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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Easy Peasy Salad

So, right... thats not a salad, but it is my friend Suzanne's Kitchen. She's got amazing style. I believe a Kitchen is the heart of ones home, and I love the life that she's breathed into hers.

I made the best Salad ever, inspired by good 'ol Jaime Oliver, who's TV shows I sorely miss (and not just becuase i have the tiniest insignificant crush on him. When I can't have him Tyler Florence will do). Speaking of which, Jamie has a new book and TV show coming out about his adventures while traveling through Italy. I'm all over this one. He's the first cookbook author who's books I truly read cover to cover in one sitting. ( I used to have a VW just like that...)

Easy Peasy Salad
Field greens, or lettuce of choice
shredded carrots
1 Apple (I used the last of the 3 Fuji I bought on Sunday)
Olive Oil
lemon Juice
Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Amounts will vary depending on how many people you have to feed. Shredding the carrots is important, as they will sink to the bottom of your bowl if left in large heavy pieces and you'll be left with 1/2 a cup of carrots after all the other goodies in your salad bowl have been eaten.

Toasted Walnuts would have been decadent with it.
Toss and serve, Pepper is crucial on the apples, be generous with it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Alphabet Muffins

I decided that I will practice my baking skills by launching into a Project I am calling The Alphabet Muffins. Each week or so I will bake with a letter of the alphabet. I started out with my new mini muffin tin, and began searching online for an amazing recipe with apples. Well, I never found an apple recipe per say, but I did find a buttermilk doughnut recipe from William Sonoma online,incidentally Chika of She Who Eats & 101 Cookbooks has also posted about the beauty of this recipe.

I sent the Boy to the grocery store and he couldn't find proper Buttermilk, so he got reduced fat instead. The texture is still extremely fluffy and light, so I don't think it made a huge impact on texture. By not using proper full fat buttermilk you loose out on the acidity of the cultured buttermilk. It acts as a tenderizor to the batter making it very moist and light. baking soda reacts with the acidity in buttermilk letting carbon dioxide release which gives you the rounded plump shape of the muffin. Inside the texture is fluffy with miniscule air pockets throughout.

I used my Kitchen aid mixer, which I highly recommend to get a nice creamed consistency with the sugar and butter. Adding a letter of the alphabet to the recipe, I shredded a ripe Fuji and incorporated it into the batter. The recipe made 24 mini muffins from and 6 large heart shaped ones. The mini's will go to Grandma's house for her birthday and the heart shaped ones are for The Boy.

Without further delay I present to you:

Apple doughnut Muffins

For the muffins:
7 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the topping:
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tbs. ground cinnamon
6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Grease 9 standard muffin cups with butter or butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray; fill the unused cups one-third full with water to prevent warping.

To make the muffins, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, combine the butter and sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well until pale and smooth.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Add to the butter mixture in 2 additions, alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla. Stir just until evenly moistened. The batter will be slightly lumpy.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each three-fourths full. Bake until the muffins are golden, dry and springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Unmold the muffins and let stand until cool enough to handle.

To make the topping, in a small, shallow bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon. Put the melted butter in another small bowl. Holding the bottom of a muffin, dip the top into the melted butter, turning to coat it evenly. Immediately dip the top in the cinnamon-sugar mixture, coating it evenly, then tap it to remove excess sugar. Transfer the muffin, right side up, to the rack. Repeat with the remaining muffins. Let cool completely before serving. Makes 9 muffins.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Muffins,by Beth Hensperger (Simon & Schuster, 2003).

Friday, October 21, 2005

Broiled Cardamon Pears

I bought pears on Tuesday that were really quite hard. After my grocerry shopping I stopped by my Grandparents house to say Hello. Grandma Mimi suggested, over tea, that I put my pears in a brown paper bag and let them sit for a few days in my fruit bowl. So I did.

Coming home from work today I checked my pears and they were ready to be eaten.

Broiled Cardamon Pear serves 2 as light desert or appetizer

* 1 pear, sliced into thick pieces, aim for 4
* spread garlic herb goat cheese over each slice
* sprinkle each slice with cardamon and or pumpkin spice (nutmeg, clove, cinnamon)
* broil on low for 12 minutes or high, but stay near the oven and keep a weather eye on them.

Serve with wine as appetizer or champagne for desert, also lovely with a pinot gris.
I choose a Chianti from Multipulciano, that my parents brought back for my last summer. Chianti being a blend of Barbera and Sangiovese, sometimes Cabernet Sauvignon. They are very moist,and dripping with carmelized sugars. I wished my cheese had a bit more of a garlic note to it, but all in all a wonderful compliment to my evening.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pineapple Alchemy

Anthony Bourdain :
"Its the simple food that chef's crave. The home-made cooking, and for me, I'm continually facinated by bread and soup. Its like Alchemy. Your turning simple ingrdients into something magical through sorcery."

As an engagment gift Bryon gave us a pineapple plant. I had read about how its possile to chop the top off a pineapple, as long as it has an inch from the crown still attached, then plant it, and it will root. Fascinated about the possiblitly of doing such a thing I shared this with him. Imagine how humbled I was to recieve this gift after I had been talking about this concept so ravenously.

This post is dedicated to my frind Bryon, a like minded Foodie who thirsts for the quality of life as much as The Boy. He is our partner in crime and our most favorite dinner guest. Through him The Boy and I developed our love for cooking with mushrooms, discovered Sailor Jerry's rum, and showed us how he makes his own liquers with infusions. He's clevar about finding cool local shops that sell amazing ingredients at extroidinary prices.

He's also got this really chill apartment with little plants everywhere, knee hieght, hanging from the ceiling in a sunny corner of the room, coffee table books everyhere full of far away people and places. I swear his plants are more alive then I can ever fully vocalize- they are happy, you can tell. Cheery and quiet, they create this blissful relaxed atmosphere that is very desireable.

Bryon's an alchemist if ever I met one. Turning the most common aspects of food and life into something special.


Baby Miyabi, the daughter of The Boy's wine partner, has arrived!! Female,born this morning, thats about all I know. Man, can The Boy predict them. He called me at 4pm yesterday after noon.
"Hiroko is going to have the baby any day now, you gotta finish that quilt."
Hey, I only started it last THURSDAY.
"I know but like how much of a hurry do you think I need to be in?"
To which The Boy replied, "I'd be in a real big hurry if I were you."
I did finsih it last night, about the same time that Hiroko went to the hospital. I sewed a label onto it, wrapped it up in the cutest baby gift bag and tissue I could find and left it at their apartment door step.

Made for baby Miyabi
October 20, 2005

The stars shine down upon you, the world is yours for the taking.

The Boy's Zin Review

The Boy Reviews Martella Zinfandell, 2003

Scaring the hell out of me by coming home at 6pm sharp yesterday, The Boy handed me a bottle of wine as consolation.
I love that in a man.
He usually pulls into the driveway at 7:30pm only to leave again for another 40 minutes of Punch Down. So while I was creating my own culinary disaster in my Emerilware pots with Japanese WoodEar Mushrooms- well I just wasn't expecting anyone to walk into my kitchen.

Michael Martella is the Boys idol and also one of his many mentors. After a job well done today Martella handed The Boy a bottle of his 2003 Zin and sent him home a full hour and half early.

We opened it and I let mine sit for a full 2 hours before consumption- Ok I lied, I was sipping it here and there playing ,official Drinking Buddy, Cheryl's favorite game of "Let's see how it changes in the glass over time."

It was really a wine that needed to be decanted for an hour ahead of time, bare minimum. Its just that big.

The Boy:
A bit tannic, nice medium to heavy body, gorgeous garnet red color, the nose is beautiful. Set with ripe cherries, white pepper, and buttery crumbly blackberry tart. Great mouth feel, finish is lingering and playful. Drink now or lay down for 5-7 years.

The Matcha Diaries

After work I drove to my local Japanese Market in search of Matcha. I have asked one of my aunts who works at a home & kitchen store to pick up a mini muffin tin for me with intentions for Mini Matcha Muffins. Having eaten my way through every prefecture of Tokyo, down culinary neighborhoods, legendary to Kyoto for their pickles, I was engulfed in an epicenter for traditional cuisine. Not once did I have matcha.

In Japan, Green tea is everywhere. I developed a severe case of vending machine co-dependency. Stopping Tomoko every 10 feet so I could sample something from the strange little machine on the side of the street. Behind the smudged plastic case were candy colored aluminum cylinders of iced liquids. Oolong, Green tea from the Coca-Cola Company, iced coffee with a picture of an art Nuevo goddess on the side- all of it begging to be sampled. My coins floated away from my pockets at every hour of the day. Tomoko's eyebrow would arch as she politely grumbled (as only the Japanese can) "They have these everywhere you know. We don't have to stop at every one- hey you've already tried that one." Her exasperations fell on deaf ears.

Green tea in vending machines is not the same as the phenomenon that was built upon swirled & whisked green powder in boiling water. The clear green liquid bottled in plastic was my oasis at hot subway station, but a different animal entirely.
  • Gyokuro is less aromatic than sencha and has a sweeter taste with a crisp flourish (which Sara consumed in a plastic bottle)
  • Netto Sencha has a pale yellow-green liquor and is good with meals (again with the bottle)
  • Matcha is thick, astringent, invigorating, and delicious

Tea ceremony is such an expansive concept. It encompasses feudal ritual, Zen Buddhism, architecture, clothing design, hand crafted tools, utensils and textile fabrication. The tea ceremony (Sado) is a relatively popular kind of hobby. Many Japanese, who are interested in this culture, take tea ceremony lessons with a teacher. Tea ceremonies are held in traditional Japanese rooms in cultural community centers or private houses. The ceremony itself consists of many rituals that have to be learned by heart. Almost each hand movement is prescribed.

There I was on isle 9 at the Nijiya market trying to find the most affordable tin of the stuff. I felt an awkwardness in my stomach that was the true sign that I had no business dealing with matcha and even less respect for the substance. I get that same way with swim lessons, no matter how old I am. This sinking feeling that I am about to

. . . s i n k .

In the end, I decided that it was only muffins, not worth a nervous breakdown in the tea and instant miso aisle. Besides, 10 bucks for "cheap quality" matcha that has come from Lord knows where, probably an affiliate company of Coca-cola, was not worthy on my money. So I passed it up.

Also, a book on matcha might be in order. Reading up on what to do with the stuff is a concept. Like, perhaps I might actually be able to drink it instead of creating weird American confections with super deformed cooking equipment.

In the mean time I decided upon an inexpensive brown rice green tea for The Boy, who thinks that it "cleanses ones palate". Shown in the picture above. The Boy also believes miso soup to have magical properties that "reset your tummy". One can't possibly enjoy miso soup and toasted rice tea with out a proper tea cup, and after my panic over $10.00 for powdered matcha I forked of $7.99 for the most adorable bunny cup EVER!

Form over function, baby.

Confessions of the Seasonally Obsessed

Latte Report for Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ever pursuing my unnecessary quest to try every single gimmicky Pumpkin Spiced retail sensation available: I present to you the
"Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte,
Version Nonfat, No Whip, Tall."

I had psyched myself up for this one. After a summer of abstaining from the over sugared yet alluring nonsense of the Green Tea Matcha Iced Frappe-whatever, I decided to go for it this morning. I'm not big on eating a lot of sugar; I usually go out of my way to avoid it. preferring natural sugars to refined, such as honey and maple syrup. But it was more like a cruel torture, to have denied my self the pleasure of sampling a Matcha Iced frappe-thingy. As the summer temperatures rose in my little Honda while I sped around town I passed one Starbucks after another. Depressed, hot and sticky with thoughts about the refreshing treat i was missing out on.

Realizing life is short, this morning was the perfect set up for the latte experience. (Can you tell I take my coffee pretty seriously?) It was overcast, slight chill in the air, wind was about 11 mph due North, with a slight tease of rain in the air. Damn near perfect conditions for a pre Halloween Pumpkin Spice treat. To Starbucks I drove.

What I ended up with was creamy, orange, warm milk with the taste of squash. Where the heck was my shot of espresso? Hello? I'm sure it was in there... but I'll never know because of the lingering aftertaste of spoiled acorn squash in the back of my palate. Did that stop me from drinking it all? Hell no. I paid $3.10 for that orange squash milk.

Latte experience grade: C-, with nice intention.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Pirate Rum & Fruitcakes

I surfed over to She Who Eats today. Chika is the blogs owner and posts regularly with fantastically gourmet photos. Yesterday she had begun her yearly Christmas Fruitcake preparation. I could resist trying out the same 'recipe', as Chika is adapting one to suit her needs. Inspired by the gem like fruits layered in the thick glass jars my imagination began to whirl. Day dreams of wowing my brother and grandparents with my very own fruitcake seemed intoxicating.

Speaking of intoxicating, I used half a bottle of The Boy's favorite rum that he hides in the freezer. Taking it out only for "special guests". Christ almighty! I used the entire bottle up. (Only half a bottle by the time I got my greedy hands on it- but non the less- that'll just be our little secret. )
I began planning out my trip to the store. It was crucial to find local ingredients, such as cherries and prunes grown in Sunnyvale. I headed to just that very place. I liked how Chika was using French dried fruits and sticking to a theme of using French spirits to soak into her fruits. For those of you new to "Fruitcake" its traditionally an English Christmas desert. Americans created a bastardization of it and made fruitcake into some legendary 'white elephant gift'. Comlete with green candied objects that are neither edible nor identifiable. Most Americans chuck out the horrid gift or joke that its become their new doorstop. However those in the know special order them from companies online. A proper fruitcake recipe can be found at Delia Smith's site.

That link will give you a better idea of the real ingredients that are needed to make a gloriously rich, moist and delicious Christmas cake. In fact, Mincemeat isn't really meat at all. Its an assortment of dried fruits soaked in liqueur. Be it Rum, Brandy , Congac, Whiskey- etc. Its really a recipe that can be adapted to your own tastes and what you have on hand.

My source for quality dried fruits is Sunnymount produce in Sunnyvale, California. Sunnyvale being a town filled with orchards back in the 1940 and 50's. I ogled a fantastic selection of dried candied fruit, dried berries, dried candied rinds and peels. In an attempt to follow Chika's lead, and also to keep the "terroir" of the land in my cake I choose Cherries, pears, cranberries, prunes and golden raisins.

Terroir (France)
There is much discussion of terroir, a French term which has no simple translation into English. It refers to the external influences on the ripening grapes, including the soils (depth and type), bedrock, exposure to sun and wind, water table and so on. Others include rootstock (really an intrinsic part of the vine, even if it is grafted) and local climate (undoubtedly an influence on the vine, but I feel separate from terroir).

I chopped up the pears & prunes into smaller bite sized pieces then layered everything in two 'one liter' jars.
Then comes the rum. Sailor Jerry's pirate rum- hardly a culinary triumph, is a favorite of mine for its warm, spicy, cinnamon aromas. Its distilled locally and incredibly smooth. Once the bottle had run out I switched to Grand Marnier. (Only my most favorite liquor on the planet. Hey, I was stuck with no other option, I had to use the good stuff! Darn. ) Thinking they were properly layered and shut tight I had Evan shake them a bit, and inspect my seals. (This proved to be messy as the seals weren't sealed at all! Evan and I knew my Aunt would come home to find us stinking of Rum at just that very moment.)

In a month from now, according to Chika, I can make my batter and incorporate the mincemeat. That'll be Thanksgiving weekend I expect. Once the cakes are made you prick with holes so that you can "feed" the cake now and then with more rum. The cake is wrapped up tightly and placed in a airtight container in the fridge. This helps the flavors marry and makes for a better cake. A month of living in the fridge, the cake is ready for consumption! The flavours are mellow, and the liquer taste will be much more refined and subtle. My brother loves nothing more then a moist fruitcake with a healthy dose of spirits. I hope this year I can knock his socks off!

Don't mess with the classics.

This weekend was extremely busy, involving little to no time for culinary excursions. Friday blurred by, but before that was the PIQF, Pacific International Quilt Festival. My mother and I went together and I got it in my head to make a baby quilt for friends.
Saturday I went wedding dress shopping with my best friend and Sunday was a quilt class at a near by shop, my mother and aunt attended with me.

Somewhere in between I had a moment of what I can only call- a Foodgasim. A moment of pure appreciation an delight based solely on the consumption of a single beverage:
A Starbucks ‘Tall Non-Fat Latte’. Blended into a velvety blanket of creamy decadence. Steamed foam made to perfection. A dash of cinnamon and nutmeg that I stirred in lovingly and tenderly so as to not break the delicate air pockets in the steamed milk.

There was once a time in my life when starbucks was a sign of civilization. When traveling in Europe, Kyoto, Ueno in Tokyo- I'd drag my traveling partner into starbucks for a hot cup of 'home'. It made me feel terribly American, and Worldy at the same time.

After one sip I was reeling. I wanted to go back into the store and hug the Barista.Then again, I thought that might be going a bit far- after all, I HAD skipped lunch that day. So it may have been that I was just really hungry.
Never the less, I pay tribute here to my latte, as it poses outside my front door with my Pumpkin. Truly, there is perfection in the classics.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

My Plonker is bigger then your Plonker, or Brix levels for dummies

This crumby picture is of the bins that the Boy is storing in his Partners Lockers, in our old apartment complex, which is 3 floors down. Nice temperature of 56F. Every night the Boy goes to the parking garage and punches down the cap. We had dinner with his folks and then the four of us drove over to see the wine and have the Boy explain to his parents how he spends his evenings. The total process to punch down the cap each night takes about 40 minutes. There is just a ton of cleaning and testing equipment that needs to be washed. Here is your word definition of the day, impress your friends and relatives.

Fruit skins, stems, and pulp that float to the surface during a fermentation. It is essential to "punch down" the cap into the wine during a red wine fermentation to extract valuable tannins and colored compounds as well as to discourage the proliferation of spoilage organisms in the cap.

Basically he takes a Plonker, which is exactly what it sounds like, a tool used to plonk or break up the spongy and dense consistency of the cap. The Boy's Plonker (I can hear you smirking, cut it out! ) is made out of PVC pipe. As you can see there are 2 bins. Both are Zinfandel, one bin has German yeasts and the other one has French... I think... Either way 'Ze Germans zeem tu be vinning'. The juice coming from the german yeasts and grapes are really a pleasant flavor. The cap needs to be punched down every day, twice a day. His partner does it during the day and at night is the Boys turn.
On a wine stained notebook in scrawly boy handwriting is the log in which the boy and his partner, David, keep track of the temperature readings of the wine and the brix level.
Allright I lied, here is your second definition of the day.

A measure of sugar content in grape juice, used particularly in the New world.

A large collection of organic compounds present in grapes as a result of photosynthesis. Sugar is the substrate utilized by yeast in the production of alcohol, a process known as fermentation.

After a few weeks it will not be so imperative to punch the cap twice a day. After a month we only punch down a couple times a week and then eventually take the wine off the skins.

Hoodlums & Doughnuts

This morning was a blitz of action, though I hadn’t intended it to be. At 6am the Boy’s alarm went off. With astounding presence of mind, considering the hour, I managed to find my quilting supplies. My Aunt requested that I bring them over to Jack’s house for her, and finding them involved hands, knees and rummaging under the bed. I made breakfast, packed my lunch, watered the plants and by 7am I was rolling out of my gravel driveway heading for Jack's. Along the way, through neighborhood side streets I noticed a figure dressed entirely in gray. I imagined this person had dressed just as I felt. (the color this morning equating fog, brain cells, synapses firing at below normal level and sluggish behavior). Bundled deep into their hooded sweatshirt for warmth this person moved at a rate of honey in a squeeze bear container.

As I cast a disapproving eye at the hoodlum he too scowled back, and then suddenly his dumbfounded expression mirrored my own. It was my cousin Evan.

This happens too often, some hulking boy is biking down the street, cuts through an intersection, narrowly missing my vehicle. We cuss at one another under our breath, glare, then realize we are related.Overcome with joy, we smile and wave like idiots. The weird part is we are alwayed astonished that we’ve “bumped”into each other, as if the chances of that happening were slim to none.

Evan is 18 and one of my favorites, but don’t tell anybody. I pulled my car around and drove up along side him. Turns out he hadn’t actually gone to bed yet and decided he was in need of the daily comics. Not from the regular paper but the local paper.
Pre-scowling at hoodlums in the car I was daydreaming about bringing doughnuts to work and having them in my office so that all the new grad students would flock to my doorway thus allowing me to memorize their names as we exchange plesantries. Eager to join my expidition Evan jumped in my car. After depositing the quilt supplies at Jacks we sped over to Krispy Kreme.

Exhibit A. Naked doughnuts are sent along a metal conveyer belt and pushed through a molten shower of white royal icing.

Exhibit B. Then the little doughnuts are trundled along to the boxing area I suppose.

Krispy Kreme doughnuts are like a non food. They don’t actually seem to be a real edible thing to me. They consist of calorific hot air, a smidgen of dough and as you just saw, a whole ton of frosting. Frosting is also a non food, its really a fabrication of childrens dreams blended with a whole lot of trouble. Let’s be honest: Frosting hardly ever really gets in a persons mouth. Frosting spends more time on your face, steering wheel, sliding glass door or paper napkin then it does in your body. Small children would bathe in it if they could and if they can't: smear it over household objects including themselves. Frosting is pure sugared bliss but- I don’t do doughnuts.

Exhibit C. Doughnuts in their case.

I love food all lined up and ready for consumption. I like the process of choosing which thing to eat based solely on its outside appearance. I love that its early and these little beauties are like puppies in a pet shop. All excited and ready to go home with me, tails wagging. I especially like those little guys with the Halloween sprinkles!

As I am standing here, inwardly debating which doughnuts the grad students would like best, Evan tells me a secret. He says that sometimes, they give you free hot doughnuts over the counter, and sometimes he walks in, stands in line and gets handed a free hot doughnut, then walks home again. Evan likes a good bargain.
A round sign bobbed over my head on a thin plastic strand and alerted me to their latest flavor- PUMPKIN SPICE!!


I am so inclined to seasonal food items and after my Pumpkin Spice Mocha concoction yesterday I was so totally on board for ordering the Pumpkin Spice ones.

But I don’t do doughnuts.

So who would eat my Pumpkin Spice doughnuts then?? Evan likes the raspberry filled kind. I made up my mind that since I was already very late for work I would be a little more late and bring my grandparents, a couple towns over, doughnuts for breakfast. They’d do the same for me if stuck in this sort of situation. While picking my doughnuts out the man helping me was one of those ‘low talkers' who mumbled, he had an acent too. I answered yes to everything he said plus I added in extra please and thank yous on account of having no clue what he was saying to me. Then he handed me one of the special-secret-free-hot doughnuts that Evan covets.

But I don’t do doughnuts.

I paid, put Evan and the doughnuts in the car, zoomed over to my other grandparent’s house suprising Grandma Mimi with the pumpkin spice ones, plus the free one.
Grandma Mimi thought I was the best thing since sliced bread.

I eventually got to work, no one seemed to mind or notice I was an hour late with my Halloween sprinkled doughnuts. I emailed all the Grad Students to come on down to my office- and only 1 came. So much for learning their names.

Apparently Grad Students don’t do doughnuts either. I leave you with:

Exhbit D. Evan licking his fingers.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Cousins

If my family was New York, then my Grandfathers house would be Grand Central Station. Like good little New Yorkers we are coming and going at all hours of the day. Now my family is neither in New York or New Yorkers, but it seems in the city I live in that if you see a kid at the bus stop or walking down the street- you can bet I am probably related to him. This is the case when my cousins have blossomed into teenagers, succeeding in welding drivers licenses and making me feel ancient. In addition to the my teenage mutant ninja cousins, I have Aunts, Uncles, my Mother, a Brother, a Father , the Boy and family friends who can also be found munching on something in the kitchen, snoozing on the couch or about to leave for the grocery store to replenish our food supply. It is well known that anyone at anytime should feel free to pursue the contents of the white kitchen cabinets and help themselves to a snack.

Its an unspoken rule.

What I love best about the house is beside the white front door there is a large picture window that looks into the kitchen. Anyone ambling up the walkway can peer into the window and see who is about to great them. Often times the site through the window is my aunts pouring wine, or a cousin with a cookie in hand and waving at me with the other. A sign of welcome, that I am moments away from comfort and relaxation.

We all joke about what the neighbors must think. The house is situated on a lovely neighborhood street that faces a cul de sac. Much like the shape of a T, my Grandfather’s house being dead center where the two roads join. Everyone can see our recycling bin, and the 3 cases of empty wine bottles sprawled around and in it. We hold our consumption to 2 main reasons, the first being that we are Irish after all, and second that there are A LOT of us. We get together on Sundays nights with out fail, to celebrate someone birthday or any other reason that sounded good at the time. We never shy away from a reason to throw a party. Never the less, ‘Trash day’ is our most humiliating day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Red & Pink Clashing

The Boy is getting very skinny now. Like my friend Shige, who works in the Ginza District in Tokyo at a upscale Hotel. Shige is a butler who works the graveyard shift into early morning, catering to the whims of foreign businessmen but mostly actors & musicians. Most boys in Japan are this way, under nourished, working 12-15 hours a day: working too much and too hard for too long. My girlfriend Tomoko always expresses her worry for her boyfriend, telling me “he used to be so buff, he used to have all this muscle, now he is under weight.” I was always thankful our young men in America are not so enslaved.

Every morning The Boy works from 7am to 7pm, 6 or 7 days a week as it is Harvest season for all wineries. He has frozen food at the winery in a fridge that he eats, but I think he only eats like 1 meal a day. The Boy was always the one who did the cooking for us, not me. This used to irritate me that he was superior at this activity. My selfishness can be appauling at times. I relaize I did benefit from his laboring in the kitchen, and from his deliberation at the farmers market over picking the best, most aaffordable ingredients.
Needless to say, despite my jealousy, I never turned down a sampling of his creations. Now that he works so hard I am finding I enjoy coming up with new recipes and ideas on what to make for dinner for him. It relaxes me to come home and pu tmy apron on( from Tomoko) and play a game out of it.

What can I make that’s new that combines ingredients I already have at home?
Are going to go bad in the fridge soon,
On sale at the market,
An a new item I have never tried,
And can splurge on that will make the dish all the more spectacular?
Those are the criteria I aim for. Every time.

Last night I attempted Chicken Piccata. Oye.
With the idea that he might be able to take leftovers with him to work for lunch as well. I bought a package of dried Italian assorted mushrooms. They included woodears which are black, hen of the woods and porcini. After sautéing the pounded chicken breasts I then removed them from the pan and deglazed the pan with a mixture of broth, lemon juice, fresh herbs from the garden, minced garlic and ginger. The dried mushrooms had not sat in the chicken broth enough before I added them to the pan so they were still a bit dry ending up absorbing all the lemon juice. Thus being extremely concentrated. I barley had enough of the broth to pour over the chicken before serving. Over all it was just so so. I nailed the artichoke portion of the dinner, but I’ve only steamed artichokes about 100 times. So I gather that this is just trial and error, if I make Chicken Piccata 99 more times I am sure I can master it too.

If that wasn’t enough I decided to dirty more pans and make a larger mess by creating simple cornbread muffins. To which I added cheddar cheese, fresh chopped herbs ( including secret ingredient – mint- ) and way too much honey. The Muffins were golden brown, sweet smelling and flecked with a hint of herb. Taking them out of the oven I had huge glorious muffin tops, and that’s was basically it because that was the only part of each muffin that would exit my heart shaped NON STICK muffin pan. Grrr. So lesson learned there is to not experiment so much with a recipe. Its pretty hard to screw up cornbread but I acheived it. Oh well. The Boy ate all 6 of my glorious muffin tops saying that was the equivalent of 2 muffins.

For lunch today I’ve made a balsamic, garlic, ginger, lemon salad with assorted radishes and cherry tomatoes.A whimsical pink & red clashing salad with lovely minty scent. It looks a bit ridiculous, like if I put it under a black light the white meat of the radishes and reds of the skins might actually blaze & glow. But all ingredients were on sale at the market last night... and have been marinating all night in a Tupperware container, so we shall see at lunch time how the salad comes together in flavor.

The Winemaker

The Winemaker, aka The Boy, spends each day in his own words "racking wine, washing barrels, cleaning things, using the forklift, stirring the Chardonnay, doing all the hard labor that no one else will do, did I mention washing barrels, helping with pressing, sorting, processing the grapes, ordering yeasts and other various equipment and bines, ordering new barrels, purchasing grapes that are not estate grown from other local growers , de-stemming the grapes, bottling, labeling, assisting with the corking machine”. There are other people at the winery who are hired to help and do what The Boy is doing, but The Boy is permanent. The other hired help either work part time or volunteer a bit like a paid internship.

The weather in the Santa Cruz Mountains is much more exciting than down in the valley where we live and I work. I can look out from the office windows and scan the hills. If they are overcast or shrouded in fog, I know he’s probably got his gloves on and I’d put money on the fact that he’s wearing his Muck Boots and is chilled to the bone. He’s not much of a cold whether Boy. It may be sunny, warm and delicious where I am, but it could be raining and blustery up there. His drive up the mountain is a mere 20-30 minutes each way, really it should be 30 but he has a motocross GTI, so its 22 minutes on average.

The winery produces a variety of varietals and blends of still wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Meritage (blend of reds), Merlot, Barbara, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc, better known as Cab Franc and a sparkling wine, Blanc de Blanc made from Chardonnay grapes. By law, it is not permitted to label the Blanc de Blanc as a Champagne. That name is exclusive to sparkling wines produced in the Champagne Region of France.

The estate specializes in growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals because they are more well-suited to the cooler climate of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I say climates plural because there are micro-climates in nearly all wine growing regions. Some hills get more fog and moisture than others, some get more wind, and soils can vary significantly from vineyard to vineyard.Sometimes soil is rocky, dusty, chalky- there are lots of variations. As a contrast, The Boy’s favorite wine varietal is Zinfandel. Bold, fruit forward, spicy, rich, opulent- it grows best in climates where there is a lot of heat and chalky earth like Paso Robles which is 3 hours drive away from Santa Cruz Mountains.

Zinfandel does not grow well at all in the mist, so the estate doesn’t grow it.
After The Boy slaves away all day at work, he goes to meet up with his partner at our old apartment complex. This is in the valley and the wine is stored underground in a locker space that is subterranean - 3 floors down, which maintains a “perfect” constant temperature of 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Wine loves to be this temperature. It stores best in the range of 56 to 60 degrees and “hates” temperature variation. He has a partner to share the expenses of acquiring grapes and equipment and sometimes, to help with the labor.Harvest season, when the grapes are ready to be picked, is the busiest time for a winery, its staff, and particularly the winemaker. From vine to bottle the grapes require constant attention. (Depending on a specific varietals a selected yeast s, feeding the yeasts, punching down the cap each night and spraying it with CO2 to induce Malolactic fermentation. Punching down the cap means to push down and stir all the skins and crap that rises to the top of the barrel.)

This year he and his partner are making Zinfandel. This year, after a focused calling effort to locate good grapes, The Boy got lucky and was able to purchase Zinfandel grapes from a well respected grower in Paso Robles. Approximately 1.8 tons were purchased and because The Boy was required at the winery, his father drove to Paso Robles to haul the grapes to the “crushing venue” - my grandfathers house where we store our wine equipment. All my uncles, cousins and friends were pressed into action, as it were, to help de-stem and press the grapes. The grapes were then transported to the “fermentation venue” - the 3rd level underground locker, mentioned above, located several miles from the “crushing venue” to be stored in certain tanks and barrels for the fermentation process. What a lot of work, but – what fun! And, what relatives!

Soon to be bottled are his Cabernet, Barbara and Merlot from the 2004 harvest.

Earnest Lattes

I believe in intuition. Listen to the nagging little voice that whispers to you at the oddest moments. Most people ignore this voice, paying higher tribute or respect to what they know to be fact,or what they’ve been taught. They disregard the naturalness of that voice. Ignore the gift of ‘simplicity of instinct’. Intuition being the subspecies of Instinct, both are qualities of a quieter knowledge that lives in your soul.

These can be of great or little importance, these twinges of subconscious knowledge- like yesterday morning for example. I was driving to work and suddenly knew that my favorite Home Décor store in Eugene, Oregon had begun to put up their Christmas Holiday trees and decorations, including ornaments. (Hey, what did you expect, lotto numbers? Sheesh. In addition I admittedly have a deep obsession for ornaments which is something completely off topic at this time.)

My best friend emailed me 2 hours later when she had decided to roll out of bed. Her first action of the day was expressing, through stabs of keys on her laptop, that Reed&Cross had begun decorating for the Holidays. She’d driven by the day before and spied the shop girls decorating faux trees with bobbles & illuminated strands. Becca is myfriend for many reason but especially becuase she shares my love for sparkly things.

It is always morning, sometimes bedtime, when my intuition speaks to me. I quote Paul McCartney who said “the best time of day was that moment between awake and dreaming, when things are tangible and bend.” I know this to be true because your not fully alert, and you are not fully asleep, you delve into a pocket of time where you become susceptible to delusion. (Or, intuition.)

Earnest came to me today as I balanced my lunch bag, car keys, coffee cup filled with Mocha Pumpkin spice latte- a new creation of mine, and a shopping bag of goodies for my brother while trying to exit the backdoor of my kitchen.

Just one single word.

As I arrived at my computer at work I 'googeld' the meaning of the word and here it is. “Marked by or showing deep sincerity or seriousness: an earnest gesture of goodwill.”

Perhaps I am not earnest enough. Why else would I be thinking about it? As self congratulatory praise is not something I dwell on.
I began to wonder how my earnest actions in my everyday life are perhaps not good enough…

Every week, sometimes twice a week I shop for my brother and mail him a package with his favorite snacks. I write him a card and tell him I’m proud of him. He loves mail and I want him to get a package at least once a week with something to brighten his day.

I write my fiancé a love note and or pack him a lunch 3 times a week.

I also try out new recipes , like muffins and brownies as treats for him to take to work and to share with his friends at work. I try out new recipes and cook more for him since he’s very busy with Harvest and has no time to cook for me like usual. Though he cooks better then I do, I try to shop for fresh produce, be frugal, be extravagant, & make something special.

I wrote my cousin a note and dropped it off at her house yesterday expressing my support for her as she is struggling with personal things right now. But there is proboly better, smarter ways and certain more ways in which I could be earnest.

Being earnest is doing something above yourself so that someone else benefits…But that’s not human nature. Human nature is to do the best thing at all times for ones self.
And yet, we are still capable of truly earnest acts. My actions make for a happy fiancé and a happy brother and I benefit from that. But I wonder in what ways I can begin to be more earnest in all of my actions, not just toward loved ones…

Anyway, moving on.

Pumpkin Spice Mocha Latte Recipe

In a 8 oz mug pour ½ C milk of choice. The more fat in the milk the better it with froth.
Add a dash of Pumpkin spice or a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.
Add 1 tbsp of baking cocoa
With a whisk or with a milk frother, battery operating device found at kitchen supply stores, blend spices and milk.
Add 1 tsp Sugar and blend again. If using a frother you want to have the head just below the surface of the milk so that you are proper mixing air into the milk.
Add fresh hot coffee by pouring coffee through center of the foam so that you are left with a small dot of coffee stained foam at top of mug, and serve.

I promise you that when sipping this on a brisk morning, it will completely uplift you. You will become aware of all the acorns that have dropped on the pavement, you will begin to mentally plan your Christmas shopping list, you will feel an inner calm that can only be brought to you the way a cup of hot coffee in Autumn can.

Excuse the phone cam pic.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Spinach Stress Relief

I would always watch cooking shows, even as a little kid on PBS. It started with the Frugal Gourmet, Jef Smith, who ended up molesting boys- but besides that his show was damned good. I branched out to Yan Can Cook, Jacques Pepin, etc. Then Food TV launched and it was love. Jamie Oliver, Nigela Lawson- all of them cooking and making me feel relaxed as they talked to me, leaning into a bowl of goop up to their elbows. Ahhh. ^_^
Despite the Brits being so well known in America for their terrible food, I must say my favorite cooks to date have been British and Southern. Paula Deen is my current fav, thats a pic of her on my tv ( I usually am never home when my favorite shows ar eon, so the Boy and I have Tivo and it records out favorite shows for us while we are out! ) But :
I digress.

Yesterday I was stressed. I get impatient with things, give up, and feel disappointed start over, get frustrated, give up, and get depressed. Nigela and Jamie have always maintained that for them, cooking relaxed them, they felt better about the world when kneading dough or chopping veg.I never agreed. Much more interested in the sloth of my welcoming couch and their handwork. However, I decided I needed to make spinach soup. So I bought all the makings, went home and began dicing, chopping, stirring and seasoning. I even made chocolate cupcakes for the Boy.
And I felt better.
Perhaps this is yet another step in my pursuit of
Domestic Goddessness.

I have been buying fabric from fat Quarter Shop.com like nobodies business.I have a ton of projects to jump on. My mom has started a quilting group for friends at my grandfather’s house, every Sunday morning, first Sunday of the month. This Sunday is the first one! I'm very excited. I'm thinking of making orange muffins. Sorta on a muffin kick at the moment. Anyway I will lug my bernina over to jack's, with my new fabric bag that Lisa bought me and enjoy the day being crafty.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Cooking Meme

The Cook Next Door

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?

I remember making “one eyed Monsters” for my Grandpa Larry when I was in middle school. I used a glass to cut a hole in the middle of a piece of bread, and then put it in a frying pan and dropped a raw egg into the hole. Thus frying the bread and the egg together. I don’t think anyone was especially overjoyed at this dish, I actually hate fried eggs, but I had learned it in my home economics class and wanted to try it out since it was dead easy.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?

My Grandpa Larry was always making the same signature dishes on specific days of the week. Home made steal cut oatmeal with golden raisins every morning, and Tuesday was home made pizza day, and watching him mix the batter for his signature lemon cake dish. YUM. But my grandmother on my mothers side was a fabulous cook, often preparing meals to feed 20 people 1-3 times a week! This was either for her growing family or for the grad students who worked for my Grandpa jack at Stanford University.

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?

Grandpa Jack doesn’t cook at all, and now that Nan has passed away my aunts all take turns cooking for him one night a week. Sometimes no one is available and they call upon me to serve dinner. I always tell Grandpa he can have anything he wants. Without fail he asks for Trout and Brussel sprouts. Or Welsh Rarebit. I am clueless and uninterested in how to make them. So I get very nervous cooking for Jack. Plus he’s blunt. “This meal was excellent!"or “This meal was sort of dismal wasn’t it? My gosh.”
Also the idea of making soup with dried beans scares me, and I don’t really know what lentils are either.

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?

I love my nutmeg grinder, it is a little metal bowl with a Tupperware lid, but has a grater in the lid, so you can store the nutmeg in the dish, take it out, open the lid, grate and then store the grating and nutmeg in the dish and close the Tupperware lid- or use it in your soup or eggs. I love The Boy’s Rabbit wine opener. And I LOVE my battery operated mini Frother.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
Rice with soy sauce, mustard on everything and I love raw cow tongue

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?!

Crab, walnuts and wine oh and limes!

Any question you missed in this meme, that you would have loved to answer? Well then, feel free to add one!!

Three quickies
Your favorite ice-cream… Rocky road or green tea!

You will probably never eat… snails!

Your own signature dish… My garlic bread! Or Montrachet Wontons