Friday, January 22, 2010

The New Family Pie Baker

I think I am about to cede my title as the family pie baker to my youngest son. Look what he made in the last week, with only minor consultation from me on how thin to roll out the crusts. (The first one is apple, the second pecan.) Need I add that both were delicious? And with crusts that a professional pastry chef would be proud to serve. Maybe this is what being teenage-boy hungry and no soccer practice to tire him out does.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Beach Walk

Last fall, my husband and I started a pattern of taking walks every Sunday, preferably on the beach. We made a kind of pact, to take a walk rain or shine (luckily so far it has not been "rain," but shine, cloud, fog, mist, or wind). One thing I love about it is that even though most of our walks are at Ocean Beach, each time the beach is different. We went one day right after a storm when the ocean was all choppy and churned up and the tide was very high and the beach was strewn with two- to three-foot high drifts of sea foam. A family was jumping in the drifts like snow. We've also had some of those mild, sunny days in San Francisco when I can't believe it's winter and wish it were that warm in the summer here.
This Sunday we didn't get out of the house till after 3:30 pm, and it was cloudy and already the sky was darkening. As we neared the end of the beach with the Cliff House, we saw all these photographers with tripods lined up to take pictures of the ocean. Was it a class? What were they photographing? We finally realized they were waiting for the sunset, which we doubted we'd see much of since the cloud cover was heavy. Several parties were in progress with beach fires at the fire pits. We turned around back down the beach. Suddenly my husband said, "Maybe there will be a sunset." Some skinny strips of sky were beginning to turn pink and in the course of a minute went from pinkish purple to hot pink to fiery coral. The wet sand and higher clouds reflected the pinks and reds, which grew more and more intense. I had my camera, so I took a few photos, and then after another minute, sky began to fade. The whole thing had lasted about 3 minutes in all. How did those photographers know there would be a sunset worth waiting for? The beach grew dark quickly after that, so by the time we got back to our starting place we were stumbling over the sand. Another great walk, different from all the others.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Excitement at Heron's Head

Brant. Photo credit: Don Becker, USGS EROS/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The big event today out at Heron's Head Park (a small-scale wetlands restoration in the Bayview district of San Francisco) was the sighting of some Brants--not this exact one, but three that looked just like it--on some rocks. The Brants were not even on our checklist of the 100 common birds of Heron's Head Park, and it was my mom who identified them!
We were out on a birding tour with some other birdwatchers and interns from Lowell High School trained by S.F. Nature Education, and when we saw the birds, we all thought they were Canada Geese at first. Then we noticed those rings around their necks, and the fact that they were smaller than Canada Geese. They had their backs to us, so we couldn't see their heads too well, but we could see thin brown stripes on their bellies, the white puffy undertail coverts and black wings. We started tossing out some other ideas. It was Mom, flipping through her bird book, who said thoughtfully, "You know, I think they might be Brants." We gazed through our binoculars, thrilled. Yes! They must be Brants. We continued on our walk, passing on the tip about the Brants to another intern, and saw a lot of other birds: Greater Yellowlegs, Buffleheads, American Wigeons, Avocets, Greater Scaups, Western Grebes, Willets, Marbled Godwits, and more. By the time we got back to the Brants, the naturalist (Alan Hopkins) had set up his scope and was excitedly waving others over to peer at them. "Good work!" he told us happily. I felt proud to be a member of the Brant-identifying party.
My mom also identified a Say's Phoebe that was darting down from a fence cable into the grass to catch insects. She is quite the expert these days.
S.F. Nature Education is holding two more tour days this winter: February 6 and March 6. Tours leave at 10am, 10:30am, 11am and 11:30am. Maybe you'll see something even more rare and wonderful.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year (with Duck)

My plan was to cook duck for New Year's Eve. It was our turn to host our friends Mark and Karen (and their three kids) from Woodland, with whom we have celebrated New Year's Eve with a feast for nearly 20 years. We've only missed being together a few New Year's Eves, when we were in Spain and once when I was having my wisdom teeth out and maybe one or two more.
Actually the duck was originally an impulse buy a few days before Christmas, and I thought vaguely of cooking it between Christmas and New Year's. Then my husband gave me a wonderful new cookbook for Christmas, Olives and Oranges: Recipes and Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus & Beyond by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox, with a recipe for Honey-and-Chili-Roasted Duck with Fennel and Farro, which we thought would be perfect for New Year's Eve. So I went out to buy another duck and got the last one at the store (albeit a left0ver frozen one), so we'd have enough for all nine of us.
Then I got an email from Karen. They wanted to bring us a free-range turkey from Branigan's Turkey Farm in Woodland because they had a gift certificate they wanted to use. I explained about the ducks, and Karen said, "Let's cook it all!" so, with a vision of our table groaning with poultry, I agreed. Meanwhile, my husband decided to stop by Berkeley Bowl after work and pick up several pounds of fresh sole for lunch on New Year's Day, before the duck. By the time he brought it home I was feeling slightly overwhelmed and didn't think his joke about cooking a tur-duck-duck was very funny. But it all worked out beautifully.
I decided not to try to cook both ducks and the turkey, given my limited oven space. I froze the duck I had bought fresh and pushed the duck I had already begun to defrost to the back of the fridge. Mark and Karen arrived with an 18-pound turkey on ice in the ice chest and large box of goodness from their garden (bunches of thyme and sage, winter greens and tender lettuces, butternut squashes and oranges). We enjoyed a lunch of baked sole, pasta with walnut and garlic, sauce and salad from their lettuces. After lunch, Karen and I set to unpacking the turkey and massaging it with butter and herbs for its trip into the oven. She had the great idea of roasting it breast down so we could go to the beach for a walk and not hang around basting it every 20 minutes. So we took their 2-year-old to the beach and looked at the surfers.
The turkey turned out moist and golden (at least the back--I didn't see the breast before my husband carved it) and delicious. I may cook my turkeys upside down from now on. (I was very impressed with the quality of the Branigan's bird. When we unpacked it, it smelled fresh and it had a tremendous amount of meat on it. Their website says the turkeys are available year-round at their plant in Woodland and in November and December at certain stores in the Bay Area.) I made the farro cooked in orange juice and fennel from my duck recipe. The 2-year-old had a grand time juicing the oranges in our orange juice squeezer. We steamed up the winter greens to have along side and my husband made a mahogany gravy. I was so caught up in enjoying our feast that I didn't take a single picture of it! Right after dinner we cut off a huge pile of meat and popped the carcass into our biggest stock pot to make turkey soup. We sent Mark and Karen off with a container of it on New Year's Day, after a dim sum lunch at Yank Sing.
I finally made the duck tonight, and it was succulent. We poured the pan juices over polenta and polished off the winter greens. I've got the duck carcass bubbling in the stock pot for some duck soup right now. It was satisfying to finally cook that duck.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Pinchos Morunos

Didn't these come out looking good? And they tasted even better.
We discovered pinchos morunos when living in Spain. They are pork kebabs marinaded in spices--I have seen it translated as "Moorish pork kebabs" but the Moors, being Muslim, did not eat pork. I guess it's a uniquely Spanish blending of two cultures. The grumpy butcher near our house used to sell them uncooked. It was my "easy" dinner: pick up some pinchos morunos, broil them and cook up some rice, make a salad and that was it.
My older son picked pinchos morunos to make as his meal over the holidays. He did the whole thing! I only collaborated on checking if the kebabs were done (we broiled them). I really like this recipe from Joyce Goldstein's book, Tapas: Sensational Small Plates from Spain. Here it is as published in the SF Chronicle:

Pinchos Morunos
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. pimenton dulce
2 Tbsp. toasted cumin, ground
1 tsp. pimenton picante or cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. saffron threads, crushed and infused in 2 Tbsp. hot water
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder or tenderloin, cut in 1-inch cubes (we used loin)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
Chopped flat leaf parsley
4 Tbsp. lemon juice
Lemon wedges
In a small pan over low heat, warm the dry spices in the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and cool the mixture completely. Rub mixture on the cubed meat. Toss in salt, pepper, garlic, parsley, and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes.
Preheat broiler or make a charcoal fire. Threat meat on skewers and broil or grill until done, about 4 minutes per side. Serve with lemon wedges.