Tag Archives: holidays

Holiday Truffled Roast Duck

I succumbed to the lure of a stuffed truffled duck 4505 Meats had for sale when I visited their manufacturing kitchen last week. How could I pass this beauty up?

It was the size of a baby! It was at least 18″ long and weighted at least 8 pounds. Once I put it on my kitchen table I realized I had a problem; no roasting pan in the Roost was large enough.


I had to cut off all of this to even get the duck close to fitting in my roasting pan. I saved these goodies for stock and future rendering for duck fat.


After trimming off 9″ of the neck and the “collar” of fat from the neck and shoulders the duck now fit into my largest roasting pan. Barely! The directions called for a little sprinkling of salt and pepper, and I added a sprinkling of thyme for good measure.


The directions were simple, I had nothing to do but have a glass of Bonny Doon Ca’ del Solo Muscat and wait, and then…. this…


I let the duck rest covered lightly in foil for 30 minutes, and then got ready to carve.


First, I poured off the fat from the roasting pan, strained and cooled it for future wonderful uses.


I used a bit of the duck fat and flour to make a roux, then added a good glass of wine and the truffled duck stock to make a pan gravy for my dinner. I now think that truffled duck stock is the best stuff on the planet, outside of roasted duck that is.

The stuffing was so aromatic with truffles and 4505 Meats’ sausages and Tartine’s olive bread.


It took some wrangling but I removed the legs and thighs in once piece and both breasts, one went onto the carving board for my dinner. I immediately ate both “oysters” and hacked the carcass into smaller pieces to be frozen for soup stock – duck soup! There was a lot of meat on this bird.


I carved up some of the breast meat, it was juicy and perfectly rare, and rendolent with truffle.


I served up my plate and ladled some truffled gravy over the dressing and the duck. The seasoning of the meat and the stuffing was divine. I have been kicking myself for not thinking of using olive bread in poultry stuffing.  Where was my brain?  Why didn’t I think of this myself?  Ryan Farr is a genius!

Outside of carving the bird, I had very little to do. This was the most spectacular and yet the simplest thing I have ever prepared.

A note on wine, most people serve red wine with duck but I found that the fruit of the Ca’ del Solo Muscat by Bonny Doon was wonderful with the duck,  Its citrus notes and almost floral fruit cut through the richness of the duck meat and did not overpower the truffles.


I shared the leftover stuffing and the rest  of the duck breast with my colleague at the office and we had the nicest Christmas Eve eve luncheon, despite the lack of wine. The duck legs and full breast were carefully frozen as I promised to share some with friends for a little dinner soon – seared duck leg and a petite salade and wine, what could be better?

If you have the chance to pick up a duck from 4505 Meats I could not recommend it highly enough.

4505 Meats
Ryan Farr, head genius

Roasting Directions


Berry Fun Night with Driscolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down the rabbit hole #driscollmoments

Down the rabbit hole! The delicious Blackberry Cobbler cocktail.

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

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

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

Savory blackberry custard tarts by @cookbookrick at #driscollsmoments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blackberry Cobbler Cocktail

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

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

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

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

Serving Size: 1 cocktail

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


Read more about the event from the San Francisco Examiner


Savory Cheese Tartlettes with Blackberries

Blackberry-Sage Compote for Roast Pork/Fowl

Roasted Fennel Salad with Blackberries and Gorgonzola

White Hot Russians

Ah, San Francisco “winters”.  We have cold grey mornings where the tops of the high-rises on the hills are heavily obscured in frigid mist and the light is pale and diffuse.  The wan sun struggles to show around mid-day for a brief glaring hour then gives up with a moist sigh of vapor to return us to basement  bone chilling damp before 5:00 pm.

It is good weather to be inside, wrapped well in woolens and squishy cashmere plopped next to a blazing fireplace hissing radiator.

A few years ago I concocted this soothing boozy cocoa for nights just like tonight.    

White Hot Russian

1 cup low fat milk
3 T Ghirardelli sweet chocolate powder
1 jigger Sky vodka (I had this on hand but any vodka will do)
1 jigger Baileys Irish Cream
1 jigger Kahlua Coffee Liqueur
coffee ice cream (option but awfully nice)

In the microwave (or stovetop), heat milk in a pyrex cup until very hot (3 minutes in my micro). Mix in the chocolate well.

In a small jug, mix the liquors together. Pour half of the liquors between two mugs and top off with the hot cocoa. Scoop a generous spoonful of coffee ice cream and float it on top of cocoa.

Serves two if you have white hot Russian masculine company, or for one person with seconds on a frigid night after watching sappy Christmas movies and using up all the Kleenex in the house….


Stay warm out there!

Eggless Baking: Luscious Chocolate Wacky Cake with Ganache

This Thanksgiving my family decided not to make our traditional pumpkin chiffon pie because of my current food intolerances. Sadly for me this year this amazing pie that was carefully crafted and perfected over 50 years by my maternal grandmother contains eggs, so it’s off my menu for a while.  How very thoughtful of my family to make this sacrifice on my behalf though, I was truly touched.

Before I could get too caught up in the guilt associated with voluntarily or involuntarily imposing my food limitations upon others my mom announced she would be making Wacky cake. This substitution for our holiday sweet was nothing short of stellar and we were all quite excited.

(one bite left!)

You may have heard of the iconic Wacky cake, it has been around before the World War II. It is an eggless and butterless cake because eggs and butter were rationed during wartime and often the average family never saw these common staples. The necessity for cake, however,  did not diminish for those on the homefront and a delicious and suitable substitute stepped in to fill the gap and sweet tooth of the Nation. In today’s parlance wacky cake is vegan. It is also tremendously delicious!

I have fond memories of scarfing down still warm slabs of dense, chocolately Wacky cake in the cafeteria of my elementary school. Our highly gifted school cook, Frances, made Wacky cake at least once a month and served it heavily dusted with powdered sugar.

My sister taught me how to make Wacky cake  and I recall that she did this so that I could make it when I got home from school so that she could have it but she hotly disputes this! Mom recalls that she first received the recipe from her high school and college friend, Susie Jones.

Whatever the source, Wacky cake is a wonderful recipe. The cake has a very rich chocolate flavor from cocoa powder, like a devil’s food cake, and has a fine crumb.

Instead of getting its leavening from eggs the recipe uses baking soda and vinegar which produces a quick but short rising period. The lack of eggs and butter in the recipe results in the cake being less flexible than a egg-based cake so care must be taken if you plan to unmold it from the baking pan. The cake uses oil instead of butter and therefore one could conceivably say that this is a “heart-healthy” cake if a light olive oil or grapeseed oil is used, due to the oil’s antioxidant properties.

Traditionally the cake is mixed right in the baking pan, dusted with powdered sugar when cooled and served straight from the pan. This spared the cook additional dishes to wash up, saving money on soap powder.   My mom’s piece de resistance was to instead top the cake with a thick, rich, bittersweet ganache.

It was heavenly.


Look how thick the ganache is on this slice of cake, how it glistens and shimmers. I do love chocolate.

Wacky Cake
1 1/2 c flour or cake flour
1 c sugar
3 T unsweetened cocoa (we used to use Hershey’s but mOm used Valhrona)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. good vanilla
1 T vinegar (white or cider)
5 T vegetable oil (grapeseed, light olive oil or canola)
1 C cold water

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

If you wish to unmold the cake, butter the bottom and sides of a cake tin and line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper, and then butter that paper too. In a mixing bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add on one side of the bowl the vinegar, on another the vanilla and on another the oil. Add all of the water and whisk together swiftly and quickly pour into the cake pan and bang it into the oven.

If you are going to serve it out of the pan, sift together the dry ingredients as above directly into your baking pan (an 8″ x 8″ square Pyrex), then make three holes in the dry ingredients. In one hold put the oil, the vinegar in the second and the vanilla in the third. Pour over the cold water and mix well with a fork and bake.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs. A bit of care must be taken when baking wacky cake to not over-bake it or it will be perilously dry.

Unmold after cool, if desired (using the wax paper lined pan) and cover with ganache, or sift over a blizzard of powdered sugar.

Great Ganache

Once you add ganache to this cake there is no going back. In fact, after making this ganache I feel like putting it on everything.

1/2 c + 2T heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. butter
5 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 T good bourbon (optional)

Place the chopped chocolate into a bowl. Heat up the cream until it is very hot but not boiling, and pour it over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is smooth. Add the butter at this point and the vanilla and the bourbon, if using. If you are not using the bourbon in the ganache, shame on you and just drink that tablespoon.

Keep stirring the ganache with a spoon, not a whisk, until it begins to thicken. When it is thicker than gravy, pour/spread it over the cooled cake. If you want those attractive dribbles down the side of the cake pour it on when the ganache is a little bit thinner, slightly thicker than chocolate syrup or caramel sauce. I prefer it on the stiffer side so that I can spread it over just the top of the cake.

If you like, you can make a double batch of ganache, and spread half of it over the top, and then let the remaining ganache thicken a bit more so that you can spread the sides of the cake.

Be sure to do what we did and carefully clean the mixing bowl with our greedy fingers and tongues.


The finished Wacky cake with ganache was utterly delicious and was perfect with the last bit of red wine from our Thanksgiving dinner.

The best part of Wacky cake is that it is so simple to make, you can bake it up right before dinner or as an after school treat like I used to.

Soft Rolls for Thanksgiving

Last Thanksgiving I made several batches of these amazing, soft rolls for our dinner.  They were so delicious that as the first batch came out of the oven we “sampled” them so much that we did not have any left over for the next night and I just *had* to make more.

Poor us.

I love these rolls so much and tweeted their picture *a lot* last year, and this year, and my friends not-so-gently reminded me that I that did not share the recipe.

The genius thing about these rolls is how easy they are to make, especially if you have a stand mixer.  If you have never made dough in your life you can easily make these rolls.

My mom has her glorious “Red Baron”, a glossy, fire engine red Kitchen Aid that does all but the dishes for you.    You add all the ingredients into the bowl, turn it on and do other things for a few minutes (like the dishes).  The dough gets turned out to rest in a bowl for an hour or so, then formed into the rolls and popped into two cake pans.  After another rest (just long enough for a restorative glass of wine and feet up on the couch) into the oven they go.  When they’re done they’re basted liberally with melted butter, and then comes the hard part – not eating them all before dinner time.

Given my current bout of weird food allergies these are one of the few things on the holiday table I will be able to eat (with a minor modification), so you know I will be buddying up to the basket of rolls this Thursday.  And Friday.  Heh.

Soft Rolls for Thanksgiving

3 1/2 cups all purpose
2 tsp. instant yeast
2 T potato flour or 1/4 cup instant potato flakes (or in my case, I am just using more regular flour)
3 T nonfat dry milk
2 T sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 T unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 2 more T melted for basting)
2/3 c  water, warm
1/2 c milk, lukewarm (out of the fridge for an hour or s0)

Place everything (except the melted butter) into the bowl of the stand mixer and mix to make a dough, using the dough hook.  Let the machine run for 7 minutes at medium speed.  The dough should be pretty smooth at this point.

If you do not have a stand mixer, mix together everything with a spatula or wooden spoon until a rough dough is formed.  Then knead with your hands on a lightly floured surface for about 7 minutes until the dough is soft and smooth and pretty much not sticky.

Remove the dough from the bowl, form into a ball and put in a bowl that has been well buttered.  Cover the top with a little plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled in a warm place ~ about an hour.

When the dough has doubled, deflate it by a gentle punch right to the midsection.  Oooph!   Divide it into 16 even pieces.  I do this by rolling the douhg into a long log, then cutting it in half, and keep cutting each half until I have 16 pieces.  Roll the balls in your hands until they are nice and round, or pull the sides down to the bottom of the ball and pinch, then roll gently.

Butter two 9″ round cake pans well and arrange eight balls of dough in each pan (see picture).   Cover the pans loosely again with plastic wrap and let them rise until doubled again and nice and puffy, about an hour or so.  If they don’t look like they are filling the pan let them rise another 20 minutes or so.

Bake at 350 F for 22 to 24 minutes, remove from the oven to a rack and brush the tops well with melted butter.

Try to contain yourself and not eat them all while hot, and I wish you the best of luck with this.

If you make the rolls earlier in the day during Thanksgiving, you can reheat them in the oven after you take out the turkey.  Turn off the oven after you extract the bird and leave the door ajar,  put in the pans of rolls in for about 10 minutes (set the timer!) and they will be beautifully warmed.  I would even go as far as brushing the tops with more butter, because there can never be enough butter on Thanksgiving.

I think this recipe might have originated from the King Arthur website but cannot find it, so please forgive the lack of attribution.

Happy Thanksgiving!

WWW: Wots of Wabbit Wuv

Happy Easter!


I finally returned to the Ferry Building farmer’s market today to do a tiny bit of shopping but mostly to pick up my meat CSA box for the month. Herewith the 4505 Meats Easter Basket, full of lots of rabbit love. WWW!

This is my second CSA box from Ryan Farr and his glorious team at 4505 Meats. Their Spring lamb CSA box was really amazing and I’m just now starting to eat it. Wow.

What a lovely spread of goodies. I love their hand-drawn labels.


I have long been a fan of rabbit. When I lived briefly in the country I had a neighbor lady who kept rabbits. Occasionally she would call me at work and ask if I wanted a rabbit and of course I always said Yes! I would come home and find a plastic bag full of ice packed around a carefully wrapped freshly butchered rabbit. Later I would pop by her house on my bike and pay her for the next few deliveries. There is a lot to be said for the country life!

My favorite ways to prepare rabbit are Jeff Smith’s rabbit and leeks or Julia Child’s broiled deviled rabbit.

Happily for me now though, Ryan has made it extremely easy for me and his other lucky customers to enjoy rabbit. All the prep is done and even I in my mostly one-handed-while-rehabbing state can easily prepare a delightful dinner.

The coolest 4505 Meats chill bag came stuffed with all of these Easter delicacies and an instruction card on how to cook and serve each savory treat.


To start is a pouch of ruby hued pickled spicy beets and eggs.


A generous bag of luscious rabbit shoulder confit on the bone, slow poached in delicious fat.


Dainty marinated carrots from their country line farm.


Romesco sauce, one of my personal favorites, to serve with the confit on crostini perhaps.


For the main courses, marinated rabbit leg in parsley, lemon and shallots, to be braised in rabbit stock.



A generous saddle of rabbit wrapped in belly to be roasted with olives and herbs.


Four plump rabbit and pork sausages with white wine and green garlic.


Just for fun they added homemade peep marshmellows, colored pink from beets and cut into cute rabbit shapes.


This seems more like two dinners worth but it will be quite the spread.

I can only anticipate how delicious these rabbity goodies will taste. I know that me and a few lucky friends are in for an amazing dinner very soon.

20110423-030007.jpg(my kitchen table)

Meantime, Happy Easter to you and your families!

Joy To The World, And A Great Bowl of Soup

I was happily ensconced with my family over the holidays and we celebrated a wonderful Christmas with way too much food and dare I say too much football?

To help offset the three pounds of butter we used for our dinners, a new historical *low* I might add, I made a healthy lunch of butternut squash soup for Christmas eve.

We have been visiting the local grocery store up here in the country daily, and on Christmas eve, two times. The store was established in 1852 as a stagecoach stop and owned by the family continuously. They have the nicest staff. Since my stepdad shops every day he, and by extension, we are well known. It is expected that you chat with the grocer, the butcher and everyone else. It is the country after all! I was joking with the clerk about the massive butternut squashes they have in the product department, they easily weigh 7 pounds.

“My stepdad called it Junior.” I laughed as I cradled it in my arms, “Junior is going in the soup pot today!”

The clerk told me she had always wanted to cook one but was afraid of trying. I told her how easy it was and that I would write about it for her. So, Carol, this is for you!

I make this soup a lot during squash season and never thought it worth writing about until talking with Carol. I can now see by looking at this giant squash how intimidating it could be to someone. But in reality, once you get the beast cut into half, it is no work at all. The soup is quite basic, albeit delicious, and can be quite versatile flavorwise by adding a few different spices or aromatics.

First off, tackling the large squash: give it a good wash and dry, then lay it down on the cutting board and with your biggest knife cut off the stem. Off with Junior’s head! Then, split it down the middle and use an ice cream scoop to eviscerate the seeds. The oven was already hot at 400 F and I had put some foil on a cookie sheet and spread some oil around. The squash halves got plunked onto the foil cut side down, and into the oven for 45 – 60 minutes.

Meanwhile I did my manicure and watched some (more) football with my stepdad.

An hour later, I took the tray out of the oven and stuck the squash with a fork. The tines slid right through with no resistance. The skin was browned a little here and there and was puckery in places. I returned to watch another quarter of the game while the squash cooled. Piece of cake!

At this juncture you can scrape out the squash into a bowl, add butter and salt and pepper and stir well with a fork and eat. Or, you can use the meat in a variety of other preparations, such as a casserole with pasta and breadcrumbs (and bacon), as a filling with ricotta for ravioli, in the dough for gnocci, or my embarrassingly simple soup. As you can see this squash preparation takes little skill or cooking talent, you just need a bit if courage to cut the huge thing open, then the rest is easy. You can use this method with any kind of squash, including pumpkin. I prefer cooking it cut side down as it ensures the meat stays tender and moist. If you want to have a glazed squash, you can turn it over after 30 minutes, add some butter, brown sugar, salt and pepper and bake for the remaining 15 minutes or so until it is tender.

But back to the soup, in a large pot I put a pat of butter, a chopped onion and some chopped fresh ginger and let that saute until the onion was tender, about 10 minutes. I used a big spoon and scooped the squash out of its skin and added it to the pot.

I went out the garden and cut a sprig of rosemary, and back in the kitchen tossed it in with a bay leaf and a sprinkle of sweet curry powder onto the squash. Everything was topped off with 8 cups of chicken stock, I gave it a vigorous stir and resumed keeping my stepdad company while knitting a sweater in the family room.

Thirty minutes later the soup looked like this:

I used the immersion blender to smooth it out, this time finally remembering to remove the bay leaf first, and lunch was ready. I dished it out into warm soup bowls and topped each one with a hefty dollop of sour cream as a sprinkle of chives. We were still eating the Funions so I added some along side the soup bowl as well.

We tucked into our hearty soup and listened to the rain ping on the roof. Chatting about this and that, mostly about that, we whiled away the afternoon decorating the house and the tree for Christmas, satiated with good company and good soup.

I hope you give take home a “Junior” of your own this winter for the soup pot.

(recipe here)

A Very Thankful Thanksgiving

My ancestor came to this land 390 years ago. Half the colony died that first winter. Can you imagine how sad that must have been, after that long journey with all of the hardships, to finally arrive only to lose so many. The first Thanksgiving, so it is said, was celebrated after surviving a year with a harvest. Our family in this century like to celebrate our being together after much time apart and cook a killer meal. Most of the fun is being together in the kitchen with gentle jostling and teasing, collaborating and handing off tasks seamlessly, and many tastings. A common refrain is, “Are you sure that has enough salt, let me try that again!”

As a special treat this year I purchased a Happy Thanksgiving produce box from Happy Girl Farms, my first experience with them, and hauled all the produce up on the train in a duffle roller bag, also filled with wine. Of course one wheel on the bag broke as I was leaving my apartment and I had to drag that beast around like a mobster hauling a dead body, woof, what a long trip!

It was quite the adventure in what one would consider a relatively simple task of picking up the produce box. I was given an address saying there would be prominent signage near a gate in a fence of a lovely home in Castro Heights. I took a taxi after work; it was 5:30 pm and already inky dark outside. In a dimly lit street, the taxi driver said that he thought a long dark fence was the right one. Thankfully I had a tiny flashlight on my house keys and turned it on and headed towards the fence. On the fence near eye level was a quarter-sized sticker that said Happy Girl Farms, visible only after illuminating it with my tiny light. I saw a door in the fence and pushed it open, saw below me a foot-plus drop down to a dirt slope, and three boxes lying on the dirt. I carefully stepped down and promptly slid on the mud (it had rained heavily that day) and slid to a tall shrub straight below me. I grabbed at it, wrenching my shoulder injured previously from the tragic high-fiving incident at the World Series celebrations. I badly scratched and punctured my hand from the 1″ spines from the shrub which turned out to be a bougainvillea bush! But I prevented myself running into it by a fraction of an inch with my face or falling in the mud. Swearing loudly, I retrieved my keys and baby flashlight from the ground and looked around for the clipboard as instructed in the email but didn’t see anything. There was one large produce box, opened to the elements, so I peeked inside and saw some of the veggies listed on my receipt. I heaved the box off the dirt and transversed the slippery hill up to the gate and sidewalk in the pitch black dark. I managed to lift the box up to the sidewalk level. As I hauled myself out some pedestrians walked by almost knocking me back inside the gate down the slope but one man grabbed my arm to steady me. Whew. Thoroughly shaken, muddy and bleeding, I stood there for a moment, and the cab driver came over and said, “Are you okay??” He helped me into the cab and loaded the muddy box in the back, and drove me home. I called Dirty Girl and got voicemail, then rang up my mommy and whined about the things I do for fresh produce! The cab driver handed me a paper towel to staunch the bleeding and wipe up some of the mud; either it was a kindness on his part or a defensive measure to keep his hack clean. Once home, cleaned up and disinfected, ice pack on my shoulder and a glass of wine consumed (for medicinal purposes), I received a call back from a rep at Happy Girl Farms. The guy informed me that I actually came on the wrong night, despite their email confirmation that clearly said the pick up day was Tuesday. He said something about their having computer problems and asked me to check the box. I did and found that many items listed on their receipt were not in the box. He again mentioned it wasn’t my box, and so I offered to forward him their email to me. He said I could keep the box (how generous!!) and I felt rather exasperated at this point and retorted, “Look, I’m leaving tomorrow at 5 am. If you want to come by tonight and pick up this box and give me *my* box, I would be really happy with that.” After hemming and hawing a bit he said he’d refund me a portion of the price and next time they would put some flashlights in that yard. I think I will pass on using this pick up place on the premise of preserving my health from a broken ankle or bougainvillea-related flesh shredding, and spare the homeowner any litigious opportunities. Ah, the adventures of supporting local farms.

On a positive note, all of the product was fantastic. We have apples, pears, garlic and onions, carrots and parsnips, bunches of herbs, a variety of potatoes, celery and some squash. Once safely at the parents, we stashed it all in the garage and got ready for our Thanksgiving Eve dinner.

We talked about the Big Day menu while feasting on our usual Dungeness crab, sourdough bread schlepped from the city, mOm’s Louis dressing and iceberg lettuce wedges, augmented by crisp-tender asparagus spears. Truly though, any excuse to eat crab is a welcome one. Or Louis sauce. That sauce rocks!

Thanksgiving morning dawned with the fiery blaze of the liquid amber tree and frost everywhere, a brisk 32 degrees.

Just WOW. What a tree!

After lots of coffee and toasted Acme sourdough bread and butter, we hopped to work in the kitchen and I posted the menu and to-dos for each menu item on the fridge.

Our Menu:
o Dry brined turkey roasted with bacon and sage
o Granny’s “Aunt Emma’s” dressing
o Giblet gravy
o Mashed potatoes
o Potato butter buns
o Roasted whole onions
o Carrot and parsnip coins in a beef-butter reduction
o Green salad with roasted quince, pomegranate, pecans and goat cheese, with a quince syrup white wine vinaigrette
o Pumpkin chiffon pie

Mom started with the pie crust. I loved mOm’s comment, “If this pie pan could talk… It is older than you and has seen many pies.”

I started the brown sauce, part two of the three-part gravy process, and prepped the veggies and fruits for the dressing. My sis made the dressing while Mom made the filling for the pumpkin pie elbow-to-elbow with me as I prepared the dough for the potato buns. I love these buns, we all love these buns, in fact, I plan to make more tomorrow. Can you see why?

Everything was going so smoothly, we had time to take a break, take a nap and knit (just me). Around 3:30 pm we put in the turkey, and three and a half hours later the turkey was done!

Mmmm, bacon..

I decorated da boid with strips of bacon and fresh sage leaves. The little onions roasted happily under the roasting rack. Everyone was liberally slathered with butter.

My sis gently tossed and arranged the salad, I dolloped spoonfuls of butter and sour cream onto the mashed potatoes, and mom made the gravy. There was liberal sampling going on. Bliss.

This gravy is so good, you could eat it like soup.

The carrots and parsnips were perfectly done, not mushy but toothsome, cooked with beef stock and butter and reduced to a syrupy glaze.

The potatoes were creamy and showered with parsley and a lake of butter. Mmmm, butter….

The table looked so festive. My sis put a cinammon-spiced cranberry sauce in her pretty Spode turkey dish, with the spoon in a compromising position. Squawk!!!

I tried carving the turkey this year, and overfilled a platter to the point of ridiculousness with the juicy meat. And bacon.

Every single dish was outstanding. I poured an ’09 Serenade from Casa Rondeña in New Mexico (a Gewürztraminer/Reisling blend) and an ’06 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Leap (a lovely gift from the winery, thank you!!). We filled out plates to match our hearts filled with love, and were too full for pie! Desultory conversation followed and then bed, with blissful turkey dreams.

Today was the culmination of a year-long dream, pumpkin pie and coffee for breakfast (and a few leftover buns slathered with butter) and the leftover turkey sandwich. And a nap. We traded stories all afternoon, about family history, and country and city living oddities. It is so delightful to relax with my family and get to know them better, year after year.

What a great holiday we had, and tonight we get to do it all over again, the only work involved will be gentle reheating!

I’m off to go hang up the outdoor Christmas lights now with my sis, with my stepdad’s supervision, another post-turkey day tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hats off to Derby Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, a mint julep!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mint Julep

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

A Perfect Mint Julep

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

Simple syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

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

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

Sip slowly. Beware of rapid refills.

As Dorothy Parker said:

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


Food Torture – Easter Edition

Yes, folks, it is time once again for food torture at Easter time…

Behold, Peep torture:

And there is more….

How to make a ham feel very foolish:

Now, to calm yourself after such unpleasantness, here are some happy pictures:

Birds off the back terrace:

And a dusting of snow for Easter:

Please note that snow is such a rarity in California, hence the excitement! If you look really closely at the mountain ridge across the valley you will see a sugar dusting of snow.

Happy Easter!