Tag Archives: health

Sunday Meals with Framily

I am delighted to find a way to offset the dreaded Sunday blues I have been feeling by having a “framily” dinner – a dinner with friends who are like my family.

This Sunday sadness is an odd phenomenon for me.  For many years I thought it was because on Sunday afternoon I remembered I had to go to work on Monday to a job I hated. As time passed and I changed jobs, then changed jobs again, I was in a series of long-term relationships with men who lived out of the City. Sundays meant either they left to go home, or I did, and there again leaving me feeling lonely at dinner and facing an evening of dread anticipating work.

Osso Bucco dinner

Work got better but I was always seemed to end up alone Sunday night and in my societally-programmed brain Sundays are meant to be spent with family or friends, with a well anticipated family meal capping off the weekend’s adventures with each other, or hopefully, at the minimum, the successful completion of chores that inevitably pile up. But that is not my life, and now that I am single and even without a cat roommate I find the sorrow and loneliness is sometimes overwhelming. Some Sundays I even spent watching Hallmark Channel movies and dabbing at the eyes with tissue, such a deplorable state in which to find oneself.  The Hallmark Channel!!

Last weekend however, I invited friends over for dinner and we had such a nice evening together, full of laughter, silliness and great food, even if it is a challenge to cook in my tiny kitchen astride a scooter. I realized, even after they went home, that I didn’t feel as lonely as I usually do, and this is because my dear friends are my family and that this simple family meal felt right and true and I felt like a member of a family, a family of friends, my “framily”.

I spoke honestly about my feelings over that dinner and found that some of my friends feel the same way.  Either they’re not in a relationship right now, or their partner lives far away like mine used to, or the child custody arrangements mean half of the Sundays they say goodbye to their children and go home alone.  I have proposed a standing Sunday dinner or midday supper going forward where we gather and relax and enjoy.  I know it can’t happen every weekend but I hope it will.

This weekend, despite the 6.1 earthquake that rocked the Bay Area and severely damaged the town of Napa, we in SF were in good shape, a little shaken but not stirred, if you know what I mean.  Saturday, before all of the excitement, I prepared an osso bucco with a large format beef shank from my amazing local butcher, 4505 Meats.  I love making osso bucco and it is very nostalgic for me and I haven’t made it for four years.

Osso Bucco dinner

I made a variation of my usual osso bucco and added shitakes and some local bell peppers, just because I had them, and used a bunch of whole carrots scattered across the top.  Everything cooked away in the oven while I practiced crutching around the apartment.

I was so proud of myself for using crutches almost the entire day, except when I made myself a sandwich for dinner.  It was quite a gourmet sandwich made from leftover smoked beef brisket but once I had made it I couldn’t figure out how to transport it to my dining table.  I tried wrapping it in a paper towel but couldn’t hang onto it while holding onto the crutches and it fell on the floor, happily still wrapped up.  Then I put it in waxed paper and tried sticking inside my tee shirt, but it fell out!  So much for passing the pencil test then, I chuckled to myself.  Then I put it in a ziplock baggie and held it in my teeth, like a dog.  Utterly hilarious.

When my sandwich was done, so was the osso bucco and I let it cool a bit on the stove before packing it up for my friend’s place.

On Sunday, D___  made a gorgeous pot of polenta with lots of butter and cheese, and we reheated the sauce first to thicken it a bit then added the meat and carrots to warm up. While it was heating I chopped up a huge mound of gremolata, the magical mixture of garlic, lemon zest and parsley that is scattered over the top of the osso bucco and livens up the dish.

Osso Bucco dinner
(once you make gremolata you will want to put it on everything)

Another friend made a beautiful salad of avocados and ripe tomatoes and brought some tomato basil bisque to start.

Osso Bucco dinner

Osso Bucco dinner
(from the Unsafeway, delicious!)

We sipped on Prosecco then rose, while the young man in the house enjoyed his milk in a wine glass.

Osso Bucco dinner
Osso Bucco dinner
(there is a huge mound of cheese-laden polenta under that sugo!)

There was a moment during dinner where the conversation just halted and we all felt so replete and blissed out.  Having a luxurious and hearty mid-day meal on Sunday was so pleasant and relaxing, it was the perfect moment.  Afterwards we chatted and played games and I knitted a bit while the sun streamed in the window while the room was chilled by the Pacific breezes.  We all felt really happy!  Mission accomplished!

 

Next weekend, tacos!

Recipe:  Overnight Osso Bucco

Sunday Cooking

Sundays are a great day to bond with your couch, and often I like to putter a bit in the kitchen in between.

Like any “normal” person, I tackled the pile of dishes in the sink that built up during the week. Somehow every coffee cup ends up in the sink instead of the dishwasher. After KP is completed I pulled out the produce that was waiting in the fridge.

I am cooking for breakfast and lunches during the week. Dinner tonight is already sorted out, minestre from Nonni’s recipe and meatloaf that I made on Friday night.

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It helps me figure out what to cook when I see what I’ve got to work with, so I heaped everything on the stove and decided I would make:

o Melitzanosalata or Greek eggplant salad
o Broiled tomatoes
o Sautéed chard
o Gratined chard stems and leeks
o Rainbow quinoa
o Lemon tarragon vinaigrette

The eggplant gets baked until very soft and a bit smoky from the browned skin, so I pricked it all over with a fork and got it settled in a hot oven on a piece of foil.

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The quinoa was next, it’s extremely easy to make, just boil water! Add a bit of salt and while you’re waiting for the water to boil, measure and rinse your quinoa. I use a cone shaped strainer that gets used for everything from straining stock, sifting flour and draining pasta.

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I set the quinoa to simmer while I prepared the tomatoes.

The tomatoes are an heirloom variety from a local organic market, so they’re especially juicy and flavorful, yet another reason to love California produce in the spring. I cut off a tiny sliver from the bottom and removed the stem end and halved them, and nestled them in a gratin pan. I sprinkled them with a sea salt blended with bell peppers and dried onions, and a grind of pepper and a pinch of harissa spice. Then I sprinkled over a little bit of bread crumbs from one slice of bread chopped in the food processor. A hearty drizzle of local, peppery olive oil and they are ready for the oven.

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The timer for the eggplant sounded so I pulled it out of the oven to cool, and popped in the pan of tomatoes.

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The eggplant is cooked when it’s sort of collapsed looking and is as wrinkled as a surfer after a long set.

I cut it in half while it was hot, and trying not to burn my fingers and with the help of a paring knife, I flipped over the eggplant and peeled off its skin. The skin comes off easily with a tug from the knife.

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The eggplant needs to have all of the liquid removed while it is still warm, so using my trusty strainer I put in the peeled eggplant and used a spatula to squish out all the liquid I could.

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The eggplant cooled off in the strainer for a while to drain a bit more while I removed the quinoa from the stove.

I let the quinoa cool for a few minutes then fluffed it with a fork. The quinoa still had a bit of texture to it, not mushy, but nutty and fluffy, and it absorbed the lightly salted water and was perfectly seasoned.

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The timer went off for the tomatoes and I pulled them from the hot oven. The tomatoes were still holding their shape but soft and bursting with juices under their crispy breadcrumb topping.

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Back to the cooled eggplant, it was a small one so I put it in my mini chop with a small clove of garlic and enough plain yogurt to help the mixture purée smoothly was added, along with the juice of a lemon. Since my lemons were minis, I used three!

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When the eggplant was perfectly smooth, I poured in some olive oil and let it purée a bit more to emulsify. A quick check for seasoning a added more lemon juice and then decided to eat it right away. All of this cooking is making me ravenous.

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Before I had my snack, I cooked the chard quickly. A quarter of a slivered onion went in the pan first with olive oil and was sautéed until soft. The rinsed and chopped chard leaves went in next with a splash of water to cook until they are tender, this takes just a few minutes.

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When the greens were cooked I put them in a bowl to cool with a bit more olive oil and crunchy sea salt. The chard is tangy from the lemon and I think they taste far better than spinach.

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I rinsed out the pan and added the halved leeks and chard stems with a little broth so they could simmer until soft.

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While they simmered, I had my little melitzanosalata and pita bread for lunch and watched the rest of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

The eggplant is light and lemony with a pleasant earthiness from being roasted. It tastes fantastic at room temperature or cold. I also like to put inside sandwiches but I polished off this batch quickly. Next time I will buy a larger eggplant so I can use the melitzanosalata for other purposes.

Since the lemons were so tiny, I abandoned my plans to make a vinaigrette and saved the last one for a cocktail.

The leeks were finished cooking by the time I was done with my lunch. Using a spatula, I lifted them out of the skillet and placed them in a gratin pan, added cream and a heavy grating of Romano cheese and put them in the oven so that the cream thickens and the cheese browns. I saved the 1/2 cup of broth leftover from the braising leeks and added it to my minestre; it had great flavor and would be a shame not to use it.

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The gratin smelled divine, the leeks are sweet and meltingly tender and the chard is toothsome and coated in rich cream and the savory, salty browned cheese on top was the perfect mouthful.

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When the gratin was done I had a glass of wine before tackling the KP duties again. All this lovely food was done and cooling.

Tonight I will have half a tomato with my meatloaf and a cup of soup. For breakfasts I can have the quinoa topped with chard or with a tomato half. For lunches I can have the gratin with a the leftover meatloaf or a tomato half. They all work together in various combinations, and it’s comforting to know I don’t have to worry about going out for a meal at work and accidentally eating eggs. Plus, all of these dishes are nutritious, besides being very tasty.

It’s still early on Sunday, there’s time for a nap or some knitting or some more bonding time with my couch or perhaps all three!

Recipe:    Melitzanosalata – Greek Eggplant Salad/Dip

Gratineed Leeks and Chard Stems

 

Bursting with Bacon

Oh man, the bourbon maple is so intense.  The herb-pine syrup is heady.

Last month I had the pleasure of being invited to purchase a share of a Mangalitsa pig. The Mangalitsa is one of those wonderful heirloom breeds where the fat is not bred out of the animal like our modern day pork, in fact this breed of pig has a prodigious fat layer and is one of the most prized breed of pork in the world.

acorns

This particular pig was finished on acorns, which means for the last few weeks of its blissfully unaware life he was fed mounds and mounds of acorns. To us humans acorns are unconscionably bitter but pigs eat them up like potato chips.    Besides the no doubt gustatory delight of crunching them up in their forceful jowls it has an ancillary benefit of infusing the meat and fat with a delightful nuttiness reminiscent of hazelnuts. An acorn finished pig is a marvelous thing and I bought lots of it.

My modest meat budget was consumed by this purchase but the enormous 10 pound side of pork belly, a sizable pork loin, a tub of creamy, pure lard and a substantial pork neck was enough to pack my freezer and will provide me with porky enjoyment for quite some time.

My plan was to cure the pork belly in two ways, one with maple, bourbon and brown sugar and the other with a more traditional fresh and dried herb and spice blend.

To approximate the effect of smoked bacon, for which I completely lack the facilities to achieve, I used crushed black pepper that had been smoked over defunct bourbon barrels and a simple syrup infused from local pine trees from Mount Tamalpais.

I never really realized how easy it is to cure bacon.   The most difficult part was cutting the massive 10 pound pork belly into two pieces  because the skin is so very tough. 10 pounds of pork belly is quite large.

10# Mangalitsa pork belly I cut them in half, look at that glorious fat!

Pork belly, cut in half and trimmed

I had two ziplock bags, one for the sweet cure and one for the savory cure.  I  chucked in the ingredients into each bag and shook them around to mix.

The cure

On a clean cutting mat I arranged the pork belly, skin side down, poured over the cure mix and patted it around a bit before sliding the belly into the same bag.

The traditional cure

With both pieces of pork belly rubbed in their cure and sealed in their bags, I massaged them a bit and put them into the fridge.  See you in a week!

See you in a week!

That was not hard at all, nor was it hard to pick up the bag during the following week and give it a little massage, flip it over once in a while and just admire it.

To make the slabs even I had to do a little bit of trimming.  The skin side of these pieces had the nipples of the pig!  Well, we all know that pigs are animals and are mammals and that mammals have nipples but nonetheless it was a tiny bit of a surprise.  However, I am at the top of the food chain and have butchered my own animals for food, in my distant past, so it just made my eyebrows rise a moment then I continued on with my trimming.  I used these pieces, which weighed about a pound and a haf, into red cooked pork belly last Sunday.

The trimmings, includes the nipples!

A week later it was time to cook the cured raw bacon.

In lieu of smoking, I used the aforementioned flavorings in the cure to provide a smokey flavor and set about baking the slabs in the oven on low heat until the meat reached 150 F.   This was last Sunday during my cooking explosion and it wasn’t much work to add baking the bacon to my list of cooking projects that day.

I removed the raw bacon slabs from their curing bags and gave them a good rinse.  They certainly didn’t look like much but their aroma was fantastic.  The peppercorns discolored the skin, which I found interesting.  I used my nonstick cooling rack for cakes set inside a half-sheet jelly roll pan.

Cured and rinsed raw bacon

 

(Note the peppercorn stains on the skin, interesting!)

Cured and rinsed and ready to bake!  I poured in a good slug of bourbon into the bottom the the baking sheet before sliding it into the oven.  I was hoping this would add extra aroma to the finished bacon.

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After baking, not a lot of fat was in the bottom of the pan as you can see, and the slabs looked just as they should, very bacon-like.  I slid a meat thermometer into the sides of the slabs at various points to check the desired temperature of 150 F.

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Check out the thick layer of fat!  I could really smell the difference between the two slabs with their very different cures, but overall there was a rich nuance of nutty fat that I have never detected with ordinary bacon.  This is the delectable Mangalitsa acorn enhanced fat.  Wow.

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(these look like small pieces but my carving knife is 14″ long!)

I cut the bacon slab in half and then sliced off the skin to reveal the pearly, nutty fat. The meaty underside was particularly gorgeous too.

The same process was repeated on the other slab of bacon.  I wrapped two of the half-slabs in plastic wrap then secured them airtight in a ziplock bag for the freezer.  The other two half slabs went into the fridge for immediate use.

It was immediate too, I sliced off two slices of the herb and spice cured bacon with the pine syrup, and one slice of the bourbon maple pepper bacon and fried them up.  Just these three small slices gave off a lot of fat, which I saved for making my steak dinner later that night.

You can almost hear the sizzle.

Morning snack before brunch, Mangalitsa bacon

My own bacon, fried up and gorgeous.   The pine syrup and herbs really shone and matched well with the rich fat.  The bourbon flavor was very strong in the bourbon maple slice and it tasted too salty to me, but I have never minded a strong bourbon flavor nor salty bacon and it certainly didn’t deter me from enjoying this wonderful treat.

My recipes were inspired by a lecture I attended by Michael Ruhlman for BlogHer Food a few years ago.  When I talked to him after the lecture and mentioned my hesitation over making bacon without a smoker in my very urban apartment (aka no ventilation in the kitchen other than a window on the far end of the dining nook), he assured me that baking it off is just as wonderful as smoking and never to fear the bacon.   His book on charcuterie is fantastic and one day I will indulge myself.

Making your own bacon is much less expensive than buying it already cured and prepared, and you get to customize the flavors just the way you like it.  Even if you can’t find the luxurious Mangalitsa bacon, any fresh pork belly from your butcher or Asian market will make fantastic bacon.   It was so easy too, the hardest part of the entire process was being in my apartment as it slowly cooked in the oven. The aroma of the bacon was incredible, and if you are a restaurant in San Francisco, it can cause your neighbors to try to shut you down.

Better Bacon

5# fresh pork belly, skin on
large ziplock bag

Basic cure:
1/4 cup Kosher salt (Diamond salt)
2 tsp pink curing salt or sodium nitrite (not Pink Himalayan salt)  (I got mine here)
1/4 cup sugar (brown, maple, honey, agave)

Additions – These can be anything you fancy, but here are some good basic recommendations:
4 T ground or crushed black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
5 cloves of garlic, smashed flat
5-10 sprigs of fresh thyme, or any herb you like
1/4 cup booze

My savory herb and spice cure:
1/4 cup Kosher salt
2 tsp. pink curing salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup June Taylor pine syrup
4 T bourbon barrel smoked course ground pepper
4 dried California bay leaves
10 sprigs of thyme, spanked between my palms
5 cloves of garlic – smashed flat and skins removed
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

My bourbon, maple, pepper cure:
1/4 cup Kosher salt
2 tsp. pink curing salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 T brown sugar
4 T whole peppercorns, crushed coarsley with a mortar and pestle
1/4 cup bourbon

Mix together the bacon cure in the ziplock bag and shake or squish well to mix. Put the pork belly on a cutting board and pour over the raw pork belly, massage in and place the belly back in the bag (with any of the cure that might remain on the cutting board. Remove all the air from the bag, seal and store in the fridge for at least 7 days. Every few days massage the pork belly a bit and return to the fridge.

On the day to cook the meat (oven method), turn on the oven to 150-200 F. Put a rack on a baking sheet large enough to hold the raw bacon. Rinse the bacon well, pat try with paper towels and place on the rack.  Pour a good slosh of bourbon into the bottom of the pan.  Place in the cold oven and set the timer for 3 hours.  Add more bourbon to the baking sheet every hour or so, if desired.

Check the temperature after 3 hours to see if the meat has reached 150 F.  If not, give it another 15-20 minutes or until it reaches 150 F.   Allow to cool, trim off the skin and chill until ready to eat.

When ready to eat your bacon, slice of a thin or thick slice, add to a cold skillet with a dash of water and fry until as crispy as you like.  If your bacon tastes too salty for you, add more water and cook for a few minutes, then pour off the water and fry until crisp.

Another advantage to having slab bacon is to make your own lardon.  A lardon is a pinkie-sized rectangle of bacon that is delicious in a warm salad or in soups or just eaten out of hand.  Cut the bacon 1/2″ thick then again into large even matchsticks, add water, and then drain and fry on all sides.  Delectable.

Makes 5 pounds of bacon
(printer friendly recipe)

A note about the pink curing salt, or sodium nitrite.  It is a naturally occurring salt found in many vegetables and is also used for curing meats and is approved by the FDA.  The salt inhibits the growth of certain nasty bacteria such as botulism and listeria and it is highly recommended when making charcuterie and bacon.  But because bacon is cooked again after its curing and baking, aka in your skillet, you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to.  You will find that your bacon tastes more like ribs or roast pork than bacon and will not be pink but will be grey or brown.  That’s perfectly fine bacon, however, it is really easy to buy a bag of pink salt and you will have it forever.  I bought a pound bag for around $6.00 and used 4 teaspoons for this batch of bacon so I have plenty left!   If I ever wanted to make other cured meats such as salami or guacinale or any cured meat that is not cooked or smoked, the it is really crucial for the success of the recipe and one’s health to use the small amount of sodium nitrite.   It does not cause cancer, like many incorrectly people assume; sodium nitrate or saltpeter is toxic but it is a very different thing altogether.  

Happy baconing!

A Day in the Sun

There is a kind of a euphoria that falls over me after having a migraine. I don’t know if it is the relief of not being in pain or if it is an increase of seratonin or if it is just a feeling of wellness after being unwell.

Whatever it is, after five full days of an evil migraine, today I am pain free and feeling happy.

20130427-182458.jpg20130427-182631.jpg(Peruvian riff on a mule and a piña pisco punch)

I was able to sit in the sun and have a lovely brunch with a friend and relax and chat about food and family and enjoy being outside. It was a bit surreal, is this what normal feels like?

20130427-182816.jpg(I enjoyed the montadito burrata without the egg)

In this euphoric state I have a lingering feeling of lassitude, a bone deep fatigue that lifts off like a wisp of ash floating up from an ember. There is a mental vagueness, which is problematic during the work week, but on the weekend I just go with the flow. Sitting in the sun and slowly eating and sipping and watching the buzz of the Bay was just the right speed. The patio at La Mar is a very pleasant spot.

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20130427-183252.jpg(yes, it’s true, I ate and enjoyed brussel sprouts but there was candied bacon involved)

After brunch I made my farewells to my dear friend and strolled to the Ferry Building to play. I only had simple decisions to make today. Should I buy some burrata and bread? Yes. Should I treat myself to a salted caramel vegan donut for breakfast tomorrow? Yes, yes. Do I forgo dinner and just nosh on a meat cone from Boccalone and the bread and cheese? YES Please! Should I rest when I get home. Oh, yes. Most assuredly.

Should I buy a stuffed chicken for the Roost? Hmmm, I’m still thinking on this one.

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I am slightly sunburned after brunch and still stiff and sore all over, part of the effects of the postdrome migraine phase, but it’s all good. I have the entire weekend to relax.

Contemplating Eggs and The Lack Thereof

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Last week I ate a Sushirito, a burrito sized sushi roll, and unbeknownst to me it contained tamago, the Japanese rolled omelette. It wasn’t on the menu and I told the preparer and the cashier I was allergic to egg, but still they added it to the roll. I ate two bites and started to feel funny, within minutes I was having a severe allergic reaction.

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I took 2 Claritans as my immunologist instructed, then took another one. By this time my tongue was tingling and my throat felt like it was closing up to I went a block from my office to an urgent care center, they promptly sent me to the ER. The ER staff were great and gave me a whopping shot of steroids and some massive antihistamine and noted a rash developing all over my arms, chest and back, and that my throat was closing up and my tongue was swelling up. After 4 hours of medication and monitoring I was allowed to go home with a handful of prescriptions.

In the days that followed I was dealing with the “hangover” of this allergy reaction, a hugely busy workload and a severe family health emergency. The steroids I was taking prevented me from sleeping but also gave me insane energy and insomnia to deal with all of these crises.

A few days later it really hit me. It’s been two years since these weird food intolerances appeared. Technically they are not a true allergy as the blood and skin tests were negative. But there is no denying that I’m having an anaphylactic response to eggs.

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I had a bad night realizing all of the foods that are now shut off to me, probably forever. All of my life I have never given a thought to what I ate, except whether it tasted good or was well prepared. Now I can never relax my vigilance just in case the next allergy attack proves to be more serious. I carry an EpiPen and I read labels. When I dine out or eat prepared foods I have to place my trust and my life in the hands of others.

Did I mention that I have major control issues? I have always, in my quiet and diplomatic way, maintained an iron grip of control over my life. Now, this doesn’t help me, matters are out of my hands. It’s terrifying and frustrating.

So, in an effort to help me get over these feelings of sadness I need to get it off my chest. I’m pissed I can’t eat quiche, poached eggs, hollendaise, Green Goddess dressing, salad Niçoise, Caesar salad, waffles, soufflés, meringues, dacquois and Pavlovas, macarons and deviled eggs. No matzo balls, fresh pasta, donuts, cookies, lemon curd, freaking lemon meringue pie, tuna salad sandwiches, aioli and frittatas, pot au cream, custard, my Granny’s tapioca pudding recipe, BLTs with a thick smear of mayonnaise and creme brûlée. I’m going to miss the Creme Brûlée Guy. A lot.

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Fuck you, eggs, I hate you.

I don’t like how sick I get after eating eggs now. It’s super scary. I need to avoid them diligently just in case this intolerance gets more sensitive and the reaction gets more severe. This is a true threat. So why do I miss these things? It’s in my head, a sort of denial. I need to get over it and move on.

But for today I am angry and bitter.

Fucking eggs. Fucking beautiful eggs.

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Emerging from Being Under the Weather and the Joy of a Meat CSA

I’ve been under the weather for almost three weeks now, the flu had me in a tight grip like a siren holding me fast under a turbulent sea. There’s nothing one can do except hunker down and hope it goes away.

Copious amounts of tea, water, aspirin, cough syrup and half dozen boxes of tissues and throat lozenges have been used up and now I’m left with a sinus and ear infection that has me feeling like an alien in a fish bowl. It is, however, a bit of an improvement and after eating a bland dish of pasta I started to feel slightly perky.

With this little bit of energy I pulled out a pork shoulder medallion I received in this month’s meat CSA from 4505 Meats. I froze all of the goodies from my CSA bag with the exception of this medallion and the chicken, Campari and apple sausages that I cooked up and nibbled on during the week. I have also been living on a large tub of chicken stock from the shop, reheated and sipped with a sprinkle of salt for each meal. (I will write more about the meat CSA and how to join at another time.)

Tonight, after I rinsed off my dinner dishes, I removed the large slab of pork with its rich layer of creamy pork fat and all tied up nicely with twine, and slid it into a bag for marinating. There’s not much left in the Roost since I haven’t shopped for ages but I do have garlic, a softening Cara Cara orange and lots of spices.

I roughed up the garlic and used my julienne peeler to zest the orange, put in a teaspoonful of cumin seeds and a few dried California bay leaves in the bag with the pork and a slosh of olive oil purloined from the Fancy Food Show. I pressed out as much air as I could from the bag, gave the pork a brief massage, bunged it in the fridge.

The fever has me craving all kinds of things, like cool fruit juices, milkshakes and Rhine ice wine, but today a dear friend brought me a salted caramel milkshake and a hilarious “this is what a pie-shake does to two bouncy eight year old boys” show and a rather fun sing-a-long with a yodeling pickle. I swear that this bit of hilarity really made me feel so much better. Of course I slept for for hours after they left, but here I was, puttering lopsidedly in the kitchen. But cold, sweet fruit juice, how I want some so badly, it’s been 19 months since I’ve had any.

I looked at that denuded orange sitting on the cutting mat and juiced it and decided to try drinking it. It looked so pretty, Cara Cara oranges look like pink grapefruits inside and are so lovely and sweet. Maybe it’s this flu or that I can’t barely taste anything or maybe, dare I hope?, my food intolerances are easing, because I drank that shimmering pink juice and didn’t feel any nasty tingling or bee sting feelings at all. It surely was a satisfying little glass of juice!

So back to bed I go, tomorrow is another day. I’ll figure out how to braise the pork medallion in the morning.

Returning To Health Takes Planning

After a medical leave of over two months I am back working full-time and I am finding it a challenge.

Every person has challenges one way or another. Dealing with a daily routine while holding down a job and having a personal life is normally a juggling act; add a physical illness or injury to that mix and coping becomes more complicated.

I never quite realized just how tired I would get from the simplest things, such as making sure I have enough clean clothes, allowing enough time to get to work and making sure I do the absolute basics of eating and drinking regularly.

Patience

My ankle rehab is going really well and yet it is very frustrating how slowly I get around and how gimpy I still feel. Yes, I am walking but I am walking like a drunk sailor on shore leave. It takes an extra 10 minutes to get to my bus stop and it is so frustrating to see the bus zoom down the hill and know that even though I am halfway there, there is no way I can catch that bus.

I am learning that I cannot rush and that I must be patient with myself. Most of the time, however, I feel like screaming. Even though I can work on a cooking project that has 27 steps or an art project that may have to be redone nine times over, my patience with trying to get from Point A to Point B or doing any task that was simple pre-injury seems to have evaporated.

Anxiety

Getting to work is problematic. Taxis are prohibitively expensive and hard to find. I try to take the bus when I can but I have to sit in the senior and handicapped seats . So far everyone has been really nice most of the time about giving me a seat during the busy commute time. I live in dread fear that someone is going to kick my foot at they stagger around and scramble for balance as the busses lurch around, like yesterday. It was really painful and the woman who kicked me did not apologize even though I yelled out. Some passengers rush around me as I am getting on or exiting the busses and I worry about someone knocking me over as I have very limited balance. It is very scary.

I also worry about being mugged or knocked over on the street. Yesterday a homeless man wearing a pink sleeping bag crossed the street and ran a circle around me, literally, and then ran away. It was bizarre, typical for the city, and it heighted my anxiety about feeling vulnerable physically as I heal. I run various scenarios through my head as I am out of my apartment or the office, like a waking nightmare, what if someone does this, or what if that happens. Basically I worry a lot, which is not really good but completely understandable, I don’t like this way of feeling though and want this to change.

Self Care

It is wonderful to be mobile again, despite the temporary limitations. Upping my level of activity from zero (not being allowed to put any weight on my foot or move it at all for 6 weeks) to being more mobile (limping around the office all day and commuting) has mandated that I be vigilant in my habits.

It takes work to remember the basic self care. I must:

  • Be in bed no later than 10 pm
  • Allow an extra 45 minutes each morning to get ready for work, this includes the 10 minutes I spend doing ankle Olympics to get ready to get out of bed
  • Eat breakfast first thing while at work, as there is no time for this at home
  • Take frequent breaks to move my ankle during the day, every hour at the minimum
  • Eat a hearty lunch to fuel me for the day’s exertion
  • Keep my foot elevated and ice as much as possible while at work, and as soon as I get home
  • Drink enough water throughout the day
  • Remember to comb my hair and put on lipstick! I am a visible figure at work and must always look polished
  • Remember to S M I L E (for those who know, remember the PTA smile?)
  • Keep in mind that forward progress can be small, almost imperceptible at times, but still there is progress
  • Not feel discouraged about how tired and sore I am
  • Be brave – next year at this time it will all be a distant memory

Just reading this lists of “musts” and “should do’s” makes me tired. How do you cope when you are tired of coping? What do you do to refuel your energy?

Salmon BLT Revisited

A few years ago my dear friend Laura shared her salmon BLT recipe which is so divine, especially during tomato season.

I made it a bunch of times and then sadly it slipped from my recipe rotation until last week when Anna emailed me and said that she saw it on my blog and wanted to make the salmon BLT and that the post deserved a picture. Salmon BLTs, what a wonderful idea! Tomatoes are just starting to come into season now here in San Francisco so it is perfect time.

I had physical therapy that day and Deb ferried me over and back and to thank her I had invited her to stay for dinner, so invited Anna to come over for dinner too so we could have a BLT party with the girls.

Deb and I went to the grocery store and picked up a few necessary items and Anna came over later with salmon and gorgeous ripe tomatoes from our favorite produce shop. Since I’m still really laid up with this stupid ankle surgery Anna and Deb got busy in the kitchen. They cracked open several bottles of wine and cooked and joked while I lounged around with ice packs on my foot while they made the best dinner ever.

It’s kind of a weird feeling to have people cook for you in your own home when I’m usually the one that’s preparing everything and being (or at least trying to be) the perfect hostess for my friends but it’s also a wonderful treat and a wonderful gift to have friends come over and take such good care of me when I’m needing a lot of extra help.

They laid out the wonderful Acme herb slab bread and roasted the salmon briefly in the convection oven while the bacon cooked and the tomatoes and lettuce were prepared.

Sadly I cannot eat eggs at the moment, or perhaps forever, so I did not have any mayonnaise in the house so there was a great discussion on what should be spread on the bread instead. Should they use butter or mustard or should there be something else. Happily I had a wonderful jar of French tarragon mustard in the fridge from Williams-Sonoma that cost the earth and I also had a jar of this delicious spread by Stonewall Kitchen, a balsamic onion garlic jam.

The sandwich was prepared and boy was it a beauty.20120701-193645.jpg

The majority of the loaf of bread was sliced in half leaving a mere 4 inch piece left for another day. It was warmed through in the convection oven while the salmon rested, then spread with the tarragon mustard one one side and balsamic onion jam on the other. The succulent roasted salmon was spread on top and then layered thickly with slices of perfectly crisp bacon. The other half was layered with crisp lettuce, juicy local tomatoes and mild red onions, sliced thinly.

After much laughter somehow the gals managed to put the two halves together without it falling all over the kitchen floor, a true miracle. The massive salmon BLT was then cut into thirds and then again into halves and heaved on the plates. I could not believe the size of these massive sandwiches, each one must’ve been at least 8 inches across.

Anna had brought over some of her amazing Russian pickles that have been left to sit with garlic so they were highly perfumed with the allium;they were some of the most delicious pickles I have ever crunched.

It was pretty quiet in The Roost while we ate these sandwiches and they disappeared with alacrity.

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It was so extremely satisfying to have two of my dearest friends piled on the bed with me while we munched on these amazing sandwiches and watched silly television and laughed and joked about everything. We had serious discussions and fun discussions and it was just the perfect night at home; my heart and my stomach were full and happy.

The recipe is here I hope you give it a try yourself while fresh wild caught salmon and local tomatoes are in season.

Memorable Meals

One of my Twitter followers has been diagnosed with tongue cancer and the treatment plan he is facing is nothing more than unthinkable. However we must do what we must to survive but it brings to mind questions of the quality of life and the strength of the human spirit to live.

No matter how bad things get we humans have this deep imperative to survive and nothing sparks that impulse more than food. What do you do when you cannot eat though?

I have been feeling rather down as my nutrition is lacking from of all of the diet restrictions from cross-reactive pollen allergies. In reality there are plenty of foods I can still eat but I mourn the loss of my favorite food items. I can still eat and taste. I am grateful for this.

I have also been really depressed from of all my physical Injuries and the countdown to surgery in 18 days. I am also dealing with the anger that I put off my surgery for 2 weeks to help ease a work deadline, which has now shifted, so now the deadline is right during the week of the surgery. Every day my pain and discomfort grows and my suffering is longer by 2 weeks for nothing.

Perspective is a steadying force too. I know another sweet lady who has breast cancer and is doing chemotherapy before surgery. Her strength and courage moves me. Again, compared to my acquaintances and friends with cancer, I have nothing at all to gripe about. Physical pain is an inconvenience, it’s not good to be in pain and there are health effects but in comparison to cancer it is a drop in the bucket.

I began to think of the healing nature of our food and of meals shared with friends and family. Food is nurturing to our bodies and our shared meals are nurturing to our souls.

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou, beside me singing in the wilderness. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

My last Thanksgiving was with my mOm, my stepdad and my sister. I miss them very much and I hadn’t seen them for months before that holiday and we haven’t visited since. I don’t remember much about the food, only how wonderful it was to hold their hands around the table, have Ken say grace and to eat the food we all prepared together.

Our gathering is limited by geography and the inevitable countdown of time slipping away looms over me until I can’t take a breath but it is also makes our reunions so much sweeter.

My birthday two years ago was the day my exboyfriend was buried. We parted badly and it was just a year after when he died suddenly. The church was filled with our friends and his family and many local people, awash in grief. I couldn’t face the burial service so my dear friend Anna picked me up, took me into her home, her beau poured me champagne and they made me a decadent dinner of lobster mashed potatoes and filet mignon. We didn’t talk a whole lot but it was a night filled with love and caring directed towards me. It made everything better and reminded me the power of enduring through the pain of loss and why we go on to live for the joy of life .

A recent picnic with Anna and Deb was very spontaneous and delightful, it was such a perfect day. Sunshine, cool Spring air, sitting on a lawn filled with tiny daisies and black bees under a cherry blossom tree we celebrated “hamine” in a way only Midwestern, Russian and Californian girls in San Francisco can. We had a lunch of mixed cultures: Californian wine and beers, Japanese onigiri, fried chicken with an Asian twist, French cornichon, local roasted beets in vinaigrette, and the ultimate dessert of rice crispie treats with bacon. We continued on with dinner at Anna’s with the doggies, more wine and laughter and silliness. My back still isn’t right from trying those dance moves on one foot in the living room. Good friends, silly conversations, our park in our town, a mingling of everything in our personal melting pots, we shared the joy of a perfect Saturday. We all work so hard with our jobs, families, school, communities and hobbies, and oftentimes hanging out with friends gets lost in scheduling conflicts and fatigue. But these times replenish our batteries and give us the mental lightness to carry on with our busy lives.

Years ago when Marc was still alive we all trouped up to Lake Tahoe for a ski weekend with about 20 friends. A couple of us didn’t ski that time so we drove over to Emerald Bay for a little hike down to the Vikingsholm. It’s a pleasant walk and most of the way was clear from snow. Marc’s best friend Joe was in training to go to war in the Reserves and it was a nice treat for me and Sharon to spend a little time with him in one of the most beautiful places in California before he faced his challenge and served our Country in Kuwait and Bagram.

We rambled around the mansion and grounds, through the woods and beaches and settled on a sunny spot out of the wind to watch the lake gently lap the stony shore.

Joe said he had lunch for us and pulled out three MREs from his pack. He showed us how to heat up the beef stew and corned beef hash and we ate everything and listened to him talk about what it was like to eat a meal in a ditch or in a hole somewhere, what he and his men liked and didn’t like, and what they talked about during their time on maneuvers.

Joe never really talked much about his Army experiences as he is a very stoic and a very patriotic man; the soldiers I know are all generally very reserved in sharing their experiences and emotions, particularly to civilians and to women. It is a peculiarity but I understand.

There we sat in this glorious place eating very inglorious food, skipping pebbles into the clear water, and imagining what Joe would be doing in a few short weeks and just fully being there , at the Lake, together in the sunshine.

All of these meals are like a diamond, a pure, sparkling moment you want to take out, polish up and enjoy in the light, letting the facets reflect the rainbow flash of your memory.

I have many, many memories like this to contemplate as I prepare for my unpleasant experience ahead. I am so lucky to have dear friends who have offered to take me to their home and look after me during the worst of it, and others to bring over food and run errands for me, or take me to appointments or just visit with me. I have loving family to give me moral support and encouragement and to make me laugh even though they are far away.

I am even more lucky that my doctors give me 70-90% chance of a successful outcome. I have an injured ankle, shoulder, back, knees, hand, and more but it is not cancer and I know eventually I will be better, healthy and strong. I think of my friends and acquaintances who are facing a battle for their lives and I think about how brave they are. I will try harder.

Honey Heaven

I am a California girl and literally grew up in a land of milk and honey. My mom was conscientious in her grocery shopping from the local co-op and we ate a lot of local products including some of the finest honey that our little bee friends produce.

(Photo courtesy of the National Honey Board)

Most of our honey was orange blossom or clover and occasionally we would be treated to honey in the comb, to be chewed on slowly like gum until little pellets of beeswax were left behind to be genteelly spit out (or not so genteelly, like when my sister and I fought like little animals, bee wax pellets were the perfect sticky projectiles).

As an adult doing my own grocery shopping I became a regular customer at the Marshall’s honey stand at the farmer’s market. There were so many different varieties of honey to sample, including my childhood favorites, and new ones very local to San Francisco, such as star thistle (we knew they had to be good for some purpose), eucalyptus and cappings honey. Cappings honey is the honey cut from the end of the combs which has a naturally thick and creamy texture. I began to use bee propolis which is the royal jelly and pollen, to help my allergies.

Honey is an ancient food,l and a natural preservative. Archeologists have found preserved honey in Egyptian tombs that albeit rather petrified was still edible after thousands of years. Honey in its natural state stays perfectly well for a long time, and if it crystalizes one can re-melt it and it will be no worse for the wear. In itself honey is a perfect food.

(Photo courtesy of the National Honey Board)

I was so delighted to be invited to a cooking demonstration and honey tasting party by the National Honey Board. The amazing New Orleans born pastry chef David Guas has his own cafe and bakery in Virginia, the Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery. He is on a tour for the National Honey Board to share the versatility and varieties of honey and a few local writers, media and bloggers were treated to a lovely event at the fabulous Ketchum test kitchens. Chef David is honey collector and advocate and is so impassioned and enthusiastic about honey that despite my inherent love for honey I was motivated to expand my honey collection even more.


Isn’t he a honey?

It was an intimate, casual event, and Chef David visited with us as we sampled some of his signature recipes prepared for the National Honey Board, such as a Tropical Honey Coconut Water Cooler made with tropical fruits, coconut water and toasted coconut on top. We had little bites of walnut bread topped with slim slices of blue cheese and drizzled with buckwheat honey, and Chef David’s “Crunchy” Honey Toasted Almond Spread on celery sticks.

After catching up with our friends and getting to know Chef David we proceeded into the Ketchum test kitchen, my how I wish I could just move right into that glorious room!

Chef David had six pots of honey laid out on a counter and we were given a chance to sample each type of honey in a blind tasting. What a challenge this was to apply a wine tasting lexicon to the subtleties of honey, but it turned out to be a revelatory experience. The range of flavors, textures and aromas in each honey sample was so different, and between sips of water we tried to guess the varietal of the source pollen based on the flavor profiles. Very few of us had accurate guesses and it was fascinating to hear how each of us interpreted the flavors of the honey.

(Photo courtesy of National Honey Board)

Here are some more unusual varietals of honeys from the United States, some of which I had never tried before:

AVOCADO
Primarily produced in California, avocado honey is gathered from avocado blossoms. It is a well-rounded honey with a rich, buttery flavor and a flowery aftertaste.

BASSWOOD
Basswood honey has a fresh taste suggestive of green, ripening fruit. It is often characterized by its distinctive lingering flavor.

BLUEBERRY
Taken from the tiny white flowers of the blueberry bush, the nectar makes a light, amber-colored honey with a moderate fruity flavor and the aroma of green leaves. It is produced in New England and Michigan.

BUCKWHEAT
Typically produced in Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as Eastern Canada, buckwheat honey is dark and full-bodied. It has been found to contain more antioxidant compounds than some lighter honeys.

CLOVER
Clovers contribute more to honey production in the United States than any other group of plants, with Red clover, Alsike clover, and the white and yellow sweet clovers the most important for honey production. Clover honey varies in color from clear to light amber and has a sweet, flowery flavor and a pleasing, mild taste.

EUCALYPTUS
There are over 500 varieties of eucalyptus plants with the majority found in Australia and Canada. Eucalyptus honey varies greatly in color and flavor but tends to be a stronger flavored honey. Some eucalyptus honeys have a slight menthol flavor and scent.

FIREWEED
Fireweed honey is light in color and comes from fireweed, a perennial herb that grows immediately following a forest fire. Primarily produced in the Northern Pacific states and Canada, fireweed honey is a delicate, sweet honey with subtle, tea-like notes.

ORANGE BLOSSOM
Orange Blossom honey, often from a combination of citrus sources, is usually light in color and mild in flavor with a fresh scent and light citrus taste. Orange blossom honey is produced in Florida, Southern California and parts of Texas.

SAGE
Sage honey, primarily produced in California, is light in color and heavy-bodied, with a mild but delightful flavor. It is extremely slow to granulate, making it a favorite among honey packers for blending with other honeys to slow down granulation.

SOURWOOD
Sourwood trees can be found in the Appalachian Mountains from Southern Pennsylvania to Northern Georgia. Sourwood honey has a sweet, spicy, anise aroma and flavor with a pleasant lingering aftertaste.

TUPELO
Tupelo honey is a premium honey produced in northwest Florida. It is heavy-bodied with a mild, distinctive taste, and is usually light golden amber with a greenish cast. Because of the high fructose content in Tupelo honey, it granulates very slowly.

WILDFLOWER
Wildflower honey is often used to describe honey from undefined sources.

Source: http://www.Honey.com | http://www.Honey Locator.com

Chef David fired up the glorious Viking range and started his cooking demonstration to illustrate the incredible diversity honey has in the kitchen, beyond spreading on hot buttered biscuits or stirring into tea.

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We perched convivially on stools around the capacious islands in the test kitchen, our attention rapt as Chef David toasted slivered almonds and then whirred them into a creamy almond butter spread. He used copious amounts of honey to caramelize more toasted almonds in a saute pan with a little butter then mixed quickly with corn flakes for a super crunchy tasty almond crunch to sprinkle on top of the almond butter filled celery boats.

He confessed the almond and cornflake crunch doesn’t last for very long in his house because of his voracious little boys, but it would keep quite well and crunchily for over a week.

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Chef David then whisked together a quick creamy salad dressing with honey and tossed this with halved flame grapes and slivered almonds and peppery baby rocket for a refreshing and delicious salad. I imagined adding chunks of leftover roasted chicken or turkey for a faux Waldorf salad for a fast summer supper.

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His next demonstration made me feel he was near and dear to my heart. Chef David honey glazed bacon slices in the oven, and turned them into crispy-chewy honey glazed BLTs. Holy cow, was this ever fantastic. The honey flavor really showed well against the smoked bacon flavor and I mentally kicked myself for not trying this sooner with my pig candy experiments.

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Chef David then showed us his simple yet scrumptious honey brined pork chop with a honey whole-grain mustard sauce. Brining pork chops is a standard for many, including myself, but brining chops using honey instead of sugar imparts all the complexities of the honey into the pork and obviates the need to add additional flavorings such as fruits, herbs and aromatics.

The brined chop was seared in a pan and finished in the oven and removed to a platter to rest. The pan drippings, or fond, were dissolved in water and dollops of honey and whole grained mustard were added to reduce for a quick pan sauce. I don’t think even Wordsworth could describe the sweet, savory and meaty nuances this pork had in each juice bite. Pure heaven.

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Honey has been used largely for desserts and Chef David gave us his favorite and show stopping honey lemon cheesecake dessert pops. Imagine an eggless cheesecake with Meyer lemon zest but in a popsicle form, resting on a huge platter of buttery crispy honey graham cracker crumb crunch. One picks up the creamy, glistening pop half coated in crunchy crumbs and nibbles this confection slowly off the popsicle stick. His sentiment, “Everything tastes better on a stick” is something I have said for years and it was such a playful and friendly dessert, so very charming in its simplicity and the flavor of honey was perfectly highlighted. I may never eat regular cheesecake again.

The combination of honey and almonds in the demonstration recipes is not a coincidence. Besides producing honey the honey bee has an enormous role in California and the world’s agriculture by pollination. Almond trees, for example, are solely pollinated by bees, so if the bees did not exist we would never have an almond.

The news has been filled with the collapse of bee hives throughout the world and the scientists are still trying to figure out the cause and how to prevent this tragedy from continuing, for the sake of our bees and for the future of agriculture. Some speculate is it due to a mite infection in the hive, others blame pesticides and genetically modified crops (GMO) such as those created by Monsanto. There is an interesting article about Monsanto buying the world’s largest bee research firm here, one wonders what this means about their future veracity.

This is an important issue to stay informed on and I hope as you enjoy your next bite of something in the kitchen with honey, or try some honey in the comb you think about the magic that our bees produce and what we as responsible consumers need to do to help preserve our bee population. Please support your local honey producers and buy directly from them whenever possible.

Chef David Guas’s Recipes:

Tropical Honey Coconut Water Cooler

“Crunchy” Honey Toasted Almond Spread

Grape and Almond Salad with Honey Yogurt Dressing

Honey-Candied Bacon & Lettuce Sandwich

Honey and Whole Grain Mustard-Glazed Pork Chop

Honey BBQ Pulled Chicken on Buttermilk Biscuits

Honey BBQ Sauce

Buttermilk Biscuits

Honey-Lemon Cheesecake Pops

Resources:

For more information about honey, honey bees and recipes, please visit the National Honey Board

To learn more about the different varieties of honey and what is harvested near you, visit the Honey Locator