Tag Archives: fruit

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.

orange

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.

 

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Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

We have a wonderfully talented group of food writers, bloggers, photographers and food lovers in the Bay Area and thanks to social media we know who we all are and, on occasion, we get together for some shenanigans.

Dolores_Park_photo_montage_panorama_2013-04-13_14-39

From Wikipedia Commons

This year I took on organizing a date for a picnic in San Francisco and chose Dolores Park for our venue. It’s usually sunny there, it has a great view of the city and is reasonably close to BART and other public transportation. The park is also right across the street to BiRite Creamery. A picnic with fun people, a pretty spot and decadent ice cream, it is such a winning combination.

The morning fog blew away pretty quickly and despite the stupidity of the City watering the lawn during the night (very soggy and muddy lawns) we had a very merry time.

Many lovely friends and new friends came to share in the afternoon and of course the food was terrific.  I made my favorite sangria and that was a big hit, and I could have doubled the quantity and still would have not made enough.   Next time I will bring two jugs worth, or six bottles of wine!
Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

It was one of those magical times when we were not playing with our phones *overmuch* or taking pictures constantly, we were in the moment and enjoying each other’s company, trading stories, singing goofy songs and talking about food and writing.  We did play some hilarious music on our phones, tucked into a red Solo cup for acoustical enhancement purposes.

Yes, it’s true, we were all singing Makin’ Bacon Pancakes, the New York remix, for way too long and it’s still in my head today.

Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

When the sangria ran out and the fog started to blow back in, we gathered up our soggy Mexican picnic blankets (funnily, almost everyone brought one) and headed to the long line at BiRite Creamery.
Insanely long line at BiRite but we don't care - sundaes!!!!

Despite the line being ridiculously long we were patient and chatty, and it really was worth the wait.  Just sampling their vast and unusual selection is worth a bit of catching up on life and people watching, and soon enough we all had our decadent ice cream treats in hand.  With frozen mouths and sunburned faces we chatted a bit more before scattering to our own destinations – Tartine, a tour of the Mission, BiRite Market, home.  We said farewell and until next time.

Picnics in the summer are my favorite thing to do and this time so many of my favorite people were there.  Thanks to everyone who attended and for your amazing and decadent treats!

Thanks to:
Faith – Blog Appetit
Diane  – Will Write For Food
Amy – Cooking with Amy
Owen – The World of Owen Rubin
Jenn – FootBat and EastWest Pastry
Lori and Doug – Fake Food Free
Deborah and friends – Lunch In A Box
Nathan – Knit1Eat1
Christian – Dad in the City
Jennifer and Baelson – Revel Kitchen
Orly and friends – Yumivore
(if I missed your name here, I’m so sorry!)

The Recipe:

Carmen Miranda Sangria – San Francisco Style

If you live in the Bay Area and want to join the Bay Area Food Bloggers group on Facebook, ask to join here, and also there is a Google group, ask to join here.  We are food writers, bloggers, photographers, culinary-minded entrepreneurs and food lovers.  We are also people who used to do all of the above (i.e., lapsed) but are still interested in food and culinary scene.  We connect to share opportunities, ask questions, get support and socialize.  These are not forums to promote yourself or your brand, however.

Citrus Walnut Sticky Rolls

I freely confess that I am a big fan of the Pillsbury orange sticky rolls that come in the cardboard tube at the grocery store.  As a kid we were not allowed junk food except a box of any cereal we wanted around our birthdays, Hostess ding dongs when we went sailing, and these orange sticky rolls around the holidays.

pillsbury

Ohh, naughty!

As an adult, naturally, I felt the wild rush of freedom and indulged myself frequently in these rolls and then felt quite guilty for consuming a product full of trans fats and who knows what else.

This weekend I deliberately did not book anything for Saturday so that I could have a rest day at home. I planned to knit and recreate my childhood favorite holiday treat but in a healthier fashion.  It worked for the most part but I learned an important lesson.

The recipe I concocted for the sweet roll dough was quite healthy, it is a yeast risen dough similar to that used for cinnamon rolls but instead of egg yolks and lashings of butter I used fruity olive oil from Lodi.

The dough rose in my giant Wovo salad bowl for 90 minutes while I watched scifi shows on Netflix, knitted a shawl and sipped lungo shots of espresso.

Olive oil dough rising
This is a 10 quart salad bowl, almost brimming over with yeast dough

For the filling I zested some citrus – oranges and a grapefruit – with a microplane grater and mixed this into sugar, then added some juice to make a slurry to spread over the dough.

Getting busy with a citrus sweet roll filling
my apartment smelled wonderful at this point

I used a few tablespoons of the fruit juice to make a paste, then sprinkled over walnuts from Sonoma County that I toasted in a skillet.

This filling was inspired by some random food show I saw where a diner chef made enormous sweet rolls well sanded with sugar and butter.  In trying to make these healthier I omitted the butter entirely.

I rolled out the dough to a large rectangle, applied the filling and then rolled up the dough on the long edge to form a log about 16″ long.   I cut the log into about 12 even pieces and filled up a buttered pyrex baker.

Citrus walnut sweet rolls rising
About halfway risen

You can see how generous the citrus-sugar filling was and there were plenty of walnuts to go around.  I think perhaps I should have put fewer rolls in the pan though.

I had too many to fit so I made up an extra pan in a tin pie plate.  Lagniappe for the chef!

Bonus pan of sweet rolls
Ready to rise before baking

My apartment was nice and warm on this very foggy, dark day, and after about 45 minutes the rolls were puffed and yeasty and looking pleasantly plump – ready for the oven.

After baking I made up a quick frosting with more of the citrus juice and powdered sugar.  Despite using almost a full box of confectioners sugar there was barely enough icing to cover the rolls in both pans.

There is never enough icing
browned to a toasty golden

The aroma from the oven was mouth-watering.  A whiff of orange with a hint of grapefruit, the sweet sugar icing melting in between the rolls, citrus sugar caramelizing the walnuts, the yeasty baked rolls with a tang of rich, fruity olive oil, they smelled just like Christmas in my childhood home.

The citrus sticky rolls were best eaten warm out right out of the oven, but truthfully I think they would be much improved with some melted butter in the filling.  The icing wasn’t quite what I wanted either, I need to tinker with that a bit I think.

Citrus walnut sweet rolls

So luscious

I won’t admit how quickly this pan of rolls disappeared and will firmly disavow any knowledge of my actions.  They needed to be reheated if you don’t eat them right away.  Despite the liberal buttering of the baking pan they were hard to remove because of the caramelized sugar on the bottom.  They were not as tender the next day either and this is where I think the butter is essential.

The recipe includes the addition of butter but you can omit as your conscience dictates.  They were really wonderful and toothsome as is, but next time I make them I will use butter.

Citrus Walnut Sticky Rolls recipe 

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!

Adobo

(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!

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.

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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.

Berry Fun Night with Driscolls

Blackberries are to me the essential summer fruit.  My memories of blackberries are blazing hot days camping – limbs brown as a berry, hair bleached pale blonde,  a perpetually sunburned nose – I was a child of the creek, meadow, forest, lake and golden hills.  Strong and lithe from running and climbing trees and swimming my mom could barely entice me out of what ever body of water we were near; it was pure joy.

At the last camping trip before school if we were lucky the blackberries that lined the creeks and rivers would be ripe, and we would test the berries daily to see if they were ready to be plucked by greedy fingers, wincing from the brambles.    Old coffee cans would be deployed, some with strings tied through holes punched by an awl near the top rim and worn about the neck, and we were instructed to return when the can was full.

Wading through strong currents to reach blackberry bushes so laden they were almost touching the water my sister and I or my little friends  and I would strive to get every berry possible, fingers and mouths stained purple.  Perhaps half of our harvest was consumed on the spot for testing purposes.  Occasionally a howl of anguish would be heard when we barked a shin against an underwater snag or when a particularly enticing berry slipped from our pruned fingers into the flowing water.

Damp, bedraggled of hair and clothes and purple all over we would trudge back to the campsite where mom would sugar down the berries in a bowl covered with a mesh umbrella to keep out the yellow jackets.   The slim metal can that fit inside the old ice cream maker would be filled with her vanilla bean custard base and dropped inside the tub, then layered between crushed ice and rock salt.  We would turn and turn that handle and eventually we couldn’t make it move anymore, when my dad or his pal Fred would reach down and give it 20 easy cranks; we would marvel at their strength. The ice cream maker would be swathed in beach towels and hidden in the shade to harden the ice cream while we ate dinner in the slanting sunshine of the late summer evening.

After our dinner fat curls of creamy ice cream would be dished out and we were allowed to fill our bowls with as many blackberries and sweet purple syrup as we could fit.  The sweet juice at the bottom was always the best part and we would take elaborate pains to swirl the berries and ice cream together to create violet hued streaks with our spoons.   If no adult was looking we would lick the bowls clean with our hummingbird-Labrador tongues.

Blackberries bring that feeling for summer bliss back the instant I eat one, even on a foggy blustery San Francisco winter night.  It sounds funny to write about blackberries in the middle of winter but Driscolls Berries in  Watsonville grows organic berries year -round, thanks to our mild climate.  They invited me and a small group of food bloggers to attend a special dinner featuring their blackberries cooked by Rick Rodgers, a special chef and author from New York,  a seminar on food photography tips and tricks by  Caren Alpert, a local legendary food photographer and food styling and prop technique by  Carol Hacker, a San Francisco prop stylist.   It was quite a room full of talent and I learned a lot.

The event space was fun too, in the Dogpatch area of SF at the Hands On Gourmet space; their staff were top notch and it is a cool old converted warehouse complete with paned windows like they have at Fort Mason.

Down the rabbit hole #driscollmoments

Down the rabbit hole! The delicious Blackberry Cobbler cocktail.

We sipped on wine and mingled, it was like a reunion with many of my favorite food blogger friends.   I really enjoyed getting to talk to Rick of Driscolls Berries and our long chat about organic farming and the fruit industry in California throughout the last few decades was enlightening.

The event started with cooking demonstrations by Chef Rick then Caren and Carol would style and shoot the food item using Caren’s gorgeous camera tethered to a laptop.  Although the photos shown here are my own it was fascinating to see the three of them work together and see the many conversations and adjustments that were made to the tableau to produce the desired shot.  Despite my lack of photography equipment (I use an iPhone 4), it was very gratifying to see that my instinctual attempts at photography are perfectly in line with their teachings, after all isn’t having the eye and instinct 90% of being a good photographer?

The first demo was for the slurpable Blackberry Cobbler cocktail.  It reminded me of a cocktail I had recently at Rye, my favorite watering hole.  The bartender there used crushed ice and raspberries but the rest was essentially the same.  I have included the recipe at the end of this article, go wild and try other berries!

Savory blackberry custard tarts by @cookbookrick at #driscollsmoments

The first course was a savory blackberry custard tart, shown above.  Oh how depressed I was that I couldn’t even try one but given the rapidity of their disappearance from everyone’s plates they seemed to be exquisitely tasty.

If you would like a sweet blackberry tart recipe, Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy developed a gorgeous version for the party.

The entree was a pancetta-wrapped pork loin roast with a blackberry sauce which the chef called a compote, but I would make it again cooked down and strained. I love wrapping roasts in bacon and so that wasn’t anything new for me but the sauce was a big hit.  He served the roast with a cold salad of roasted fennel, more blackberries and gorgonzola cheese.  I believe this salad will become part of my regular repetoire this year.

Desserts were quite lovely; Chef Rick made a cobbler with a crunchy topping that was baked like a granola and served with Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous vanilla ice cream. He also made a blackberry bundt style cake that smelled delicious.

To thank us for coming the kind folks at Driscoll’s gifted us with basket after basket of blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, along with a perfect berry colander, an apron and one of Chef Rick’s cookbooks, mine was about Christmas – how timely!  Also the staff at Baddish Group gave us each a pastry tamper, what a wonderful gift!  I cannot wait to use mine, no more using my thumb or my pestle to make mini tart shells.

It was a very enjoyable evening and I learned a great deal as well as enjoying the company and the great food.  The best take away for me for the whole evening was knowing the Driscoll’s berries are available all year long, and they taste just as sweet in the winter as they do in the heat of the summer.

Blackberry Cobbler Cocktail

1/2 cup ripe blackberries, plus extra for garnish
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup
11⁄2 oz.  gin
1⁄2 oz. Crème de Cassis
Splash of sparkling wine

In a mixing glass, muddle blackberries, lemon juice and simple syrup.

Add the gin and the Crème de Cassis. Top with ice and shake vigorously.

Pour into a tall glass and top with the sparkling wine. Stir from the bottom up and serve with more blackberries for garnish and a straw for sipping.

Serving Size: 1 cocktail

 If you would like to have some delicious Driscolls blackberries please leave a comment and I will pick a few names at random and send you a generous $5 coupon courtesy of Driscolls!

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Read more about the event from the San Francisco Examiner

Recipes:

Savory Cheese Tartlettes with Blackberries

Blackberry-Sage Compote for Roast Pork/Fowl

Roasted Fennel Salad with Blackberries and Gorgonzola

The Simplicity of Pears

This time of year the pears are coming in from the orchards, beautiful green Comice pears and red shouldered Bartletts, they are so lovely. It’s pear custard tart season!

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Did you know that pears do not ripen on the tree? They are one of the few odd fruits that are unripe when picked, then they need a few days of rest on your counter to ripen and transform from rock hard to sweet, tender lusciousness – like avocados!

They can also go from perfect ripeness to a mealy nasty thing if you don’t keep an eye on them, so don’t forget to keep checking them.

At the office we receive a nice fruit CSA every week and all the staff get excited for Fruit Wednesday. I also receive my fruit and veggie box every other week and last week there was an abundance of pears, slowly ripening everywhere.

I mentioned to my colleague that I have an excellent pear tart recipe and perhaps I should make something from the office pears to bring in to work. I also had three perfectly ripened ones from my personal box so my date in the kitchen was set.

I managed to bring home the ripe work pears on the bus without them getting mauled. It was quite the feat, involving bubble wrap and many reprimands to rude bus people who were determined to rest their backpacks on my lap. City life!

Safe in my apartment the pears lounged on the counter while I preheated the oven and assembled the pantry items for a fast and delicious pear custard tart.

Years ago when Martha Stewart’s star was still in the heavens and not yet sullied by federal investigations and various shenanigans her staff published a cute recipe booklet for the grocery store called Everyday Food. My sister gifted a home subscription to mom and me and it had some great little gems like this recipe. They published quite a nice cookbook too, and this recipe is also in that book. My late beau loved this tart so much he would eat at least half of it in one sitting.

The prep for the tart is simple. A tart pan or pie plate gets well buttered and more butter is melted for the filling. For each tart you need three ripe pears, peeled, halved and cored, then sliced thinly and fanned out in the tart pan. I cut up the pears while the butter was melting in the microwave.

For the filling I like to use my immersion blender and my silicon 4-cup measuring cup, but a regular blender is fine or if you have a normal working shoulder you can use a whisk and a bowl. But for me, the immersion blender is the way to go while my stupid shoulder finishes healing.

In the measuring cup I broke open pretty pullet eggs with yolks the color of marigolds, gorgeous! The rest of the filling ingredients went in the container in no particular order: sugar, salt, vanilla, melted butter, flour, milk. A quick blitz with the blender until smooth and voila! Done!

I poured the filling over the pears and slid the tart pans in the oven for 40 minutes. In no time my pad started to smell really good, heady scents on vanilla and sugar and the sweet fragrance of pears, ahh, I could hardly stand it.

When the timer went off I peeked in the oven and the tarts were gorgeous, puffed and golden on top and the center was set. While they cooled I had an aromatherapy moment, inhaling deeply.

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(one for me, one for the office)

After the pear custard tarts had cooled I showered them with powdered sugar, a blizzard of sugar to mimic the monsoon pounding against the window. Rain! In early October? Seattle, are you missing some weather?

I wrapped one up to take to the office, tucked away in my silly butterfly-patterend farmers market bag to keep it dry, and again braved the bus.

My colleague and I had a slice of the pear custard tart with our morning coffee while the storm whirled by outside. Suddenly the sun broke through lightening up our workspace to match the pleasure of eating such a lovely tart for breakfast.

Pear Custard Tart

3 ripe pears
3 eggs
1/2 stick of melted unsalted butter (1/4 cup)
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c flour
3/4 c whole milk
more butter for buttering the tart pan
powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a  tart pan or pie plate.  Peel and core the pears, and slice thinly vertically (top to bottom) and fan out the slices in the tart pan.  (note: you can also use canned pears!)

In a blender add everything else (except the powdered sugar) and blend until smooth.

Bake 40-45 minutes until the top is golden brown and the center is set.  It will be puffed but will deflate slightly as it cools.

Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm, room temperature or chilled.

Makes 4 slices.  Realistically it could serve up to 8 but I have never met anyone who did not want their full quarter!

This is also a great item for brunch!

Source:  Everyday Foods Fast

(printer-friendly recipe)

Winter Wrap Up Lemon-Style

Winter may not be ready to wrap up but I am quite ready for it to be over. For California we have been having some pretty frigid weather, pounding rain and then, strangely, brilliant sunshine and thick fog interspersed randomly.

photo.JPG(the gloom of it all)

The inclement weather spurs people to hibernate and be surly, not to mention a general malaise that can only be alleviated by strong spirits and tasty treats.

Given this, I have been putting my produce delivery of mostly citrus fruit to good use in a variety of libations. Hey, it is vitamin C, right? It makes a fruit laden cocktail basically a health tonic. There is something quite decadent in using two Meyer lemons and an orange to concoct a refreshing beverage on a weeknight. Indulging mild decadence wherever possible is perhaps my only New Year’s resolution during these times of gloomy privation.

So when life give you lemons, I say make lemon drops!

You can also make preserved lemons.  Preserved lemons are commonly used in Moroccan cuisine, they are becoming quite popular here on the West Coast.  I think it is our similar Mediterranean climate that allows us to grow some of the best citrus in the world. 

One of my favorite childhood memories was visiting my grandparents in Long Beach.  At night in the summer it would be too hot to sleep even with a sheet on top, I would lie there in the dark, feeling very hot and flipping my pillow over frequently to the cool side, and smell the orange blossoms wafting in through the window.  Back in those ancient times Southern California was filled with groves of orange trees and when they flowered the scent was incredible, sweet and very strong.  Nowadays, the groves have been bulldozed and tons of ticky-tacky houses have been built over that fertile land.  It is quite pleasant, when the rain and wind is pounding on the windows, to imagine myself back in that tiny twin bed at my grandparent’s home, smelling orange blossoms.

In addition to the orange crops we Californians are blessed with the ability to grow Meyer lemons, as well as the standard Eureka lemons that one finds more commonly in the grocery store.  The Meyer lemon is far superior in terms of fragrance, sweet juice and a lighter more lemony flavor, in my opinion.

I am very fortunate to work for a very generous man who gifted me this holiday season with a vast assortment of goodies to make paella.  Included in the assortment was a beautiful jar of preserved lemons from Tunisia.   I have never cooked with preserved lemons before and was quite intrigued.

I mentioned the lemons to my dear pal Anna and she pulled out a gorgeous Moroccan cookbook she recently purchased and I began reading about making a tagine of chicken and preserved lemons, and a wonderful sounding warm pumpkin salad with preserved lemons.   As soon as I can chop up a squash I will make some.

Meantime, we pulled out a basket of Meyer lemons and I read Anna the instructions on how to preserve them while she did the preparations.

First, you wash the lemons and be sure to use lemons that have never been waxed.  Ours were from the farmer’s market so they were pristine and just off the tree.  Then you cut into them stem-end in a cross shape, which fragrances the kitchen with a heady lemon perfume.  The cut lemons are packed with coarse sea salt and plopped into a jar.  Viola!

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Behold, lemon porn:

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Whatever jar you use you must pack it tightly with lemons, layering more coarse salt in between layers until you reach the top of the jar. Then, you can add a few peppercorns, a chili or a bay leaf, or all three, and top with water that was just off the boil.

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Three weeks later, shaking the jar when you think about it, you will end up with perfectly preserved lemons that will keep for six months. To use them, you pull one out of the jar with a satisfying plop, rinse it well, and chop it up whole for your recipe.

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I hope to share with you soon a recipe using the lemons. Which do you think I should try first, the warm pumpkin salad or the tagine of chicken?

Preserved Lemons

6-8 Meyer lemons
1-2 cups coarse sea salt
Bay leaf, whole chile pepper, 1/4 tsp black whole peppercorns (optional)
2 cups hot water

Wash and dry the lemons.  If your lemons are not from someone’s yard or have been treated with wax, scrub them well with a brush and warm water. 

Cut the lemons most of the way through in an X fashion from the stem end.

Holding a lemon with the cut side up, stuff it well with very coarse sea salt and pack it into a sterilized jar*.  Between each layer of lemons pack with more salt, and add optional herbs and spices as desired.

When the jar is full of lemons, boil a kettle of water, let it come to a full boil and then remove it from the heat for about 30 seconds.  Then pour this hot water over the lemons until they are covered by about a 1/2″ and put on the sterilized lid.  Shake the jar.

For the next three weeks, shake the jar to help the salt dissolve. 

After the three weeks have passed the lemons are ready to be used.  Once the jar is open keep it in the fridge. 

 ****To sterilize the jar and lid, you can run the jar and lid through the dishwasher cycle and do not open the door until you are ready to pack the jar with the lemons.  Remove the hot jar and lid from the dishwasher with clean tongs, also from the dishwasher.  Or, you can place the clean and dry jar and lid on a cookie sheet and put it in at 250F oven for 15 minutes, remove carefully and use clean tongs to handle.

These lemons make terrific gifts for housewarmings, hostess gifts or Christmas presents.  Oh dang, there goes that surprise!

Rainy Day Waffles

There’s nothing finer than waking up on a Saturday morning hearing the rain pitter-patter on the roof, the faint tinkling of wind chimes from the front porch and the smell of coffee. Burrowing under the covers I savor the quiet moment then remember mOm is making waffles. Out of bed I leap!

It’s so dark out from the rain that the Christmas lights are still on. After some reviving coffee mOm starts the waffles.

“It’s a new recipe, and it has weird things in them, like seltzer water and dried buttermilk. They get crispy outside but stay nice inside.”

Okay, Mom, I am sold!

Our family waffle iron is a treasure. You may recall that I’ve mentioned we are inordinately fond of our kitchen appliances? This old waffle iron with real Bakelite handles was at a friend’s cabin in Brooktrails. A visit there always meant bucolic views, lazing on the deck in summer or in front of the Benjamin Franklin stove in winter and waffles for breakfast. When our friends sold the cabin we asked if we could have the waffle iron. I also received a sprig from the giant Christmas cactus, which had the most gorgeous blooms. It is still thriving in my kitchen but has never bloomed, despite all the many moves I have had. I think it needs higher elevations. My Mom’s cuttings have also thrived but they bloom for her, but we are at 1,300 feet here.

Behold, the waffle iron:

It’s the Cadillac of waffle irons, or perhaps a Lamborghini…. Covet, covet…

On Thanksgiving eve I roasted quince that I picked up from the McEvoy Ranch booth at the Ferry Building along with a gigantic Lisbon lemon. I sliced the quince with cranberries and grapes, which we used for our T-Day salad, and the leftovers were transformed into a warm compote for our waffles this morning.

Prepare yourself, waffle porn…

Melty with butter…

Boysenberry syrup, mmm.

I slathered mine with butter and then spooned the rosy quince on top and added extra buttery syrup on top, and promptly ate it. Fortunately my stepdad’s waffle was ready for her closeup.

They sure don’t last long though… Sadness…

We slowly consumed the local paper and dozed in front of the college football games playing in the snow. I am about to get going on finishing a pretty sweater in kid mohair yarn in the palest lavender hue, only 2/3 left to go for the last piece! And more potato butter buns are rising in the kitchen. What else can a gal do on a rainy day?

Roasted Quince

1# quince, I had 2 huge ones, peeled, cored and sliced into wedges
1 c whole grapes, or 1/2 c raisins
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/2 c sugar – or I used 1 c ginger syrup left over from making candied ginger
1 tsp minced ginger (omit if using ginger syrup)
Pinch salt
1 lemon, zested and juiced
A pat of butter
Water

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Place fruit in a casserole large enough to hold everything in one layer. Sprinkle over sugar, lemon zest and juice, syrup (if using) and water to come up halfway up the sides of the fruit. Top with the butter. Bake for an hour and watch the magic happen. The quince will turn from apple-colored to a rosy, light salmon color. Bake until the quince is tender when forked and the syrup is thickened.

When I took my fruit out, the syrup wasn’t as thick as I like so I used a slotted spoon to pull out the fruit and I cooked down the syrup in a small pan until it was reduced until a thicker syrup.

For the salad, I used the whole slices.

For the compote, I chopped the quince, added a 1/4 tsp of Ceylon cinnamon and a few squirts of agave (or honey). I heated it up in the micro for three minutes (or in a 300 F oven for 20 minutes – just for you Laura S).

I will ask mOm if I can post her waffle recipe, fingers crossed!

Produce Box Bounty

In lieu of Wordless Wednesdays I thought you might like to see what I receive in my weekly produce box. 

Weekly produce box Weekly produce box

This week’s CSA box from Farm Fresh To You is bounteous!

The Veg:

Green leaf lettuce, two massive leeks as long as my femur, a gorgeous bunch of snow white turnips with greens, baby bok choy, a bunch of carrots, a head of celery, a yellow onion, a huge fan of rainbow chard – one giant leaf of each hue,  and a huge bag of fat green beans.

The Fruit:

 Green apples, green pears and crunchy persimmons.

And today’s wildlife:

                      a ladybug!

It wouldn’t be an organic produce box without some sort of wildlife!

My plans for this haul:

  • Sauteed chard with turnip greens with a roasted chicken
  • Crispy baked leek rings
  • Leek and potato soup
  • Pot au feu with celery, turnips, fingerling potatoes (from the last box), green beans and bok choy
  • Salads for work-lunches:
    • with green apples and walnuts
    • with crunch persimmons and pine nuts
    • with pears and goat cheese
  • Celery sticks and peanut butter – for a light dinner; and with ricotta for a breakfast

I am hoping that by writing out this plan and then publishing it, then perhaps I will actually do it.  It is so easy to get caught up in being busy and doing things on the fly, like meal planning and chores, and eventually something else comes up which pushes spontaneous plans aside.  But by formulating a meal plan, and next by assigning dates to do this in my calendar, I hope to stick to it.  The benefit to me is obviously exceptionally tasty meals.  And just look at this produce, it is gorgeous, fully alive and fresh and ready for the kitchen.  I won’t disappoint it fulfilling its destiny!

But in closing:

GO GIANTS!

(Scenes from King Street after the Giants win the World Series, the historic parade down Montgomery Street and City Hall at night!)

Pop Tart Prowl

Sometimes an event comes along that you just can’t say no to, I mean, how can you turn down a pop tart?

Eating pop tarts has been a pleasure reserved for my adult life only. Growing up my mUm never allowed such things in the house, not that I felt deprived mind you, considering her baked goods and my own creations were far superior to a dubious box of fat, sugar and preservatives from the store.

Last year while languishing on my dearest friend L’s couch in front of a crackling fire in the wilds of Santa Fe (and I mean it when I say wild. The coyotes were circling the house that night and the Great Horned Owls were crunching away on the gravel on the roof, it was mind-blowing.) my dear pal asked me if I wanted a pop tart. It was 10:00 pm, we were watching silly movies and had consumed ridiculous portions of posole not all that long ago. Naturally I said yes and a few minutes later she delivered into my grasping hands a serviette with a steaming hot toasted apple cinnamon pop tart. It was flaky, with a well seasoned fresh tasting apple filling with plenty of cinnamon. We promptly had one more each and some tea and then just as promptly zonked out on our respective perches like a pair of tired toddlers.

Later, I was delighted to learn that the pastries came from Natures Path and that they were organic and pretty clean otherwise. My guilt felt assuaged somewhat but in my heart of hearts I missed my Mom’s jam turnovers, my childhood pop tart equivalent. I have never attempted them because of my dread fear of rolled dough but this is something I plan to rectify soon.

So fast-forward to the present day and to my meeting the tres charmant Rachel Saunders and her incredibly lush book on jam. Rachel created the Blue Chair Fruit in the East Bay and has been making and selling her incredible jams at various farmer’s markets in the Bay Area and online. I lucked into a copy of her newly released book and it is well littered with post its and slips of notes of the recipes I plan to try and photos I just cannot stop gazing upon. Her book has taken up permanent residence on my lap and I cannot wait to tell you more about it (soon!).

A local eatery in Berkeley announced they were having a pop tart party using Rachel’s jams and that she would be there in person to sign her incredible book so naturally I inked that invitation into my calendar and was delighted when my pal Luna of Luna’s Kitchen Magic said she could join me. Who better than my sister-friend, a trained pastry chef, to accompany me on a quest for pop tarts.

This Saturday, a bus trip, a BART train, another bus and a long walk later, we arrived at Summer Kitchen Bake Shop‘s door. It was most definitely worth the effort to get there to see the darling Rachel again, and to eat pop tarts! We received a warm greeting but Rachel had a line of eager fans waiting to chat and over her shoulder I spied trays of pop tarts so we sidled by and headed to the cashier.

We ordered one of each of Summer Kitchen’s pop tart creations to munch along with a cup of Blue Bottle coffee for me and an omlette sandwich for the both of us.

The eatery is adorable, high ceilinged and a long counter in front of the grill with a few tables in front on a charming stretch of College Street. We snagged a few stools at the counter and began watching the show, our sides warmed by the pizza oven that anchored the end of the space. It was really challenging to perch like vultures and watch the grill cook make plate after plate of gorgeous sandwiches knowing we couldn’t order everything.

But first we gazed upon the gorgeous pop tarts. Look. Drool. Don’t you wish you were there?

The sweet pop tart had slices of the first of fall’s new crop of Fuji apples topped with Blue Chair Fruit strawberry jam, drizzled with royal icing and dashes of sugar sprinkles. The savory pop tart was filled with Blue Chair’s spiced tomato-bourbon conserve and goat cheese, and topped with shreds of Parmesan. Holy cow! They were simply fantastic. Flaky, thin, buttery pastry, still warm from the oven, pleasantly plump with the fillings and so tender. My toes were wriggling with delight as I nibbled slowly, trying to make them last, washed down by the mother’s-milk of Bella Donovan blend from Blue Bottle. I was beginning to regret only ordering two to share.

Meanwhile, our deft grill cook had crisped thick slabs of my personal local favorite bacon from Golden Gate Meats, slivered an avocado and turned out a perfectly blonde curling shell of a four egg omlette awash with fresh herbs and butter into a soft torpedo roll. Why have I never thought of an omlette sandwich before? It was ridiculous, as Luna is fond of saying.

Nirvana.

I was distracted by the sight of the pastry chef making more pop tarts. Scrutinizing her technique and taking notes we watched her roll out sheets of pastry, top with the juicy apples and dollops of ruby red jam. How I coveted that huge bottle of jam! Behold, the birth of a pop tart.

While they were baking the grill cook made tiny sliders of beef patties topped with blue cheese, piled them into a torpedo roll slathered with tarragon aioli and heaped with mounds of steaming mahogany caramelized onions, slices of pink heirloom tomatoes and handfuls of wild arugula. I am smitten.

Sadly, most of pictures did not come out. The cook was grinning at me shyly as I tried to capture the action, occasionally pausing to let me snap a shot. Now more than ever I wish I had a camera!

Then, to my right, the pastry chef pulled out a huge tray of naked chocolate cupcakes and scooped huge spatulas full of cream cheese frosting into her KitchenAid to fluff up before piping it into graceful spirals on the cakes. Our seatmate, a precocious 5 year old, scored a spoonful of frosting, lagniappe from the chef, lucky thing. The chef scattered chocolate pearls on top of the cupcakes and popped them onto pretty cake stands. If only I could have eaten more!

Then the grill chef began making crispy chicken sandwiches and grinned when I piped up that bacon and avocado would go well with that sandwich, and more of that custard yellow aioli. I realized I wasn’t the only one watching the action. Intently peering through the counter and offering play-by-play was a young man, perhaps 10 years old. Young Jerry is a foodie in the making, he was commenting on the aioli and I explained what that was. He smacked his lips. We watched another burger torpedo being prepared. He hadn’t tried that one, he explained, and sidled over one stool closer to me. I remarked that I hoped the grill chef would make a chicken sandwich again, and then he did! Amazed, Jerry asked how did I know the cook was going to do that? “Magic”, I said, and grinned, then Jerry asked me if I played cards, like Pokemon… His dad laughed and asked Jerry to return to his seat and they finished their pop tarts. Little Romeo!!

Luna and I watched as another batch of fruit pop tarts got their slathering of icing and sprinkles and sadly bid the cooks adieu.

We were delighted to meet in person Charlene Reis, the owner of Summer Kitchen, with whom we had been chatting incessantly on Twitter, and made plans to have a craft night soon. Rachel introduced me to her charming husband and helped me select jars of her jams to take home. I was thrilled to score the last jar of the spiced tomato-bourbon conserve and we agreed bourbon was a magical ingredient, like vanilla, but better. I exclaimed over my last purchase of Rachel’s blood orange marmalade and told her how that jar, which I bought at her book signing at Omnivore, disappeared in two days with the help of an Acme herb slab, Manchego cheese and some prosciutto, quite possibly the best sandwich I have ever invented. Another jar of Rachel’s three fruit marmalade got stowed away in my bag and Luna and I made our farewells.

We strolled down the street and stopped into a sweet shop, several card shops and then to our next stop, Ici.

Ici is an ice cream shop that has an impressive pedigree, its owner worked at Chez Panisse no less, and they usually have a line several store fronts long. Somehow we chanced to be there at just the right time with no line and popped in for a scoop. I chose the lemon ice cream with pinenut praline and an ocean of hot fudge. The combination of creamy lemon and rich fudgy chocolate is truly magical. Luna hit one out of the park with her choice of pear huckleberry sorbet with burnt caramel sauce (picture here). We plopped on a bench in front, another minor miracle, and thoroughly enjoyed our little treat.

As we were leaving I noticed their decorations of crocheted ice cream cones and vowed to knit some soon.

We planned next to visit Amanda’s on Shattuck and decided to work off our breakfast by walking there.

Just like Calvin Trillin we decided to have a snack before lunch and stopped into Crixa’sCakes for tea and pastries.

Fall has arrived in Berkeley and I was regretting my sandals but was grateful for my new leaf-green velour fleece jacket. We sat outside at an iron table as leaves scuttled by on the cobblestones, sipping our steaming Moroccan mint tea and stunning Hungarian pastries. The Hungarian version of pirogue was very good, how can you go wrong with buttery pastry filled with potato, cheese and dill?

We fought a fork-dual over the last bite. Divine! But then we split a pastry amusingly called Fatima’s thighs. More of the buttery, flaky pastry was curled around a rich filling of walnuts, julienned apples, currants and scented with orange flower water, then heaped with powdered sugar. I dusted off my pants which were liberally dotted with sugar and was transported to a memory of eating beignets with a dear beau in steamy sticky New Orleans. We used to laugh that I should never wear black around powdered sugar, something that would have come in handy at Crixa’s!

Another reason to visit Crixa is a street sign pole outside that has been yarnbombed, it is just so adorable.

Awash in tea and feeling all buttery we continued our stroll through Berkeley, marveling at the odd fall clouds in the sky, a building decorated with sculptures of sea life, pots of tomato plants tucked away into doorways, and the unusual people who populate the area. It is so pleasant to stroll with a friend, to be able to walk without rushing. Luna slipped a small sack into my bag, a Springerlie cookie from Crixa, what a treat! We exchanged thoughts about soul mates, shared stories of our siblings and tales about ravens and crows as Brother Crow cawed above our heads.

Our next stop was Stonemountain & Daughter Fabric shop, a place awash with the cutest, kitchy fabric. An entire row of bolts was devoted to food designs and we danced down the aisle singing the Coconut Song, imagining an apron made with a coconut pattern and lime fabric for pockets. I could not resist a few yards of an adorable mushroom fabric. We are taking a sewing class there in a few weeks, and I will make myself an apron to cheer up my kitchen during our drab SF winter. Suddenly we imagined ourselves buying most of the store’s stock and sewing up creation after creation!

The imaginary budget depleted we headed out to Amanda‘s for their house-made spicy ginger aid and a crunchy garden salad. I was tempted by their array of spiced nuts, burgers, sweet potato fries and sodas but couldn’t manage another bite. Luna crunched her salad and shared her ginger ale, which was exceptional.

To my surprise it was nearing 4:00 pm! We visited the pretty library for a small break and then meandered to Trader Joe’s for dinner fixings. I treated myself to a rib eye and ingredients for a pizza dinner another night. How does pizza made of naan with smoked Gouda, Asian pear and prosciutto sound? I thought I needed to make a pot of caramelized onions next week too, and buy bags of sweet onions.

Lugging our goodies to BART, we luck out and the next train was in two minutes, and I was home in a half an hour. I quickly stowed my groceries before sinking gratefully down into a chair to slip on thick wooly socks and settle on the settee for a nap. Five hours later I woke up! Completely missing dinner means I can indulge in steak and eggs for Sunday breakfast!

It was great to explore a new area and have home-made pop tarts and all the other treats that day. I plan to borrow a friend’s kitchen soon to make jam from Rachel’s adorable book, and to make pop tarts perhaps on my next Girl’s Night In. Stay tuned!

…………………………..

Resources:

Blue Chair Fruit
Jam, jam classes and the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook here:
http://bluechairfruit.com/
Also at the Temescal and Grand Lake Farmers’ Markets

Summer Kitchen Bake Shop
2944 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705-2204
Open Daily 9am-9pm
(510) 981-0538

Ici
2948 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705
Open Daily
(510) 665-6054

Crixa Cakes
2748 Adeline Street, Berkeley, CA 94703-1205
Open Tue-Sat 9am-6:30pm
(510) 548-0421

Stonemountain & Daughter Fashion & Quilting Fabric
2518 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704-2722
Hours: 11am – 5:30pm
(510) 845-6106

Amanda’s Restaurant (Feel Good Fresh Food)
2122 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704
Hours: 11am – 9pm
(510) 548-2122
http://www.Amandas.com