Easter Shortcake Hockey Pucks

Sometimes we try to make nice things in our kitchen, for example, this weekend when I tried to make homemade shortcakes for the Easter strawberry shortcake. Technically they should have come out perfectly and they looked great in the pan but by the time the cheapo stove in my apartment browned the tops of the shortcakes to a pleasant golden hue the bottoms were rather reminiscent of a scorched-earth exercise. They were tough as hockey pucks and I am considering donating the leftovers to the San Jose Sharks.

Saturday morning after a lazy breakfast and post-breakfast nap, I was contacted by my friends who were preparing for our fun Easter dinner, held a day early due to child handoff scheduling complications. My dear friend bought a ham and the ingredients to make my favorite egg-free foolproof biscuits. I had fancy cheeses and crackers for the appetizer table and lots of greens to saute, and I figured I would make the biscuits since I have that recipe down cold.  We were coordinating logistics when my friends boyfriend texted me with a plaintive, “where is a bakery that sells egg-free shortcakes?” and I couldn’t think of a single place because having an egg allergy really sucks and dessert is mostly something I have given up on. It was really sweet of him to try to make shortcakes from scratch to accommodate my stupid food issues, I give grand kudos for that. He also offered me a ride and wouldn’t be there for an hour, so I decided I could stop being utterly slothful and make shortcakes myself. I had good Irish butter, I had buttermilk, I had some sour cream but not enough to make my fabulous go-to biscuits, but I could find a recipe!

Thanks to the miracle of the internets I found a good sounding recipe for shortcakes that required heavy cream, so I thought I would thin buttermilk to heavy cream consistency and went to work.
  
The butter was gorgeous, if you find Dairygold butter in your store please do try it out, it is wonderful. It has less water than American butter and a rich, gold color and a really lovely cultured flavor.

I found some pretty, sparkly sanding sugar in my pantry that was Easter-ish in colors and used that on top of the shortcakes, and popped them into the oven to bake. My crappy oven only has one shelf so one batch had to wait while the other tray baked, and some of the Easter sugar got a tiny bit melted but otherwise looked fine.
  

At 15 minutes they were not the lovely golden brown I wanted, so I put them in for another 5 minutes at watched them like a hawk. And yet, despite this, the little suckers scorched on the bottom, probably because they had a lot of sugar in the dough, and my oven is a piece of junk. 

After breathing deeply for a few minutes, I baked batch number two for 15 minutes on my new fabulous non-stick pan that my mom gave me, and they still burned.
  

I packed them up anyway because we had to have something, and took them over to my friend’s home, thinking, at least the upper part will taste good. But alas, this was not to be and I have no idea why.

The kids decided the whipped cream should be colored and they had a lot of fun choosing the colors. The final decision was purple and sky blue, and why not!  I used a spoon to scoop up a bit of the shortcake, the beautiful sliced strawberries and the party whipped cream and could barely penetrate the shortcake. Perhaps a shovel might have helped. 

The kids ate them and enjoyed them and every other part was fantastic but I swore internally at my bad cooking mojo. At least the savory biscuits came out fantastically! The ham and the carrots were great, but the greens I cooked had too much lime juice, oh well, more bad cooking mojo. Despite my angst, everyone had a nice time and it was a lot of fun to see the kids decorate eggs and have an impromptu squirt gun fight.
  

Since this was a fail and I am not sure if it was the recipe or if it was my mojo, I will not be sharing the recipe, unless you have a fervent wish to bake pretty hockey pucks, then please by all means, send me an email.  

Breakfast Serenity – Maple Biscuits

I was inspired the other day when I was going through old photographs and found a picture of a recipe from an old book shared by a friend on Twitter.  The idea of maple biscuits and a cup of coffee sounded just the perfect thing for my first weekend in the kitchen after a long absence due to influenza and bronchitis.

I put my iPad on top of the fridge and started watching Two Fat Ladies make a picnic lunch in Wales, and prepared the biscuits while I slipped on some hot coffee from my favorite mug and saucer from a potter in Sedona.

The biscuit dough came together quickly while my little convection oven preheated. After a disastrous attempt to use my favorite springform pan, which developed a leak for some inexplicable reason, I successfully transferred everything to a cake pan and put the biscuits in the oven.

  

The instructions said to eat them warm and to eat them all, and although I couldn’t possibly can finish this entire pan I am a bit ashamed to say how many I actually did consume.

  

The biscuits are baked in a heavenly soup of melted butter and maple syrup, which infuses into the bottom of the biscuit a bit and leaves a delicious warm pool of maple to dollop on the top of each biscuit. 

I may have to make these again tomorrow for my friends!

Printable recipe

Mushroom Foraging Experiment

Last week I went foraging for mushrooms with a friend, this was the first time I had gone on a foray in many years (pre-ankle surgeries) and, although it was hardly a true foray, it was a lot of fun. My friend had spotted a Chicken of the Woods growing in a very urban area, right off of a parking lot growing on a beautiful tree.

Chicken of the Woods. Image courtesy of Jonathan Clitheroe and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

Chicken of the Woods. Image courtesy of Jonathan Clitheroe and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License

This mushroom, the Laetiporus sulphureus, is common in North America, although in the Bay Area it is presumed to be Laetiporus gilbertsonii. It is edible and is described as having a meaty texture and flavor similar to chicken. I was excited to harvest one and give it a try.

Although mushroom foragers have varying opinions on the Chicken of the Woods, local foragers I have met said that this variety harvested off a eucalyptus or pine tree will make one sick, while others consume them regularly without any ill effect. I decided to proceed with caution.   It is important to note that this mushroom is considered a safe and delicious mushroom, it will not make you die from eating it, as can happen with many other wild fungii and an inexperienced forager.  I would never dare to eat a foraged mushroom without the advice and supervision of a confirmed expert.  Some people have a sensitivity to Chicken of the Woods and the ill effects are more gastrointestinal in nature and can cause inconvenient effects if one is sensitive.

When I picked it, it exuded a lot of water, which meant it was a very young specimen and therefore prized. It is a beautiful butter yellow color color, rubbery and firm feeling with a pleasant mushroomy scent.

Chicken of the woods, Laetiporus gilbertsonii

Chicken of the woods, Laetiporus gilbertsonii

It continued to exude the water and by the time I got home the paper bag in which it was stored was rather soggy. I gave it a good wash and had a great moment of excitement when a rather large pill bug decided to leave its mushroom home and explore my cutting board! This is one of the things mushroom foragers are used to, the insect life living within the specimens. As a more amateur forager this causes me great, shall we say, upheaval!

The visiting guest was removed without incident and a tot of Kentucky bourbon helped calm things down. I thinly sliced the mushroom, carefully examining it to ensure there were no more “residents” lurking within, and set about a large pot of water to the simmer.

Per my friend who happily consumes the Chicken of the Woods regularly, she advised that cooking them thoroughly will help ensure no stomach issues, so she recommended simmering for 15-20 minutes in water, draining, and then using in a recipe as one would for any mushroom dish.  My plan was to dice them after they were simmered, saute in butter and wine with some herbs and combine with other wild, but cultivated, mushrooms as part of a mushroom hand pie.

The sliced mushroom pieces developed a beautiful salmon hue, and were quite firm, like a hard shell winter squash.   After simmering for 20 minutes the color of the mushroom deepened a little bit and they had a lovely meaty aroma.

Chicken of the woods, Laetiporus gilbertsonii

I drained them well and chilled all but two slices, which were my samples. I diced them into small pieces, sauteed them in butter with some minced white onion for about 8 minutes, then added a splash of Sauvignon Blanc, salt and pepper, a pinch of thyme, and some chopped parsley.  They smelled divine, and I had a small spoonful.

Some of the ill effects for sensitive people described by mushroom experts are tingling and itchiness of the mouth and tongue, and stomach issues which I shall not describe here.  I have a lot of strange food intolerances and was worried I might immediately experience some oral issues with the Chicken of the Woods but did not.  The next day, however, my system was most unhappy and I decided that, sadly, the Chicken of the Woods is not a mushroom for me.

It was a fun experiment, however, and despite the outcome I shall continue in my mushroom foraging but stick to the more “big” choice consumables:  Morel, porcini, chanterelles, and candy caps.

Caution should be exercised when foraging and consuming wild mushrooms.  Many toxic mushrooms may resemble edible mushrooms and no one should attempt to eat a wild mushroom unless it has been carefully identified by an expert, and, even then, it may not be safe.  It is worth stressing that each single specimen must be carefully identified as well as checked for general good condition. Eating a toxic mushroom can be fatal. Don’t take chances.

Resources:

Mycological Society of San Francisco

Saving the Last of Summer: Slow Roasted Tomatoes

The tomato crop this year was simply glorious!  It was such a relief because last year the tomatoes were almost nonexistent and it was a mournful summer as a result.  Despite not being able to personally attend the farmer’s markets this summer I was happily able to order from a few nice farms using Good Eggs.  I have indulged myself completely and filled my orders with heirloom tomatoes of every color.

One week Good Eggs was offering Monsanto-free Early Girl tomatoes at a pretty cheap price per pound so I bought 4 pounds, plus 3 pints of cherry tomatoes in various hues. I planned to make a fresh salsa-like tomato sauce but got tired, so I decided to slow roast them.

It feels like everyone on social media and my recipe swap has been slow roasting tomatoes, so despite being very late to the party I began roasting them and was so pleased with how well they came out.

Slow roasted tomatoes, done!

After a quick rinse I quartered the tomatoes and left the cherry tomatoes whole, dumped them into my favorite jelly roll pan, slivered in a clove of garlic and scattered handfuls of basil leaves and a light scattering of oregano. I used a light hand with olive oil, salt and pepper and then at the last minute added a good hunk of butter over everything. The oven was on at 250 F, I set the timer for three hours and promptly took a long nap.

After three hours, voila, the perfectly roasted tomatoes and my nap were complete. It was far beyond dinner time by then, so I slid them into a plastic container, scraping every last bit of juice and butter into the container, and bung it into the fridge.

I pondered a bit on what to do then. One week, I heated up the batch of tomatoes gently and tossed them with pasta and some leftover chicken. Another time I pureed them with my immersion blender and added a slosh of vodka and a dash of leftover cream and warmed this while the pasta cooked. Another time I pureed half of them and left the other half whole and added dollops of ricotta to each bowl of pasta. Another time I made goat cheese stuffed meatballs and seasoned breadcrumbs and poached the meatballs in the pureed sauce. The last time I pureed the whole batch and added more butter. It tasted just like Marcella Hazan’s butter tomato sauce, and no stirring required!   If I made these on the weekend I napped and if it was after work I was done well in time for an early bedtime (being gimpy and healing is very tiring).

Kind of a humble dish, homey. Slow roasted tomatoes, ricotta.
(with ricotta)

Goat cheese stuffed meatballs, in progress
(goat cheese stuffed meatballs)

Goat cheese stuffed meatballs, pappardelle, Crumbs Yo!
(the finished meatballs topped with seasoned breadcrumbs)

Each time I slow roasted a batch of tomatoes I wanted to save some in the freezer for that dreary part of January through March when all of the tomatoes are pasty pink nasty mealy things.  After making a packet of pasta I would use up an entire batch of tomatoes. I kept buying more tomatoes, four pounds, then six, then eight pounds and still had no leftovers for the freezer.

Last night I succumbed to a wild impulse and bought an entire case of San Marzano tomatoes from Good Eggs, I think it will be about 20 pounds. It will take me a while to slow roast them in batches but surely this time I will have some leftover for the freezer.   I will have a bit of summer in my freezer for the rest of the winter, or at least, for the rest of the month.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes (for Sauce)

 

IMG_6112.JPG
That’s a lot of tomatoes!!!

Prevent Scurvy, Drink Gimlets!

Our version of summerish weather is here, if you discount the odd day of rain. When it’s over 65 degrees out, we consider this a *hot* day and one’s mind wanders to gazpacho, tall iced drinks and, for me, gimlets with fresh lime juice.

There is nothing more sublime than a chilled cocktail glass brimming with shimmering opal green elixir, the lime gimlet.

Lime gimlets

It’s all about the proportions: gin, fresh lime juice, and simple syrup, all shaken over ice until your hand aches from holding the frosty shaker and you can swipe a finger through the rime of frost. I like adding fresh basil to the shaker, stems and all, and floating a few leaves in the glass to further perfume the drink.

One decadent Sunday night I had a friend over for “framily” dinner and made up a batch of the basil gimlets. It was 74 F in the kitchen and the cool tart sweet drinks went down easily as we watched the sun turn the buildings on the hills peach and pink then lavender and grey. The two limes I had on hand made just enough for us to have a glass and a half, almost too much and not quite enough.

The next day I was determined to find more limes.

Thinking creatively, I found 6 limes from Walgreens of all places. I was able to walk there and back quite successfully, but iced my ankle when I returned to work, that might be the farthest I have gone on my own with crutches! It was totally worth it, and who would have thought that the limes from the drug store would be so large and juicy!

That night in my kitchen I juiced up all six of them and measured out the proper proportions for the gin and simple syrup into a large mixing bowl and filled a wonderful antique stoppered bottle I found at an estate sale. The bottle was full but there was more left in the bowl, enough to generously fill my cocktail shaker. There is a mysterious wonder in this world when all things become synchronous in this fashion.

I tossed in a few branches of basil and shook and shook and then sat down at my little kitchen table and poured myself my lovely drink. It was again a superb sunset, and I tarried there a while until the light dimmed and faded.

The full bottle is reposing in my fridge and I’ve been shaking it up when I see it as the lime pulp has floated to the top. I calculate I have a few more days in which to drink up this batch of gimlets, and what a fine few days they will be.  Best of all, I will definitely *not* get scurvy this month.

Cin Cin!

Recipe:  Gimlets with Basil

 

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.

IMG_6696.JPG

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

20140803-202818-73698861.jpg

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.

20140803-203137-73897067.jpg

 

20140803-203137-73897564.jpg

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.

20140803-203646-74206916.jpg

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!

Peel the Love - Hi-Res

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.

Image 05 - Peel the Love Logo

  • 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

knife_skills_MAIN_170-640x300

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