Sunday, August 31, 2008

Caprese

IT'S ONE OF THE CLASSIC salads, I think: Caprese, originated, they say, on the Isle of Capri. Tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil, salt. Simple. We had it with prosciutto sandwiches — just prosciutto on soft rolls, nothing else needed — at Ann's, in Berkeley, before going out to see an early-evening performance of Uncle Vanya. Chekhov would have approved, I imagine, judging by his last words...caprese.jpg

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Slow Food

RATHER A SPECIAL day for food, actually; but I'm not really ready to write about it just yet. Our usual breakfast, to be sure: but then we drove down to San Francisco to see what Slow Food Nation was all about.
We attended a panel discussion on Climate Change and Agriculture; we spent a couple of hours in the Civic Center where a temporary vegetable garden, a series of pavilions serving prepared food, and a fair number of farm-market type stands were attracting hordes of onlookers; and we ended the day at Fort Mason, where for four hours we stood in lines, sampled things ranging from absinthe to tuna tartare, delicious peach jam to bison chili and beans.
It will take, as you can imagine, a while for the mind to wrap around all this. We end the night at a friend's, in Berkeley, with a bottle of good Alsatian riesling.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Picnic at the theater

P1040043.jpgPETRUCHIO REJECTS EVERYTHING served to his Kate, but I was happy with everything we brought to an outdoor performance of The Taming of the Shrew tonight. Gaye made "finger sandwiches," little ham and turkey sandwiches on crustless bread (she assured me she'd kept the crusts for croutons, later). She and John brought hardboiled eggs, too, and a couple of bottles of Sauvignon blanc.
We brought along the last of Becky's olives, absolutely delicious, and almonds, and Pink Pearl apples (gotta stay ahead of that fruit!). It was all delicious. I'm not ashamed that eating is so simple.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lunch

IT'S PRETTY CONSISTENT around here: breakfast is a couple of cappuccinos and toast (with a soft-boiled egg on Sunday morning); lunch is peanut butter on toast and, these days, a few pieces of fruit.
P1040042.jpg
This year we're lousy, as Lindsey's father would have said, with fruit. A couple of days ago just the overnight windfalls from the pluot tree gave me enough fruit for a quart of jam. I've picked up perhaps a bushel of apples, destined for applesauce, and the trees are still groaning. These peaches were windfalls; the pluots were picked, but quite a few remain. The red Bartlett pears have all been picked now; I left the windfalls for the foxes and the skunks.

Lindsey brings me a plate of fruit every night while I soak in a hot bath: an apple, a pluot, maybe some peach. A few squares of chocolate. It's a good life.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Corona beans

WE BUY THEM from a friend with an import business up in Portland: Corona beans, brought in from Italy. I know, I know: you should eat locally. We generally do. But these dried limas, or whatever they are, are so good, with a chestnutty texture, a complex but immediate flavor, a really meaty presence. They keep forever, which is a good thing: you don't drive 600 miles to the grocery store.
P1040040.jpg
Lindsey covers them with cold water and soaks them overnight, maybe half the next day too. Then she simmers them slowly. There's a wooden spoon and a paring knife next to them: every now and then you check to see how easily the knife enters the bean.

Drain them and toss them with a little olive oil, a grind or two of salt and another of pepper, and don't forget lots of fresh marjoram from the garden. Sage would be nice; marjoram's better. A tossed salad afterward is all you need.
Pinot grigio

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tacos


HOMEMADE TACOS tonight: refried beans, chopped onion, chopped onion, chopped avocado, a squeeze of lemon juice, with a charred pasilla laid on top. Cheap rosé.

Oh: yesterday, Columbia River salmon, with those complex, deep-flavored willowleaf limas from Middleton Gardens, as good as vegetables get.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dinner in the rotunda

DINNER IN THE CITY HALL ROTUNDA, San Francisco — a celebratory fund-raising dinner to mark the opening next week of Slow Food Nation. We began with a reception in the Victory Garden, a one-season vegetable garden (and herbs, and wildflowers) filling what used to be a large rectangular pool in the Civic Center Plaza.
P1040028.jpgIt's a remarkable achievement: first, that permission was granted (and enthusiastically, by all accounts); second, that the garden has succeeded so beautifully. The beds are mostly circular, borderd by sacks of rice hulls, mounded high with clean-looking loam, and crowded with beautifully placed and tended vegetables: beds of the "Three Sisters" (corn, beans, squash); of salad greens; of cole crops like beautiful cabbages, kales, and broccoli; of glorious chards; of leeks and onions. There's not a bug or a scale to be seen — it's typical, I'm told, that any garden's at its best its first season, before the enemies learn about it.

Then we moved into the rotunda, filled with long tables. A violinist stood on the marble stairs which still inescapably remind me of the 1960 demonstration, when protestors were washed down those steps by police wielding fire hoses. A lot has changed since then (and perhaps partly because of such demonstrations): tonight's dinner was peaceful, optimistic, sensuous, and intelligent. The politics of Alice's "Delicious Revolution" are more nourishing than those of Senator McCarthy's Un-American Activities Committee.

We began with fine local almonds with Sally Jackson sheep's-milk cheese and membrillo, then moved to gazpacho, an amazingly alert soup featuring deep tomato and complex smoky pepper flavors.P1040031.jpg

We then moved on to an amazingly tender yet full-flavored beef filet — grass fed, perfectly grilled, accompanied by little potatoes and sautéed peppers; afterward, a tossed salad. P1040033.jpg
For dessert, raspberry and fior di latte ice creams in a bombe — take that, rotunda! — on a thin layer of subtle sponge-cake.

The wines on our table were a Corbières rosé from last year and a Medlock Ames Cabernet from 2003: I know the former well and like it a great deal; I'd never heard of the latter and would happily have a case delivered tomorrow.

Peter Coyote gave the short introduction to the evening, followed by remarks by Thomas Keller and Alice Waters. They spoke easily and to the point. I was particularly struck by Peter's description of Alice's "revolution," which has had much to do with the return to gardens in the schools, to sustainability in the kitchen, to a sense of proportion I personally am not certain is always the concern of Thomas Keller's restaurants.

Culture trumps politics, Peter said, alluding to the more immediate success of Alice's Delicious Revolution than the less engaging but still necessary improvements still waiting to be achieved in electoral politics. As Bertolt Brecht pointed out more than once, here in a translation used a few decades ago in a Threepenny Opera Off Broadway:

first feed the face and then talk right and wrong

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cucina Paradiso

LUNCH DOWN IN PETALUMA at a place called Cucina Paradiso. We ate there a couple of years ago and I've wanted to revisit; when friends suggested meeting for lunch and a visit to the Novato Art Center, Cucina came to mind.

The others had orecchiete from the daily special menu, but I couldn't resist veal tortellini with sage leaves. A bottle of nice Grillo — the cheapest bottle on the list, and particularly recommended by the host; a very nice golden tasty wine indeed.
Photo_082308_002.jpg
Dessert: panna cotta, raspberry and cream, pink and white (the photo, taken with my telephone, is distorted). Excellent. And a nice short conversation with the host, who's Sicilian, about Il Gattapardo. Life is good.

And then tonight dinner at the neighbor's: onions, peppers, cherry tomatoes, and sliced steamed potatoes, with bits of chorizo, and cod poached on top... delicious.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fruit

MORE OF IT than we need, at least at the moment.
P1040027.jpg
I picked a boxfull of crabapples today -- there's another two boxes on the tree, and a quarter of the crop has already dropped. A few days ago I picked up enough fallen fruit from apples, nectarines, pears, to fill a 30-gallon garbage can. We took a case of pluots to the bakery today, maybe a quarter of the crop, from the one tree. The bluejays are pecking at the Duchesse d'Angouleme pears, but there's plenty left. We took a box of Seckel pears to Jojo in Oakland a couple of days ago; I hope Mary Jo can turn them to good account.
When I go outside I eat a nectarine or a pluot, three or four times a day. We won't even mention the blackberries.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pesto

SATURDAY WE BOUGHT a big handful of basil at the Farm Market from Lou Preston's garden, and today I finally got around to making pesto.
P1040020.jpg
You mash two or three cloves of good garlic — I like the purple-skinned Rose de Lautrec, or whatever it's called — with good sea salt; then add a handful of pine nuts and work it into a smooth paste.
P1040019.jpg
Then you add the basil leaves — no stems! no blossoms! — and keep mashing, mashing, mashing. If you're lucky you get a nice smooth paste. I didn't, not tonight; the basil was too wet. It's best to use basil leaves straight from the garden (or market), not from the refrigerator; and it's certainly best not to wash it; you can never get it dry enough after washing it. But I did, today.
P1040022.jpg

Oh well: good enough for Thursday dinner. We like pesto on fusili, whose spiral threads hold the sauce nicely once you stir it all up with your fork. But you can see it wasn't mashed smooth enough.
P1040024.jpg

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Seventythree



THIS IS ONE OF my favorite sandwiches: Mortadella, galantina, lettuce, butter, white bread. I first tasted it at Ratto's Delicatessen, Washington and 9th St., Oakland, probably thirty years ago, maybe more.

Today, my 73d birthday, I had it for lunch, same place. Galantina is not an easy lunchmeat to find, and for a number of years it seemed to have dropped out of sight altogether. Today we intended to have a sandwich at Caffe 817, next door to Ratto's, but we got there a few minutes too late. I remembered Ratto, and there Elena was, just like the old days (well, almost), they had galantina, wonder of wonders, No, she said, I don't have any butter, shall I put olive oil on instead?

Of course, I said, and there the sandwich was, just like the old days
Later we had dinner, at Ca' Bianca in Santa Rosa, an Italian restaurant-in-a-house I'd wanted to try for a long time but hadn't got round to. Caesar salad, not bad, anchovy, egg, lemon juice, Romaine. Then a steak with black truffle sauce (after all, it is my birthday). Vernaccia di San Gimigniano; Cannonau di Sardegna.

A good restaurant, as good a traditional as there is up this way. We'll be back.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Chard soup again

WHY GIVE UP on a good thing? And tomorrow we eat out…

Monday, August 18, 2008

Soup & sausage

That's what it was, chard soup and sausage, and I almost forgot to mention it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Chard

THE CHARD GOT out of hand while we were gone. Especially the red chard. It's interesting how different the three chards are: the red gets gigantic and tough; the white seems wimpier but more attractive to various scales and bugs. Returns aren't in yet on the "rainbow" chard; it's at the center of the little potager I planted back in May and I haven't yet penetrated to it.

Well, today I confronted the chard. Yesterday I'd already pulled up the bolted arugulas and lettuces; today I began hacking at the chard. I brought in some of the outside leaves, discarding the worst of them for compost; rinsed them off; and cut the usable leafy material from the stalks.

chardsoup.jpg

The stalks got chopped into small pieces and added to a chopped onion that was sweating away in a pool of olive oil. I let them brown a bit, adding salt and a couple of finely chopped carrots, and then I drowned them all in water and let them simmer an hour.

Meanwhile I chopped the leaves into squares an inch or so across. I added chicken stock to the simmering soup, then threw in the chopped leaves. Simmer another half hour and correct salt. A slice of toast, rubbed with raw garlic, to float on top, and a drizzle of olive oil. Nice.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Corn and salmon

SATURDAY IS MARKET DAY here in Healdsburg, and this time of year that means Corn. Corn and, if you're lucky, salmon. Once home, Lindsey cooked the corn for lunch: with it, a piece of toast with olive oil and salt, a couple of raw carrots, a glass of pomegranate juice.

P1030948.jpg

I know: that sounds a little Calvinist. But the oil and salt are delicious; the pomegranate juice is almost winey. And the Saturday Martini and dinner aren't that far off:

P1030958.jpg


In fact the salmon wasn't as good as it's been: it was from the Columbia River, not just offshore (salmon's on hold here this year), and it seems a little late in the season, a little fat: this was probably the last we'll have this year. But the lima beans! Willow Vale beans, from Nancy Skall's farm across the river, with very complex flavors and fine nutty texture. Lindsey cooked them in a little bit of butter and a tiny bit of salt, and they were and are memorable.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Broccoli rabe

NO PHOTO: I'm not yet back in the habit. Sorry.
Lindsey steamed some little potatoes and made a vinaigrette with finely sliced onions in it, a sauce her mother used to make for potatoes. With them, broccoli rabe, garlic toast, wax beans. Tomorrow is market day, but my garden is choking with tough oversize chard leaves; I'll have to make a minestrone. And the fruit! I picked a couple of pecks of apples, not even denting the crop, and half a peck or so of nectarines, and the pluots are numerous too, and the pears…

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I'm back!

AFTER TWO MONTHS AWAY, I'm back home eating normally. The trip was memorable— a 420-mile walk from Evian-les-bains to Nice — and the eating was, well, interesting, but this isn't the place for a description — if you want the list, look at The Eastside View.

confit.jpg

Meantime, here's yesterday's dinner in the Café Chez Panisse: Duck leg confit, lardon, figs, fried sage, polenta. Before it, figs again, this time in crème fraîche with mint and small mild arugula leaves. And here, in a less successful photo (because made with my telephone),

marrow.jpg

is the roasted marrowbone I had for lunch today at Willi's Wine Bar in Santa Rosa. It tasted much better than it looks — and the marmalade with it made it superb.