Sunday, February 27, 2011

Shepherd's Pie

Eastside Road, February 27, 2011—
FRIENDS INTRODUCED US TO a local restaurant new to us tonight. It's been open a couple of years, but we'd been warned against it at first: it was too vegetarian, to political, too… well, too Sebastopol. Sebastopol is said to be the Berkeley of Sonoma county, by which is generally meant offbeat, leftist, green, all that sort of thing.

Well, I was born in Berkeley, and went to high school in Sebastopol. None of that reputation scares me. But much of it does leave me cool, if not cold. I suppose I'm some kind of intellectual and leftist, but I like my fun too, and my meat, and shoes, and not too much hardware in the face, thank you. So we dutifully avoided this place until tonight.

Tonight, though, we had a very nice dinner. We had Minestrone made with Cannelli beans, kale, tomato, and some Parmigiano; then a Shepherd's Pie with ground beef (locally raised, to be sure), carrots, pearl onions, and mashed potatoes. The beef was tasty; the entire meal so far hearty, deeply flavored, and sound. Dessert was a huge serving of rich thick chocolate pudding with salt caramel and whipped cream. Nothing to complain about: we'll undoubtedly be back.
Syrah, Crozes Hermitabe, Yann Chave, 2006: rich and full.
Peter Lowell's, 7385 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol; (707) 829-1077

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Grilled cheese and onion

Eastside Road, February 26, 2011—
LET'S NOT HESITATE: it's one of the Hundred Plates. Tonight it was sharp cheddar, with very thin sliced onions, on Como bread, grilled in a little bit of butter. Put them in a hot cast-iron skillet; set another hot cast-iron skillet, slightly smaller, on top of them. Poor man's Foreman.

With it, succotash — it's been a long time since we've had it — and then the green salad.
Zinfandel, Trader Joe's "Coastal," 2009

Friday, February 25, 2011

Umbrian lentil stew with fried eggs

Eastside Road, February 25, 2011—
WHERE'D YOU GET THAT recipe, Lindsey?
"I don't know; I wrote it down from somewhere…" Lindsey is nothing if not frugal: she writes with grudging respect for the paper. And this befits a dish like this, cucina povera, a farmhouse recipe from the Umbrian hills, no doubt.

Umbria is not my favorite region of Italy; I don't know why. Our one traversal revealed it as dark, as you'd etymologically expect, and wrinkled. The highlight was seeing fireflies in an Urbino park; that, and the view from up there, down out and over the incredible plain where lentils no doubt grew.

It is a delicious dish; I hope the notepaper will be kept somewhere handy. Green salad after.
Zinfandel, Trader Joe's "Coastal," 2009 (a little dumb and flat, but not disgusting)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chou farci

Eastside Road, February 24, 2011—
OR, STUFFED CABBAGE. We bought a beautiful little Savoy cabbage the other day, not much bigger than my two fists, held thumbs together. I took it apart — it's not hard to do that, holding it under the hot-water tap. I blanched the leaves in hot water, setting the core and outer leaves aside to chop up fairly fine.

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I chopped up about a half pound of boiled ham and browned it in pork fat, then set it aside and browned half a big onion and a couple of small carrots, diced small.

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The browned mixtures, the chopped cabbage, and some parsley and thyme all got chopped together, not forgetting a little salt. Then they were mixed with a raw egg and maybe half a cup of breadcrumbs that had been soaked in a little milk.

I lined a mixing bowl a little bigger than the cabbage — too much bigger, as it turned out — with the biggest cabbage leaves. I covered these with some of the mixture, then added another layer of the next cabbage leaves, continuing, alternating, ending with the smallest cabbage leaves. When finished assembling the cabbage, I poured in the water the leaves had blanched in.

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I set the mixing bowl, covered, in a larger pot with water in it, and set the two in the oven — about 300°, for maybe half an hour. Then I poured off the juices into a pitcher and turned the cabbage out onto a warmed plate. Wedges of the cabbage were served with the juices poured over.

This is based on a nice recipe for stuffed cabbage in the second volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking; I've used it often enough to take considerable license with it. Nice.
Blanc Fumé de Pouilly, Domaine Didier Dagueneau, 2008; another very nice bottle; thanks, Michael!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fast day

Eastside Road, February 23, 2011—
CAFFELATTE FOR BREAKFAST, a handful of nuts and a cup of tea with the news.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Eastside Road, February 22, 2011—
LUNCH WAS VERY GOOD, I'm sure, but odd, I thought. Fried finger-sized pieces of cardoon to dip in aioli, yes, certainly, I could nibble at those for hours. But rocket salad with smoked sardines, pickled raisins, and Marash pepper; that was a bit like eating in a very good restaurant in Sicily with a Swedish cook in the kitchen. And from there we went to "gnudi," which word I set in quotes because I don't quite believe it. turns up a few hits, but the first sets the word in quotes; the second parenthesizes "gnudi" as "(ravioli nudi)". English-language websites claim that "gnudi" is the Italian word for "nude", but that leading "g" isn't there in any Italian dictionary I've consulted: the word's nudo.

I think the initial "g" (in fact, "gn", since it's not the letter but the phoneme that's at issue) is by analogy with the beginning of gnocchi, at least if today's version is typical. It consisted of ricotta and semolina flour rolled up and simmered — at least that's my guess; I didn't verify the technique. The result is in fact a bit like a raviolo lacking its pastry shirt, but it's also like a gnoccho — is that the singular of gnocchi? — substituting cheese for potato.*

It's also, or was today, like an Italian approximation of a typical Austrian dumpling, except that it was more digestible, especially accompanied, as it was, with wild mushrooms, asparagus, peas, and little fronds of chervil: very springy, for weather as cold as this.

That was of course the Principle Meal of the Day, so we supped tonight, back home, on baked potatoes, and basta così.
Roero Arneis, 2009
• Chez Panisse, 151 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510.848.5525

*Yes: gnoccho is the singular, I find at the Italian wiktionary. And the etymology is fascinating: from the Veneto dialect word gnòco, "protuberance," possibly from the [early] Lombardic knohhil, "knot" [of wood].

Monday, February 21, 2011

Back to the Café

Berkeley, February 21, 2011—
WE CLIMBED THE STAIRS again tonight to eat in the Café, because we have to be here tomorrow anyway for meetings, and because Henry is flying out of Oakland at six in the morning, and spending tonight in Berkeley. Odd, to eat three dinners in this restaurant in five nights, but there it is. It could be worse.

We began with a dozen of those delicious little Tomales Bay oysters again. Fun, to watch a granddaughter carefully eat her very first oyster on the half shell, wrinkle her pretty nose, and put the whole thing off, I suspect, for another few years. But she's game.

Then we went on to puntarelle with anchovy, garlic, and hardboiled egg. What a delicious dish this is, always taking me back to Rome, with the earthy taste of the chicory-stalk heightened by the anchovy and garlic, transporting me back to the Campo dei Fiori. And what a beautiful egg, and beautifully cooked.

Then the main course, a ragoût of pork shoulder braised with red wine and fennel; with cannellini beans, rapini, and salsa verde. Slow cooked, probably partly in the pizza oven, it was deep and rich, a fine dish for a cold cold night.

Dessert? I was content with my soft, sweet, dusky dates and kishu tangerines, but there were four others at table, so we wound up with apple and prune-Armagnac tart with crème fraîche; bittersweet chocolate ice cream profiteroles with espresso praline; ruby grapefruit sherbet with candied citrus and a tuile; and white plum-blossom ice cream with lemon madelines. We'll fast tomorrow. Well, day after tomorrow.
House zinfandel
Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510.548.5525

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Meals on wheels

Eastside Road, February 20, 2011—
boudin.jpgA COUPLE OF FRIENDS, dear friends, drove up from Berkeley today for a visit, bringing boudin blanc and lasagne with them, doubly welcome because they are excellent cooks. They, I write: but it was Curt who did the cooking this time. I made a vinaigrette with garlic, salt, mustard, sour-cherry vinegar and tarragon white vinegar, and he fried a couple of the boudin blanc, sliced them, and tossed them with the lettuces for our salad.

The lasagna was unusual, more country French than italian, rich, detailed, and beautifully textured. And it was made from what he'd found at hand (at his home, not ours). Broccoli, ricotta, some kind of hot pepper, and mirepoix went into one mixture; another was a ragout of ground-up chicken and bacon. Black chanterelles were involved, too, and, oddly but to great effect, cow's-and-goat's-milk Gouda.

Such a meal deserves a dessert, no? Lindsey whipped up an ice-cream sundae with, you guessed it, leftovers: vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce, bananas Foster sauce, chocolate sauce. Toasted slivered almonds and a maraschino cherry complete the picture. What a nice way to while away a cold Sunday afternoon!
Rosé, Guilhem, Moulin de Gassac, 2009; "Madam Preston" white wine, Preston of Dry Creek, 2008; Pinot noir, Hook and Ladder, 2007

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Back to Berkeley

Berkeley, February 19, 2011—
SINCE THE MENU was dedicated to Lindsey, how could we not return for dinner upstairs in the café? A number of items were favorites of hers, and of course the desserts were all from her repertory — I wonder how huge that repertory is. We began with sweet oysters on the half shell from Tomales Bay, with a glass of sparkling wine.
Then I went on to brandade on toast, a particularly creamy version with cardoons and chervil, and duck confit with asparagus, potatoes, and kumquaat relish, with huge tender miner's lettuce leaves. A rich dinner, no doubt about it. Desserts were Jim Churchill's kishus with rich buttery dates, apple tart with chestnut-honey ice cream, almond tart, plum-blossom ice cream, and blood-orange and tangerine bombe with candied kumquats. After all, there were four of us at table.
Gavi, Vigneto Masera, Stefano Massone, 2009; Trousseau, Côtes du Jura, Domaine Labet, 2007 (an amazingly complex and changeable wine, quite delicious and interesting)

• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; tel. 510.548.5525

Friday, February 18, 2011

My turn to cook

Eastside Road, February 18, 2011—
OIL AND WATER, as everyone knows, don't mix: yet that's how I tend to cook. Start it in oil; after it's browned a bit, splash in some water and let it steam. Tonight I cooked half a dozen little creamer potatoes that way in one pot, six or eight little carrots in another, half a dozen good-sized pearl onions in a third. Don't forget to salt them a little.

When L. got home we had a Martini; then I cooked four petrale sole fillets the same way. Start them in a skillet with a little olive oil; when they threaten to stick, splash in a little water — in this case, extra water from the potato pot. I'd chopped up a few capers and a few Martini olives (pimento stuffed) with a little salt and lemon peel, and strewed that on top of the fish after turning it, and after sprinkling it with lemon juice. Et voilà. Green salad afterward.
Rosé, Guilhem, Moulin de Gassac, 2009

Thursday, February 17, 2011

In Lindsey's honor…

Eastside Road, February 17, 2011—
EACH OF THE FORTY weeks leading up to the fortieth birthday of Chez Panisse — August 28, 2011 — the week's menu is being dedicated to one or another major influence on the restaurant as it has developed over the years. This week's honoree is my dear wife, Lindsey, who was the pastry chef on opening night, who presided single-handedly over the pastry section for a number of years following, and who then built a pastry team with assistants and sous-chefs, some of whom have gone on to careers elsewhere (or, alas, to another dimension altogether), some of whom have returned from time to time.

Lindsey stayed with the position for twenty-six years. And her influence spilled well beyond the pastry and desserts: as the oldest woman in the restaurant, one with three children and a sometimes difficult husband, she brought maturity, patience, and sympathy to the place, contributing a kind of steadiness often otherwise in short supply. So it's fitting that she's among the famous forty, and we were more than usually happy to have dinner at the restaurant tonight, eating at a table d'honneur, "the romantic little table in the kitchen, next to the garbage," as Robert the Reservationist joked.

In fact the garbage is not apparent at all. The table's between the pastry section and the salad station. You're eating in the midst of the action, but the action in this kitchen seems quiet and methodical, not pressed and desperate. Since we know most of the cooks, we carry on conversation with them, taking care not to distract them. It's a pleasure to see their dedication to the job at hand, their attention to detail, each cook's constant awareness of the place of his or her work in the over-all context of a complex operation: three or four pastry people working for both the downstairs restaurant and the café; the salad cook; the grill cook; the cook presiding over the soup; the chef.
Pastry cooks consulting, from our table in the kitchen
And what did we have for dinner? We had:
Garden salad with roasted beets, goose prosciutto, and an egg
Dungeness crab chowder with celery, thyme, and pancetta
(except that I had potato-and-leek soup with crème fraîche, croutons, and snippets of scallion)
Grilled rack and loin of Watson Ranch lamb with mustard-flower sauce, cardoon and fennel gratin, and braised winter greens
Warm buckwheat crêpes with chestnut honey ice cream and citrus

These courses were of course all really superb. The goose prosciutto was made in the kitchen a month or two ago and aged nicely since. The egg was perfectly cooked and had real flavor. The greens and the vinaigrette were pointed and clean.

The soup was velvety without losing the grain of the potato and the slip of the leek. And the lamb was remarkable, the best I think I've ever had, this year's lamb, only a few months old, so delicate and tender it made me think of antelope, not lamb.
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An interesting note: almost everything on this menu came from within a few miles of our house, here in Sonoma county. Greens, watercress, egg, and leeks came from the Valley of the Moon; the lamb from near Petaluma. Another note: the lamb had grazed in vineyards, where the wild mustard is now in flower; flowers from this mustard flavored the sauce that accompanied it.

Buckwheat and chestnut honey are two of Lindsey's many favorite flavors, and the ice cream was so beautifully textured and flavored she might have made it herself — but she didn't. It came from the kitchen she contributed so much to over so many years. What a fabulous woman! How appropriate to honor her so!
Montlouis, Le Rocher Violette, 2007; Chardonnay, Dutton Goldfield (Sonoma), 2007; Syrah, Cep Vineyard (Sonoma Coast), 2007
• Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510.548.5525

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Eastside Road, February 16, 2011—
SOMEWHERE IN A BOOK I just read, Kim Severson's Spoon Fed, the lowly sardine comes in for some praise. We have quite a stash of canned sardines in the outboard pantry, as I think of the commodity-trap otherwise known as the mud room, but we don't think of them often enough. One should eat canned sardines once a week, I think; it's good for the health, it's good for the purse.

Especially when you have good country levain to make a sandwich with. I'd like a light spread of butter on that bread along with the sardines, but that's not the way L. does it, and who am I to complain? She does slice the onions nice and thin, and finds crisp lettuce to put in too. A little more broccoli before, another green salad after, and you've got yourself a supper.
cheap red

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bread and salad

Eastside Road, February 15, 2011—
JUST WHEN YOU THINK things should be getting back to normal, everything goes haywire. Today, for example, we had one hell of a rainstorm: not the kind of weather you'll go shopping in. And we had an early curtain to catch: we were seeing an in-theater presentation, "live," from the Metropolitan Opera, of Nixon in China. On top of that, Tuesday's supposed to be fast day, but that didn't work out either.

What else. Oh yes: that fine 1.5 kilo loaf of bread we bought yesterday morning in Portland.


So Lindsey made me a piece of toast for lunch, spread as usual with almond butter, and I gave up on the fast, there's always tomorrow. Dinner: a nice baked potato, with olive oil and salt. Then a miserable drive through driving rain, looking up fearfully at the overhanging oaks lest a limb should drop, only to find the opera's not tonight but tomorrow.

Home, then, to a plate of broccoli flavored with crushed garlic; and then a nice green salad. What's better than good bread, olive oil, and salt?

Back on the road (Portland cafes)

En route, Portland-Healdsburg, Feb. 14, 2011—
ANOTHER DAY ON HIGHWAY 5. As now our custom, breakfast at Ken's: a croissant and a caffelatte. Ken's is my favorite Portland bakery for bread and many pastries, but right afterward we stopped down at the Pearl Bakery for a number of gibassiers, one of L's favorite things in the world; and, why not, a cappuccino to go: I'll need caffein today! Oh, and look, nice ham-and-cheese sandwiches in the case: let's get one of those for the road.

Then, halfway home, in Ashland, a stop at the hippy supermarket where we can make up a little box of salad to have later somewhere — "Caesar" for me: romaine, croutons, some kind of dressing; and some of those vinaigrette artichoke hearts on the side.

Ashland also represents the only good coffee I know between home and Portland, so we took a nice single-origin Nicaragua cappuccino in a comfortable armchair, then resumed the road.

Finally home at ten o'clock, all we wanted was a cup of tea and one of those gibassiers. I've gained five pounds on this trip, thanks to all those cakes, and a few Martinis. Time to hit the fast again, and fast.

Ken's Artisan Bakery, 338 Northwest 21st Ave., Portland; (503) 248-2202
Pearl Bakery, 102 NW 9th Ave., Portland; (503) 827-0910
Noble Coffee Roasting, 281 Fourth Street, Ashland; (541) 488-3288

A few words on Portland coffee this trip: First, three of my granddaughters are baristas, a word never again to be italicized here. They work at one of the best cafés, Extracto; I'm very happy to have a cappuccino and a pastry here. Or maybe a mocha. Or a macchiato.
But there are other places; depends on where you are. Downtown, I liked Courier very much: these folks are serious about their work, but good-humored and friendly as well. Over near Ken's, Sterling has a walkup stall next to Trader Joe's: this is about as good as it gets, but you have to take your ristretto all'italiana, standing up. No iPhone lounging here!
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Figgy thing (left); cappuccino at Extracto
• Extracto, 2921 Northeast Killingsworth St., Portland; (503) 281-1764
Courier Coffee, 923 Southwest Oak St., Portland; (503) 274-7887
• Sterling Coffee Roasters, 2120 NW Glisan St., Portland


Portland, February 13, 2011—
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE to do for dinner, our last dinner together in Portland this trip? Well, why not steak-frites, one of the great bistro staples, surely one of the Hundred Plates? After all, Portland's a meat city; there must be a good steak in town.

So off we went to a Toro Bravo spinoff L. and I hadn't been to yet, up on North Williams — another of seemingly dozens of uptrending local hangout streets. Dark, noisy, convivial. My steak was a little more cooked than the rare I'd ordered, and salty as Captain Haddock; but it lay under a nice little mound of herb butter, and the fries were pretty good. I liked my butter-lettuce salad with Green Goddess dressing, though fried shallots struck an irrelevant note scattered on top.

On reflection, Toro Bravo, which I like, and Tasty N Sons, its stepson, seem to me to be for a younger crowd than we now represent. At 75 my tolerance for both noise and rich food have diminished. There were, let's see, nine of us at table; conversation was nearly impossible. And that night came a hell of a thirst: that food was salty. It's not one of my Hundred Restaurants, but I'd go back, early in the evening when things are a little quieter.

• Tasty N Sons, 3808 North Williams Ave., Portland, OR; tel. (503) 621-1400

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sausage and polenta

Portland, February 12, 2011—
OUR FAMILY HAS BEEN exogamous, for the most part, for generations, marrying outside its own group. Among the most charming results has been The Sausage Dance.

This was one of Pavel's inventions, by which he sought, consciously or not, to detach himself from his Czech origin while yet retaining an exotic persona among his adopted American society. Czechs are of course notorious meat-eaters; at one time I read they had the highest per capita consumption of meat in the world. And sausage is meat condensed to its most efficient quality.

I don't write here of cheap sausage that's been bulked up with rice, bran, corn, or any other industrial carbohydrates. I'm talking about old-world sausages that use every scrap of the animal, interior and exterior, chopping them up, flavoring and preserving them with a handful of this herb and that, and then casing them in yet another part of the inside of the animal.

So it's no surprise that a Czech immigrant should enhance his exotic Czechish nature, in this country, by accentuating this carnivorousness by inventing The Sausage Dance. This consists in placing the platter of the dinner's grilled sausages on the floor (or, if the occasion is more formal, on a small table) in the middle of the room, and dancing a sort of carmagnole around it, all hands clasped in a circle, dancing first clockwise, then counterclockwise, all the time chanting
Sau-sage sau-sage
We are gonna eat you
Tonight's sausages were French herb, New York, and Italian; Pavel grilled them outside; Giovanna made a big pot of polenta, and we had the obligatory green salad. Did we have cake and ice cream? Yes, we had cake and ice cream.
Barbera d'Alba, Castello di Verduno, 2006 (tight but a little over the hill); Moulin de Gassac, Guilhem, 2008
place, date—

Party time

Portland, February 11—
WHAT A WONDERFUL FAMILY I have! The reason for last night's desperate drive up here was to celebrate Pavel's 50th birthday. For the occasion his wife Giovanna threw a big party, and for the party made fourteen cakes, or perhaps seventeen; accounts vary. And since Giovanna is her mother's daughter as well as mine, she's an excellent cook with a focus on baking: the cakes were fabulous.

But you can't live on simply cake, so for lunch, a little groggy, we went out to one of Portland's famous cart pods. Others had chicken and rice from a Thai kitchen said to be one of Portland's finest, but I was attracted to a sandwich specialist around the corner. Here I could have had ham and gruyère, or tuna with hardboiled egg, or brie and cucumber, or roast beef and horseradish sauce, estimable sanwiches all: but I had duck confit and cabbage, with a little cranberry relish to lend pointed sweetness to the combination: it was truly delicious.

In the evening, of course, cake; nothing but cake, and a brownie or two, and Želka's kolāčky: so good that I think I'll stroll into the kitchen and grab another right now.
Addy's Sandwiches, 10th at Adler NW, Portland

Hard day on the road

Portland, Feb. 10-11—
WHAT A DAY, eating-wise. We were flying up to Portland in the late afternoon, so we had a simple tuna sandwich for lunch. At the airport, though, we learned the flight was cancelled: nothing to be done but return home, hop into the car, and drive six hundred miles as quick as we could. No nice restaurant dinner in Portland, one of the eating capitals of the United States: salted nuts, a bad store-deli ham-and-cheese, and three or four of those dreadful "French vanilla cappuccinos" to keep us awake on the road.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Another blank

Eastside Road, February 9, 2011—
NOTHING TO REPORT today: another exercise in restraint. A couple of cappuccinos for breakfast; a handful of mixed nuts with tea while watching the news. Maybe 350 calories.

Leftovers and tuna sandwich

Eastside Road, —
THERE HAS BEEN SOME consternation expressed recently about the number of times we eat leftovers. It's a graceless word, and not really appropriate, because most of our "leftovers" are in fact deferred meals: L. tends to make double or sometimes triple amounts when cooking. Another thing: we tend to eat small portions.

And today was a busy day, busy at other things than cooking I mean; so it was handy there was some jambalaya left, and a little chile: that made a nice midday dinner. And then for a quick supper before going out tonight, a tuna sandwich and the obligatory green salad; and ça suffit; except that even now she's busy at some ice cream kind of dessert for a nightcap.
Cheap Pinot grigio

[later…] And what a dessert! a very complex ice-cream sundae, complex with a richness that can only be either carefully planned and shopped for — or the inspired use of, you guessed it, leftovers.

Some little while ago I'd made a cake, in the course of which I made more chocolate ganache than I needed. The leftover went into a small container, then into the icebox. Then the other day L. made bananas Foster for a special dessert. That involved cooking bananas in rum, butter, and sugar; and of course after the bananas were served and sauced there was some of that left over as well. Tonight L. put those two items together, warmed them, poured them over vanilla ice cream, sprinkled on chopped nuts, and topped the dish with whipped cream (for there was whipping cream left over from a dinner last week, and it won't last forever). An absolutely fabulous dessert.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Polenta, artichokes, chard

Eastside Road, February 7, 2011—
DINNER IN TOWN with friends tonight — their house, not out somewhere. And it's amazing how you can live three quarters of a century, eating dinner almost every day, and still find something new. Tonight it was a simple dish combining chard, artichokes, and polenta, with a little grated Parmesan cheese on top. The vegetables complement one another perfectly; and since we had barely-cooked broccoli on the side the taste and texture of vegetables was accentuated that much the more, with just enough cheese to highlight the meal. Absolutely delicious, and no green salad required, thank you.

And dessert! sliced oranges, dressed with orange and lemon juice, and a little lemon zest, and a tiny bit of sugar, and left to stand. And, with them, wonderful shortbread cookies that Becky said were a recipe of Carol Field's; Google "carol field shortbread cookie" and you'll get a number of possibilities.

Dinner with friends, sharing thoughts of other friends, appreciating flavors from so many yet others — there's no higher human activity.
Cheap Pinot grigio; Cheap Nero d'Avola; delicious Zinfandel, Alvey-Sinclair, Dry Creek Valley 2008

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sole meuniere; goose liver

Eastside Road, February 6, 2011—
WE USUALLY TRY TO REMEMBER to buy fish when we're down in Berkeley; Monterey Fish is so dependable. Today we had sole meuniere, the simplest possible thing: you dredge the fillets in a little flour, salt and pepper them, then fry them in butter with a little lemon juice squoze in. In fact it should be a proper
beurre noir, but no one's looking over our shoulders here.

With them, some nice chard from the garden — a curious paesano variety of chard whose name I disremember. In fact I disremembered the chard itself; it's been thriving away, a fine thickly-leaved plant feeding any number of leaf miners and quail; but it's generous enough to give us a few leaves when we think of them.

Before dinner, L. eyed me and said I think you should cook that goose liver now. Right now, I asked. Right now, she said. So I put a piece of butter in my favorite little enameled skillet, darkened it up, and threw in the liver, salting and peppering it; turned it once, turned it again, splashed in some brandy, and soaked up the remains of the butter on a slice of bread. Delicious! Green salad, of course.
Cheap Pinot grigio

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Summer cassoulet…

Mill Valley, February 5, 2011—
AND SOME ARE NOT, as the old play on words goes. Cassoulet's much on our minds these days; I parted out a goose the other day and rendered its fat, but we're still weeks off from the event.

But today we went to a lunch birthday party for a friend, and what should be on the menu but "summer cassoulet."

The weather certainly cooperated; never has February been so balmy under Marian's trees. We sat outside in the shade in shirtsleeves drinking white wine, lingering, before finally, almost grudgingly, moving inside to a delicious dish.

Was it really cassoulet? Well, if you're a purist, no, but I liked it enough to have a second helping. Flageolets, chicken, sausage, lemon zest, thyme, scallions I think a very pleasant combination. Green salad after; and then the birthday cake, a chocolate cheesecake, a pot of crème caramel alongside. Thanks, Marian; a delicious afternoon!
Sauvignon blanc, Guenoc, 2009; Malbec, Viu Manent (Chile), 2009 (a delicious, serious, fruity wine)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Chili (reprise)

Eastside Road, February 4, 2011—
TONIGHT THERE'S A LITTLE more time, so I take the trouble to consult the Wikipedia entry. Absolutely fascinating, of course. In the first place, as I should have remembered, the name of the dish is Chile con carne; "Chili with beans" is a poor approximation. (As to the distinction between chili-with-an-"i" and chile-with-an-"e", well, there'll never be enough time for that.)

Chili, or chile, is clearly a complex dish with as controversial a definition and history as, for example, cassoulet, which I've also been thinking a lot about recently. Perhaps if one made a chili as carefully and thoughtfully as we, for example, make cassoulet, when we do, then the chili would turn out to be as deep and rewarding as a cassoulet. Apparently the ur-chili consisted of beef and chile peppers. As Wikipedia says,
Chili was first invented by the Spanish Canary Islanders, in the city of San Antonio, Texas, which they founded. The recipe used for American expeditions consisted of dried beef, suet, dried chili peppers (usually chilipiquenes), and salt, which were pounded together and left to dry into bricks, which could then be boiled in pots on the trail.
Clearly much would depend on the nature of the beef, the suet, and the peppers. Lyndon Johnson's favoring venison over today's beef makes a good deal of sense: corn-based feedlots have little to do with chile con carne. (Again, the reference is owed to Wikipedia.)

I think it's partly the pervasive appearance of much debased versions of chili [con carne] [with beans], and partly the (perhaps therefore) less settled agreement, even among factions, as to what the dish authentically really is, that I'm reluctant to award it Hundred Plates status. Clearly Meat And Beans is one of the Hundred, but that's far too general a statement to be admitted as either Principle or Policy. So I'll just dodge it for the moment.

Whatever, we finished it tonight, and it was a little better than last night, which is to be expected. Before it, the last of yesterday's guacamole (which L. decided is, in fact, one of the Hundred Plates). After it, green salad.
Syrah, Lagranja 360, Cariñena, 2009

By the way, I've posted photos of night-before-last's dinner at Alice's online here.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chili and beans

Eastside Road, February 3, 2011—
I' M NOT GOING TO look it up; someone else can do that; there's a limit to my intellectual curiosity after binge-eating as I just did. Thing is, we had friends over to eat chile and beans; I made a batch of guacamole to warm up with, then a couple of bowls of that delicious chili; green salad of course (I should make a keyboard shortcut for that phrase), and Lindsey's old-favorite bananas-cinnamon-sugar-and-whipped-cream for dessert. So I'm pretty well slowed down at the moment.

But I do wonder: why was the phrase always "chili and beans" in my childhood? Does the dish chili not automatically include beans? Can there be a standalone chili innocent of beans? If so, what sort of carbohydrate is involved?

In her mania to continue emptying our stores L. found some corn meal in a corner of the icebox, just enough to make some cornbread to have with tonight's chili. Now that's inspired, that combination; Chili and beans is already one of the Hundred Plates, and the cornbread is frosting, to mix up a bad metaphor, on the cake.
Monasterell, Albero, Jumilla (Spain), 2009; Malbec, Doña Paula "Los Cardos, Mendoza (Argentina), 2009

OH: AND BREAKFAST today at Alice's, truffled scrambled eggs and a little green salad, and with it a surprise. You think you've run into about every possible wonderful combination, and then something new comes along. This was simplicity itself: toasted bread, drizzled with good olive oil, then spread with — Seville-orange marmalade! It sounded improbable when first mooted, but oh boy is this a delicious combination.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dinner at Alice's

Berkeley, February 2, 2011—
HERE WE ARE back down in Berkeley for the night, having dinner with an old friend. Fortunately, she's both a good cook and a good marketer. We started with a celery-root soup laced with truffled olive oil, went on to potato ravioli with artichokes à la grècque, then moved to rockfish grilled in the fireplace, served with carrots and little turnips,

a bit of cress lending further interest.

The final dish was perfect: a balance of flesh and vegetables, each flavor distinct yet contributing to an integrated final effect.

Simple, honest, authentic, and done while you watched (though the mise en place was instrumental, no doubt about it).

The requisite green salad was served under the fish, not afterward. Stroke of genius.

Other photos from this dinner can be seen here.
white wine, "Madame Preston", Preston of Dry Creek, 2009; Vaucluse, Le Pigeolet, 2008

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Eastside Road, February 1, 2011—
WELL, NOT EVERY day. Here it is, Tuesday again: a couple of cappuccinos, a handful of nuts. But I realize I forgot something yesterday: dessert.
Lindsey found a little bit of puffpaste dough in the freezer, and a couple of our Sierra Beauties were left from the fall harvest, so she whipped up a small tart. It was delicious late last night, and I'm going to bed hungry tonight thinking of it.