Archive for November, 2009

Listening & Leftovers

November 27, 2009

This I believe: Everyone has as story to tell. So, today with a fridge full of leftovers, there’s plenty of time to step away from the kitchen to sit down with someone you love to hear a tale or two.

The Storycorps Project heard on National Public Radio, the people who brought us the book, Listening is an Act of Love, encourages all of us to start a new holiday tradition the day after Thanksgiving–and it doesn’t cost a cent. All you need for the National Day of Listening is a notebook or recording device so you can document an in-depth conversation with a family member or friend over an hour or so — a lot less time than it takes to cook a turkey.

In both my professional and personal experience, people have a yearning to be heard. Given half a chance they’ll bend your ear, tell you their secrets, or reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly. So I doubt you’ll be sorry you took time to talk with a relative to learn more about his or her life. But you may regret not doing so.

I know I do.  In my final year at university I had to conduct an oral history for a class assignment and I chose to interview my paternal grandmother. We adored each other in the uncomplicated way that grandchild and grandparent do. She religiously read the student newspaper I wrote for, offering gentle but pointed critiques: “There is no such color as nipple pink and even if there was you have no business using such a term.” When her eyes started to fail she got books and magazines on tape. I can still remember sitting on her bed as we listened to an issue of Newsweek; she liked to keep up on and discuss current events. She kept a poem I’d written about her when I was 8.

But when the day arrived for our interview Gran called to reschedule; it was too rainy and she worried about me, a relatively new driver, navigating the then-treacherous windy roads that led to her home, about 90 minutes outside of Sydney.  The deadline for the assignment loomed so I interviewed somebody else (I don’t recall who) and I never did have that discussion with my grandmother.

I’m fortunate that I know the broad strokes of her life: Born Florence Marion Alderton on May 3, 1900, she grew up in a big clan in a lovely, leafy, waterfront area of Sydney. She went on to become one of the first female pharmacists in the state of New South Wales. She married my surgeon grandfather, Dudley de la Force Henry, just shy of her 29th birthday; the two met when Gran went to work at Grandpa’s practice. And, of course, she gave birth to my Dad, her only child.

In the early 1940s, she served as a driver for longtime parliamentarian Sir Earle Page, a relative who was very briefly (we’re talking 20 days) Prime Minister of Australia. In the early 1970s — in her 70s — she spent a year in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, where my grandfather provided medical assistance. An avid gardener (she won awards for her roses and camellias), horrible cook (instant mashed potato…need I say more?), and keen conversationalist (always happy to have a chat over a cuppa). That was my Granny Henry.

But there are many questions I’d have liked to ask her if we’d kept our appointment. What was it like growing up in the Depression? How did the two World Wars impact her life? How was it as a young, professional woman in a male dominated field? What did my dad like to do as a little boy? How was it chauffeuring a politician? Did she want more than one child? What was it like living in PNG?  What were her greatest joys, sorrows, secrets, good deeds, missteps, and regrets? What life lessons did she want to pass on?

That opportunity is lost to me now; my grandmother died two years after I moved to America. So my suggestion, dear readers, as you contemplate how to spend your post Thanksgiving feast day, is to settle in somewhere comfy, perhaps with a slice of pie or a cup of tea, and let a loved one do the talking.

I leave you with an insight gleaned from Listening is an Act of Love that’s bound to have you searching for pen & paper or batteries:

Be curious and keep and open heart. Great things will happen.

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Gobble, Gobble & Gratitude

November 24, 2009

Hello peeps.  I know many of you are busy prepping for the annual American food fest, so I won’t keep you long.

First, full disclosure: I do not (heart) the holidays. And nothing announces the official start of the festive season than Thanksgiving. Well, I guess there’s also Halloween, the end of daylight savings, the beginning of cold & wet weather, but I digress.

Here’s my beef with end of year celebrations: Too much expectation and anticipation followed usually by, let’s be real here, disappointment. Throw in some cultural disconnect, a bit of family drama, a smidgen of self-diagnosed seasonal adjustment disorder, and meat-centric meals and, well, me and the holidays aren’t a good match.

But — wait — don’t go, this isn’t going to be a bummer blog post, promise.  When you have a kid in the picture you just have to get over yourself and any party pooper tendencies that set up shop in your psyche this time of year. I’ve learned ways to navigate this potentially challenging period (nothing like practice) and I’ll share some of them with you all. And recipes too! So stick around.

Think different. Who says you have to eat turkey and that weird Jell-O-canned-fruit-Cool-Whip concoction your relative brings every year?

The last TG I hosted I fed a hearty batch of Lentil Soup to six vegetarians on a cold winter’s night. An unconventional but popular choice.

Find more veggie fare for Thursday’s table at NPR’s Kitchen Window from San Francisco food blogger Nicole Spiridakis, along with gluten-free recipes for the big day by another local scribe Stephanie Stiavetti.

Pecan pie or pumpkin cheesecake not your kind of sweet note? I hear you, so try starting a new tradition for the end of the meal. This year, thanks to a prolific tree, I’m going to make the Meyer Lemon Tart  from the new My Nepenthe cookbook. (Recipe follows.)

Keep cool. If you suffer from last minuteitis, you’re likely scrambling to come up with a menu right now. Relax, you’ll find a great little guide over at Food News Journal, complete with hand-picked recipes for every course that should serve you well. I especially like the look of Brussels sprouts with buttered pecans courtesy of Gourmet (R.I.P).

Practice gratitude. Last year, my first solo TG in two decades, I received more than a dozen invites for dinner. A dozen. Now I know how the homeless feel: Everyone wants to feed you on Thanksgiving.  I attended three fun soirees — flirted with trouble at one, observed the raw anger of a recently divorced dad at a second (note to self: bitterness may be a key flavor but it does not make for good company at the dinner table), and plopped down for dessert & dish at a third. All that and dance class with my galpals, added up to a pretty stellar day in my mind. And while the food was good everywhere I went, it was the connection with friends that sustained me that day.

This year, my boy and I will visit with two families he’s known since birth.  We’ll take a hike and picnic with one, and then have a low-key meal and play highly-competitive games with the other. (Heard of the card game Spit? More fun than the name suggests and super addictive.)

The food will be good at both venues, natch; we all like to eat around here. But what’s likely to nourish me most on the day is the generosity, kindness, and friendship of the posse who have served as my surrogate family in the more than 20 years I’ve called this country home.

And that, from where I sit, makes for a Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy.

Flickr photo by Road Fun used under the Creative Commons license.

Meyer Lemon Tart

—From My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur by Romney Steele

Serves 8 to 10.

Sweet Dough:

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup flour

Lemon Curd:
5 or 6 Meyer lemons (1 cup juice)
3 eggs plus 3 egg yolks
7/8 cup granulated sugar, or to taste
4 tablespoons butter

1. Beat the butter with the sugar, salt, and flour until just combined.

2. Press the dough evenly into a 9-inch round fluted tart pan.

3. Freeze the prepared tart shell for at least 30 minutes before baking.

4. Zest half the lemons (setting the zest aside), then extract the juice from all the lemons to make about 1 cup.

5. Whisk the eggs and sugar until well combined in a medium nonreactive, heatproof bowl, then whisk in the lemon juice.

6. Place the bowl over a gently simmering pot of water and whisk continuously until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.

7. Whisk in the butter in pieces.

8. Cook, stirring frequently, until the curd coats the back of the spoon, another 5 minutes or so.

9. Taste and adjust the sweetness, as needed.

10. Strain the curd into a separate bowl, then whisk in the zest.

11. Press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface while cooling.

12. Bake the tart shell for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown in an oven preheated to 375°F.

13. Cool slightly, then spoon the lemon curd into the shell, spreading evenly with a spatula.

14. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until just set but still slightly jiggly in the middle.

15. Serve chilled with a dollop of lightly whipped cream or fresh berries.

Photo Meyer Lemon Tart: Sara Remington

Street Cart Cuisine: Think Global, Eat Local

November 19, 2009

Due to last minuteitis (recently afflicted but may be chronic condition) and email error (note to self: figure out spam filter so important stuff doesn’t get sucked into spamland) I missed the boat — well not the boat actually but a hot air balloon — on the World Street Food confab last week at the CIA (think foodie folk, not spy guys).

Instead of driving up to Napa to eat cart cuisine from around the globe with the likes of street food guru Jonathan Gold, I had to endure a constant stream of twitters about hot hawkers from Lima, Istanbul, and Barcelona sent by food savvy souls such as ruth reichl, cooking with amy, and seattle tall poppy. I tried not to be green with envy about the finger-licking food they were feasting on, though the thought of a hot air balloon ride just made me feel green, period. I like to consume my street food on terra firma thanks very much.

So, in keeping with that well-worn slogan Think Global, Act Local, I decided that instead of pouting at my misfortune I’d simply conduct my very own spontaneous street eats survey on my doorstep in the multiculti East Bay.

Faithful readers may recall I’ve chronicled groovy street grub found in Sydney, San Francisco, and the Eat Real Festival in Oakland.

Now, on demand, (well, a couple of friends did ask): some picks for locavores or out-of-towners when they next pass through Berzerkeley and that happening hub of ethnic eats Emeryville (look on a map, it’s super close to both Berkeley and Oaktown.)

And we’re not talking taco truck tucker here, people. Some serious chophouse chow — with enough worldly influences to keep this armchair traveler happy — hitting the streets in my neck of the woods.

Liba

Chef Gail Lillian, inspired by falafel bars in Amsterdam of all places, takes the fabulous falafel to new culinary destinations. A huge fan of this Middle Eastern staple, I was delighted to find the lovely lime green Liba cart parked across the street from Pixar Studios.

Gail, who’s run a cafe in Oakland among other culinary jobs, makes the falafel from scratch in the commercial cooperative Artisan Kitchen in neighboring Richmond. She serves these crisp chickpea patties with unique add-ons like chimichurri herb paste, harissa hot sauce, and dill & cardmom pickle. Equally intriguing side salads draw on different ethnic origins, and include olive-orange relish with thyme, red cabbage with black sesame seed, and roasted eggplant in tomato sauce. And there’s complementary condiments like rosemary peanuts and tomato ginger chutney. Makes for a hearty, flavor-filled, and lip-smacking lunch of mostly organic, local ingredients. Liba’s fare can be custom made for the vegan or gluten-free; falafel salads and sandwiches run $7.25.

Mon., Tues., & Thurs. in Emeryville. Wed. & Fri., Potrero Hill in SF.
For up-to-date info including hours and exact locations, follow the falafel lady’s twitter feed.

Jons Street Eats

Also trucking around Emeryville, Jons Street Eats, where I waited last week for what turned out to be a generous slab of nicely seared tuna that formed the basis of the $9 ahi roll, a creamy concoction served on a sweet bun with daikon cabbage, wasabi aioli, and cilantro.   This extremely delish and very messy offering — grab some napkins on the go — is created by former Fork chef (acclaimed & shuttered San Anselmo eatery) and CIA graduate Jon Kosorek, who opened his nomadic restaurant a few months ago when a bricks-and-mortar establishment fell through.

The day I stopped by he was dishing up duck tacos for $7 and a butternut squash bisque & green salad for $6.

Think gourmet grub on the go more than snacky street eats for the offerings from this cart, which includes a short, seasonally changing menu, prepped ahead and prepared on the spot, hence the wait. Word to the wise: Most street food vendors welcome folks ordering ahead.

Check Jon’s twitter feed for exact E-Bay only locations, but popular spots include Stanford & Hollis in Emeryville on Wednesdays & Fridays and Piedmont & Pleasant Valley in Oakland on Saturdays.

Cupkates

Kate McEachern, a former managing editor at design mag Dwell, now goes by the title Chief Cupcake Officer.  She delivers sweet treats from a dot-covered converted taco truck she calls her mobile cupcakery. Kate says she’s the worst intern in Chez Panisse history. But while at Cal she did wow folks with her baked goods. So Cupkates was born.

Her cupcakes are made with high quality ingredients like Madagascar Bourbon vanilla and Guittard chocolate, along with local milk, eggs, and butter. She sells her generously frosted desserts for $2.75 a piece. The day I stopped by for a chat and a bite an endless stream of students made their way to the truck to order a cupcake or two or three in classic flavors such as double chocolate and red velvet.

Kate is currently enduring a bit of grief from Berkeley parking police, despite having a permit and following parking signage rules. Nonetheless, the chipper cupcake maker is still on the beat, tweeting and facebooking about where you can get your daily sugar fix on her regular Berkeley and Emeryville routes. (Thanks to fellow blogger Frances Dinkelspiel, who wrote about Cupkates on the hyper-local Berkeleyside, for passing on this street eat tip.)

Judging by the long line at Jon’s and the steady stream at Liba and CupKates, this trio of trucks have already developed a loyal following in a short amount of time (the carts have only been rolling around the E-Bay for a few months at most). It remains to be seen if hungry folks go in search of street eats in the rainy season, of course, but in the gourmet ghetto perhaps it will take more than a little wet weather to dampen the enthusiasm of food foragers.

On my list to check next: The Pie Truck. Do you have a fav East Bay street cart to add to this list? Let me know below.

Stuck in a Dinner Rut? You’ve Got Lots of Company

November 17, 2009

Fascinated by a report out of the UK (thank you Food News Journal) that reveals the average mother rotates through just nine different meals to feed her family. (Ah, why weren’t the fathers polled as well?)

And one in four make the same meals on the same day of the week.

Wow. You’d think with all the variety of food available these days, the easy access to free and interesting recipes on the Internet and wildly popular TV cooking shows we’d mix it up a bit. But, no, it seems that hectic work/life schedules, choosy children, and partners who toil outside the home for long hours mean that mealtimes get overlooked and we fall back on favorite foods we know and love.

The poll of 4,000 Brits conducted by a food product company found that the nine most repeated meals are:

1. Spaghetti Bolognese

2. Roast Dinner

3. Shepherds Pie/Cottage Pie

4. Pasta

5. Meat and two veg (hello 1960s!)

6. Pizza

7. Casserole/Stew

8. Sausages and Chips/Mash

9. Indian/Curry

Truth be told, allowing for regional and dietary differences, I’m probably equally guilty of rotating through a limited menu list.  My family’s nine:

1. Tofu/Brown Rice/Couscous/Quinoa and veg

2. Pasta with Pesto or Pureed Veggie Sauce

3. Indian (Still tofu, rice, veg, tamarind sauce, naan & mango lassi)

4. Soup & Salad (granted, some variations on this theme)

5. Homemade Tortillas, Beans, Guacamole, Cheese

6. Japanese: (Um, tofu, rice, nori, pickled ginger, raw veg)

7. Pseudo Thai: (That would be, tofu, rice or noodles, & coconut milk)

8. Eggs (boiled, exactly seven minutes!) with toast & salad

9. Pizza (Weekend treat, Cheeseboard, she notes defensively)

Yikes! Like the mamas surveyed, when I cook for my vegetarian son I make simple meals I know he’ll eat. I don’t want to waste time or money on food he won’t try and I’m keen to make sure he gets the nutrients he needs in the small windows of time we have together. Sometimes we whip up butternut squash pot stickers or falafel and hummus but not as often as I’d like.

Since I think a lot about food, I do try to mix it up a bit, by adding different seasonings or sauces or substituting new ingredients for old standbys but I’m frankly a little embarrassed by my narrow range.

Should I be? Would you be hard pressed to come up with nine or more than nine meals you prepare for your family on a regular basis? Do you have your own standing list or do you make a point of experimenting each week and adding something new in the mix?  Do tell.

Flickr photo by helen.2006 used under the Creative Commons license.

Book Giveaway: My Nepenthe

November 13, 2009

It’s always tricky to write about a pal’s book, you don’t want to come off sounding like a fawning friend, frankly.

So, in the case of My Nepenthe by Romney “Nani” Steele, I’m going to let others hand out the praise. Sunset describes Nani’s cookbook-cum-memoir as “a valentine to one of the most beautiful places to eat in the world.” Michael Pollan calls it “a very special book about a very special place.” And epicurious just named it the best American regional cookbook of 2009.

If you know Big Sur, home to the iconic Nepenthe restaurant, the area and the eatery need no introduction. If you’re not familiar with this small, rural California Central Coast enclave perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean then you should add it to your list of places to visit before you die. Really.

For 60 years Nepenthe has served comfort food with a view to locals, travelers, and tourists. And so much more: for the artists, nature lovers, spiritual seekers, writers, and wanderers who stop by, this magical spot transcends what comes out of the kitchen.

In My Nepenthe Nani, 44, a writer, chef, and food stylist, reveals the colorful back story to this family restaurant, founded by her grandparents Bill and Lolly Fassett, including the unorthodox life they lived, the eclectic boho community they cultivated, and Nani’s own foray into running Cafe Kevah as a European-style eatery with slow food sensibilities located on the same site as the “House of No Sorrow.”

romney.steele.2If you’re curious to find out more, read my Q&A with the author over at the hyper-local site Berkeleyside.

To win a copy of this visually lush book, filled with 85 restaurant recipes tweaked for the tastes of today’s home cooks, leave a comment about a special place  — and a local eatery that adds to the area’s charm. Submit your entry by 10 p.m. PST on Friday, November 20 and I’ll pick a winner from the suggestions shared below.

Update: Thanks to all who entered — you guys made me hungry for places both near and far. So many great suggestions I couldn’t decide, so I put your names into a pot (my desk is next to my kitchen) and the winner, chosen at random is: Christine, for her suggestion of the worldly Vagabond in San Diego. Congrats. an autographed copy of My Nepenthe is on its way to you. Look for another book giveaway in December.

To whet your appetite, a few recipes from the pages of My Nepenthe follow.

Pappardelle with Chanterelles

Serves 4

½ pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms
1½ tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot or small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme, stemmed
²⁄³ cup vegetable stock or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 to 12 ounces dried pappardelle pasta or other wide pasta
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for passing

Considered gold by the culinary world, found chanterelles were a regular part of my grandmother’s Sunday night dinners and were
often featured in the Thanksgiving meal.

Gently clean the mushrooms with a dry brush. Avoid soaking in water. Trim any dry stems. Slice the mushrooms into ½-inch pieces.

Heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute.

Stir in the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme and sauté until the mushrooms are browned, 3 to 5 minutes.

Ladle in the stock, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 3 minutes, until the mushrooms are just tender. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta in a colander.

Add the pasta to the mushrooms in the skillet along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the butter.

Cook over moderately high heat, tossing the pasta to coat and adding pasta water to moisten if needed, until thoroughly coated.

Stir in the parsley and lemon zest.

Divide the pasta among 4 warm plates and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Pass additional Parmesan separately.

Chopped Salad with Roquefort Dressing

Serves 4 to 6

Roquefort Dressing

2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried mustard
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 to 6 ounces Roquefort cheese
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup canola or safflower oil

Chopped Salad

2 heads romaine lettuce
1 head green leaf lettuce
4 to 6 cherry tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing:

Combine the garlic, basil, oregano, mustard, pepper, sugar, and salt in a clean glass jar.

Crumble the cheese and add to the jar. Add the vinegar and oils.

Cover and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

You will have more than enough dressing; refrigerate any extra.

For the salad:

Wash and thoroughly dry the lettuces, trimming the ends and discarding any bruised leaves.

Tear into bite-size pieces and place in individual chilled bowls. Top with the desired amount of dressing, making sure each salad has
plenty of blue cheese chunks. Add the cherry tomatoes and grind black pepper over the tops.

nepenthe.fabric.slice

Pumpkin Spice Cake (Bohemian Wedding Cake)

Makes 1 (9-inch) cake, serving 10 to 12

1 cup whole-wheat flour (not pastry flour)
1 cup unbleached white flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1½ cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (about 1¾ cups)
¼ cup molasses
¾ cup raisins
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Sour Cream Frosting:

½ cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, softened
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, knocking out any excess flour.

For the cake:

Combine the whole-wheat flour, white flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl: stir together the oil and brown sugar, mixing well. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla. Mix in the pumpkin puree and then the molasses.

Stir in the dry ingredients, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Stir in the raisins and walnuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted  in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then invert and cool completely.

For the frosting:

Mix the cream cheese, sour cream, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth.

Sift in the confectioners’ sugar and mix well. It should be thinner than a typical cream cheese frosting.

Place the cake on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top and all over the side. Freeze any leftover frosting, or reserve for muffins or cupcakes.

— All Recipes From My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur by Romney Steele/Andrews McMeel Publishing

Photo of Romney Steele by Doug McKechnie

Warning: Food News Harms Your Child’s Health

November 11, 2009

Anyone else wonder how to handle scary food news consumed by our kids?

I have an 11-year-old vegetarian, who loves tofu, dipping baguette into balsamic vinegar, and a few canned food products, such as coconut milk.

His teacher is encouraging the class to track current events by tuning into the news. To date, all that’s done is help my boy develop a fear of bridges that collapse or kill.

Oh, and put him off his food.  Consider:

  • On Monday, our local paper revealed that eating just one tablespoon a day of some brands of balsamic vinegar could raise a young child’s lead levels by more than 30 percent. Now my son worries that his fav appetizer, and its potential link to lead-induced lower IQ, will mess up his mind.  (Find a list of vinegars with lower lead levels here.)
  • In the news last week, a Consumer Reports investigation found canned foods, including soups, juice, and green beans, contain measurable levels of Bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic material linked to loads of horrible health abnormalities. My 5th grader has sworn off canned tomatoes and black beans. Help: Are there any BPA-free cans out there?
  • At least tofu, and its main ingredient soy protein, wasn’t touted as a potentially dangerous food in the last 10 days, though it has been in the recent past, with reports of males developing breast tissue and other nightmarish stuff no pre-pubescent boy wants to think about.

Beyond buying fresh, organic, locally sourced fruit & veg, checking labels for icky additives and unknown, questionable ingredients, and minimizing the amount of refined sugar, simple carbohydrates, and saturated fats our kids consume what’s a parent to do?

I subscribe to nutritionist Marion Nestle‘s simple premise: Variety, balance, and moderation and Michael Pollan‘s poetic: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. But I’m not sure such messages are much comfort to confused kids scanning the morning paper over a bowl of porridge.

What do you tell your children about the potential dangers of canned goods, seafood, tofu, balsamic vinegar, or any other foods that wind up in alarming headlines? And how do these stories influence your own choices at the grocery checkout? I’m all ears.

Flickr photo by Mykl Roventine, used under the Creative Commons license.

San Francisco’s Fabulous Food Festival

November 8, 2009

sf.expo.centerI’ll be blunt: I had low expectations. I’d detected no buzz about the SF Fab Food Fest beforehand. And I couldn’t find a list of food sellers online. The venue, the Concourse Exhibition Center, didn’t look promising either. Three strikes right there.

But it wasn’t out of my way so I stopped by en route to the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. Still, I mulled over why anyone would opt to go indoors to a convention hall on a gorgeous fall day to sample food when fabulous fresh produce and gourmet goodies awaited just down the road — in a truly fabulous waterfront setting.

A quick sweep of the booths and I’d be on my way. Happy to report I was pleasantly surprised by some of what was on offer.

The pick of the stalls I perused:

spice.houndSpice Hound: This South Bay-based company won me over with their 2 ounce-tins of Middle Eastern spice blends Za’atar and Dukka. A staple of many food pantries in my hometown Sydney, Dukka is a mix of sesame seeds, hazelnuts, coriander, and cumin. It’s added to olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar to jazz up bread dipping sauce. Za’atar (thyme, sumac, white sesame seeds, and sea salt) is used in the same way or added to vegetables or hummus for extra zing.  Bonus: Check out Spice Hound’s Chai Tea recipe here.

mums.chutneysMum’s Homemade: A sucker for a cheese & chutney sandwich, a childhood staple, I spotted these preserves made by East Bay cooks Briony Bax and Margaret Heafey, who specialize in British fare using natural ingredients produced in the commercial co-op Artisan’s Kitchen in Richmond. A toss up between the subtle charms of Autumn Chutney, made with apples and pears, or the robust Date and Banana Chutney.

tres.classique.oils

Tres Classique: The Garlic Classic Dipping Oil, from this Ukiah custom balsamic vinegar and oil outfit, is thick and oozy and made with grapeseed oil, 18 year old aged balsamic, garlic, parsley, pepper flakes, and sun-dried tomato. It will probably not last long in my house and needs nothing else beside a crusty loaf of bread to enjoy.

Thumbs up as well to the tropical zip in the mango marmalade from Carol Hall’s Hot Pepper Jelly Company and the pungent, deep brown Greystone Herb Garden Honey harvested from hives at the organic garden of The Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley and sold by farmers’ market staple Marshall’s Farm Honey.

Speaking of farmers’ markets…I started to get that claustrophobic feeling typically induced by such closed, unnaturally-lit environs and began pining for  the great outdoors. It was time to skedaddle out of the concourse center and take my condiment-laden self off to the Ferry Building in pursuit of fresh food and a loaf of Acme bread to pair with my purchases.

Lesson learned: Keep an open mind. Who knows what gems you might stumble upon in unexpected locations?

San Francisco Fabulous Food Festival, November 7th & 8th, 10am-5pm, Concourse Exhibition Center, 8th & Brannan Sts., San Francisco

What’s for Dinner? Find Answers on the Web

November 4, 2009

How many of you have found those email chain letters in your inbox asking you to share a recipe with a dozen or so others? How many of you actually respond?

I’m not entirely sure why, but I never seem to reply to these recipe requests (sorry Anne, Katherine, Ellen, et al.) and wind up feeling a bit guilty about it.

Maybe they’re too much pressure — you feel the need to cast around for the perfect dish to share with the masses. Maybe it feels too time consuming and thus goes into the to-do list, and then too much time passes or you forget…Who knows.

I suspect many of them are generated by busy working parents (mostly moms), who want help with that perennial post-work-school-pick- up-race-to-martial arts/dance class/soccer-hustle and the inevitable, ravenous question: “What’s for dinner?'” as soon as you walk in the door.

It’s hard to resist the urge to say something snippy like “What are you cooking?” or even “Who the hell knows?” but that won’t get dinner on the table. And when time is short, you’re hardly about to start browsing through your library of cookbooks for inspiration.

But what if you took a few minutes out of your day to check out a couple of online recipe resources. That sounds doable, right?

So in the spirit of sharing recipes via the ‘net (if not email) I offer web links to click to find nutritious & delicious dishes you can fix for your family in a timely fashion.

There are a zillion food sites and blogs out there. Many look gorgeous, some are very funny, lots are beautifully written. For this post I want to highlight a few that consistently offer recipes that could work on a school night when everyone is tired, time-starved, and very hungry. (Which doesn’t means these aren’t pretty, witty, and wise as well.)

No doubt you’ll have your own bookmarked recipe links you’ll want to share. Feel free.

As for those recipe exchange emails…okay, alright, already, I’ll reply…maybe there’s a blog post in what happens after I hit send.

Five Online Food Resources

Simply Recipes Elise Bauer’s six-year-old, award-winning web blog is chock full of easy-to-fix, healthy suggestions for family meals. The site is easy to navigate, the recipes easy to follow, and it’s easy on the eyes as well, with lots of lovely photos. Browse categories that meet your family’s needs, whether budget, vegetarian, or gluten free.

Try Spinach Frittata, Enchiladas, or Sauteed Swiss Chard Ribs with Cream and Pasta.

101 Cookbooks Heidi Swanson, author of Super Natural Cooking, serves up evocative images of wholesome vegetarian offerings on this much-lauded site, started as a way to work through recipes in the vast number of cookbooks Swanson had amassed at home. This blog is a snap to get around too.

Consider Lemony Chickpea Stir-fry, Broccoli Cheddar Soup, or Carrot, Dill and White Bean Salad.

Tasty Kitchen The brainchild of the hilarious blogger Ree Drummond, aka as The Pioneer Woman, a self-described spoiled city gal who left the urban life to marry a cattle man and homeschool four children, Tasty Kitchen is a recently launched site for home cooks to share their favorite recipes. Good place to park those email recipe exchanges, maybe?

Check out Pumpkin and Pear Soup, Ratatouille, and California Style Sushi Rolls.

super.cook.logoSupercook is a cool newish web tool equipped with a search engine that helps you prepare meals with the ingredients you have on hand. Just plug in what you have in your pantry, say rice and lentils, and within seconds you’ll get a recipe or maybe several from its database of 300,000 and growing. You can comment on whether you like or dislike a dish and even add your own to the mix. Another potential home for those avid recipe exchangers! Named by Time.com as one of the 50 best websites for 2009.

Will Write for Food Speaking of bests, several “best food blogs” lists are worth perusing when you’ve got a little more time to surf around to find a recipe resource that appeals. My pal Dianne Jacob over at WW4F has gathered links to five of these best ofs in one place.  The website delish also keeps a comprehensive list.

Check back for a future post when I finally put together my very own favorite foodie bloggas blogroll.

Flickr photo by dcdan used under the Creative Commons license.