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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.


Mycological Society of San Francisco


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.


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”

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

Work in Progress: Stinky Bacon Sriracha Wrapped Sweet Peppers


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

Work in Progress:  Stinky Bacon Sriracha Wrapped Peppers

Being Fed By Others

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Deep breaths, think positive, onward.

    Comfort Food – Italian Wedding Soup

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

    Pretty flowers from my office for the memorial. So sweet
    Flowers from my office for the memorial service, so pretty

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

    Me and mOm
    My pretty mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    hal 40th
    My family, from happier days

    Italian Wedding Soup
    printable recipe

    Mangalitsa Pork Loin Extravaganza

    While I was recuperating from pertussis, or whooping cough, I was staying with a very sweet friend during the convalescence period, just in case I kicked off during the night but mostly to alleviate the tedium of being stuck at home from this dread illness.  My friend was quite kind to take me in, and when I was feeling a bit better and my appetite returned, I asked if I could cook dinner one night for her and another understanding friend.

    I was not contagious, just not suitable to be out in public, and completely wiped out from not sleeping more than an hour at a time.  But I could make a simple meal!  Stashed in my freezer from hog butchering season was a loin of pork from a Mangalitsa pig, a very fat and flavorful porcine breed, and the loin had been waiting for a suitable occasion.  With additions from the wonderful delivery service Good Eggs, we also had a gorgeous butternut squash and some fresh asparagus and other herbs that would make perfect accompaniments to the meat.

    I thawed the pork loin and scored the fat in a diamond pattern, and then made a marinade out of salt and pepper, herbs and garlic and a splash of white wine and olive oil.

    Marinating Mangalitsa pork loin, fat side, garlic paste and herbs, paprika
    In my friend’s largest skilled I browned the meat very well.  With the capacious fat cap on the loin there was no need to add any fat, I just allowed the meat to render the savory, hazelnut scented fat to brown the roast.  The aroma that wafted from the kitchen filled the hallway outside my friend’s apartment and the cats were underfoot, constantly meowing hopefully.

    Browning the Mangalista pork loin
    To accompany the roast I halved fat and sassy shallots and then topped them with slabs of peeled butternut squash, and then slathered on the leftover marinade from the pork.  They roasted first for about 40 minutes, and then the browned roast sidled up next to them in the oven to finish off.  I like this kind of cooking, it’s very hands-off and perfect when you are exhausted by life or just feeling lazy.  The house is warm from the heat of the oven and everything feels so very cozy.

    Bed of shallots and butternut for the pork loin, with pork marinade on it
    The pork roast was richly browned and smelled so tempting while it rested a bit before carving.

    Mangalitsa pork loin
    When I sliced the loin you could really appreciate the thick blanket of nutty fat from this special breed of pig.  The trick to a good pork roast is to not cook it to death, just to 160 and then let the meat rest.  The pink hue is due to the pasture raising of the pig and does not mean it is undercooked.  While the meat roasted it bathed the lean loin with its own fat and juices and it is probably one of the most memorable roasts I have ever prepared.

    Mangalitsa pork loin. It's all about the fat.
    We arranged everything on a serving platter, the tender and succulent pork slices on one side, and the meltingly browned, sweet shallots and squash on the other, everything fragrant with herbs.

    Roasted Mangalitsa pork loin, butternut squash and whole shallots
    To offset the richness of the entree I made a light and refreshing salad of shaved fennel, blanched asparagus and herbs, with a creamy chive dressing.  The baby lettuces, arugula, fresh mint, fennel fronds, chives and parsley were washed and spun absolutely dry.

    I shaved a fennel bulb into the salad bowl using a serrated Y shaped peeler, sharper than lemon juice in a paper cut.

    Shaved fennel for herb salad
    It was hard not to snack on the blanched baby asparagus, I cut them into forkable lengths and splashed them briefly into salted, boiling water, then refreshed under cold tap water and drained well on a towel.  *Most* of them made it into the salad.

    Baby asparagus for herb salad
    I tossed everything together gently with my hands and then served separately a little bowl of creamy chive dressing, inspired by the Princess Diana’s favorite salad dressing from her chef at Balmoral Castle, Darren McGrady.

    Herb salad

    Chive cream dressing
    It was a simple dinner to prepare, the hardest part was making the salad.   It was a convivial evening and it felt good to do something to thank my friend for her caretaking of me and to share the rich treat of the Mangalitsa.

    Printer friendly recipe:

    Chive Cream Salad Dressing

    Asian Inspired Soup from Costco Shopping

    My mom visited this weekend and we girded our loins and went to Costco on Sunday. May I suggest that if there is an epic rainstorm in your city and it is the weekend that Costco is probably the worst possible place on earth to be? It was like that World War Z movie but instead of zombies exploding out of the crowd it was surly people viciously jabbing giant shopping carts at other shoppers in mass hordes.

    I hadn’t been there in months and months for a variety of ankle related reasons, so despite the crowds and the overall oppressive and surly attitudes, Mom and I had a good time checking out what was available and picking up some good finds.

    I was quite delighted to find packages of Chinese cured pork sausages, the kind that taste like char siu BBQ pork. In the walk in cooler I found a package of beech mushrooms and my favorite haricot verts and Meyer lemons. Of course, we had to pick up cheese and wine and toilet paper and a few other necessities and checked out all of the kitchen gadgets.

    Once home at my apartment, we watched the the rain bucketing down, which was wonderful because we are in a drought and despite 20 inches falling in Marin that weekend we would still need six more storms of this level to take us out of drought situation this year. For dinner, given we were both not terribly hungry, I concocted an Asian inspired soup from the goodies from Costco, plus a few items in the pantry and from my last produce CSA box.

    Very happy with this pork soup that I made for mom tonight #thisissoupweather

    The soup only took 30 minutes or so to put together and we watched the Olympics and caught up on Downton Abbey until dinnertime. I am taking the leftovers to work for lunch this week, which makes me terrifically sharp at watching the clock, or checking this site often.

    Asian Inspired Soup

    1 pork chop, diced
    2 Chinese cured pork sausages, sliced
    1 Tbl grapeseed oil
    2 Tbl chopped ginger
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    1 cup dry sherry
    1 quart of pork stock (from 4505 Meats) or chicken stock
    2 cups of water
    1/4 cup soy sauce
    2 Tbl fish sauce
    1 stalk of lemongrass, crushed
    1 bunch of green onions, sliced
    2 cups of beech or other mushrooms (sliced if they are large)
    1 cup green beans, cut into 1″ lengths
    2 bunches of spinach, stems removed
    Juice of 1/2 a Meyer lemon
    1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
    1/3 package of rice noodles, cooked in boiling water per the directions, drained and rinsed with cold water
    Cilantro for garnish

    In a soup pot over medium high heat, heat the oil and brown the pork chop pieces and the Chinese cured pork sausages. Add garlic and ginger and saute for 2 minutes. Pour in sherry and scrape the bottom of the pan and let reduce for 5 minutes. Add pork stock, water, soy and fish sauces, lemongrass and the Sichuan peppercorns and bring to a boil. Toss in the green beans, mushrooms and the white parts of the green onions and turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the spinach and stir, simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, my soup needed a bit more salt and I added the lemon juice and the green onion tops right at the end.

    To serve, add a heap of the cooked rice noodles to each soup bowl, ladle in the hot soup and top with handfuls of fresh cilantro.

    Printer Friendly Recipe here

    I am so glad my mom came in for the weekend to stay with me, despite the rain.  It was so lovely to catch up on things, do a little shopping and errands together and enjoy each other’s company.  Since my stepdad passed away it seems time is very precious and every moment we get to spend with family and friends feels that much more important, even if only shared over a fast bowl of soup.

    Under the Calamansi Tree

    As a California girl I grew up with the ubiquitous citrus trees in the yard; everyone had citrus coming out of their ears in my neighborhood. Our lunch boxes were stuffed with giant naval oranges, every mom’s kitchen had bowls of lemons and limes everywhere that were deployed for sherbets, and every kid on my block would set up a lemonade and limeade stand in the driveway.  I used to lie under the orange tree when it bloomed to just inhale the sweet fragrance.   Mom used to paint orange or lemon leaves plucked from the trees with melted chocolate and then slowly peel off a perfect glossy leaf to make decorations for our summer cakes. One horrible year our rabbit almost killed our trees by nibbling away all the bark, almost girdling them. It was a close call but we caught him and put him back in his hutch with a branch of leaves as an apology for his ongoing confinement. You just can’t trust a rabbit.

    Photo from Wikipedia Commons

    Photo from Wikipedia Commons

    What we didn’t have, however, was a calamansi tree.  The Citrofortunella microcarpa, aka the Calamondin or calamansi is a tiny green/orange marble-shaped citrus fruit that tastes like a cross between an orange and a lime, and is most commonly used in Filipino cuisine.   I first got to try this charming citrus varietal during my working days at the Bank. My coworkers, who were Filipino, had weekly potlucks with lots of halved calamansi to squirt over our adobo and pancit and as a flavoring in desserts. This group loved to cook and loved to have parties and I was instantly smitten with their cuisine and their beloved calamansi lime.

    I forgot about the rare calamansi until years later when I was at the Russian festival and one of the volunteers gave me a shot of a unique sour orange infused vodka. Served ice cold in tiny shot glasses the stuff was lethal and the guy explained that he found a tiny tree growing these strange round mini oranges in his back yard of his new home in Daly City.  They looked like oranges but were so tart and aromatic, so naturally he made vodka with them. What else? He didn’t know what they were called but I knew they looked familiar to me.  It was such a puzzle.

    Fast forward again to a month ago when food blogger Gapultos of Burnt Lumpia. was touring his new Filipino cookbook, The Adobo Road. It was a wonderful event and the book is really exciting, a mix of traditional Filipino recipes with local California ingredients and a modern edge.  Of course Marvin’s delicious food was served and much to my delight decorating his noodles were a few halves of calamansi!


    (you will want to buy this)

    One taste and suddenly everything clicked. I remembered the fruit from the bank and from the vodka tasting booth and I think I might have shouted, “That’s it!!!”   I relayed this all to Marvin and we had a good chuckle.

    I have been meaning to shop in the Mission and pick up a bag of calamansi so that I can cook some of Marvin’s recipes and also infuse some vodka of my own, but again, the thought slipped my mind. However, today, my coworker brought me a treat from her weekend visit home where her grandparents were visiting from the Philippines – she brought me a bag of calamansi!


    I was so excited! I dashed to the kitchen immediately and sliced up a few to add to my ice water. The bright flavor really perked up the stuffy afternoon. We are going through a mild heat wave and the chilled citrus tang in cool water was a most welcome treat.

    A chilly treat

    When I got home I washed them and piled them in my favorite souffle pan, which doubles as my fruit bowl. Humming my version of the song from Dr. No I started perusing my other Filipino friends’ blogs for recipes using calamansi.

    “Underneath the calamansi tree me honey and me can watch for the moon…..”

    (apologies to Diana Coupland)

    My coworker had suggested making a syrup from the calamansi or just squeezing the juice and freezing it.  This bowl of calamansi is especially ripe so I must work with them quickly and I plan to zest them with my microplane grater before juicing them.  One idea I bookmarked for the juice is a marinade with soy sauce and garlic for pork or beef.  Another popular use is squeezed over fried or grilled fish.  This made me think about the delicious shrimp poke I had over the weekend with D___, wouldn’t a shrimp cervice with calamansi be delicious?  I am working on a recipe for this.

    I came across Jun’s calamansi whiskey sour.  I just happened to have everything required and it was perfect (thanks Jun!) way to relax while I read a mound of cookbooks for inspiration.


    While I was relaxing a friend called and we decided to go out to a movie that started in 23 minutes at the theater down the street.   Hurriedly I made up a rather large batch of calamansi whiskey sours and strained it into a canteen, then filled up a baggie with ice cubes and added some plastic cups and shoved my illicit cocktail party into my capacious handbag. There is a reason ladies carry large handbags and sometimes my handbag is the happiest place on earth!

    Dayum. Calamansi rye sour.

    During the movie I poured out the heady cocktail into ice filled cups, filling our row with a heavenly scent of citrus, rye and honey. We sipped them slowly and enjoyed watching a very handsome Superman; it is truly a most civilized way to see a movie!

    Tonight I will marinate an orphaned pork chop from 4505 Meats with soy and garlic and broil, and add some some sauteed baby bok choy and steamed brown rice to complete my dinner.  While this cooks I will zest and juice the remaining bowl of calamansi to be stashed in my freezer.  The rinds will go into a rather large bottle of vodka to infuse it with the sweet tang of the fruit.   A few weeks from now I will have a rather lovely bottle of infused vodka to drink over ice with splash of bubbly water or in an elegant version of a “calamansi” drop.

    If you ever see calamansi in your shop or see a tree at your garden center I highly recommend you scoop them up.

    My First Goat, with Mojo

    I received a special treat in my 4505 Meats Butcher Bag, a bone-in goat shoulder roast that was over 3 pounds. Goat! I have never eaten or cooked goat before, what a fun adventure!

    Goat is the most popular meat in the world and yet it is rarely served here in the United States. Similar in flavor and texture to lamb, goat meat is very lean and is best cooked in a braise or a combination of roasting and braising to ensure juicy meat.

    At first I was a bit daunted, I didn’t want to mess up such a beautiful piece of meat.

    Goat roast

    Researching goat recipes on the internet was great fun and I thought of making birria, which is a traditional Mexican stewed goat dish with lots of chile. Then I thought of making a goat adobo, which is again a braise with a careful balance of vinegar and sweetness that is from the Phillipines. I kept putting it off though, and I realized it was my fear of making a mistake that was holding me back. I have never actually eaten birria before and it has been years since I have had adobo. How could I accurately make a dish when I wasn’t sure what it should taste like? I could make the dish taste great but it might lack the authenticity that I desired.

    Time passed and then I found a bottle of sour orange juice from Miami in my pantry and I realized, that was IT! I would make a mojo marinade and then slow roast the goat.

    Sour orange juice from Miami

    Usually the Cuban’s use pork marinaded in mojo, but why not the goat? I have made it with pork many times, you marinate the pork shoulder in sour orange juice, garlic, oregano, a little cumin, olive oil and salt and pepper and roast it slowly covered with foil for the most part until the roast is tender and yet browned and glazed on top. The pork is sliced thinly and made into sandwiches with lightly pickled red onions and pickles and melted cheese, or my family just like to eat it sliced for dinner with pickled red onions and a cheesy potato dish on the side.

    Cuban mojo marinade

    I made up the marinade in a ziplock bag, I just threw everything together quickly. The garlic this time of year is especially wonderful. The skin is just barely formed and it is so tender and fragrant. I love how my hands smelled after mixing up this mojo marinade.


    I slid the meat into the bag and ensured all of the garlic and oregano were distributed evenly, and then placed the bag into a dish and put the whole thing in the fridge overnight.

    Goat meat in mojo

    The next day was a work day and all day long I thought about how wonderful my kitchen was going to smell once the goat started roasting. I wanted to use my wonderful vintage porcelain chicken roaster from the famed Taylor & Ng. This roaster was a gift from my dear A___ one year, it is such a treasure as they are no longer being made. When it’s not being used it lives under my coffee table as a decoration! Doesn’t everyone decorate their homes with their cookware? In the living room?

    Chicken roaster, ready for the oven

    The advantage of this roaster is that it is quite capacious, and roasts and browns the meat but keeps in the moisture, rendering the chicken or other protein rich and juicy. It is pure magic.

    I removed the meat and then strained out the herbs and aromatics into a strainer to go on top of the meat, leaving a bit of the marinade in the bottom of the roaster. The meat went onto a bed of sliced fiery and eye-watering Spanish onion. A sprinkle of salt and pepper and into the oven it went with its chicken lid. I added a few unpeeled carrots as well, as I love a roasted carrot almost more than meat itself.

    Marinated goat I mojo, on a a bed of onion and carrot

    All of the recipes I found on the ‘net said a goat roast of this size should slow roast for 3-4 hours in a slow oven, e.g., 325 F, after bringing the roast up to room temperature. The warming process of my roast took 2 hours but the enclosed browning environment of the chicken roaster must have sped up the cooking process. My roast was done at 2 hours and 15 minutes, with an internal temperature of 180 F, the meat was so tender to a fork’s touch and had withdrawn perfectly from the bones.

    Finished early! The garlic browned nicely.

    The garlic cloves that I had strewn on top were caramelized too! There was a pleasant amount of juices left at the bottom of the roaster, which I defatted it and used it as is.

    Pleasant amount of juices for the roast

    Despite my taking the roast out of the fridge the moment I got home, and the quicker than anticipated roasting time, the goat mojo was done very late in the evening, it was past 10:30 pm, so I let the meat rest for a bit in a tin and then put everything away in the fridge for another evening. I did carve off a nugget and the goat did taste like lamb, but a more elegant and softer flavor and so very, very tender. I think that goat is my new favorite meat over lamb now.

    The following night, I had my great friend D___ over for a goat dinner. I carved the meat and saved the bones for stock, and laid the meat and carrots and onions in a gratin pan and wiggled out the completely gelatinous juices over the top, and let them warm gently in the oven. I had obtained three enormous bunches of rainbow chard from the farmers market with the widest and thickest stems I had ever seen, they were gorgeous! I removed the stems and sauteed them until tender with lemon olive oil and slivered garlic and then made my mom’s delicious bechamel sauce to spread over the tender vegetables and topped the whole thing with soft levain bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese to become a gratin.

    We spooned out rich slices of goat and tender roasted carrots and garlic cloves, and heavenly rich scoops of chard gratin with its crunchy top and then spooned the savory meat juices over the plate. It was Negroni night and we really enjoyed the complimentary flavors of the herbaceous and tart cocktails with the goat.

    I drink alone, yeah, with no body else! #Georgeknows

    Despite my initial fear over cooking this kind of meat, I am now completely in love with Goat Mojo and plan on making it many times again.