my friend’s place.

On Sunday, D___  made a gorgeous pot of polenta with lots of butter and cheese, and we reheated the sauce first to thicken it a bit then added the meat and carrots to warm up. While it was heating I chopped up a huge mound of gremolata, the magical mixture of garlic, lemon zest and parsley that is scattered over the top of the osso bucco and livens up the dish.

Osso Bucco dinner

(once you make gremolata you will want to put it on everything)

Another friend made a beautiful salad of avocados and ripe tomatoes and brought some tomato basil bisque to start.

Osso Bucco dinner

Osso Bucco dinner

(from the Unsafeway, delicious!)

We sipped on Prosecco then rose, while the young man in the house enjoyed his milk in a wine glass.

Osso Bucco dinner

Osso Bucco dinner

(there is a huge mound of cheese-laden polenta under that sugo!)

There was a moment during dinner where the conversation just halted and we all felt so replete and blissed out.  Having a luxurious and hearty mid-day meal on Sunday was so pleasant and relaxing, it was the perfect moment.  Afterwards we chatted and played games and I knitted a bit while the sun streamed in the window while the room was chilled by the Pacific breezes.  We all felt really happy!  Mission accomplished!

 

Next weekend, tacos!

Recipe:  Overnight Osso Bucco

Farmer’s Market Delivered

It’s so nice to have groceries in The Roost! With some of my extra money I splurged on some beautiful vegetables and fruits for my birthday week, straight from the farmers markets via Good Eggs.

Doing anything in the kitchen with the scooter takes extra time and effort, but I managed to put together a large tray of cherry and early girl tomatoes in the oven with garlic and olive oil to slow roast, eventually destined for the freezer.

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I’m thinking of what to do next week with the eggplants, some sweet peppers, spring onions and goat cheese. I bought a couple bunches of chard and kale to cook up and bring to work for lunches with quinoa and fresh herbs.

For dinner tonight, I treated myself to a package of fresh local sardines. After a little bit of rest I’m going to go split them and clean them, season them up with some beautiful baby white onions and mint and bake them according to Becky’s Selengut’s recipe from her book, The Good Fish.

For dessert I have raspberries and some yogurt and honey and that will make a very nice ending to a beautiful meal.

But first, a tisane of mint and lemon verbena and perhaps a nap while I wait for the tomatoes to finish in the oven. It already smells really good in here and I’m really tired from a very long and stressful week. I received so many lovely greetings and contributions to my fundraising effort*, so this was probably the most wonderful birthday have ever had.

*Last week while on the bus, I was injured by another passenger in a motorized wheelchair, setting back my recovery from ankle surgeries only for a week (fortunately my big boot saved me from serious harm). Everyone was horrified to hear about this accident but I had run out of money to take taxis to and from work and to my PT appointments. My wonderful friends encouraged me to set up a GoFundMe account and within a few days I had received almost double the amount of money I needed to see me through the next month of transportation costs. I’ve been waiting for an appointment to get considered for paratransit, a process through the City of San Francisco which takes forever.

Thanks to all of these wonderful, kind and generous people, I don’t have to worry about getting around safely for a while, and I have enough money for groceries and laundry. I’m such a lucky woman, I never had the courage to ask for help before and it was really hard, but I’m so very grateful to everyone for their support.

Thank you, thank you so much.

“Help For Heather”

http://www.gofundme.com/ctbw5g

A San Francisco Special Breakfast & DOLE’s Peel The Love Banana Cabana Tour

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I have been battling food allergies for a few years now, and was therefore ecstatic to discover that most of the tropical fruits do not set off my intolerances, so I have been indulging in bananas a lot.

Not only are bananas delicious and the ultimate comfort food, they are high in B6, vitamin C, iron, magnesium and potassium, all of which are really helpful with my efforts to heal.  When DOLE approached me to be a Peel the Love Blogger Ambassador I was delighted!  I do “peel the love”, every day!

People take bananas for granted, and forget how versatile and useful they are, for example, I have been using them as an egg substitute, in addition to eating out of hand for my morning breakfast. This weekend I made a true San Francisco treat, sourdough banana pancakes.

There is something in the air in San Francisco that makes our sourdough special, so my sourdough starter gets used for great bread but also for great pancakes.  They are so light and fluffy and and the addition of bananas offsets the lashings of butter and maple syrup from Quebec that I slather on liberally.

I like to add sliced bananas inside the batter while the pancakes are baking, then cover them with a bit more batter so they do not stick when you’re ready to flip them over.

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Today I used my “status” pan, as Julia Child calls it, a lovely polished aluminum crepe pan with a Bakelite handle, a gorgeous vintage piece I found at an estate sale years ago. It made the pancakes crisp up to the most perfect color of golden brown.

As an extra treat, I cooked the bananas first in a Bananas Foster sauce, and then we used a little of the extra boozy syrup to spread over our pancakes like some sort of fantastical boozy jam.

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Speaking of Peel the Love, I learned recently that I have been opening bananas incorrectly my entire life.  Now I open them like this and it’s so much easier!

I showed my sister this trick over the 4th of July weekend and we we were both astounded that we had never figured this out before. Thank you, internet.

I think it’s interesting to note that most of our bananas in the United States come from DOLE, and the only state where bananas in the US are grown are from the DOLE farms in Hawaii. Hawaii has more than just pineapples!

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This summer DOLE is holding a national tour called Peel the Love :”Banana Cabana Tour” and they’re coming to the Bay Area next week. They will be featuring unique recipes and ideas for parties and to ideas perk up your every day with bananas. If you’re nearby, go check out the fun, and meet Bobbie, their banana mascot.

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  • Aug. 7 – Grocery Outlet (125 Hickory Blvd., South San Francisco)
  • Aug. 8 – Grocery Outlet (125 Hickory Blvd., South San Francisco)
  • Aug. 8 – Nob Hill Foods (270 Redwood Shores Pkwy, Redwood City)
  • Aug. 9 – Nob Hill Foods (2531 Blanding Ave., Alameda)

Elsewhere in the nation, the DOLE jeep and Bobbie the Banana will be appearing here.  Yes, there will be bananas, lots of them.

 

Thank you, Dole, for this opportunity to be a Peel the Love Blogger Ambassador!

Recipe:  Sourdough Pancakes (with Bananas)

Recipe: Bananas Foster

Learn more about the Peel the Love “Banana Cabana” Tour here!

Fascinating banana nutrition facts here

Please note this is a sponsored post and I was compensated by DOLE. The opinions herein are my own.  The Banana Cabana Tour is still a lot of fun and the recipe here and my opinions are my own. I hope you enjoy it!

Hone Your Knife Skills

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I received a fun invitation the other day, a chance to check out the new San Francisco Cooking School and take a preview of their knife skills classes.

I have been wielding a knife since I was a little girl, my dad taught me how to use a pen knife to whittle and do little projects, I received the first knife of my own when I was about 10 and have a small collection of pocketknives and the very handy Swiss Army knife. Then there is my collection of kitchen knives, my first being a gift from my mom and my sister when I was 17 when I moved out on my own.

My 10″ Wusthof chef’s knife has been my constant friend throughout all this time, and for many years it was the only knife that I owned. I learned to do a lot of things with it, including paring vegetables, fluting mushrooms, and butchering meat.

Who knew, after five minutes in this class, that I have been holding my knife wrong! The wonderful instructor, David Groff, who was a former chef at Zuni Cafe among other places, told me I held my knife like I was going to shank someone with it. Well, he might not be far off from wrong! However, holding it with the correct grip as he showed me felt a whole lot better and I felt like I had more control.

My sister and I used to practice our knife skills as teens, racing each other through bags of onions and potatoes to see who could finish first. I have practiced my knife skills diligently throughout my adult life, trying every technique that I saw on a cooking show or by restaurant chefs and butchers. I live life with a motto that you can always learn something, and it is very true. Life is all about learning and you will never ever stop learning, especially in the kitchen.

The class is really fantastic, and in a full length class the students work with instructors for three hours cutting up every kind of vegetable imaginable and learning all of the basic knife skills and knife safety techniques. I even learned a new kind of cut, which excited me tremendously.

In class we cut up onions, celery, carrots, zucchini, leeks, and potatoes. The students cut up this variety of vegetables and then take them home, along with the recipe for fantastic minestrone soup, then the students are served soup for lunch. In our abbreviated preview class, we cut up all these vegetables, had a shorter lesson, and then we got to have delicious soup as well. I was so touched that the instructor made me a special batch of soup that did not have potatoes in it to accommodate my oral allergy syndrome.

It was really fun to read about their class schedule. I am rather interested in taking the fish course which is three hours per week for three weeks and where one learns to cut and prepare every kind of fish and cook said fish using every technique. They even have special cooking nights where the students cook from local celebrity chefs cookbooks, and the chef is there to guide them along, along with a dinner afterwards.  Wouldn’t you like to play in the kitchen with the chefs from Kokkari or Bar Tartine?  I think it would be a fun thing to do with the team at work or for a party.

We got to peek into the other side of the school as well, where a full roster of culinary students were completing a pastry course. It was always a dream to complete a pastry program at a culinary school, maybe someday if I can get a different kind of job situation I will give it a try. It is intense training, but the students in there were having a blast and what they were making looked fantastic.

When I got home with my mound of baggies of prepped vegetables, I promptly made a wonderful minestrone for myself, although I used Nonnie’s recipe.  How I miss her, but eating her recipes always make me feel like she’s right there with me.  I bet she held her knife correctly!

Take a class!

San Francisco Cooking School
415.346.2665
hello@sfcooking.com

A Foray Out – A Bento Picnic

I was invited to attend a picnic this weekend and I was delighted to accept because the weather during the day has been so un-San Francisco like, warm and sunny, almost like summer!

 

The night before, however, I was beset with anxiety. How would I get there? Where could I sit? Would I be able to access the picnic area? Was there an accessible restroom nearby that I could get to? Would I be able to stay out in the sun the whole time? What could I wear to cover up? Where is my hat? What can I make to bring? Would I be a burden to the other people? Would I have a good time?

 

Oh, anxiety, you are such a demon. I supposed all this comes from feeling helpless and vulnerable during this healing period. It’s only temporary but the lack of sleep the night before and the insurmountable hurdles some of these questions posed felt quite difficult.  Happily, it all worked out beautifully.

 

Fortunately for me, in San Francisco, there are places where a disabled person can picnic and have a good time! We went to Chrissy Field and my friends picked me up in their car. Thanks to my temporary handicap placard we were able to party pretty near to the picnic area. There was a decent dirt path that led to the lawn and we found a nice spot with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Angel Island and the curve of the city to the Bay Bridge.

 

NHK picnic

 

The purpose of this picnic was more than just friends getting together for the afternoon.  My amazing friend Biggie was being interviewed by NHK World television for a program about foreigners making bento.  She is the original bento food blogger and received much acclaim for her website Lunch In a Box.  I personally use her website frequently to find recipes because she’s an amazing cook and when I get home I wonder, how did she make that Thai curry?  Or what is in that sanbaizu sauce?

 

This is such an exciting time for her and so wonderful that the Japanese film crew flew out to watch her make bento and then observe the bento picnic and then (gulp) interview her friends about bento and Biggie.   I grew up eating Japanese food, thanks to my neighbors and living where I did, but I never made or enjoyed a homemade bento before my friendship with Biggie.  It has really expanded my world.

 

NHK picnic

As Biggie says, bento crosses all cultural lines and anything can go into a bento, and it is the best way to use leftovers!

 

With my weird food allergies, I can’t tell you how many times I have ended up in the emergency room because something I purchased for lunch was contaminated by egg.   Bringing a bento box not only is an economical way to use leftovers but makes lunch feel special.  This is a direct-from-Biggie-quote.

 

NHK picnic

For her special picnic I wanted to bring something tasty and special and happily I had enough goodies in the fridge for a special bento.  The focus of my blog and locus of my food preferences are items that are local, sustainably sourced and grown.  The harmoniousness of my bento happily reflected this mindset.

NHK picnic

(my bento is in the little metal tin at the bottom!)

 

Happily, everyone enjoyed my humble bento, especially the Japanese film crew who polished off every last bit except for a sprinkling of red onion.  I also brought a container of Costco’s smoked pulled pork doused in bacon hot sauce (my favorite sauce) and some fresh rice, which got polished off.  Cold bing cherries were the perfect finish to my contributions to the picnic.

 

The other bentos were truly fantastic and I am sorry I didn’t take pictures of them.  Because I was sitting up in a camp chair (the current gimp factor did not permit me to join the others on the picnic blankets), my angle of photography was pretty poor.

 

Biggie made her incredible Spam musubi, the best spam musubi on the planet, I might add (see her site for the recipe); little liverwurst and sweet pickle roll up sandwiches, maki style; a bento filled with rolled local sliced salamis, prosciutto and bresola; Tillamouk extra fancy white cheddar; a fancy prepared bento with fruit and vegetables and the maki sandwiches; and a bento of hot rice and mapo dofu, a spicy pork and tofu dish made extra spicy with lots of Sriracha sauce; and a huge Louisana crunch cake.  It isn’t a picnic without cake!  Friends brought a bento made especially for a child with fried fish, vegetables and fruits, a bento with fried polenta squares drizzled with pesto (amazing!), edamame and vegetables.   We washed all of this down with lots of wine, hard cider and beer, and juice boxes and chilled water and juices for the kids.

 

As one parent said, bringing bento to a picnic is a perfect thing, because it can be eaten alone or shared and it’s not like a huge bowl of food that can get tipped over or go off.

 

We hit that wonderful peaceful lull that comes to every picnic when everyone is sated, the sun feels fantastic and one gazes out over the incredible views with perfect contentment.  Like a bento, it was a perfectly encapsulated moment of enjoyment.

 

NHK picnic

(the fog, rolling in a bit)

 

The interviews were handled with great care and consideration and did not feel at all intrusive.  We really enjoyed getting to meet the crew and chat about food cultures, eating habits in California and San Francisco and how we knew Biggie.  It was such a fun day!

 

Soon the program will be aired and I am excited to see my dear friend on television – soon the world will be sharing in her wonderful food!

 

Later, at home, I reflected on how enriched my life is by knowing extraordinary people like Biggie and the parents from her child’s school, our mutual friends and new friends, and the access to scenes and food like today.  Despite being disabled at the moment, I feel like a very lucky lady.

 

NHK picnic

Summers Past

I would give anything to go back to the summers of my teenage years. I used to attend to an interesting and unique school that trained the students for field biology and other scientific careers. We were an Explorer Post and used to spend our weekends and summers in the field, working for the forest service by clearing trails or clearing streams of deadfalls or just scientific research, and geological, plants and bird and animal scatology identification.

 

We hiked and backpacked all over California and Oregon, we did some amazing, incredible things. Our teachers were unique people, and I learned a lot from them including how to get along with difficult and irascible individuals, a skill which has stood me in good stead over the years.

 

One summer I took over cooking for the group, over 60 extremely hungry and growing kids using Government surplus and Army surplus foodstuffs, if you want to call it that. We made the best of it, of course. We had already learned to forage so I tried to supplement the menu as much as I could, if not for everyone then for myself.  There was the rattlesnake incident, of course, and I learned a trick from my older sister about letting the cheddar sit out so that it would age.  She was the cook too during her years at the same school, five years ahead of me.

 

I remember finding wild chives on a mountain slope in Lassen national volcanic park along the slopes of Mount Brokeoff by a stream bed. I collected as many as I could find and added them to my government surplus pressed turkey roll sandwich and it made it actually pretty edible.   I foraged dates fallen from the trees in the groves at Furnace Creek to add to the deplorable oatmeal.  We got creative with Tiger Juice and canned pineapple juice for pancakes.  Nothing really could salvage the dried eggs but I did my best to get them fluffy with powdered milk.  You try making scrambled eggs for 60 grouchy teenagers sometime!!

 

During our survival exercises, we had to kill a lamb and kill Cornish game hens, to simulate killing a deer or wild fowl in the field.  I brought a Bento box from home stuffed with herbs and spices to help flavor up my share.  One teacher expressed scorn at my stash but a few others asked if they could us the garlic, rosemary and other herbs I brought.   Bay leaves were added to everything, and I learned that if you picked enough bay leaves you could create your own tick and mosquito repellent, it worked, sort of, and I certainly smelled better than everybody else. I learned how to create a balm for said tick and mosquito bites by using Manzanita leaves, and the bark made a really nice tea.

 

Junk food like candy and chips and sodas were contraband, so we learn to enjoy acceptable contraband such as kippered herrings, salamis, Ak Mak and canned black bread. One blissful weekend each year was spent up at the Battle Creek fish hatchery where we would each be given a large empty tin can and sent out to collect as many blackberries as we could. We would come back stained purple and full with our cans also full. We made an incredible blackberry sauce to put over ice cream that was purchased from the grocery store miles and miles away. It was such a decadent treat and only happened once a year.  There was that one memorable time we left the sauce out until the next day and it fermented! The sauce was an especially delicious treat with our high protein pancakes (high protein because the mosquitoes would divebomb the griddle, oh well!)!

We lived rough, sleeping on the ground, rarely ever with tents, and endured freezing cold or extremely hot temperatures,  brutal hikes and hard physical labor. It was some of the best times of my life.

 

I learned skills that would surprise my current friends and coworkers.  I learned how to climb trees using a rope and with a chainsaw to cut down deadfalls,  rock climbing and bouldering techniques from actual experts, rather than what my sister and I tried to figure out on our own bouldering. We kayaked down class four rivers, learning how to flip our kayaks in the swimming pool at school. I learned how to tread water for over an hour fully dressed, and how to use my blue jeans to form a flotation device.  We backpacked into Death Valley in extremely remote areas that most people don’t ever go to, into old gold mining camps, defunct borax mines and caves with hidden Indian drawings that only we knew about, and we kept that secret safe.   We sang songs and wrote some too and there was always someone with a guitar.  The music was amazing.  I had a songbook from my early teens that had every hippie and folk song around and that was almost worn out from use.  There were no cell phones or iPods but sometimes someone had a Walkman (also contraband) so we had to entertain ourselves on the 7-11 hour car trips.  The bird of prey game was quite popular, negative points for misidentifying a turkey vulture for a BOP.

 

We were tough and strong and got really dirty and we had the most fun. We were smart and savvy and were safe.  Nothing scared me, I did the most reckless and incredible things back then and have injuries, scars and wear and tear now to prove it. I used to backpack carrying 75% of my bodyweight in gear, wish we had the great lightweight gear that’s out there now! But I wouldn’t give up those days for a hot minute, despite what how my knees and ankles feel today.  I pulled out my songbook the other day and tried to play a few chords on my soprano guitar and wished with all my might I could be out under the stars surrounded by pine trees and near a stream.  Someday, ankle, someday!

Work in Progress: Stinky Bacon Sriracha Wrapped Sweet Peppers

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It seems like at every supermarket they sell miniature sweet bell peppers in red, orange and yellow and they’re so delicious to eat in many different ways.  Usually I just saute them but I was in the mood for something more feisty.   I picked up a bag of them at a farm stand on the way back home from my mom’s house, along with a pound of bacon from a fantastic place in Lockeford. I got to thinking that it might be a pleasant change from the spicy jalapeno stuffed peppers to use these sweet peppers instead.

When I got home I realized I did not have cream cheese but I did have goat cheese, and I found a wedge of Tallegio, a marvelously flavorful and stinky soft rind aged cheese. When I opened the fridge door my erstwhile bottle of Sriracha sauce fell out, again, and the idea for stinky bacon wrapped Sriracha sweet peppers was born!

I used about three ounces of Tallegio cut into small pinky-shaped pieces, and shoved those into the hollowed out peppers first, followed by a topping of goat cheese.

Each little pepper was wrapped in bacon, and then I prepared a cutting mat with a puddle of Sriracha sauce and mound of Demerera sugar.

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Each fat little pepper got rolled in the hot sauce, and then rolled around in the crunchy sugar and placed on a little baking sheet covered with mushed up tinfoil to make an impromptu rack.

Because I’m still using the kneeling walker/scooter thing I can’t use the big oven, but my convection toaster oven is pretty fantastic, despite my not having all of the required equipment, like mini baking racks.

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I baked them at 425 F for 15 minutes until the bacon was a crispy and bubbly and the sugar and Siriracha melded together for a savory sweet spicy coating.

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My apartment smelled mercilessly of Tallegio and bacon and chilies, but I didn’t care, I was just waiting for them to cool down my enough that I could eat them.

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I call this recipe a work in progress because obviously they baked up too dark, but they still tasted amazing.  Next time I will lower the heat and maybe add more bacon.

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While I waited for the peppers to cool I mounded a few of them on a little plate and mixed up a vodka Gibson. I was expecting a dear friend to come over but didn’t know exactly when she would arrive, and wouldn’t you know, the moment I sat down my doorbell rang. Perfect timing!

The heat from the Sriracha was exactly enough to make you want a sip of your cocktail, and the sweet pepper, cheesy baconiness was the perfect snack for a tipple when the sun pasts the yardarm.    We knocked back the Gibsons and then made another batch and chatted about her travels while noshing on the peppers.   Then we made pizza!  It was a perfect Sunday evening.

Work in Progress:  Stinky Bacon Sriracha Wrapped Peppers

Being Fed By Others

I realized I haven’t written in a while, the impetus to create has just fizzled away after a minor surgery last month.

It was rather a shock to realize they I have been in pain and in healing mode since November 2010. It’s a hell of a long time.

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I’ve had a lot of hopes fade away, I’ve lost people I’ve loved – both my fathers, my ex boyfriend, and family friends. My ability to have fun has been squashed by 2 major surgeries, 2 minor surgeries, and a 5 month bout with whooping cough. I still am not allowed to walk and I’m looking at another month or so of being on the scooter. No wonder I haven’t felt like writing, cooking, creating, anything really. I don’t even feel like knitting, which had been a source of solace.

The inability to cook for myself has been a blow. When I could walk I wasn’t allowed to carry anything, ergo no shopping for myself. Now that I’m on the scooter I can’t be on it too long because it hurts my knee and other parts and it’s damned awkward. It’s an amazing device, and I am so grateful to have it, it allows me to be able to support myself and work during this recovery period. But trying to cook or use the stove is tricky, and using the oven just doesn’t work, too tippy and dangerous and I burned my arm pretty good last time I tried it.

Despite the inevitable depression over all of this, I am lucky to have supportive friends and family. It’s lonesome being stuck at home or turning down events because there’s a flight of stairs, or I’m too exhausted or uncomfortable, or no way to get there easily – danged SF hills!! Being an independent person I supremely fail at asking others for help, so my kitchen gets cold and empty and I end up snacking on random things instead of eating properly.

If money were no object I could order prepared food from a variety of places. The tech boom in SF has really made a positive impact on my life. Without all of the great services offered here I would have had to rely and wear out the goodwill of others.

  • Seamless, Grub Hub, Eat24 have some good options but in my neighborhood the variety is rather meh
  • Postmates is a great way to get restaurant and other deliveries but it’s pricey and you’re dependent on nice people with bikes to fetch and deliver.
  • Instacart has been a godsend for getting consumables from Rainbow, Whole Foods, Safeway and Costco. I’ve had such nice people shop for me.
  • Good Eggs has been my go to place for fresh food. They liaise with farmers and food producers such as the ones I regularly visit at the farmers markets. I’m totally addicted to Firebrand Hearth’s bacon fougasse. The price is about the same but you have to order a few days in advance.
  • Flywheel, Uber and Lyft have helped me get to and from work every day as I don’t dare risk MUNI. I used to ride the bus but I’ve been injured 3 times because of passengers and my mom has basically forbidden me from riding until I’m off the scooter. These apps are fantastic and I don’t care what BS the taxi commission says, they’re all essential.
  • Taskrabbit has been amazing at helping me with chores around my apartment. I’ve learned the hard way I can’t vacuum or clean while on the scooter and after it took an hour to change the sheets on my bed (an hour!!!) I’ve realize paying someone $20 an hour to do things is rather essential.
  • I miss my routine so much though, shopping at the farmers markets on the weekends, cooking up a storm and making meals to take to work, having friends over for dinner, taking inspiration from recipes on websites and then shopping to make them. I don’t even feel like I can connect socially with people, I’m too inconvenient, I’m tired of explaining why I’m not able to walk, why I’ve gained weight so drastically, and why I’m otherwise broken to everyone. My ability to appear chirpy and not complain or avoid talking about what’s going on is just not happening. I shake my head. I’m a fucking mess and I can’t even joke about it now.

    I know someday I will have my life back, I know it in my heart. But right now it’s obvious it won’t be this year, and that feels like a millstone around my heart. I feel like my life is in my past, and that the future isn’t even worth thinking about or planning because none of the plans I’ve tried to make have been possible.

    In this holding pattern the years are slipping away and yet I still feel guilty feeling down about this because I have so many friends who are worse off than I am, with cancer, permanent crippling injuries or other horrible issues that I can’t even comprehend. How dare I feel upset about my ankle/shoulders/knees/back/neck/allergies.

    There we are though, so tonight I’m going to try to see a beloved vendor at a party for his latest cookbook, and tomorrow I have another minor surgery that I’m just minimizing with my work and my friends because I’m scared to death of losing both groups.

    Deep breaths, think positive, onward.

    Sunday Cooking

    Sundays are a great day to bond with your couch, and often I like to putter a bit in the kitchen in between.

    Like any “normal” person, I tackled the pile of dishes in the sink that built up during the week. Somehow every coffee cup ends up in the sink instead of the dishwasher. After KP is completed I pulled out the produce that was waiting in the fridge.

    I am cooking for breakfast and lunches during the week. Dinner tonight is already sorted out, minestre from Nonni’s recipe and meatloaf that I made on Friday night.

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    It helps me figure out what to cook when I see what I’ve got to work with, so I heaped everything on the stove and decided I would make:

    o Melitzanosalata or Greek eggplant salad
    o Broiled tomatoes
    o Sautéed chard
    o Gratined chard stems and leeks
    o Rainbow quinoa
    o Lemon tarragon vinaigrette

    The eggplant gets baked until very soft and a bit smoky from the browned skin, so I pricked it all over with a fork and got it settled in a hot oven on a piece of foil.

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    The quinoa was next, it’s extremely easy to make, just boil water! Add a bit of salt and while you’re waiting for the water to boil, measure and rinse your quinoa. I use a cone shaped strainer that gets used for everything from straining stock, sifting flour and draining pasta.

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    I set the quinoa to simmer while I prepared the tomatoes.

    The tomatoes are an heirloom variety from a local organic market, so they’re especially juicy and flavorful, yet another reason to love California produce in the spring. I cut off a tiny sliver from the bottom and removed the stem end and halved them, and nestled them in a gratin pan. I sprinkled them with a sea salt blended with bell peppers and dried onions, and a grind of pepper and a pinch of harissa spice. Then I sprinkled over a little bit of bread crumbs from one slice of bread chopped in the food processor. A hearty drizzle of local, peppery olive oil and they are ready for the oven.

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    The timer for the eggplant sounded so I pulled it out of the oven to cool, and popped in the pan of tomatoes.

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    The eggplant is cooked when it’s sort of collapsed looking and is as wrinkled as a surfer after a long set.

    I cut it in half while it was hot, and trying not to burn my fingers and with the help of a paring knife, I flipped over the eggplant and peeled off its skin. The skin comes off easily with a tug from the knife.

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    The eggplant needs to have all of the liquid removed while it is still warm, so using my trusty strainer I put in the peeled eggplant and used a spatula to squish out all the liquid I could.

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    The eggplant cooled off in the strainer for a while to drain a bit more while I removed the quinoa from the stove.

    I let the quinoa cool for a few minutes then fluffed it with a fork. The quinoa still had a bit of texture to it, not mushy, but nutty and fluffy, and it absorbed the lightly salted water and was perfectly seasoned.

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    The timer went off for the tomatoes and I pulled them from the hot oven. The tomatoes were still holding their shape but soft and bursting with juices under their crispy breadcrumb topping.

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    Back to the cooled eggplant, it was a small one so I put it in my mini chop with a small clove of garlic and enough plain yogurt to help the mixture purée smoothly was added, along with the juice of a lemon. Since my lemons were minis, I used three!

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    When the eggplant was perfectly smooth, I poured in some olive oil and let it purée a bit more to emulsify. A quick check for seasoning a added more lemon juice and then decided to eat it right away. All of this cooking is making me ravenous.

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    Before I had my snack, I cooked the chard quickly. A quarter of a slivered onion went in the pan first with olive oil and was sautéed until soft. The rinsed and chopped chard leaves went in next with a splash of water to cook until they are tender, this takes just a few minutes.

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    When the greens were cooked I put them in a bowl to cool with a bit more olive oil and crunchy sea salt. The chard is tangy from the lemon and I think they taste far better than spinach.

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    I rinsed out the pan and added the halved leeks and chard stems with a little broth so they could simmer until soft.

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    While they simmered, I had my little melitzanosalata and pita bread for lunch and watched the rest of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

    The eggplant is light and lemony with a pleasant earthiness from being roasted. It tastes fantastic at room temperature or cold. I also like to put inside sandwiches but I polished off this batch quickly. Next time I will buy a larger eggplant so I can use the melitzanosalata for other purposes.

    Since the lemons were so tiny, I abandoned my plans to make a vinaigrette and saved the last one for a cocktail.

    The leeks were finished cooking by the time I was done with my lunch. Using a spatula, I lifted them out of the skillet and placed them in a gratin pan, added cream and a heavy grating of Romano cheese and put them in the oven so that the cream thickens and the cheese browns. I saved the 1/2 cup of broth leftover from the braising leeks and added it to my minestre; it had great flavor and would be a shame not to use it.

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    The gratin smelled divine, the leeks are sweet and meltingly tender and the chard is toothsome and coated in rich cream and the savory, salty browned cheese on top was the perfect mouthful.

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    When the gratin was done I had a glass of wine before tackling the KP duties again. All this lovely food was done and cooling.

    Tonight I will have half a tomato with my meatloaf and a cup of soup. For breakfasts I can have the quinoa topped with chard or with a tomato half. For lunches I can have the gratin with a the leftover meatloaf or a tomato half. They all work together in various combinations, and it’s comforting to know I don’t have to worry about going out for a meal at work and accidentally eating eggs. Plus, all of these dishes are nutritious, besides being very tasty.

    It’s still early on Sunday, there’s time for a nap or some knitting or some more bonding time with my couch or perhaps all three!

    Recipe:    Melitzanosalata – Greek Eggplant Salad/Dip

    Gratineed Leeks and Chard Stems

     

    Comfort Food – Italian Wedding Soup

    After my stepdad’s memorial, mOm and I drove back up to her house in the country for some much needed rest and relaxation, the car filled with flowers from the service.

    Pretty flowers from my office for the memorial. So sweet

    Flowers from my office for the memorial service, so pretty

    In case you have ever wondered about the capitalization of “mOm’, she started signing cards and emails this way, saying the O in Mom was for a big hug, how completely adorable.

    Me and mOm

    My pretty mom

    This has been a tough winter and whenever the road life takes you on gets bumpy we gravitate to comfort food. To me, that means a brothy soup with lots of great vegetables and something meaty.

    Mom and I love cooking together, even when our hearts are heavy.  My produce CSA box was delivered a few days before the service so I brought up a huge bag of beautiful cooking greens, winter root vegetables and lettuces. Mom found a recipe online for Italian Wedding soup and wanted to make it with me, so we donned our favorite aprons and started assembling the soup ingredients.  Not only do aprons keep your clothes tidy, they are also very absorbent for when tears fall unexpectedly.  When you are grieving it is a lot like leaving the drip hose on in the garden accidentally, you don’t really notice the tears are falling until a puddle forms or the vision blurs.  This is problematic when trying to chop things.

    Many hugs later, while reading the recipe, we realized that the ingredients for the meatballs seemed really bland so we started pulling out cookbooks, looking at our favorite meatball recipes and all the many variations and finally settled on just using our favorite flavors in the Italian theme: garlic, oregano, basil, parsley.

    Mom had in her fridge a pound of pork sausage and a pound of ground beef ground fresh from her local butcher. I love her grocery store, it’s been around since 1865 and was a former Wells Fargo pony express stop.  The savvy agent added mercantile products and eventually the stop became the one and only grocery store in the township, and it still is the only game in town. The butchers are really nice and love special requests. Being in the country, their customers are heavy meat eaters so everything is really fresh. Seafood, on the other hand, is an impossibility. I love that behind the counter the staff have a lot of their buck and other animal heads mounted on display, this goes to show you they know how to butcher everything.

    I had made a wonderful stock using a duck leg and some wings and some odds and ends of bones from the freezer, which was our soup base but premade chicken stock would have been just fine too.

    The meatball assembly was fun. Mom weighed out the meat while I played sous chef, chopping garlic and parsley to sprinkle over the ground meats in the bowl. Mom added grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses, plain breadcrumbs and dried oregano and salt and pepper and mixed up the bowl of meatballs. We decided to bake them since we omitted the egg in the batch in lieu of my allergies and we were not sure if the usual method of poaching the meatballs in the stock would work without the egg as a binder.

    A half sheet jelly roll pan was lined with a Silpat and Mom used her smaller meatball scoop, which makes golf ball sized meat. I rolled them up quickly with water dampened hands.  After a few meatballs were formed, we decided they should be smaller, so we halved the balls and ended up making 80 or so tiny balls.

    It didn’t take too long to roll the little marble sized balls and space them on the baking pan. I tossed one in the hot stock and fried another one up in a skillet for a taste test and, surprisingly, the poached meatball did really well and did not fall apart. The additions to the meatballs were just what we had intended and we nailed the seasoning perfectly.  Although both of them were delectable, the sauteed meatball was even more flavorful because of the browning process so proceeded with our plan to bake the meatballs.

    Into the oven they went while we diced up onions, carrot, celery and a mound of kale and chard for the soup pot. I cooked a little diced bacon first to render the fat to sautée the vegetables and resisted the urge just to eat the mirepoix from the pan. The hot stock was poured in and I splashed in a few shakes of Worchestershire sauce and bitters to deepen the flavors of the broth.

    When the meatballs were browned and sizzling from the oven, they were left to cool a bit and then we slid into the soup along with the kale. When the greens were tender it was time for supper. We sprinkled the last bits of the grated cheeses decadently over our soup bowls and tucked in while watching an episode of Sherlock on PBS.

    I wish I had a photo to share because the soup was just lovely.  The stock was a warm brown with tiny brunoise of vegetables, long shreds of bright green kale and little meatballs, just the size to nestle into the soup spoon comfortably but not too large so that you couldn’t fit in a mouthful of broth and a few vegetables.  The cheese melted over some of the kale and some of the meatballs and then settled gently down to hug the bottom of the bowl, to be scraped up in long, cheesy strings, in subsequent mouthfuls.   Time seemed to stop for that bowl of soup.

    We ate contentedly, sitting side by side on the couch in the cozy family room, the heat from the kitchen spilling out into the room while the hot soup warmed us from the inside out.

    The soup pot was still full so I ladled the soup into five or so plastic storage containers to be frozen for future dinners for Mom. There’s nothing like finding a tub of homemade soup on the freezer when you want a meal but don’t have the energy or motivation to cook, rather like finding forgotten money tucked away in a pocket.

    hal 40th

    My family, from happier days

    Italian Wedding Soup
    printable recipe