In Memoriam: Barbara Birkett Small Obituary


With great sorrow, the family of Barbara Birkett Small announces that she has joined her beloved husband Ken in heaven. She passed away while in hospice on February 20, 2022 following a fall at her home in San Andreas from a brain injury and complications from dementia.

Born Barbara Jane Bennett in Long Beach California, November 20, 1934, to Bard Irvington Bennett and Inez Beryl Doty, their first daughter.

Barbara met her first husband, Kenneth Dale Lunan one summer when she was visiting her Uncle Bob and Aunt Marg Doty in Iowa where Ken Lunan of Santa Monica was taking summer classes. They became engaged when they returned home to Southern California in the fall to resume school at UCLA. They were married in Long Beach in 1952. They went camping in lieu of a honeymoon and because of the Korean War they drove across the country to New York where Ken Lunan was stationed for scientific work for the Army. Barbara worked at a Catholic hospital in New York during the Korean War and for a medical laboratory. After the war, they relocated back to Southern California where Ken Lunan resumed his pursuit of his many degrees in science and chemistry, and they reenrolled at UCLA. She supported them both by working at a prestigious private laboratory in Beverly Hills as a phlebotomist and microbiologist where she met many celebrities while collecting their blood samples including the Marx brothers, Sidney Poitier and many others. Barbara made many life long friends in her biology classes at UCLA. Their first daughter Suzanne was born while they lived in Los Angeles, and they moved to Pasadena when Ken Lunan was enrolled in the PhD program at Cal Tech University when their second daughter Heather was born. When Ken graduated with his PhD in biochemistry, he was offered a job at Stanford research Institute and they moved the family to Sunnyvale, California.

Barbara was busy with family’s many camping and backpacking trips, sailing their 22’ Catalina in the San Francisco Bay and lakes throughout California, and in the Sea of Cortez. She supported her daughters in the local Brownies and Girl Scouts troops, she was the president of the PTA, and ran the library at Raynor Elementary school. Barbara and Ken Lunan took many classes on sailing and joined the Power Squadron.

Following her divorce from Ken Lunan, she worked at a local real estate office, Sunnyvale Realty. She met her second husband, Evelyn Bateson Birkett III, at a Power Squadron dance and they married at St. Lukes Episcopal Church in San Francisco, where Bateson attended and sang in the choir.  They enjoyed dancing together and going to the Symphony in San Francisco, spending summers in the Delta on Bateson’s classic 54’ Chris Craft cabin cruiser, Cavalier III, and cruises and lunch parties on San Francisco Bay. She was sadly widowed after only 3 years of marriage when Bateson died suddenly from cancer. 

Barbara and her daughter Heather moved to San Francisco in 1981 and lived aboard Cavalier berthed at the St Francis Yacht Club. After Heather‘s graduation from high school, Barbara sold Cavalier and they moved into an apartment on Chestnut Street.

Barbara continued to attend St. Luke’s Church and in 1987 married Kenneth Thomas Small, who was a dear friend of her late husband, Bateson, and who sang with them in the St. Luke’s Choir. Barbara and Ken Small moved to an apartment on Russian Hill and Barbara began working for the city and County of San Francisco, first in their certification department, and then as a business analyst where she made many wonderful and dear friends, including her dear friend Tobe Bassoir (Katrin) whom she called the daughter of her heart. Barbara and Ken enjoyed travels to England and Canada and frequent visits to their timeshare in Lake Tahoe. They had season tickets to the San Francisco 49ers, the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera, where Ken Small performed as a child. Ken was a soloist for the Oakland Symphony chorus, and for Congregation Sherith Israel and Temple Emanu-El, and she attended all of his performances. They continued to sing together in the choir at St. Luke’s, where they had many loving friends in the congregation and especially in the choir. The St. Luke’s choir was very active and performed many celebrated concerts throughout San Francisco and made many recordings. They enjoyed playing cribbage, gin rummy, and Spite and Malice, watching the San Francisco Giants games, fine dining in San Francisco, especially at the House of Prime Rib where they had a cocktail every Thursday evening before choir rehearsal, and many wonderful meals from her kitchen as she was an accomplished cook and an exquisite hostess. They had many Superbowl parties with their friends, and family dinners with her daughters and Ken’s children and their families from his first marriage. They loved celebrating every Christmas with dinner in their Larkin Street home with their daughters and with their cherished friends, Bill and Sue Blomberg, and especially the party Sue Blomberg held for the St. Luke’s choir every Christmas Eve.

Upon her retirement, Barbara and Ken moved to their quail hollow home among the oak trees in San Andreas. They enjoyed the quiet country life together, always snuggling on the couch like newlyweds, listening to the Met opera broadcasts, and watching sports on television. Cooking, gardening and birdwatching were her passions. She loved researching family genealogy which went back to Edward Doty on the Mayflower, and staying connected with her first cousins in Harkers Creek West Virginia and their genealogy society. They celebrated 29 loving years together before Ken’s passing in 2013 of Alzheimer’s. She never left his side during his illness, and, after his death, never stopped missing Ken and her thoughts were always about him.

In 2014, her daughter Suzanne joined her in San Andreas and they enjoyed watching the birds and wildlife in the garden that she created and lovingly tended, cooking together, watching baseball, and playing with their cat Christopher. Sadly, in 2015 she developed dementia but still enjoyed being in her beautiful home and garden until her passing.

In addition to her beloved daughters, Suzanne Lunan and Heather Lunan she is survived by her brother Bard Bennett (Linda) and her sister Belinda Eastwood (David), and their children, her nephews Rob Watson (Patty) and Scott Watson, and David’s daughters Stephanie Scott (Jim), and Carrie Eastwood, who passed in 2017. She loved her family and always wished that they weren’t so separated by geography.

There will be a private ceremony and scattering of her ashes on the San Francisco Bay. She was so loved and will be eternally missed. Life is what you make of it, so live, laugh, love.  

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Cold Snap in SF and Tuna Primavera Casserole

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Yesterday was a wild spring day in San Francisco! When I woke up the windows were rattling, as sash windows do when it’s over 35 MPH, and the sky was looking decidedly dark. It was 45 F out, which is pretty cold here, and they said rain was coming so I put on lots of layers and my waterproof parka and headed to work. On the bus almost to Market Street I heard strange noises and realized it was rain and sleet!  People were scattering on the street for doorways like leaves in a strong wind. I have a 15 minute walk from the bus stop and so I zipped up tightly and headed off the bus, so grateful I was wearing my extra warm and fluffy Russian mohair shawl under all parka as it was verging on hail.

It was too windy for most of the walk to use the umbrella but the hooded parka was a blessing, for my upper half! I had soggy pants and shoes for the morning, alleviated by hot tea.  It did clear up to be sunny but icy cold and as the day wore on I really wanted to go home and make comfort food. I stopped at the FiDi Target and got some milk, broccoli, and fresh spinach, and a bottle of white wine.  On the way home I hit upon the idea of the ultimate comfort food, tuna noodle casserole, but I would add veggies, because I don’t eat enough of them, much to my shame, it’s hard to shop when we have bad weather and one  is on a budget.

Years ago my friend Pat shared her recipe on our recipe swap, and it was just like what my mom used to make. I had it bookmarked on my cell phone so I texted my sister while I was on the bus. What a fun exchange we had, remembering these great dishes when we were so very poor, and being forced to do the dreadful task of “just making a salad”.  My sis suggested putting breadcrumbs with Parmesan on top. I recalled that I had a little bit of buttery tasting club crackers in the breadbox, and we agreed that would work well.  She liked the vegetable addition idea and that reminded me of the necessity for peas, which happily I had in the freezer.  I also found a packet of fancy orecchiette pasta from Trader Joes, plus a can of their very fancy tuna.

I chopped the broccoli up a bit finer and sauteed the florets in butter, then added the damp, rinsed spinach, and a splash of the Pinot Gris. Once they were done, I added the peas, the milk, and the canned soup – this is how mom made it and nostalgia demanded I not deviate, although I could have easily rehydrated some mushrooms and made a bechamel. Sometimes comfort food’s appeal is that it is fast and easy, and I am fond of the cream of mushroom soup ubiquitous from my childhood.  I bashed up the club crackers and some good grated Parmesan using the wine bottle and a small ziplock bag and they were sprinkled on over the sauced orecchiette pasta.

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While the casserole baked I watched Mind of Chef and amused myself by the comparison of David Kinch’s exquisite cuisine compared to my humble tuna primavera casserole. I also knitted myself a mini cat in Kuma colors, which just made me grin so much, I even stuffed him so that he’s a bit plump like his namesake.

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The timer rang and the tuna primavera casserole was done! I scooped up a bowlful, poured some wine, and had a relaxing evening with Kuma at my side, coziness and comfort food moment achieved.

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Printable Recipe: Tuna Primavera Casserole

Soup for a Duvet Day

This Saturday was a mellow day, I lounged around the house doing a bit of cooking, a bit of housework, and a bit of watching Netflix, but mostly I was snoozing on top of the bed while wearing fleecy sweats and wooley socks. When I was describing it to a British colleague he said, oh we call those “Duvet Days”! I love this term so much, I definitely had a wonderful Duvet Day this weekend.

After a slightly boozy cafe mocha or two and some toast while lounging on the duvet, I discovered a delightful Australian drama on Acorn TV which rivals Downton Abbey, set in post World War II in a small town named Inverness near Sidney. “A Place to call Home” has drama, romance, draconian grandmothers, illicit affairs, and blackmail make for perfect Saturday Duvet Days. Around 2 pm I started to feel peckish and nothing in the fridge and pantry terribly inspired me except I knew I had russet potatoes and a tub of sour cream in the fridge for a bodacious baked potato with a ribeye I had thawed that morning. But I really didn’t feel like having a steak for some reason, it felt like too much work and I really just wanted soup, and then I remembered the first dinner I ever made my family.

Growing up with my mom and sister being such amazing cooks, I learned a lot perched by their elbows. Even my father was a good cook and made what he called Turkey Bone soup after Thanksgiving every year, and blueberry pies in the summer. My mom had tons of lovely cookbooks, and I would take a pile of them and lie on my stomach on the cool tile floor of the entry hall to read. The light slanted in from the tall vertical pebbled windows surrounding the front door to the courtyard with the perfect brightness for reading and yet I was out from underfoot and could be left alone in peace. While reading, I would image what everything would taste like and wonder if we had the ingredients to make these things, and made a list of things I had never heard of before to ask mom later, or realize with a loud internal “AHA! *that’s* where mom got that recipe!” when I saw something utterly familiar. The Spice Islands Cookbook was a family favorite, the majority of the pages were spotted with stains and the book would fall open to those family favorites when the pages were ruffled.

One recipe caught my attention, Sour Cream Potato Soup, because I always loved baked potatoes, *and* it had cumin, my absolute favorite spice. I remember looking through the kitchen and realizing everything I needed was there, and it didn’t sound hard, and maybe mom would let me cook it for dinner. I was so excited about it, and yet it was just a small pot of soup, but my family was very kind about it and it really did taste good.


(A humble soup and yet so flavorful and unusual)

The purpose of the cookbook was to highlight the products made by Spice Islands, and to introduce spices to 50s housewives who were not terribly adventurous in the culinary department.  It is quite a varied cookbook in terms of cuisines and countries, since the spices are mostly sourced from “exotic locales”.  The recipes come out quite well using dried spices and herbs, which in the long ago pantries of bored housewives or wintertime, even in San Francisco, can be handy when fresh things are limited, or when one can’t be bothered to get out of pajamas to go grocery shopping.

I peeled a few potatoes and diced them, and assembled all of the soup ingredients while waiting for the dishwasher to finish its cycle.  Diced potatoes are simmered in a beef broth until tender, then mashed in the pan with a potato masher, which is very appealing to an 8 year old.  Cumin, beau monde seasoning, and black pepper are added to the pot, then cream thickened with arrowroot, and finally sour cream are stirred in.  A final handful of chervil finishes the soup, but I never seem to have chervil around, so fresh parsley made do. I had some turkey broth leftover from the Thanksgiving carcass so this time I used half turkey and half beef broth.

Another nap happened upon me while the soup was cooking, so I perked myself up to finish the cooking with a restorative cup of tea.  The soup was quickly ready, and as it was after 5:00 pm I had a tot of whiskey to wash down my initial mug of soup.  Another dram of whiskey and another mugful of soup made me feel so happy and content with the world and it tasted just as good as I remembered.

Next time you have a Duvet Day I hope you try making a pot of this soup.

Recipe:  Sour Cream Cumin Potato Soup

 

Fleet Week Airshow Picnic

October is a special time for San Francisco as Fleet Week is finally here and we get a respite from the summer fog and cold in what we call our “native summer”. This weekend was one of the prettiest weekends I have ever seen for Fleet Week, the sky was so blue and clear, and the air was warm, like San Diego warm.

My view #picnic #lazysunday
(perfect blue skies)

Besides the parade of ships, ship tours, safety and disaster recovery demonstrations, the Naval band, and the North Beach parade, Fleet Week features a thrilling airshow by a variety of amazing precision flying teams, culminating in the Blue Angels. I have always loved watching the blue and gold planes streak through the skies of San Francisco, flying right over my apartment building, over the Bay, through Downtown, they’re screaming loud but it is so thrilling.

I have watched the airshow from a variety of places over the years, from the Marina Green, the retaining wall at the entrance of the Marina, Aquatic Park, on the Hyde Street hill, and of course, from the water on friends’ boats. A few years back my dearest sisterfriend and I found the perfect spot to watch the airshow from a local park on top of Pacific Heights. Our annual picnic there has become a happy tradition, despite the Parks and Rec Department heavily watering the grass each year the night before.

This year, I brought one of my giant blue camping tarps, which held away the soggy field from our backsides for a little while but it was not impermeable. We were far better off than everyone else who were unprepared for the squish factor!

I was able to try out my new picnic basket, and it performed like a champ.  People back in the day really knew how to build a picnic basket and this one is amazing.  The hard wood top folds back completely flat, perfect to hold the glasses for our Aperol spritzes.  Inside the basket is a suspended divider, which is where I perched the tray of warm crispy oven baked chicken pieces, while the rest of the basket held my chill bag, which kept the zucchini and cucumber tiger salad  and grapes nice and cool.  The removable divider flips over to become a little tray table for the picnic blanket, how perfect is that?  It held everything:  the cutlery, plates, my mini cutting board kit from the SF Opera in the Park days, serviettes,  champagne glasses, the works.  I am so over the moon happy with this basket.

What a beauty! A gift from a nice man. Time to plan a picnic!!
(my new vintage picnic basket, a gift from a nice man)

Our menu:

  • Crispy oven baked chicken
  • Roasted sausages with sourdough bread and all the fixings
  • Zucchini and cucumber tiger salad with shiso dressing
  • Fresh green salad with yuzu dressing
  • Bunches of chilled red grapes
  • Veggie sticks and hummus
  • Sharp cheddar for snacking
  • Assorted chips
  • Juice boxes for the kids
  • Aperol spritzes for the adults

The chicken I made for the picnic is from a recipe from my dearest friend L’s mom.  Since I was a baby, her mom and my mom would take turns making lunches for our families when we got together for sailing trips, Christmas tree hunting, pumpkin patch forays, or various camping trips.  L’s mom used to make this amazing baked chicken with an unusual breading of wheat germ and sesame seeds and it was always my favorite.  It has been years since I have made it for myself, or anyone else and it is the perfect picnic food.  It fit in perfectly with the non-specific Asian zucchini tiger salad recipe I wrote about previously.  This year, I added cucumber to the tiger salad in lieu of the fennel and it was fantastic.  We ate so much that we didn’t even miss dessert other than the grapes, we completely forgot to make something.  Next year, however, we will have brownies or some other evil treat.

Aperol spritz
(Aperol spritz time!)

We lazed about on our vast blue tarp, which we covered in colorful fabrics and sarongs, and over the course of the next four hours we enjoyed our lunch and the warm air, people watching, and fending off tickle attacks from the boys and various dogs who were highly intent upon sampling our chicken and sausages.  The ladies played around with our new nail art stamping plates and nail vinyls, and looked at gorgeous photos from the Homecoming dance the night before.  We also did watch the amazing planes and their pilots zoom around, there were lots of time between the various displays to enjoy our lunch and each other.  The Breitling team and the Blue Angels were especially thrilling this year!

I hope the “native summer” returns for another weekend as I would like to use my beautiful picnic basket again. It being California, odds are that it will.

Recipes:      Crispy Oven Baked Chicken

Zucchini Tiger Salad with Shiso Dressing

Aperol Spritz

Asparagus and Potato Tart for a Party

It was the 4th of July and I was in such a happy mood! I was having a lot of fun around that time, walking all around town with no pain, meeting fabulous new people, seeing friends I love dearly, and just enjoying my life.

On the 4th, some dear friends had a potluck for the holiday, and I wanted to bring something absolutely beautiful and yet utilize what I had in my pantry.

As I assessed my inventory, I found a lovely sheet of puff pastry in the freezer, I have some beautiful Yukon Gold potatoes, some fresh herbs, and Gruyere cheese. I went off to the store and bought some additional fresh produce and things for the weekend and picked up a bundle of asparagus.

The morning before the party, I fired up the oven and boiled the potatoes, and once they were cool I sliced them and seasoned them well with Kosher salt. Meantime, I rolled out the puff pastry and cut it into a square, then created edges with the scraps. I brushed the bottom of the pastry inside the square with a little mustard, followed by some sour cream.

The sliced potatoes went on next, followed by a hearty layer of Gruyere, then the asparagus which were topped with a little more cheese, salt and pepper, and some leaves of fresh thyme.  30 minutes later, it looked perfect!

The party was a really fun time, seeing my friends and having a foggy and drizzly afternoon celebrating our country’s 240th birthday!  The tart was a huge success and was quickly decimated to crumbs. We escaped the fog after the food was devoured into the warm house with large glasses of bourbon to spur our conversations.  I plan to make this tart again for a picnic this weekend, hope you try it sometime too!

 

Recipe:  Asparagus, Potato and Gruyere Cheese Tart

 

Orange Scented Memories

My office offers fresh fruit every week and this week the fruit bowl is loaded with mini seedless tangelos, and fat, heavy naval oranges, both deeply orange and tangy.

I cracked a tangelo open and peeled it, trying to peel it in one long peel, and the aroma wafted up.

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Suddenly I was taken back to my first home where we had a navel orange tree. I spent many fond years on the teak bench my father built on the edge of the patio under the shade of the orange tree.  I would perch there to eat the bright juicy fruit still warm from the sun.  We almost lost the tree one year because the baby rabbit my sister found on the edge of the high school’s wilderness area (a space with examples of each California ecosystem, built by my sister and other students) developed a taste for the orange tree bark and almost girdled it.  We weaned him off his destructive habits by feeding him regular handfuls of orange and lemon leaves as a treat.

My mom used to make fancy cakes decorated with chocolate leaves using the orange tree leaves as a mold.  I would be sent out to the yard to pluck young, perfectly sized and smooth orange leaves, and would be tasked with carefully washing and drying them. Once they were perfectly dry we would paint them with tempered dark chocolate and chill them, and later, slowly, peel off the leaf to reveal a perfect chocolate form.

When my mom remarried, we picked orange blossoms and created fancy rings of ice adorned with the blooms to float in the punch bowl for the wedding reception.  Grandmother sadly needed to be moved to the East Coast to live with my aunt, so we stripped the tree of oranges to ship back with them, a last taste of California and nostalgia.

These days, living in my current apartment high above the streets, I keep a copy of Cross Creek by the bathtub for languorous bubble bath reading, and recall the scent of orange blossoms floating in the night.  I long for that orange tree, as I buy outrageously priced organic citrus from various places and slice long curls of the peel to drape over the rim of my Negroni at home, and then eat fat wedges of the cut orange the next morning. They never seem to taste quite as heavenly as the one in that childhood home though, the memory of oranges is stronger.

 

Why Pay $11 for Avocado Toast?

San Francisco is the land of outrageously expensive toast.

Last year the internet trended with articles about $4 toast or $6 toast but the fervor over avocado toasts has reached hysterical heights.

I visited the Ferry Building, as I often do, and tried out one of the most outrageously expensive avocado toasts in the city at Frog Hollow.  Admittedly, it was divine.  The avocado was perfectly ripe, the bread had the perfect chewiness and toasted not too hard to become too difficult to bite through, causing a cascade of luscious avocado slices to slide off onto your black pants.  A hint of garlic overlays the bread, and the entire toast is dappled with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

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This beauty comes in at $10.99.

While it is awesome to be like one of the cool kids and fork out two fins and a buck for someone else to make me lunch, I would rather reduce my wallet at the market and shop for the ingredients and make avocado toast myself.

Let’s do the math.

 Grocery Store cost ingredient outlay  At home per toast cost
Acme Herb Slab loaf = 4 servings                       4.99  1 serving           1.25
Avocado each                       1.50  1 avocado           1.50
Stonehouse olive oil, house blend liter = 67 Tbl.                     14.00  1 Tbl.           0.21
Garlic head = 10 cloves                       0.96  1 clove           0.10
Maldon salt box = 8.5 oz                       5.99  1/2 tsp.           0.06
McCormick’s black pepper in grinder grinder = .85 oz                       4.29  1/4 tsp.           0.02
 Total                      31.73             3.13

I used Instacart to price out the ingredients at Whole Foods, while knowing that if I shopped at the farmer’s market or at the Ferry Building I would have received a discount for paying cash for the bread, and the other ingredients can be found cheaply depending upon which farm you source the avocados and garlic.

Last Saturday at the Ferry building I bought a loaf of Marla Bakery’s molasses oatmeal bread ($5), a head of garlic ($.25), and two avocados ($3), and made avocado toast at work on Monday. This delay was necessitated by the ripeness of the avocados.

If you haven’t tried Marla’s molasses oatmeal bread as toast you need to rectify this immediately.  I do feel slightly ashamed for not baking my own oatmeal molasses bread, as I often do, but I had a busy weekend.  I used salt, pepper, and a small bottle of olive oil from the office kitchen and the toaster and made this:
Fast avocado toast

I was in a hurry and didn’t take the beautiful care to arrange the avocado like the staff at Frog Hollow, and my slice of bread got a little trashed during my morning commute on MUNI, but nonetheless, it tasted fantastic and I was the envy of my boss and coworkers.  And I saved $7.86.

The only vaguely tricky part is getting a ripe avocado, so I recommend visiting a farmer’s market and asking the farm to help you pick an avocado out.  They can advise you when it will be ripe to eat, and usually they are spot on.

Enjoy your avocado toast!

Recipe: Not Insanely Priced Avocado Toast

 

 

My Favorite Breakfast

biscuits-gravy

Weekends are when I have time for a leisurely morning at home. I like to putter through my apartment sipping espresso, doing random tidying and half listening to my morning playlist of Tame Impala and Parisian bistro music. At some point I realize I truly am hungry and enter the kitchen in earnest looking for something delicious yet soothing.

I truly do miss having poached eggs at times, except for the unfortunate side effect of, you know, death, should I ingest an egg.  However, I still crave that creamy, soft comfort food kind of dish that appeals on a lazy morning. And the answer to that craving now for me is biscuits and gravy.

My first experience with biscuits and gravy was a truck stop at the base of the Grapevine on I-5.  I was with my mom and we were heading to LA to visit grandma.  In our family, a road trip meant that we had to pack the car and depart usually before 5:30 am. I have no idea why this insanity was inflicted upon us poor kids and my poor mom, but there you are, up at at ’em, bleary eyed well before the break of dawn, and completely ravenous by the time the Grapevine rose up ahead of us at the end of the San Joaquin Valley.

At the truck stop, an actual trucker in a John Deer hat (or something like it) was chowing down on a massive plate of a fried ham steak, eggs, and something I didn’t recognize but needed to know more about, and it turned out to be biscuits and gravy.  I have been hooked ever since.

Mom’s sausage gravy is a winner, with an entire pound of good breakfast sausage skinned of their casings and browned in a skillet, flour added to the scant amount of fat left in the pan after draining, and whole or skim milk stirred in vigorously.  This was all taking place while buttermilk biscuits were rising in the oven.  My job was to make mom her coffee, a pour over in a Melita cone, and to set the table and to fend off the cat from eating the slices of cantaloupe set out on a small bowl on each placemat.

These days, I have perfected an egg-free biscuit recipe, and during this time of year when morels are popping up all over the place, I have made morel gravy instead of sausage gravy.  Add a glass of prosecco and some espresso topped with bourbon whipped cream, a couple of biscuits and gravy are the perfect prelude to an epic post-breakfast nap, preferably with a James Bond movie on TV.

Whether you have access to morels or another mushroom, or prefer sausage, I hope you try this comforting breakfast dish, with or without a John Deere hat.

Recipe:  Sour Cream Biscuits with Sausage Gravy (with Morel Gravy option)

 

 

Shroomasagna!

GiftBasket
Last month at a dinner meeting of the Mycological Society of San Francisco I was the fortunate winner of a raffle, which was a rather huge basket of gourmet mushrooms from Mycopia Mushrooms in Sebastopol. The beautiful wicker basket was stuffed with five of their mushroom varieties: Trumpet Royale, Velvet Pioppini, Forest Nameko, Alba Clamshell and Brown Clamshell. One of these mushrooms, the Forest Nameko mushroom, was one I had not tried before.  It is a beautiful walnut brown color cap with a gelatinous texture on a long stem.  I put some in a wonderful miso soup but the texture of the mushrooms, which is vaguely slippery, was not one of my favorites, but the flavor was wonderful.

 

 

The remainder of the glorious mushrooms in the basket were incorporated into a mushroom lasagna that a friend and I made for our weekly “friends who are family” dinner, and out of all of the various lasagnas I have made over the years, this one was by far my absolute favorite. We served the “Shroomasagna” with a simple salad of romaine, halved seedless Thompson grapes, and a light vinaigrette of apple and balsamic vinegars, chased with glasses of chilled rosé. It was hard to wait for the lasagna to cool enough to slice!

I did not snap a photo this in all of its sliced glory, so you may just have to make a batch for yourself sometime.  It was really, really good.

Recipe:   Gourmet Mushroom Lasagne (Shroomasagna)

 

The Flame of Love and Tall Tales

I was at Whitechapel the other night, enjoying a lovely cocktail and the ambiance of this great new watering hole. We were discussing the merits and qualities of various gins and watching an incredible bartender flame orange peels for the Penny Dreadful, my latest cocktail obsession.

The aroma and wild flaming action of the orange peel brought back a memory of another night, sitting at a bar in North Beach, chatting with an older bartender. He told me about his working the bar at a private party at Dean Martin’s home. Imagine, making cocktails for Dean Martin or even being at one of those epic parties… the mind boggles.

As he crafted me a cocktail, he told me about how bored Dean was getting with martinis and how he was listening to the other members of the Rat Pack talk and sing, and when Tom Jones chimed in with song, inspiration struck. The bartender created the Flame of Love cocktail. He filmed a coupe with fino sherry, then stirred a vodka until very chilled and poured that into the glass, and then flamed 3 strips of orange into the glass.  He flamed the orange peels for me at this point in his story and I was hooked.  It was very dramatic and aromatic and something I will never tire of watching.

I sat and sipped this divine concoction in the dimly bar, chatting with this charming older gentleman about old Hollywood and the stars of the day, trading tales of meeting this person and seeing that person, but really, who can top the Rat Pack with Tom Jones?

The last time I went to the restaurant the bartender was no longer there and the current staff did not know about the Flame of Love. A little research revealed that the cocktail is the creation of Pepe Ruiz. I searched for images of Mr. Ruiz and realized that the bartender who told me this story was not Mr. Ruiz and that it was all, sadly, a tall tale.  Whoever that bartender was, despite not creating the Flame of Love himself, his company, the story, and the evening were enchanting. There are many tall tales in San Francisco, and while some of them are real, most of them are perfect for passing the evening, sipping something divine.

Recipe:  Flame of Love Cocktail