Monthly Archives: May 2010

Rainy Day Hummus

If April showers bring May flowers, what does a May storm bring?

It’s a very soggy day, shocking because it is almost June, and despite the chill rain outside it is warm and cozy inside the Roost. My cupboards are a little bare however, and I was not inclined to venture out in the storm to go to Trader Joe’s for groceries, despite a strong craving for TJ’s white bean hummus.

This craving actually set upon me last night, but I did find a bag of small white beans in the pantry and set aside a small amount to soak.

This morning’s gloom strengthened my resolve to emulate sloth-like behavior, so I started making preparations for my own white bean hummus.

First the beans. Hummus is traditionally made with chickpeas or garbanzo beans, and it is delicious, however I have come to prefer the smooth, silky, pale white bean hummus that is sold at TJ’s, topped with olive oil, spices and herbs. But it’s not cheap, and added to the inconvenience of slogging through the rain to shop, I knew I had everything I needed at home to make my own. Instead of using more expensive canned beans, which one can certainly do, I prefer to cook my own beans. These home cooked beans have so much more flavor than any canned bean could ever impart.

I soaked the beans overnight in my largest pot filled with cool water and a palmful of Kosher salt.

This morning, I drained and rinsed the beans, and in a 3 quart pan sauteed a few slivers of red onion, Mexican oregano and a bay leaf in olive oil. The beans went in and were covered with cold water plus another inch above the level of the beans. I simmered them on medium low heat until they were tender but still intact. This time, the simmering time was 65 minutes. It really depends upon how big your beans are, and upon how old they are. The bag in my pantry was of unknown provenence, so they needed a bit extra time. Rancho Gordo beans from Rainbow or flajolets from Tierra Vegetables at the farmers market take anywhere from 35-45 minutes to cook fully into tender, succulent, beany morsels.

I let the beans cool off heat in the pan while I puttered about the Roost (applying for a zillion jobs online, actually).

Nearer to lunchtime, I uncrossed my eyes and set out to finish the hummus. I pulled out my Cuisinart and arranged my mis en place for the recipe. I cannot emphasize enough how essential it is for me to set out all the ingredients I need for a recipe before I start cooking and to reread the recipe. This saves me so much time during cooking, prevents mistakes and those “oops” moments where you realize the recipe requires you to do something the night before, or has to rest an hour after cooking when you are on a deadline.

Since I make hummus fairly regularly I no longer refer to a recipe but measured everything today for this article. Hummus is composed of beans, tahini, a clove of garlic, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, water or bean cooking liquid, cumin, salt, pepper, Aleppo pepper or cayenne and olive oil. If you don’t have a Cuisinart you can use a blender.

I minced the garlic, and added the tahini and the beans, lifted out of their cooking water with a slotted spoon.

The Cuisinart went on and beautifully pureed everything to a smooth paste. I then added olive oil, cumin, salt, black pepper, a shake of Aleppo pepper and the lemon juice and turned the machine back on to blend. Then, I tasted it for salt and lemon and this time added another lemon because I like my hummus fairly tangy and the Meyer lemons I was using are sweet and mild. With the machine running I added a bit of the bean liquid to loosen the mixture to a nice soft consistency. That’s it!

Besides cooking the beans, the total preparation time for hummus takes under 5 minutes and will cost you a quarter of the prepared hummus retail price.

Half of the hummus went into a tub and chilled in the refrigerator. The other half became my lunch. I spread the hummus in a pretty bowl and swirled some olive oil on top. I sprinkled on some cumin, Aleppo pepper, paprika and crunchy Maldon sea salt and sat down with some rustic bread and a handful of spring baby carrots from the farmers market.

The wild parrots kept me company, peeking through the window where they perched soggily on the fire escape, squawking occasionally. The cat lolled lazily on the dhurri next to the window, one eye on the parrots and one eye on me, in case I dropped a morsel. I watched the rain come down in sheets and marveled at the colors of the damp parrot a mere two feet away while I munched and dunked into my beautiful bowl of savory hummus.  It was truly a perfect lunch for a strange weather day.

The recipe…..


A World of My Imagination

One of my enduring happy childhood memories is watching Gene Wilder sing “Pure imagination” in the dark, sticky, dome-like movie theater south of here. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a pivotal movie in my littlehood, and the memory of watching Gene’s crinkly blue eyes and wild hair and groovy clothes while he strolled around his garden of confections clings hard to my subconscious. Hearing him sing this song during a current television commercial brought all those memories flooding back.

My wish then was that such a place was real, where red licorice ropes dripped from trees like Spanish moss, where daffy down dillies were actually tea cups of nectar and where the murky Delta water was a river of chocolate.

Seeing that scene in the movie made me feel safe and comfortable, deep down inside somewhere, with a sense that nothing could get at me or scare me or disrupt my innocence – just me and a giant meringue and jelly-filled mushroom and a suspension of time. The movie was just like the book, only better, and I wanted to crawl through the screen and nestle inside.

After-wards, my world seemed somehow lacking. The colors were murkier, not Technicolor, and the honeysuckle flower I sipped was sweet but not what I imagined. I wanted Gene Wilder’s twinkly eyes to look down on me forever, to take me away from “all this”‘. I had forgotten this feeling, this intense longing, my wish for a safe, happy place, until I heard that song on the television. Every time I hear it now, my heart lightens and for a moment I forget reality and feel uplifted.

I had the great pleasure of meeting and talking to Gene Wilder at a screening of Young Frankenstein. I brought my beloved copy of his novel, “My French Whore” and we chatted a bit. He looked just the same, just a bit grayer and more tired, but then so are we all. It is such an odd phenomenon to feel an emotional connection to an actor who was portraying a fictional character, to a man who won’t ever remember me but whose face is burned into my synapses.

Thinking of Gene and that lovely song brought back another memory I had forgotten. My maternal grandmother didn’t do much in the kitchen, but when I came to visit her and Grandpa as a young child she would always make a point to make me a special Angels food cake. She was not much of a cook. When my mOm was a little girl she had to do most of the cooking or do without, and when Grandpa was home from the Navy he loved to cook. Grandpa taught me quite a few handy things, which I will share with you sometime. But Grandma would cook once in a while and she would make candy occasionally too. She made the most marvelous divinity for my sister, and occasionally, very occasionally, my sis would share a piece. What heaven that little bite of candy was, airy and yet chewy, filled with nuts and so sweet. I think that Grandma’s divinity is why I love Sees Candy’s nougats so much.

I well remember her bread and butter pickles and watermelon rind pickles, and how silly I thought it was that she wanted me to save her the watermelon rinds, until I had a jar of what she had put up.

When I was a little older, I apparently was asking Grandma (and everybody) how to cook things even then, and she shared a few of her recipes with me. She would send me Hallmark cards with recipe cards tucked inside, her cramped, spiky handwritten, closely covered recipe cards with things I have yet to try – peppermint sticks, Swedish fried twists, fruitcake. These recipes, a gold cross pendant and a 70’s color scheme crocheted afghan are all I have to remember Grandma by. Sadly, the secret of her divinity and pickles are lost forever but my sister and I will always have it in our memories.

I haven’t seen anything like Grandma’s Chocolate Mint Sticks any where else, and here it is, just as she wrote it, on both sides of two recipe cards.

Chocolate Mint Sticks


2 oz (2 squares) unsweetened chocolate (Grandma used Baker’s chocolate)
1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1 c granulated sugar
2 oz (generous 1/2 c) walnuts, cut or broken into medium size pieces
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 c all purpose flour
fine breadcrumbs

Adjust a rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven. Preheat to 350 F. Butter a 9″ square cake-pan, dust it with fine breadcrumbs. Invert pan to shake out excess. This has a tendency to stick to pan; using crumbs prevents this)

Melt chocolate and butter in top of a small double-boiler over hot H2O on med-heat. Stir until smooth. Remove to of dbl boiler – set aside to cool slightly.

In small bowl of electric mixer beat eggs until foamy. Beat in salt, vanilla and sugar. Add chocolate mixture (may still be be warm) and beat to mix. On low speed, add flour, scraping bowl with rubber spatula and beating only until mixed. Stir in the nuts.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and spread it to make smooth layer. Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out.

Remove from oven. Cool in pan.

Prepare Mint Icing as follows:


2 T butter, room temp (unsalted)
1 T (or few drops or more) heavy cream
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1 c sifted confectioners sugar

Place all ingredients in small bowl of electric mixer; beat until smooth. It should be thick mixture, not runny. Spread evently over cake in pan. Will be a thin layer.

Place in refrigerator for 5 minutes – no longer.

Prepare glaze as follows:


1 oz (1 square) unsweetened chocolate (Grandma used Baker’s chocolate)
1 T butter (unsalted)

Melt chocolate and butter in top of a small double boiler over hot H2O on medium heat – stir until smooth. Pour hot glaze onto chilled icing and quickly tilt pan in all directions to cover icing completely with glaze – very thin layer, just barely enough to cover. Don’t worry if icing shows through in small spots.

Refrigerate 1/2 hour until glaze looks dull. Cut around cake to loosen edges from pan. Cut in half and then in bars.

May freeze and then serve from freezer.

Makes 32 small bars

I will be thinking of Grandma and Gene as I nibble these, and wish I was sitting on a candy lawn with my cup of tea and the soft splashing of the chocolate waterfall nearby.

Wordless Wednesday

…or why I love living in San Francisco……

Major Buddah
You just never know what you will run across, by turning a corner…

Not A Dirty Little Secret

We all have embarrassing secrets. When the associate home and garden editor at AOL’s design site, Shelter Pop, said they were a fan of my site and asked me to contribute an embarrassing kitchen confession for an article they were compiling I was flattered that they were a fan. After giving it some thought and not considering the repercussions I revealed this:

“I never wash the metal covers under the stove heating element. When it gets really gunky looking I just buy new ones from the hardware store. For the effort it takes to remove the element, scrub the thing and get all the burned gunk off I figure it is well worth the $1.98 per cover a few times a year…. Now my secret’s out!” -Heather in SF

You can read the other kitchen confessions and the commentary they generated.

When it was published I was rather dismayed at the tone of the article, and I guess it is a measure of my naivite that I didn’t anticipate this headline:
“The downright filthy — and completely relatable — things people do in the kitchen.”

As many of you might know I am a stickler at keeping my kitchen clean. Proper kitchen hygene is a bugaboo of mine and dilute hydrogen peroxide solution and bleach wipes are my friend. This is not to say that a few dishes might stay in the sink overnight from time to time, but I am only human.

The real reason why I don’t scrub the drip pans under the electric stove elements is not due to a slovenly nature or laziness, but to something else entirely.

I have ongoing cumulative repetitive motion injuries that affect my arms, hands, neck and upper back. Coping with an injury is never easy but coping with injuries that will not improve more than they have done so at this point and will worsen as long as I make certain movements is quite a challenge, mentally and physically.

I am not embarrassed to admit that motions such as intense scrubbing, chopping, twisting open jars and opening cans and squeezing cause me pain, and then sometimes for days later inflammation, numbness and pain.

I love to cook, and I have great days and not so great days. In order to successfully perform my household chores and pleasures I have developed some coping mechanisms to help on the days when things are ouchy and ways to prevent irritation of this condition.

My situation is mild compared to many out there, so all things considered I realize that I am lucky in many ways. I am able to use a computer and knit, with care and proper ergonomics, and can do many things I love to do. And when I overdo it, I know how to take care of myself. The best response of course is always to respect my limitations and to find smarter ways to accomplish my tasks and chores.

Since so many people are developing “overuse” injuries from computers, gaming and smartphones, I thought I should share my resources and tips.

The most important thing to do is to know your limitations (I am hearing Clint Eastwood in my head as I type this). Pushing yourself too hard or ignoring pain just doesn’t help. If things start to hurt or go numb, stop and either find a way to get the job done another way or see my next point. Plan tasks and activities on days when things are feeling fine, and take shortcuts on the not so good days.

I don’t know why this is so hard for me, but asking for help is such a sensible thing to do. If you can’t do a task yourself, safely or without pain, then find someone who can. Since I’m solo at the moment, this can be a bit of a challenge, especially in the city where no one knows their neighbors. The night I was hankering for a martini and couldn’t uncork the vodka bottle seemed desperate times, until I found some nice folks coming out of the elevator on my floor. They happily helped me out, and I shared the vodka, and the evening turned out to be a festive one. Of course, this was pre-Twitter, I imagine if I had been able to tweet my plight all kinds of interesting things could have happened.

Asking someone to do the chopping or splitting open an acorn squash has an added benefit of teaching others how to cook and to become engaged in creating a meal and fun times with each other.

Every craftsman knows that using a good tool helps get the job done faster. It is no different in the kitchen. I love my kitchen tools, especially ones that help me get dinner on the table when my wrists or other parts hurt.

I have a can opener that is called an EZ Squeeze but it doesn’t work on big cans, and I’m not ready yet to get an electric one. A jar opener from Oxo is very helpful, and a jar “popper” which was a gift and is not branded but it does an amazing job at breaking the vacuum seal on most jars. Oxo has many great products that help in the kitchen, particularly for folks with arthritis.

Of course a Cuisinart is essential for me and I used the MiniChop a lot since chopping by hand is hard. Then last year at Blog Her Food, the kind folks at Cuisinart gifted me with a 4 cup machine, sort of a MiniChop plus, and I use it almost daily. I just tried an Alligator chopper from Williams Sonoma (sort of like an egg slicer but dices, small and large) but it’s hard to push down on and I think doing dicing and chopping with the Mini is easier. An electric mixer, either a stand or hand mixer, is an incredible help. Even for simple batters I use my machines and I am so grateful I have them. I use my microplane grater to finely grate garlic instead of mincing it by hand. I keep my knives super sharp using an electric sharpener. This is a necessary standard in any kitchen because a sharp knife is a safe knife. My biggest helper in the kitchen is my portable dishwasher. This countertop dishwasher has been the best investment. When my injuries were at their worst and I could not wash silverware at all, my darling water saving and energy efficient dishwasher saved the day. Now I don’t have to worry about keeping my kitchen clean. I put everything I can in the machine and let it do its job.

There are just some tasks I just cannot cope with. Heavy scrubbing and scouring is on that list. So, instead of trying to scrub out a spill into the catch pan under the electric heating element on the stovetop, I buy replacement covers from the hardware store. If there is a spill, by the time the heating element has cooled so that I can try to yank it out of there, the drip of sauce or whatever is completely carbonized and superglued on the metal, requiring major soaking and hard scrubbing. I could use oven cleaner on them, but I don’t like using cleaning products that require Hazmat gear, so this is my accomodation. I trade favors with a friend to scrub out my bathtub; I cook dinner or bring a special wine in return. Bending over the sink, stove or countertop can be really uncomfortable. I take a very wide stance, with my feet farther apart than my hips/shoulders and with a straight back bend my knees and therefore lower my body to better suit the work surface height. It may not look lady-like but it really helps reduce strain on my back.

Some days there is no getting around it and overuse means just that. Despite what intellectually you think you are capable of on any given day, if you push past your limitations, or ignore them (oops, guilty), there are things you can do to feel better.

First, and foremost, is rest, rest, rest. Don’t do any irritating repetitive motions of any kind. Give yourself a break! It can be so hard to just stop when you know you have a million things to do, but tell yourself, “my job now is to rest and recover, nothing else.” and then hold to it. If that means takeout or a sandwich for dinner that night, so be it but just rest.

Ice can really help with ouchy parts and to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Icing the affected area for 10 minutes can really help, it is not fun, but it helps. Bagged frozen Lima beans are great ice packs, they hold the cold longer than frozen peas and are moldable around the area that needs icing. I wrap a thin linen or cotton cloth around the bag to protect my skin.

Immersion baths are an effective way to improve circulation to an area, like the hands or wrists. Fill the sink with warm-to-very warm water and then next to the sink place a dishpan or pot with cold water with an ice cube or three. Alternate soaking in the warm then the cold water for 3-5 minutes per basin about 4 times.

An immersion bath of warm water mixed with 1/4 cup Epsom salts, two drops of essential rosemary oil and five drops of lavender oil is also very helpful. If you want to take a full bath, double these quantities and soak for 20 minutes, and be sure to rinse off with tepid water.

Massage, especially trigger point or shiatsu or active release, is wonderful to aid in recovery from injury. It increases circulation, helps lactic acid and toxins to dissipate and helps knotted muscles relax. You need to know what kind of massage you are comfortable with, and having a practicioner who is familiar with repetitive motion injuries is best. When I can afford a massage I consider them as important as any other kind of medical treatment. It may be a bit granola-head of me but I truly believe in the power of hands-on healing via massage, there is just something to it.

NSAIDS like Motrin or Aleve can help if taken at a steady dose for several days in a row to build up the level of the medication in your bloodstream. I am allergic to these so I use alternatives.

I don’t care for Tylenol products because frankly they don’t ever seem to do much for me, but if they work for you, wonderful, just be mindful of how much you take. They are really hard on the liver and there is still debate on how much is “safe” to take. Aspirin, when taken with food in the stomach, is my preferred choice. Aspirin has been around a long time and I found its occasional use to be comforting. Arnica gel or spray is a great option too, and has helped me on many an occasion. My doctor prescribed lidocaine patches which gently adhere to the skin and are left on for 12 hours. This is my last resort pallative but I am very grateful to have a few of these patches on hand when I need them.

My friend The Wheeling Gourmet has a gorgeous site and his recipes and photography are amazing. His section on accommodating a disability in the kitchen has fantastic tips.

So, now my secret is out. I hope you find these tips and treatments helpful if you get or have an injury, so you can keep cooking. What do you do in your kitchen?

DISCLAIMER: The treatments and remedies in this article are what I do to help myself feel better. It is important that you consult with your doctor to find out which treatments or remedies are appropriate for your situation. Everyone is different and you may have special circumstances that require a different approach.

Happiness Is…

… having a wonderful mom in my life.

How many daughters are lucky enough to have a warm, loving, beautiful and supportive mom, who is also a best friend?

I know I am this lucky.

mOm, I love you!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Hats off to Derby Day

May 1st is celebrated in many ways throughout the US: May Day, Maypoles, dancing, ding-dong-ditch with bouquets of flowers, Beltane bonfires and this year the Kentucky Derby, which is always held on the first Saturday of May and it just happened to be on May Day this year. Derby Day is always a favorite event of mine.

My dear friend G___ has graciously opened her home to celebrate the auspicious occasion of the Run for the Roses for many years now, and she always puts on a lavish Southern feast. Her stylish and charming home is filled with great friends clutching monstrous tumblers of mint juleps or flutes of Champagne, her tables and sideboards overflowing with comestibles of every description. Hats are encouraged, although this year I was without, alas. There were a few fine specimens scattered here and there, although nowhere near the spectacle displayed on television.

The highlight of the party, besides G___’s charming conversation and hospitality, is the race itself.  Upon crossing the threshold, G___’s charming beau or her butler-for-the-day presses upon you to blindly select a slip of paper from a porcelain basket with a name of one of the 25 gorgeous beasts running the race that day.

It is incredible how the breeders and owners of the thoroughbred horses can come up with creative and unique names year after year after year. The Kentucky Derby has been run for 135 years and in Kentucky it is *the* social and sporting event of the year. Vast sums of money are spent on the horses and their training, the parties, the dresses, the amazing hats and the wagers on the race. We watched in amazement this year at a man with possibly the world’s worst toupee wagered $100,000 in *cash*, contained in a gleaming golden attache, on a horse called Super Saver. At 18:1 it was a pretty gutsy bet.

No betting is allowed at the party though, however if you selected the winning horse your prize is a bottle of Champagne, so the rooting for *your* horse is loud and impassioned, complete with genteel ribbing along the lines of “my horse looks peppier than your horse”, etc. We gather around the televisions, pretend to know the words to “My Old Kentucky Home” and sing it lustily, wrong words and all, and gasp with amazement and cheer for the longest two minutes of the year.

This year I pulled HomeBoyKris out of the basket, number 19, who placed somewhere around the bottom, sad to say… But Super Saver won! The gentleman with the immense bet did actually win and he was almost levitating with glee. Nothing compares though with the beaming face of Calvin Borel, the winning jockey, and the obvious affection he has for Super Saver as he alternatively stroked the horse’s mane and then pumped his fists in the air in victory.

Before the race started, we gathered around the bar in the kitchen for our choice of libation, and I always prefer a tall mint julep. The butler studiously crushed bag after bag of ice and packed them into highball glasses which were stored in the freezer until needed. The frosty glasses were filled with a dollop of simple syrup then a steady trickle of rich Maker’s Mark bourbon slid between the shards of ice. A large spring of mint leaves were tucked between the ice and the side of the glass and muddled gently. One sips this concoction, slowly, while discussing the merits of your horse, the dichotomy of rain in Kentucky and sunshine in San Francisco, and what delectable dish to start with from the buffet.

Finally, a mint julep!

I arrived a tad early and helped out in the kitchen by frying boneless chicken thighs soaked in buttermilk overnight, dusted with flour and coated with seasoned panko. Crispy, succulent and perfect, we all had to sample a bit of them once they cooled a bit, followed by tidbits of Fire and Ice Pineapple

Meanwhile, G___ had been baking and cooking up a storm and completely outdid herself. She baked tiny corn muffins, made a tangy broccoli and cabbage slaw, a traditional pasta salad with tiny crunchy vegetables, roasted fat asparagus spears with reduced syrupy balsamic vinegar, perfect baked beans, a zippy shrimp étouffée, baked balls of spinach and cheese, and pimento cheese – “the pate of the South” – my personal favorite. There were masses of gorgeous cheeses, a whole spiral glazed ham and tiny rolls to make mini sandwiches, garlic soaked carrots, fat green grapes, and deviled eggs. Can you believe the spread of goodies? It was amazing, and everything was jaw-droppingly delicious.

derby collage 1
(clockwise from top: crunchy fried chicken and a peek at the asparagus; shrimp, chicken and andoille étouffée; the voluptuous ham and rolls; a happy guest’s plate)

And then there were the desserts. The guests were encouraged to bring a dessert to accompany the cut crystal pitchers of G___’s homemade pink lemonade, and they outdid themselves too. Homemade cookies, Dottie’s incredible biscotti, homemade peach and blackberry cobbler, Italian cookies, a blueberry cream cheese crumble from Sweet Things, a fresh fruit topped cheesecake from Tart to Tart, and the best chocolate cake in San Francisco – the devils food ganache cake from Tartine. It was like a bake sale from Heaven.

Derby collage 2
(blueberry cheese crumble cake, Dottie’s biscotti and lemonade, Tartine’s to die for chocolate cake)

After the race we refreshed our drinks, nibbled on desserts and chatted. Invariably I end up in the kitchen with masses of friends, enjoying the breeze from the open windows punctuated by the pop of Champagne corks flying up roof-high from the yard below. It was wonderful to catch up with friends, long-time buddies and new acquaintances, and catch up on the happenings from our last meeting, a few lively discussions of politics and debate on the sad legislature passed in Arizona this week.

It was a beautiful spring day and a great day for a party. Belly methodically packed and a heart full of friendship, I said adieu to my hostess and friends, and sadly relinquished my tenuous grasp on my own southern heritage, and retired for the evening dreaming of roses.

Mint Julep

Happily, one does not have to limit the consumption of a mint julep for the Kentucky Derby. It is a great cocktail for any spring or summer afternoon or evening. Or anytime fresh mint is available! But it is best enjoyed when watching the condensation form on the outside of a tall glass is considered a pleasurable thing. In other words, this might not be the ideal cocktail when the fog is rolling over the City.

A Perfect Mint Julep

Crushed ice
A hefty jigger of bourbon (Maker’s Mark) or 2 1/2 oz
Simple syrup
Mint leaves
“fuzzy water” (sparkling water)

Simple syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

In a sauce pan pour in the water, then the sugar, and heat the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cool and store in a jar or bottle in the refrigerator. Besides being an essential for cocktails, it is handy to sweeten iced tea, should your southern roots demand this kind of thing.

For the julep, pack a tall highball glass with crushed ice. Add a tablespoon of simple syrup and then a full jigger of bourbon. With your fingers, gently crush a large sprig of mint leaves and push them into the glass and muddle gently. Add a few tablespoons of fuzzy water if desired.

Sip slowly. Beware of rapid refills.

As Dorothy Parker said:

“I wish I could drink like a lad.
I can take one or two at the most.
Three and I’m under the table.
Four and I’m under the host”