Sunday, December 27, 2009

Comfort and Joy

We noticed this chair, looking out over the birds and seals in Bolinas Lagoon, on our walk around the lagoon while spending a few days with our family at Stinson Beach, our regular holiday ritual. In the car ride home, my sons were talking about their grandparents, how interesting and funny and kind they were. I loved hearing how much spending time with their grandparents means to them.
Of course there was also good eating, another holiday ritual. We had Steven's luxurious barbecued prime rib with roasted vegetables for Christmas dinner. I made fresh ginger cake and Meyer lemon ice cream for dessert.
My favorite concoction was my brother-in-law Mark's lunch plate with leftovers the next day.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Baker Guy

My younger son produced these yesterday, with minimal input from me. He has been wanting to bake these since we got our Christmas tree last week. I think gingerbread people are part of his Christmas ritual, so I'm glad he knows how to bake them now.
I told my boys that this vacation I want some more participation in meal preparation, ideally for them to choose a dish they like and cook it for dinner (with me as helper if they want). To my surprise they agreed with no complaints. The older one said he wants to cook Pinchos Morunos, a favorite from Spain that we recently found a recipe for. It's chunks of pork loin marinated in paprika and spices and broiled. The younger one wanted to know if baking TWO batches of gingerbread people would count as a meal. I said no.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

More Procrastination, I Confess...

Actually, I'm in pretty good shape. I wrote out all my responses to the essay questions for Second Language Acquisition and now I just have to pull out key phrases, reduce them to 6 pt. type and print them out on the 3x5 index card I'm allowed for the final on Monday. This trick is new trick to me. When I was in college, I had to hand write my index card notes, since I didn't use a computer while in college. That really dates me. As for my Chinese final, well...there seems to be a finite number of Chinese characters I can keep in my memory at any given time. Or maybe it's about access...I know the ones I learned a month ago are in there somewhere but dredging them up is the problem. Anyway, these madeleines seemed the perfect antidote to a gray, rainy day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Since I'm Procrastinating, I Might As Well Bake!

I'm supposed to be studying for my Chinese and Second Language Acquisition finals, but I was suddenly seized with a longing to bake bread. I know at least one other person who does this form of procrastination (and she managed to finish a PhD, so it can't be all bad!). My baked good of choice was whole wheat bread, specifically King Arthur Flour's No-Knead 100% Whole Wheat Bread. This is a nice website with lots of recipes; I've made their pizza dough and now this bread. The bread is very very easy to make and the only kneading you do is 3 minutes in the mixer. (I don't have a stand mixer so I used my electric mixer and it really put it to the limit. Next time I will try the food processor with the dough blade.) I love sites like this with user comments, so I can see what worked for other people and what didn't or whether to even bother. Thanks to the comments I let the dough rise a lot longer than recommended. I let it rise for 1 hour at room temperature, then 6 hours in the fridge, then another hour at room temperature. Next time I will try overnight in the fridge, which several bakers said gave it a richer flavor. I had to bake it for a total of 55 minutes, which is 10 minutes longer than recommended (since it was still cool from the fridge).
The flavor: Excellent toasted with cheese, divine toasted with butter and honey. We ate the whole loaf in less than 24 hours. My youngest son--the one who likes to cook--came into my office that night and wanted to bake another loaf right then and there! He doesn't really know about yeast bread and rising, so now's the time to teach him. We were out of white whole wheat flour (this gives the bread a lighter texture than regular whole wheat flour) so I managed to stave him off till later this week. Now I've procrastinated some more by writing my blog. Back to studying.
(Addition, Thursday Dec. 10: My son baked this bread, and we left it overnight in the fridge for about 14 hours and then 1 hour at room temp. before baking. The texture was better this time and the mixing went better with the food processor. We like the molasses sweetener best.)

I just had to add this photo of the BLT sandwich I made from our second loaf of this bread. It was really really good.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Green Soup with Ginger

I got the idea for this soup from Heidi Swanson's great cooking blog, 101 Cookbooks, featuring vegetarian recipes using whole foods. I have cooked several recipes from her blog, all great! She has also written a cookbook, Super Natural Cooking, that I think I'm going to have to buy even though my cookbook shelf has already overflowed to the shelf below. I made a number of changes in her soup, which was originally from a cookbook called Love Soup by Anna Thomas. (I love how recipes travel through kitchens and mutate.) The version on her blog has sweet potato and chard, which also sounds wonderful; I just was trying to maybe please my teenagers, who interrogate me about the ingredients of any new dish and would mostly rather I cooked the same recipes the same way every time. So I made it more like a leek and potato soup, which they love, except with spinach and ginger. I loved the green spinach and fresh ginger flavor and so did my husband and one of our teens. The older one prefers my usual leek and potato soup (no surprise). Here's the soup:

Green Soup with Ginger
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1-1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 lb. yellow potatoes (about 3 med.), peeled and diced
1 leek, washed and sliced (white and light green parts only)
1 bunch spinach, washed and chopped
3 Tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 cups vegetable broth, made with Rapunzel bouillon cube (see Note)
2-4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
ground pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. heavy cream (optional)

Saute the onion in the olive oil on low heat, sprinkling with a little salt, until it is soft and starting to brown, approx. half an hour. Meanwhile, put the potato in 4 cups of cold water in a soup pot and add 1 teaspoon salt. Add leek and ginger to the pot, and bring to a boil. Add sauteed onions when they are ready. Simmer for approx. 20 minutes, then add the spinach and simmer until vegetables are tender (another 5-10 minutes). Let soup cool for a few minutes, then puree in a food processor or blender. (Can also leave chunky.) Return to the pot and add lemon juice, pepper, and more salt to taste. Reheat slowly and swirl in the cream, if desired.

Note: Usually I make soup with chicken broth, homemade when possible. But it seemed like the charm of this soup would be in the vegetable flavors, so I honored Heidi's version and used vegetable broth made with the Rapunzel cube that Heidi recommended. I have to say, the broth made from the cube was very good.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Two pumpkin pies and one apple galette captured before they got eaten. We also had roast turkey, cornbread and sausage stuffing, twice-baked potatoes, green beans tossed with garlic and herbs, gravy, cranberry sauce, and good conversation and company.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Diamond Sutra

The endpapers of The Man Who Loved China, about Joseph Needham, are printed with a reproduction of the above text and illustration. I didn't realize what it was until I became fascinated with a side story in the book about the Diamond Sutra, which is what that text is. The Diamond Sutra is a Buddhist text translated from Sanskrit and made for the purpose of spreading Buddhism. The version above was printed in 868, making it the oldest printed and dated document ever found. That's about 600 years before printing appeared in Europe. It was hidden along with thousands of other Buddhist documents in a sealed up cave among many other caves in far western China, near the edge of the Taklamakan Desert, in Dunhuang, a rest stop on the Silk Route. In 1907, a European adventurer collecting for the British Museum paid a local monk 220 British pounds for the whole caveful of priceless documents, including the Diamond Sutra (which now lies in the British Library). Apparently this story still enrages people in China. The reason the story is in The Man Who Loved China is that Joseph Needham was also captivated by the Diamond Sutra, so captivated that he endured a horrific journey in 1943 to visit Dunhuang and examine the caves, many of which were painted with Buddhist scenes. What's fascinating to me is that I can actually recognize some of the characters in the text, and they look just like the printed characters in my elementary Chinese workbook (which was printed in the U.S. in 2007).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

November Pumpkin

Isn't it fascinating to see what things look like when they start to rot? Here's a haiku I wrote two years ago about rotting pumpkins.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Halloween Report

Around 150 trick-or-treaters.
In the creativity dept., no real stand-outs, but some very cute tiny tots: Princess Jasmine, Super Girl, and Minnie Mouse.
Pulled in our pumpkins around 9 pm, when candy was gone.
This was the first year our youngest didn't go trick-or-treating. He didn't seem to feel too sad about it. He watched a football game with my husband while I gave out the candy. Older one is off with some friends. I don't know if they are trick-or-treating or hanging out at his friend's house playing ping-pong or....what. I guess we'll find out. Or not.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Pumpkin Bread Ritual

The Pumpkin Bread Ritual is...making pumpkin bread and sharing it with friends. (Not necessarily in the month of October, although I cannot let October pass by without making pumpkin bread. I just barely squeezed it in this year.) My book club is coming over tonight and they will get pumpkin bread. I wrote a post a while ago about my mom's pumpkin bread recipe, and since I saw another blogger do a "rerun" of a past post, I think I'll do that, too! The title of this post was "Everyone's Pumpkin Bread."

I enjoy thinking about this bread almost as much as I do making it, giving it away, and eating it. The recipe is my mom's. She makes it every October and gives a loaf to her friend Liz for her birthday. I hear that Liz starts salivating for her pumpkin bread on Oct. 1. The recipe makes three loaves so I believe my mom keeps one and freezes the other. It freezes well. She used to make it a lot when we were kids and I loved having it in my lunch. I loved how it got even moister and greasier wrapped in plastic in my lunch box. I really savored every bite.

I made pumpkin bread for one of our parent coop nursery school potlucks and it was such a hit I ended up giving away the recipe to a lot of people. One friend of mine serves it for dessert with dulce de leche ice cream--a great innovation. Another now runs her own nursery school and she makes the pumpkin bread every fall and gives it away to her families. She adds chocolate chips (uck to me, but...) and her son demands it as his birthday cake every year. This fall she called me in a panic.
"We remodeled our house...I lost my recipe box...I can't find the pumpkin bread recipe!!!" she said breathlessly. I emailed it to her again. Here's the recipe. I decreased the sugar from my mom's original 4 cups because I prefer it less sweet.

Betsy’s Pumpkin Bread
Makes 3 loaves.

3-1/2 cups sugar
¾ tsp. baking powder
3 tsp. baking soda
2-1/4 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. each ground cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg
5 cups unbleached flour
6 eggs
1-1/2 cups canola oil
3-1/2 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin

Line 3 loaf pans with waxed paper. Combine all ingredients and mix just until blended. Bake at 300 degrees F for 1-1/2 hours. Cool for 10 minutes in pan, then turn out onto a rack to cool to room temperature. Wrap in plastic to keep fresh.

You can also make smaller gift loaves and muffins, even a round cake. How will you make yours?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Baked Quinces (Coings au Four)

Quinces are not for everyone. Some quinces can be dull and woody, and they are more firm and fibrous than other fruits even when cooked. I have sometimes found good quinces at the farmer's market or a produce market with a lot of Middle Eastern wares. But home-grown quinces seem to taste the best. These quinces from Karen were particularly robust-flavored and tart. I like how the quinces' tangy, almost resinous, flavor goes with this very sweet caramel sauce. If you don't have a quince tree, or don't know someone with a quince tree, make this recipe with apples or pears.
I started with Jane Grigson's recipe for Coings au Four from Jane Grigson's Fruit Book, but I modified it a bit. Here's my Baked Quinces:
2 large quinces
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. cream
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup water*
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the quinces in half and scrape out the core with a corer. The quinces are very hard so it will take some force to remove all the hard, pithy part at the center. Put the halves in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the halves so they don't brown. Mix together the sugar, butter, cream and cinnamon in a small bowl until it becomes a paste. Divide the paste between the hollows of the 4 halves. Pour 1/4 cup of water around the quinces and cover with aluminum foil (or top of dish if it has one). Put in oven and bake for 1 hour. Remove when quinces are tender. Serve warm, with the caramel sauce from the bottom of the dish spooned over them.
*I actually used some of the quince-flavored syrup I had left over from poaching some other quinces, and reduced the sugar. This made the sauce richly quincey, but I don't think it's necessary. I bet apple juice would be good, too.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Quince Galette

Two of those lovely quinces made it into this galette. I poached the quince slices in a simple syrup with half a vanilla bean. The delicious syrup, now quince-flavored, I will save for something. I'm still planning to make the Coings au Four...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Winter Greens

I got some greens in the raised bed just before that torrential rainstorm on Monday. This photo is what they looked like before the rainstorm. I know they look a little enervated, especially the spinach on the far left, which is tender and does not at all like to be messed with. I give it a 50-50 chance of survival, but the Toscano kale and mixed lettuces are more hardy and I expect they'll be fine. After the storm they really didn't look any different than this.
My older box of greens is still luxuriant and I expect a couple more salads out of it (see below).

Monday, October 19, 2009

...and slices of quince

This is what was in the surprise seasonal package I received from my friend Karen's farm. Those sensuous yellow fruits are quinces, walnuts in the background, and the mahogany fruits in front of the walnuts are jujubes. Here's what Karen says about the jujubes: "The Jujus are perhaps an acquired taste. Just pop them in your mouth--they do have a pit. They are chewy, with a date-like quality and they are ripe when slightly dry and wrinkled." I've been doing just that--popping them in my mouth--and they are like dates, a little less sweet, with a crispy dry skin.
As for the quinces, with their subtle, appley fragrance--she suggests making quince paste. She enclosed a recipe for cotognata (Italian) that refers to the nuns making it and pressing it into special ceramic dishes. I do love quinces, but not quince paste; it's just a little too medieval for me. Luckily, I have Jane Grigson's Fruit Book, which has some great quince recipes and this wonderful poem about quinces, composed by Shafur ben Utman al-Mushafi, an Arabic-Andalusian poet who died in 982:
It is yellow in color, as if it wore a daffodil
tunic, and it smells like musk, a penetrating smell.

It has the perfume of a loved woman and the same
hardness of heart, but it has the color of the
impassioned and scrawny lover.

Its pallor is borrowed from my pallor; its smell
is my sweetheart's breath.

When it stood fragrant on the bough and the leaves
had woven for it a covering of brocade,

I gently put up my hand to pluck it and to set it
like a censer in the middle of my room.

It had a cloak of ash-colored down hovering over
its smooth golden body,

and when it lay naked in my hand, with nothing more than
its daffodil-colored shift,

it made me think of her I cannot mention, and I feared
the ardor of my breath would shrivel it in my fingers.
This is the kind of thing I adore Jane Grigson for. I think I will make Quinces Baked in the French Style (sort of like baked apples) with them, after I enjoy them for a while in their glass bowl.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Goodbye Gourmet!

I haven't been a Gourmet magazine subscriber for all that long. And I have complained about the ever-increasing number of ad pages. But I definitely have been inspired to cook recipes from it (often food featured on the covers, like this one), written about its recipes on my blog, fantasized about trips to Italy and South Carolina, and generally drooled through its pages. Even my teenage son reads it--the one who likes to cook. So we were sorry to hear of its demise. There was something unique about the inspiration it provided. I don't usually look at recipes online unless I know what I want to cook, and then I search somewhere like epicurious. But for pure browsing pleasure, including the ability to curl up on the sofa and slide the pages by and become enticed by a gorgeous photo of, say, some grilled salmon with yogurt sauce, there was nothing like it. Yeah, the recipe I made above is available online, but what made me think of it and search back in my past issues was the memory of the cover photo. By the way, the dish I made above shares only the fried bread crumbs and red pepper flakes and pasta with the original Gourmet recipe--I added garlic and crumbled bacon, took out the anchovies and onions, and substituted parsley for the dill. It turned out great.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mad Plaid

For the first time, I submitted an apron photo to one of Tie One On's apron themes, and all the submissions are now up for viewing. I love looking at all the ways people interpreted the theme (plaid). And I love getting all the compliments on my apron! Take a look at all the other variations--there are some amazing glamorous, retro, and nutty creations.
About the photo: When I was at SCRAP looking for plaid, I found all this cool plaids that I didn't end up using for the apron. It was as if I had never really looked at the plaids and suddenly I saw tons of them. While doing the apron, I realized that I really like the combination of plaid with flowers or plant-inspired designs. I realized I almost never wear plaid--why is that? In my closet I have one plaid shirt that I only wear camping. I think I need more plaid in my life.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

When My Husband Cooks

My husband is the rummage-around-the-fridge, make-something-up-on-the-spot kind of cook. I have rarely seen him cook something from a recipe, except when we used to make Pong Pang together (before kids) . I do most the cooking around the house these days, so he doesn't get that many opportunities to go rustle something up. I think he's just out of the habit. It's good when I can just lie on the couch and pretend I'm not craving a fried egg, too, so finally he goes into the kitchen and makes it. This is what he rustled up this morning, for our mid-morning snack. It's a fried egg with a bit of left0ver fried polenta on top with a dollop of tomato sauce. Hombre, it was good.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Latest Apron

Here's the apron I made for my niece. It appears on the most recent post to her blog! It was a little tricky to modify the apron to fit her, but I think it came out well.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Black Gold

My husband took on a big task today: emptying out the compost bin. The reason for this was...I'm not sure. I think it was because the bottom was getting compacted with so many worm castings, and he wanted to take out some of the castings for our raised bed, since we are about to plant some winter crops. Sure enough, the bottom was packed with rich, dark castings--black gold! We sifted out 6-7 bucketfuls and piled it in our raised bed. Turning out all that compost was a lot of work (he did most of it). I sifted and spread the compost around the bed, and took pictures, like of the gobs of worms, below.
The worm population is very healthy and vigorous. I shredded newspaper and we layered that in the bottom of the compost bin and put all the still-decaying matter back in. The worms should like that.
I pulled out some old plants from the bed and found these worm-like things at the base of some of my declining bean plants. They are only about 1/2" long. I wonder if they could be millipedes? They look like the larvae of something.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bāo Dài Fēn

Photo by Gary R. Zahm/US Fish and Wildlife Service

I decided to stick with my Chinese class, even though I still don't know if I'll get the other class I wanted (which was the whole reason I took Chinese in the first place). The thing is, I'm enjoying it. It's not easy, but it's very interesting and stimulating. I am spending a lot of time in the language lab listening to all the sounds of the language because right now it's hard for me to distinguish between many of the sounds (qin and qing, for example). We are just now starting to learn about Chinese characters. If I don't try to learn too much at once, it's manageable.

The big news from last week's Chinese class: my teacher gave us all our Chinese names (if we didn't have one already). My Chinese name is Bāo Dài Fēn. It seems to mean "Fragrant Turtle." I might ask her for a different name.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Apron!

Actually it's not all that new. I finished it right before we went up to the lake, and I brought it up to use there. It got some nice compliments. I'm working on one the same style, just a little smaller, for my niece who has her own cooking blog. You can check out her blog here.
Back to my apron, it's made from an old plaid tablecloth from Thrift Town and some other fabric from SCRAP. The pattern by Joan Hand Stroh is called "Lorelei" from A is for Apron by Nathalie Mornu. I really like the design because it's simple and flattering and easy to combine different fabrics and trims. If you want to see more adorable aprons (for sale!) by Joan Hand Stroh, here's her Etsy site.
I submitted my apron to the Tie One On apron theme--plaid--this month. Go see some of the other cool past apron themes!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Boeuf Bourgignon

Just like everyone else who saw the movie "Julie and Julia," I had an irresistible craving to make Boeuf Bourgignon afterward. It was so very satisfying to watch a movie about cooking and a cookbook, specifically about two women who take a ridiculous amount of time to cook amazingly decadent things to eat and each write a book about it. Meryl Streep is fun to watch and she is obviously having fun, too; I think she must be more like Julia Child than Julia Child was. And the 1950s French interiors and dresses are to die for.
I don't have Mastering the Art of French Cooking, although I did have one within hands' reach at my mother-in-law's house this weekend. (She said the recipes had too many steps.) I decided not to ask to borrow it because I didn't really need to make Julia's Boeuf Bourgignon. I was quite happy to make Mark Bittman's simplified version from his cookbook The Best Recipes in the World. It's a good recipe, with not too many steps. But no carrots! I missed the carrots.
It was delicious, but it didn't rock my world. I do like beef stew but I think I like it with more vegetables in it (especially tomatoes) and no so much, well, beef. My husband liked it and I liked it and one teenage boy liked it. The other didn't. The Boeuf Bourgignon made me remember a similar beef stew that my dad used to make that was really good. I'll have to ask him about that one.
I love it that Mastering is selling out all over the country. I wonder how many people will actually cook anything in it, besides the Boeuf Bourgignon, of course. Boeuf Bourgignon is brown food, so it doesn't photograph too well. That white sphere is a pearl onion.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


This is the cover of my Chinese book that I have not even removed the shrink-wrapping from. I'm not sure I'm going to take the class, although I am enrolled and have gone to two classes. The teacher is great: just the right mixture of strictness and humor, very clear, smart. I like the intellectual challenge of it, and it is quite challenging. But I never really had a burning desire to learn Chinese. I'm hoping to take a course in Second Language Acquisition at SF State, and enrollment in a non-Indo-European foreign language is a requirement of that class. But I won't find out if I can get into the course until at least the first class on Aug. 31 (and maybe not until a week after that). I am taking the Chinese class at CCSF (which started this week) since it's near my house and much cheaper. The catch is, the deadline to drop the CCSF Chinese class and get a full refund is ... Aug. 31. And then there's this textbook, which cost $80. So, should I just take the class anyway, even if I don't get into the SF State class? Oh yes, and there's 2 hours a week in the language lab in addition to class hours. Am I nuts?
(zǎo = good morning)

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Week at the Lake

My husband and I took a hike while we were up at the lake with our families (13 of us!). That's his boot in the left side of this photo. It was nice to escape the hubbub and be on our own. It was nice to have kids who were old enough to be responsible for themselves for several hours. We were revisiting a trail that we had hiked part of 15 years ago, with our oldest son in a backpack. We had only gotten as far as these train tracks, then headed back down the hill. This time we planned to make to to the lakes above. Only we hadn't remembered a dip in the trail where it followed a gully before reaching the train tracks. So we headed east a bit cross-country to make sure there wasn't some other branch of the trail we had missed. I grumbled a bit, since I hate to hike cross-country. We followed the leveled path of a pipeline among some ferns for a while before finally admitting we had gone too far east. We came up to the train tracks and followed them back to the first trail.
There was something fascinating to both of us about the train tracks. They were so smooth, the gravel so evenly shaped and piled up under the ties. There was a possibility of danger, of noise, of going far away. Even though the rails and the ties and the gravel had all been replaced since it was first built, still we thought of the Chinese and Irish laborers who dynamited the granite and leveled the way. Some of the holes drilled for the dynamite were still visible in rocks along the way.
We did make it to the lakes but I had a headache from getting too hot and waiting too long to eat my sandwich. I thought our excursion was a good lesson in the errors of memory.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Garden Girls

My Tongues of Fire beans are starting to get...fiery? Speckled, at least. There are only a few of them on the one plant, but I'll be happy if they all mature. I think I have to plant a LOT of bean plants to get a big harvest. My Emerite beans are still producing (a few at a time). It's amazing how all my beans have had a little growth spurt in the last 4 days, due to some sunshine and warmer weather. Now is the time to start thinking ahead to the winter garden. What do I want to grow? While I'm thinking I will pull out some old stuff and add a batch of worm compost.
My brother-in-law sent me the lovely card below. It's entitled "Garden Girls," a vintage image from the "Ken Brown Collection." I like the young lady and the snail contemplating each other. Is she reclining on a pillow or a bean pod? And those bean pods the ladies are emerging from are definitely Romano beans.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tomato Envy

My Aunt Terry had a party yesterday for my granny, who is turning 90 this month. If I live to be 90, I hope I'm as sharp as my granny. She seemed to enjoy herself but didn't feel the need to enter into every conversation. That's good, because there were about 20 different conversations going on at the same time. The party was in Terry's backyard, so I had plenty of time to check out her garden, and she's growing tomatoes. I did really feel a wishful longing as I examined her tomatoes. She always grows vegetables every summer, and every year tries to give me some of those huge zucchini. I'll pass on the zucchini but say yes to the tomatoes. Here she is finding a ripe cherry tomato for me.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Crochet Summer Camp

Maybe it's exaggerating to call a 3-hour workshop on how to crochet a summer camp. But ever since my kids lost interest in going to summer camp, I'm all over it--and this is probably the only "summer camp" experience I'm going to get this summer. Picture a room with lots of scrappy art projects pinned up to the wall in the corner of the large warehouse wonderland that is SCRAP. Around 15 women of many ages, sizes, and orientations seated around 3 tables are gazing at their crochet hooks, crocheting intently. There is conversation--about how to get your teenager off the couch in the summer, about someone else's wedding presents, about spouses and significant others, about raves and concerts and other tantalizing snippets I didn't quite get the gist of--but it all happens with eyes fixed firmly on the crocheting.
I felt a little sorry for the guy who wandered into the room and exclaimed cluelessly: "Oh, knitting!" There was a little silence, and then the teacher answered briskly, "Actually, it's crocheting." To make up for his gaffe he feigned interest in what we were making and leaned in to look. "You're making skullcaps," he said. "They are crocheted caps," she corrected him. "This is a workshop space." He got the message.
I won't say I'm an expert crocheter now, but I did learn the basic stitches and started following the pattern to make the cap. Except I ripped out most of what you see above and started over since it was beginning to look more like a placemat. I don't really know why I'm picking up another craft, since I hardly have time for the sewing and scrapbooking projects I've started and not finished, but crocheting is different because you can bring it with you. It only takes a ball of yarn and a crochet hook. It takes less mental attention than any other craft I can think of (I've never tried knitting) and the repetitive hand movements are pleasurable. After several hundred stitches, my hands are getting the feel of it. Maybe I'll just keep ripping out the same yarn and starting over.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Recipe for a Cold July

If you've had just about all the cold, windy, foggy weather you can bear out here in the foglands of San Francisco, here's what to do:
1. Go over to Rainbow Grocery and buy 5 lbs. of Early Girl tomatoes ($2.49/lb.)
2. Make Georgeanne Brennan's recipe for roasted tomato sauce and fill your home with the smell of thick, summery tomatoes.
3. Pretend you are in the Central Valley, next to a Hunt's tomato factory. (I used to live in Davis, where the Hunt's plant made tomato sauce in the summer and the whole town was filled with the hot, thick, sweet smell of simmering tomatoes. That factory isn't there any more.)

Since I can (almost) never make a recipe without tinkering with it, here's my adaptation of her roasted tomato sauce recipe. If it sounds good to you, check out her version and a couple of other recipes for using summer tomatoes. (It's always entertaining to read the comments. People have strong opinions about tomato sauce.)

Roasted Tomato Sauce (adapted from Georgeanne Brennan)
5 lbs. Early Girl tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 thyme sprigs
1/2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. olive oil
Juice of one lemon
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the whole tomatoes in a roasting pan. Sprinkle them with the garlic, thyme, rosemary, coriander, and fennel. Drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar. Roast until the tomatoes are collapsing, about 45 minutes. Heat the 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and saute the shallots until soft. Add the tomato mixture and the white wine. Bring to a low simmer and cook until the tomatoes are thickened, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool a bit. Then put through a food mill to remove skins and seeds (or puree and strain). Add salt and pepper to taste.
This made about 5 cups. I froze two freezer bags with portions for 1 lb. of pasta, and am using the last cup fresh.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Just One More Galette

I think this is the best one of the season. I found an older man with a little boy (his grandson?) selling cartons of Blenheim apricots at the farmer's market last week. I bought a couple of pounds and instantly wished I had bought more. We enjoyed every last one.
It was really nice to come back to our garden and see everything growing. I harvested my first Romano beans, and they were delicious. The horrible thing is, after producing about 20 fat green beans, this week the plants are looking terrible. The bean pods are shriveling and falling off before maturing. The lower leaves are turning yellow and falling off, too. The upper leaves look like they need fertilizer so I gave them some fishmeal tea. The Emerite and Tongues of Fire beans don't look quite so bad but they are also a little pale so I gave them some fishmeal tea, too. It has been very very cold and foggy this week (the temperature gauge at City College said 39 degrees this morning at 9:30 am) so maybe they are in shock over the change in temperature. I read that beans really don't like cold weather. I am in agreement with the beans. I feel like my leaves are about to turn yellow and fall off, too.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Backpacking in the High Sierra

We just got back from a 5-night backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada. We hiked from Rock Creek up over Mono Pass and into Pioneer Basin, then back again. We were above 10,000 ft. nearly the entire time, so the sun and wind were intense. Some of the landscapes we passed through were barren, like the moon, such as Mono Pass above. We had to skirt the snowfields on the way in, but five days later on the way out it was much less snowy. We also hiked through beautiful mountain meadows, like this one below Ruby Lake.
Above 10,000 ft there were not so many flowers blooming since it was still early in the season. Or rather, there were many flowers blooming, but not so many of the showy ones like Indian Paintbrush and Shooting Stars that are so familiar to me. I have a divine new field guide, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada by John Muir Laws, which I believe includes every living thing--plant and animal--living in the Sierra Nevada in gorgeously detailed watercolors. So I spent a lot of time stooped over looking at tiny alpine plants growing in the crevices of the granite and discovered a tiny world. I think I have seen many of these plants before, just never really looked at them that carefully or wondered what they were called. Like Rosewort, an early spring flower that is almost like a succulent.
Or this Oval-Leaved Buckwheat, which is magenta before it blooms and then turns white when the buds open.
Or these two rock garden flowers that I thought were the same, except now I know the first is Granite Gilia, and the second is Alpine Campion.
And this lovely White Heather (also known as Cassiope) that inspired this from John Muir:
Here too... I met Cassiope growing in fringes among the battered rocks. No evangel among all the mountain plants speaks Nature's love more plainly than Cassiope.
I did see it but didn't stop to photograph it, so here's the photo credit for this image: © Br. Alfred Brousseau, Saint Mary's College.

Yes, I love the bright purple and pink Penstemon and sunny Mule's Ears, but on this trip I began to see what John Muir meant when he compared Cassiope to an evangel--a messenger of good news, even gospel. They and the other plants growing on the rocks are the embodiment of a will to live. They are small, so it is easy to think of them as delicate or fragile but in fact they are much tougher than me. They survive in the harshest of climates: sun and wind and cold are brutal and their growing season is short. When I lie down on the granite and look closely at them--their leaves, their stems, their blooms, their seeds--I see perfection.