Tag Archives: good friends

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

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Work in Progress: Stinky Bacon Sriracha Wrapped Sweet Peppers

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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

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.

Sharknado Pizza Party

Luna sent me a note on Facebook that said, “There’s this crazy movie coming up on the SciFi Channel called Sharknado, we have to do this.”

sharknado-poster

A bit of backstory, we had an absolutely hilarious time watching Snakes On A Plane together, screaming every single time a snake shot out of someplace unexpected, which was about every 3 minutes once the movie got started, so of course I invited Luna over to have a Sharknado party! Then more friends joined in and next thing you know my apartment is full of hungry ladies, sipping on some great wine and ready to be vastly entertained by what could be one of the best-worst scifi movies ever.

There were sharks eating people as they flew by, seemingly unfazed by the lack of water, sharks whapping people across the face and removing most of said face, and sharks eating through cars and bar stools. There was fabulously deadpan acting by Tara Reid and dialogue that was probably written by kindergartners (with apologies to the kids).

And there was pizza. Being flat broke and yet needing to be a good hostess I made up a giant bowl full of pizza dough which rose and rose and rose as we nibbled on treats from the freezer. Yes, we had foie! There was a rather sizeable foie gras mousse from a splurgy purchase in the recent past, and sparkling wine and wonderful red wine from a recent shipment I received that day and Anna brought an amazing assortment of crackers. Everyone brought various treats to top the pizza so we were set.

Making pizza

To have a successful pizza party you need lots of toppings. We had a great assortment but really the toppings can be anything you like on a pizza. You need a sauce or two, many cheeses, vegetables and lots of other savory things:

  • fresh tomato sauce canned by Anna
  • pesto sauce
  • buffalo mozzerella cheese
  • feta cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • ricotta cheese
  • basil
  • arugula
  • slivered asparagus
  • Sweety Drop peppers
  • crispy freeze-dried onion slices
  • assorted olives
  • Bacon Hot Sauce
  • capocollo salami

We would have had sauteed leeks and bacon but the movie was about to start and we felt like we had enough options at this point. The oven was roaring at 500 F, all the windows were open and the wine was flowing freely. I tore off an orange-sized ball of pizza dough from the massive bowl heaped with dough and helped each guest quickly form it into a round which was draped on my makeshift pizza peel – a flat-edged cookie sheet well sprinkled with cornmeal – and then they were free to top it with their choice of sauces, cheeses and tidbits.

Anastasia's pizza

(Anastasia’s pizza – pesto, olives, cappocolo, ricotta, basil, crispy onion)

The prepared pizza was slid carefully onto the super hot pizza stone and baked 10-15 minutes, then we cut it into wedges and everyone got to try a slice. Multiply this by five, we made a lot of pizza that night!

Pizza making hands

(post-pizza making hands)

Each pie was really fantastic, the crust was chewy and blistered black from the stone and crisp on the edges, the cheeses were browned and gooey and buttery and salty and the toppings made it all really interesting and unique.

First pie in the oven

(first pie baking away, despite the crappy apartment rental electric oven they bake up really nicely)

My pizza

(my pizza: tomato sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, asparagus, Sweety Drops)
Luna's pizza

(Luna’s pizza: pesto, cappocolo, mozzerella, Sweety Drops, arugula)

Anjali's pizza

(Anjali’s pizza: feta, pesto, cappocolo, asparagus, tomato sauce, Sweety Drops, crispy onion)

Near the end of the movie as we were mostly sated, a bit tipsy and reeling from laughter, the final pizza of the night was put in to bake, a dessert pizza!

Strawberry balsamic glaze ricotta basil dessert pizza #pizzaparty #Sharkado

Don’t knock a dessert pizza until you try it! Anna’s creation of roasted strawberries, the sweet, creamy ricotta, the tang of the basil and the rich, chocolate jimmies from Copenhagen made this the best pizza of the night.

The movie was over and the apartment was dusted in flour and wine corks. We quickly tidied up the kitchen and inflated the aerobed and those who stayed over fell asleep almost immediately. What a great night and what a tasty dinner! I can’t wait for the next cheesy scifi movie, Koalacane?

P.S. Sharknado II is coming in 2014!

Oysterfest

This weekend I was invited to a wonderful Northern California treat, an oyster picnic at Hog Island Oyster Company. Oysters are a perfect protein and a great example of sustainable and environmentally responsible seafood farming in California. Located along the Tomales Bay, the Hog Island Oyster Company, among others, grows over 3 million oysters a year, all Food Alliance Certified Sustainable.

My friends have an annual tradition of picnicking at Hog Island with their family and friends and I was delighted to be included this year in their wonderful picnic, which includes raw and grilled oysters fresh from the bay, plus wonderful wine and side dishes brought from our homes.

For years I have had oyster parties where we would buy a couple of boxes of medium oysters from Drake’s Bay Oysters (formerly Johnson’s Oysters) and grill them over mesquite with a variety of savory sauces or just lemon and hot sauce. Drake’s days of operation are coming to a close because the National Park Service decided to shut them down, and fabricated and misinterpreted evidence and have steadfastly ignored all scientific evidence to support their claim they operate sustainably while protecting the environment. We are continuing to hope they can get the NPS to overturn their irrational and puzzling decision and listen to Drake’s and all of the environmental and scientific groups supporting them to let their oyster farming continue.

I no longer have a place to grill at home but remember my oyster parties fondly and was very excited to have a chance to join a party of oyster lovers. My dearest friends joined me, D___, my little friend Bug and L___ are major oyster aficionados also so we packed up the car and hit the road.

Love this view

The drive north and west was quite pleasant, despite a bit of traffic along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard that leads from San Rafael all the way to Highway 1. The slow pace afforded us time for a natural history lesson given by yours truly on some of the wildflowers and trees in bloom in the chaparral, riparian and redwood forest environments. We passed through Samuel P. Taylor State Park, a beloved place for creek walking, picnics and hiking, and I hope to go there soon to do some of that with my friends.

Arriving at Hog Island on a weekend is an adventure. Highway 1 is lined with cars trying to park precariously on the side of the road to access the various oyster companies and restaurants that line Tomales Bay. We were very lucky to snag the last spot along the bed of oyster shells along the shoulder near Hog Island’s spot. Each night after the oyster farm closes they dump wheelbarrows full of shells along the shoulders, where cars crunch them into pure white and rather fragrant gravel.

We trudged along, carrying our loads of picnic baskets and apparatus to the reserved group picnic tables that hug the edge of the cove. If you don’t have a reservation don’t bother going, it is so very crowded there and the lines for oysters and a spot to sit were ridiculous. Instead, buy oysters to go and find a picnic spot in Point Reyes National Seashore; there is nothing finer than slurping oysters while sitting on the beach!

Pretty sunny day
(windblown but happy with the great view)

The sunny sky dotted with dragon and dolphin shaped clouds was perfect, just enough sun, the wind was up but it wasn’t too strong and we didn’t need coats at all, which is a complete miracle for the unpredictable weather along the bay. As experienced picnickers in Northern California we were prepared for everything, including wool hats, thermoses of espresso and flasks of whiskey, to sunhats, SPF 30 and chilled wines. Both D___ and I have glorious picnic baskets with all the accourterments required for sophisticated picnicking.

I brought a foie terrine to the picnic today
(a treat from D’Artagnan)

Cheese plate: chèvre, St Andre, Dubliner
(chevre, Dubliner and St. Andre)

Fun nibbles
(a trio of fun nibbles including chicharonnes from 4505 Meats)

We laid out our pre-oyster feast of savory tidbits along with L___’s batch of divine lemon meltaway cookies, bite sized lemony buttons that were egg-free (for me!) and D___’s enormous container of beignets fried up freshly that morning, just like the ones from Cafe du Monde! She even brought along a container of powdered sugar to redust the fluffy pillows of fried dough. Such evilly delicious treats and both sweet treats were the hit of the day.

L___ looked at me with a glint in her eye and said,

“Yes, I am really going to go there…. oh yeah……. I am!”

She then spread a bite of beignet with the foie pate. Oh my stars, did that ever look amazing. I had to try it too and it was true evil genius.

An evilly brilliant idea, pâté on a homemade beignet

After a very long wait in line our oysters arrived. Oysters really are just the perfect picnic food. Contained within their rugged and ruffled shells are the perfect bite (or two) of saline, oceanic goodness. Hog Island provides each group reservation with a bag of ice, a huge bag of oysters, a tray, gloves and an oyster knife and shucking instructions if you want them, and mesquite charcoal for the grills, plus all the oysters and mignonette sauce you desire. C___’s mom brought up a pair of sauces that were sloshed on the oysters as they grilled: a red Thai curry sundried tomato sauce and a delicious garlic herb butter. I had intended to bring my amazing garlic butter for oysters but a mishap in the kitchen that morning prevented its use, next time!

LunaRaven13s photo of our oysters

(L___’s photo of our enormous sack of oysters – please check out her other photos and art here and photos of our picnic here)

Everyone got into the fun of shucking and the shucking jokes flew fast and wild. N___, D___ and I took up our knives and started prying oysters open, some to slurp just then and some to put on the grill. Even young master Bug had a go and we were soon drenched in brine and well dusted with bits of shells, miniature mussels and limpets. Oddly this year we noticed the oyster shells were really crumbly and flakey but no one seemed to mind much the bits of extra calcium in their treat. No pictures though, shucking oysters is a messy business.

My method of grilling oysters is simple. Over a bed of coals, you place the rounded side of the oyster on the grilling rack and watch them. After a few minutes liquid will start to bubble and burst out of the shell. At this point, remove them from the heat with tongs and using a towel or hot pad and an oyster knife it is quite easy to slide the knife between the two shells. Remove the top (flat) shell and discard, and cut the oyster free from its curved bottom shell. It’s much easier opening oysters this way than trying to pry them open for a raw bite. If you ever watch an oysterman or a chef at a raw bar open oysters you must understand just how physically tough they are.

Now, return the oyster in its open shell back onto the grill and dollop in a little sauce and watch them again. Remove the oyster from the grill when the sauce is bubbly. Repeat until everyone is full. If you are grilling for more than 30 minutes you will need to add a few more pieces of charcoal to the bed of coals to keep the heat going – I bank them along one side of the grill and move away the oysters from the live flame.

Mini sweaters were a big hit
(lots of wonderful wines and my mini sweaters were a big hit although the whimsy was lost on a few folks. I think they are an essential part to any table.)

The 50 pound bag of oysters seemed large but it didn’t take long to go through them all. We opened more wine and sat back and watched the beautiful view and chatted with each other in a sated fashion.

My BFFs @Biggie and R - such a fun day
(Bug is taking a break after all the pate and oysters in his glamorous Mom’s lap!)

We are all very excited about N___ and C___’s impending move to the Bay Area. I looked around the table and realized that these people, all so near and dear to my heart, were all friends that I found through Twitter.

Picnic buddies @lunaraven13 @knit1eat1 thanks for having us!!!
(C___, N___ and L___)

L__ and I met and bonded over Massa Farm’s duck harvest one year, and she knew D___ from food blogging so the three of us had a blast one night organizing a dinner of the Bay Area Food Bloggers and have been the best of friends ever since. We are like sisters and it’s a wonderful thing.

Mustache gang(the Bay Area Food Bloggers infamous mustache incident on our first excursion together)

Two years ago we had a twitter-sourced meet up of local knitters, crocheters and dyers and met N___, who is an incredible knitting designer and artist, and his husband C____, who graciously kept us company and allowed us to geek out over fiber and fun. Through the magic of Twitter and Facebook we have deepened our relationship and having them move closer is going to be fantastic.

We are planning another visit to Tomales Bay this summer for more oysters and picnicking. I shall be sure to correctly prepare my garlic butter sauce but in the interim will enjoy it on prawns and grilled fish.

Fondue of Butter for Seafood
2 cubes of unsalted butter (1/2 pound or 1 cup)
1 head of garlic, peeled and trimmed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. shallots or onion powder (if desired)

In a small saucepan over very low heat melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook very slowly without simmering for an hour or until the garlic is extremely soft and tender and yet not browned. It is very important to monitor the heat of your stove to ensure the butter does not boil and brown and the garlic stays creamy white. When the garlic is super tender use a fork or an immersion blender to puree the garlic. Add salt to taste, the paprika and the shallot/onion powder. Keep warm while grilling the oysters in a small pot on the corner of the BBQ and dollop spoonfuls into the oysters. Grill until bubbly.

Also, if you are feeling too challenged by dealing with placing the oysters on the grill to finish with the garlic butter, you can place a grill-safe skillet on a corner of the grill and fill with the butter, and plop in the oysters as you open them after their initial grilling. Your guests can use a cocktail fork or spoon to scoop up an oyster as they wish.

Printer-friendly recipe

A few notes: Please buy your oysters and seafood from reputable, sustainable sources. On the West Coast you can gather your own shellfish but the red algae that plague our waters can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), particularly in mussels, therefore a quarantine applies to our coast from Oregon to Mexico and shellfish are generally unsafe between March and October. You can phone the Biotoxin Information Line 1-800-553-4133 to get updates on current quarantines and health advisories throughout the year. Other types of shellfish, including oysters and clams, and commercially harvested mussels from certified companies are not included in the quarantine. The commercial companies test their shellfish and are certified as toxin-free.

Perfect Protein:

This summer I will be writing about sustainable seafood as part of the Perfect Protein project, created by Eric Ripert and Mario Batali. The book, “The Perfect Protein: A Fish Lover’s Guide to Saving the Oceans and Feeding the World” by Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless, is a new, thought-provoking book on why and how we should and can quickly increase the amount of wild seafood in our oceans; as well as how as consumers we can shop and eat more of the right seafood to help feed the world, address hunger and improve the world’s health. I am proud to be part of this project this summer as I have long been a proponent of wild and sustainable fishing, whether fished by myself or by commercial sources. Since I was a teen I have carried a copy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch’s guide in my wallet, and now have their app on my phone. I love seafood, and feel especially lucky to live on the California coast with all the wonderful edible creatures off our doorstep.

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Weekend Fun and This Includes Brunch

This weekend we had warm weather. This time of year in San Francisco is like the rest of the world’s summer, one can go to work without a warm jacket and suddenly ladies wearing skirts with bare legs looks like a good idea instead of scoffing at all their goosebumps. I dusted off my linen skirt, said hello to my pasty legs and took them out for a spin.

My dear friend C___ invited me to join him to a trek to the Livermore Valley. He had been gifted a wonderful bottle of wine from Murrieta’s Well Winery and wanted more. The winery is built on the site of the spring where Joachin Murrieta, the famed outlaw and bandit, used to water his horses. There is a nice little fountain built using the spring water and no more wild horses. The wine, however, was fantastic and well worth the drive.

At the vineyard
(me standing on actual dirt! It feels as if I haven’t been outside in years. Oh wait!)

Chris at the vineyard
(my dear friend C___ whom I’ve known since I was a sweet young thang of 18.)

Murietta's Well is where he camped, fascinating
(If there is a historical plaque I am compelled to read it, thanks to parental training.)

Chris at Murietta's Well
(THE spring, please note the horses and Senor Murietta depicted on the tile)

It is a beautiful spot, very hot and arid and this seems to suit the vines. Surprisingly to a few folks wine grapes, like good tomatoes, like to be stressed.

Ascension
(detail of the steps leading up to the wine tasting room)

Vineyards
(peeking out the window to the vines and patio)

Their winemaker is Chilean and has been planting Portuguese grape varietals but making them in a Rhone style. I learned a lot about varietals I had never heard of previously. The tasting room was busy but we got the full treatment and ended up having a glass of wine on the balcony overlooking the vines while they pulled our wine from the “library” since we were allowed to buy some things not usually available. I like my wine friends and their superpowers!

Not enough of a recommendation for me.
(one of their award-winning whites, but who knew Houston had a wine competition / rodeo?)

View from the balcony
(a fine view with a glass of wine)

Me and Chris at Murietta's Well
(happy happy)

We ran into some traffic in Livermore, some of the side streets were really cute but overall the place is reminiscent of Los Angeles sprawl with housing tracts popping up on the hills. Some vines were being planted too, I would rather see the wineries expand myself.

Traffic in Livermore

I came home from winetasting and made myself some of my homemade bacon! Wow! Then I took a nap! Then, I had more wine.

Delicious! Murietta's Well 2010 Cabernet Franc
(a post-wine-tasting glass of wine)

Sunday morning I went to brunch. Please note this is the most social weekend I have had where I just did things for fun and it felt great to be “normal” and to make plans with friends and be able to actually attend them. Brunch was a popup for a local bakery, Marla Bakery, at the State Bird Provisions restaurant. If you are going to be in SF this Sunday I would recommend having their brunch, email them for a reservation or go early at sit at the counter like we did.

Marla cherry tart
(cherry and frangipane tart)

Anticipation is building for @marlabakery brunch

Marla’s pastries are incredibly beautiful. This the Marla bun which is like a palmier but made into a larger roll.

Lovely cherry & tarragon scones @marlabakery

I had dried cherry and tarragon scones with a little jar of marscapone and rhubarb compote piped in. All of these years searching for decent clotted cream in the city and I realize, stupidly, that I should have been using marscapone. It was truly brilliant. I didn’t get much of the tarragon but it is allergy season after all and my nose proved shamefully incapable of detecting aromas this weekend.  These sold out before Noon and I am very glad I had the foresight to order one to go.

Keep thinking about this lamb & fattoush @marlabakery brunch

For the brunch “entree” I had roasted rare lamb that took three days to prepare. It was rubbed in yogurt and barahat and was roasted perfectly.  Tender, thin slides were drizzled with harissa spiced yogurt. The flatbread had been brushed with spices too and was enormous and warm like a hug. The fattoush salad was herby and tart and included pickled onions and crispy flatbread crackers.

Darling coffee service @marlabakery brunch

I washed this down with a glass of cava and coffee service by Wrecking Ball. Ethopian coffee in a tiny carafe really hit the spot. The little biscotti were a nice touch too, I gifted them to my friend as they contain almonds and I can’t eat them right now.

I wish I could go back this Sunday but I will be off on another adventure!

Where to Go

Murrieta’s Well
3005 Mines Road
Livermore, CA 94550

Marla’s Bakery
Every Thursday between 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm at the Mission Community Market at 22nd & Bartlett in San Francisco
Watch their Facebook page for pop up brunch locations

State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

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.

Garlic

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.

Birthday Memories and Chicken Parm

It was my distinct pleasure to coordinate a birthday dinner for a dear friend and to cook one of the entrees.

When you were a kidlet did you get to ask for your favorite birthday dinner? Mine was always pork chops braised in a curry sauce with apricots and onions. Once my sis asked for a full-on Thanksgiving dinner! In the summer!  And she got it!

My friend’s childhood recollection of her favorite birthday dinner was veal Parmigiana and chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. My grocery budget doesn’t allow for veal but I do make a mean chicken Parm!

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(mean)

Turns out we were planning on feeding fifteen people, including hordes of children, so I knew I needed to make a big batch of chicken Parm. I wanted the birthday gal to have leftovers to take home also, so basically I needed to double my recipe. Costco was the perfect choice for large quantities of chicken, cheese and tomatoes and it felt fantastic to finally be un-gimpy enough to walk through the entire warehouse to shop. It took forever but I did it! It was fun too, I shopped with a mutual friend for the party and it was great to collaborate with someone on the overall menu.

Back at home, the night before the party I tackled the “do ahead” tasks such as grating the cheese for the breaded coating and making the largest pot of sugo or tomato sauce that I had made in several years. My first challenge was to open the enormous can of tomatoes, it was about three quarters of a gallon of tomatoes!

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I love Andrew Carmellini’s book Urban Italian that I received for Christmas a few years ago and have absorbed his concept of a quick pasta sauce. I sauteed a huge white onion in olive oil until it was soft and added a tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon of chile flakes, a tablespoon of sea salt and several teaspoons of dried oregano, and then began hand-crushing the tomatoes with the heel of my hand. Elbow deep in this giant can I scooped out tomatoes with my fingers and found stems, leaves and shreds of peels as well – not impressed with this product – I was glad I was doing this by hand! It was also my dinnertime so I added in some raw cheddar bratwursts from my favorite local butcher, 4505 Meats, to cook in the sauce. It was a nice symbiotic touch, they flavored the sauce and the sauce flavored them.

Eventually the sauce was done, it simmered for 45 minutes and then after a quick blitz with the immersion blender I tasted it for seasoning. Usually I use nicer tomatoes like San Marzano tomatoes and these domestic tomatoes had a lot of acid that I was used to. I didn’t want to add more sugar so I used James Beard’s mother’s trick for balancing out acid in her tomato soup recipe and added a 1/2 tsp of baking soda. It’s fun to watch the base soda react with the tomato acids and foam up! Once the foam subsided the chemical reaction of neutralizing the acid was complete, I tasted it again and the sauce was perfect. Into the fridge it went in my largest four quart storage bowl. Four quarts of sauce! I was worried I made too much but I could have actually used more in the recipe. Isn’t that something?

I took on grating the cheese next. It was a 1 1/2 pound block of cheese, it was like grating a hard bound book! My arms were flagging but I pressed on and grated almost all of it to use for the breading of the chicken and for sprinkling on top of the finished dish before baking.

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(the cheese dwarfs my box grater)

The day of the party I pulled on my favorite mushroom-sprigged apron, tied up my hair and got to work pounding the chicken. A dozen chicken breasts pounded to a 1/2″ thickness takes a bit of time to do and I am sure my (nice) neighbors hate me. I hope my noisy upstairs neighbors got the fillings rattled out of their head from my banging away for about an hour!

(A little side note, it sure felt good to be able to do this kitchen task, a sure sign that my shoulder is all healed from its repair and subsequent injuries post-surgery. Hooray!)

Once the chicken was all pounded I realized that I needed to get creative for the breading process. A good chicken parm is coated in seasoned flour, dipped in beaten egg, and then crumbed with grated cheese and bread crumbs, then fried or baked before being layered in tomato sauce and mozzerella cheese and baked until bubbly and golden brown. I am getting hungry just thinking about it.

I may not have mentioned this much but most every kitchen in San Francisco has tiny kitchens. Apparently they are not as tiny as in New York per se but nonetheless they are quite tiny in comparison to the vast acreage of suburban kitchen counter space. I have one counter in my kitchen and it is next to the sink, covered with my luxurious but very necessary (to me) portable dishwasher. It doubles as a holder for the dish drainer as well. There is another small counter area directly underneath the built in cupboards that house my dishes and glassware. It has a clearance of perhaps 12″ and is essentially useless as a work surface. It currently is the perfect nook for my convection/toaster oven and barely holds the paper towel holder on the sides.

I am nothing short of a miracle worker when it comes to finding creative solutions for the lack of counter space. I use my kitchen table often for work but it is very far from the stove, I also use the open door of the aforementioned portable dishwasher but there is little room when the door is opened to access the stove or open the fridge.

Last time I made chicken parm was in my late ex’s Marin home, which was graced with lots of counter space and a mobile kitchen cart that I assembled from Pier One. In my tiny Roost kitchen I had to get quite creative to set up the breading station, so I utilized the cutting board under the convection oven (which does not fit the space and slants at a horrific angle, rendering it useless for chopping or measuring anything – thank you Mr. Landlord!). I put the egg wash on the cutting board, put flexible cutting mats inside the silverware drawer and the utility drawer that holds the wax paper and foil and balanced the pans of the dry breading mixtures in each. Another cutting mat was perched on the open door of the convection oven to receive the finished breaded chicken so it could be ferried over to the stove without dropping crumbs everywhere. The raw chicken sat on yet another flexible cutting mat on the open door of the dishwasher. Crazy, but it worked!

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I had two pans going at once and used the oven racks to receive the finished crisped chicken pieces. The trick to making chicken Parmigiana so that the coating does not fall off is to place the breaded chicken in a well oiled frying pan over medium heat and not touch it. For those of you that like to poke and prod their food as it cooks you must refrain from touching or moving the chicken. If you move it and the cheese is not properly golden brown on the bottom it will tear right off and you will have chicken that looks like it has mange. Put the chicken in the pan for two to three minutes and just relax, after that time you can grab the pan and give it a vigorous shake. If the chicken moves in the pan, it is ready to be turned over. The cheese has browned and set, it has unstuck itself from the pan, and you are good to go. If it doesn’t move, it’s Not Ready. This applies to nonstick pans as well. There is no rushing when it comes to browning chicken Parm.

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Once you turn over your chicken and admire the golden brown gorgeousness of it all, again you must wait until the flip side has browned sufficiently.

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It took over an hour to brown the dozen pounded pieces of chicken but it was worth the time. Each piece was perfect. Since I was assembling the dish at the party location I wrapped up the chicken in foil after it cooled and transported it, the sauce and the tubs of cheese in market bags with the casserole pans and a ladle. It was a giant chicken Parm kit!

At the party about an hour before dinnertime, I heated the oven to 350, spread a couple of ladles of the tomato sauce in each casserole, added a layer of chicken, a layer of sauce and topped each one with slices of fresh mozzarella and handfuls of more Parmesan cheese. They baked for 30-45 minutes until the cheese was browned nicely on top and each casserole was bubbling with caramelized edges. They had to sit for about 15 minutes before serving so that you could cut generous squares of the finished Parm.

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I was so gratified when the birthday gal took a bite, closed her eyes and said, “Mmmmmmfh, it’s just like home.”

Another dear friend and conspirator made the most delicious chocolate cupcakes with cute sprinkles and vanilla icing.

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Perfection. Birthday dinner goal accomplished!

Recipe here

A Lot of TLC

It’s been a tough week. Pogo is gone, my surgery day came the next day and I was so happy to have a dear friend scoop me up and take me to her home for some TLC and good company.

I learned to use my scooter and to sleep with one leg hiked up in the air, to go to the loo and never touch my right foot to the floor (much trickier than you would think, try it sometime!) and to catnap in between pain pills.

I learned that Costco has the best leakproof thermal cups ever and bubbly water is the perfect drink when one is feeling squiffy. It is possible to live on saltines and candied ginger for quite a few days. I’ve learned enough physical pain mutes the heartbreak of losing my best furry friend, a tiny bit, for a little while.

I learned that a really, really good friend is one who waits at the pharmacy for an hour for stronger pain medication and then dabs anti itch stuff on your horrifyingly-similar-to-mosquito-bites rash the medication subsequently gives you without freaking out. It’s been a week of learning, of humility and of the love of a good friend. This is what friends do for another and it is a beautiful gift.

Suddenly though I was hungry and nothing tastes better than toast with peanut butter and Biscoff spread, hot tea then hot coffee and eventually chicken soup. Then, I was treated to a succession of lovely meals, small for my puny appetite, but so tasty that they instantly cheered me up while providing healing nutrition. All made while simultaneously refilling water cups, rearranging mounds of pillows, dispensing the much needed pain pills, gently applying ice packs and more dabbing of the anti itch stuff. Angel status achieved.

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The new footwear.

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Gyoza is fantastic, particularly at sunset.

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Sometimes one can ask for a grilled cheese sandwich at breakfast, and get it.

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Sometimes bonus bacon comes with it. Yay, bacon!

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Yakisoba can be faked quite successfully with linguini, it’s called fusion!

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And sometimes, cheese in a can tastes damned good. I know, but don’t judge…

Soon I will be home eating out of the freezer so I am treasuring these quiet times filled with TLC. A thank you seems inadequate but I do thank you, D___.

(Plus this…)

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My 2011 “Did It'” List

My friend Luna Raven recently posted her 2011 “Did It” List, inspired by one of her friends and I love all the things she got done this year.  Thus inspired I thought I should join the club and write about my accomplishments too.

I went to Mushroom Camp and  learned to mordant yarn and fabric and then dye it using foraged mushrooms.
Green shimmery stems!The red gilled dernacybe makes a gorgeous pinkAmazing spectrum of hues from mushroom dyesRed-Gilles Dermocybes with alum mordant make this coppery hue

I found my first candy cap mushroom in the redwood forests up in Sonoma.
My first mushroom foray, a candycap!

I attended the Fancy Food Show and scored twelve pounds of amazing blue cheese. (no picture, we ate it all!)

I discovered some amazing ramen places, including my current favorite, pork and corn butter ramen at Ramen Club.
*Ridiculous* dinner w @equan55 - butter ramen

I treated myself to some incredible yarn at Stitches West and have actually knitted up a few garments.
Zontee spotting!!The results of our card knitting class! Lorna Miserphoto.JPGChacha shawl

I gathered up all my courage and borrowed lots of courage from friends and had surgery to repair my shoulder from a tragic high fiving injury when we won the World Series in 2011.Two months later I did not listen to my doctors orders and returned to work a month early, which is why one should not make important decisions while taking pain medication!  Major life lesson learned!  (Is that technically an accomplishment?)
The *right* shoulder
(note to the surgeon)

I am still in physical therapy due to yet another accident while riding MUNI.  My  accomplishment there is patience and learning to follow directions and care for myself, and, even though it’s embarrassing, sit in the disabled seats on the bus.

I got to visit with my dearest childhood friend three times! ((Lovi!!))
Me & my BFFGurlzphoto.JPG

My friends and I made ten different kinds of macaroni and cheese on my birthday at a huge blowout party, and we almost ate them all!
Mac'n cheese blowout - in progressMy dear friends...

I celebrated one year at my new job and I am still loving every day. It was great to have health insurance, medical leave and understanding coworkers while I heal. I am so lucky!
Deflating the monkeyphoto.JPGphoto.JPGphoto.JPG

I went to San Diego on the most hilarious girls road trip to BlogHer – the Road Trip of Happiness!
Here it is, on a 20" plate, fried chicken BennieEeek! It's *so* big! @whats4dinnermomGetting reading for #KUYH Party @rubydw is thirsty!Tasering @domesticvalerie while waiting for brekkies is just rude @lunaraven13

I relearned how to embroider after taking a great class from Princess Animal and finished my first sampler.
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I knitted my 26th pair of socks and learned how to darn them.
Skew socks in Alchemy's Juniper sock- Summertime BluesLast view, fun heel stripes, love this pattern!Finished my Twisted socks from @knittydotcomForgotten arts: darning socks (done!)

I created a new diet of bacon, chocolate, beef, wine and cocktails, bread and cheese because of weird food allergy/sensitivities – I’m doing just fine on it, it’s not privation that’s for sure!
Vegan chocolate cake ~ Wacky cake ~ with bourbon ganache. Thanks mOmIt's business time...Mmm lardons - thanks @nueskes @inyaku !

I launched a new blog – The Inadvertent Redhead – as an outlet for my non-food related talents, and I love it! And yes, I’m still a redhead!
Irish coffee #2 at the Buena Vistaaaahhhhphoto.PNG

Because of my blog and social media I was invited to a multitude of wonderful parties and events and I feel so privileged to have these opportunities and to know so many wonderful writers, cooks, chefs, photographers, stylists and artistan food producers from many genres.
Chef Corey Lee of BenuSour Flour

Despite all the challenges and sadnesses of this year it has been a really good one and I am looking forward to many fun things in 2012.

I am most especially looking forward to another year with my wonderful family.
Ken and Barbie

Here’s to health and happiness ahead!
Cheers my friends!