Thursday, August 11, 2011

While I'm Away....

While I'm not feeling much like writing these days, check out this post at Smithsonian's Food and Think blog: Thirty Years of Food in Music Videos. When I can't sleep, sometimes I try to compile a list of food references in music. Cheeseburger in Paradise, Pour Some Sugar on Me, Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie, God Didn't Make Little Green Apples - how many can you think of? Lisa Bramen's post on food in music videos is a kick. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Beach Food

Vacations create memories. Sometimes they recreate them. I ate my first red skinned new potatoes at the beach as a child. I drank my first Sprite from a soft drink machine at the beach years before it was available in the local grocery store.  In my twenties, I accompanied friends to a conference at Myrtle Beach where most of the attendees were New Yorkers. We took them to a typical seafood restaurant one evening and ordered hush puppies. None of the New Yorkers had ever seen a hush puppy and asked, “Why would you eat donuts with fish?” They were soon initiated to the world of Southern food.

I have eaten more than my share of hush puppies on this trip. And Southern fried fish as well. We randomly selected a restaurant named Mr. Fish here in Myrtle Beach. I ordered the fried shrimp and Larry chose the crab and crawfish cakes. Neither of us had ever eaten crawfish, but we both liked these cakes. They were fried – how could you go wrong!

The hush puppies were divine; dense and sweet and perfectly crisp. I ordered the house special condiment, blackberry wasabi sauce for an extra 25 cents. It was great on the shrimp. It had a sweet initial flavor, followed by a serious wasabi kick. I need to do a lot of beachcombing to walk off all the fried calories from this week.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Thanks for the Memories

As an impoverished college student, I didn’t have the funds to purchase a campus meal plan from the cafeteria. I ate a lot of oatmeal and beefaroni cooked in my popcorn popper that stayed hidden in my dorm room closet. But there were a few economical places that were favorites for dining out with friends on special occasions. One of those places was Bullock’s Barbeque in Durham.

Every now and then, during my freshman year, girls from my dorm would pile into the cars of upperclassmen (freshmen weren’t allowed cars on campus) and head to Bullock’s for an early dinner. You had to be there by 5pm or suffer a long wait. And they often ran out of pie. We would order our pies first and insist that the waitress place them on our table at the beginning of the meal to ensure that we actually got them. I always ordered the combination barbeque and Brunswick stew plate, served with hush puppies and coleslaw. I think it cost about $4 back then.

For years, I didn’t know if Bullock’s still existed. Then I saw an article about their barbecue in Bon Appetit magazine. Rejoice! So over the next few years, we tried to dine at Bullock’s twice, but they were always closed when we were passing through Durham to visit family.

This trip, we were in luck. We landed in Raleigh on Saturday afternoon and my priority was to eat at Bullock’s before we headed to the beach. I skipped lunch in anticipation of our early afternoon dinner. There was no wait at 4:15, but by 5:30, the line was out the door. Some things never change.

We both ordered my standard combo (now $7.80), even though the menu has greatly expanded in the last (almost) 40 years. Has it really been that long??!! They even serve quesadillas now, which I had never heard of in 1972. I must admit it wasn’t as amazing as I remembered, but I thoroughly enjoyed the nostalgic experience. We were too full for dessert, but for old time’s sake, I had to order pie just to see if they had it. We split a slice of chocolate chess pie, a Southern specialty. I won’t need to eat again for days.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Good Times

Nothing beats a good burger. Or good friends. We’ve spent this week in the Adirondacks with friends from long ago. We met them through a couple who were mutual friends back when they first moved to California in 1986. I was instrumental in connecting  her with her California job, so we were off to a good start.

The six of us spent a lot of time together over the next three years before they headed back to the East Coast for career reasons. They moved around while the rest of us stayed put, but we always stayed in touch and sometimes vacationed together. Thirteen years ago, she and I discovered the lifeless body of our beloved friend who had introduced us. She had lost her battle with breast cancer.

The sudden death was traumatic to us all. We all huddled with our friend's husband and family for the next week, stunned and distraught, grieving together. We never talk about that week now. But we remember the good times.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since we’ve seen such dear friends. We have certainly aged and three more of us have battled cancer. So far we are winning. This week we have enjoyed hiking in the forest, swimming in the icy waters of Lake Champlain and watching the ever-changing character of the lake from our porch. We have laughed at each other’s jokes (both good and bad), caught up on our stories and languished in comfortable silence.

For our final dinner together, they chose their favorite vacation burger joint. I chuckle to think they were worried we would not find the Bay View Diner fancy enough. We’re the ones who eat street food in third world countries. In Peru we dined on dried potatoes tossed on a blanket in the dirt when offered by an indigenous tribe in the highlands. A burger joint is pretty high class in comparison. And the burgers were top notch; served with Adirondack fries – sort of like warm potato chips. But nothing beats sharing the burgers with the people you love.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Substitute Salad

Heirloom tomatoes symbolize summer. But this year, like all the other summer produce in Northern California, the tomatoes are late. We’ve had none of our usual Sunday lunches composed of at least six varieties of tomatoes. But on our last trip to the farmers’ market we purchased one large Purple Cherokee tomato at an exorbitant price. I just couldn’t resist.

To make up for the lack of tomatoes, I substituted our other summer favorite, Brentwood corn, and tried this recipe from the San Jose Mercury News, “Corn Ceviche.” I thought you needed fish to have ceviche, but in spite of the misnomer, it looked like a good summer vegetable dish. It doesn’t get much easier or tastier.

Corn Ceviche with Heirloom Tomatoes
(2 servings)
Adapted from Robert Sapirman, executive chef, Citrus

1 lime
2 ears corn, grilled, kernels removed from cob  
½ small red onion, minced
1 Thai bird chile, minced, including ribs and seeds
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Large heirloom tomato, sliced

Grate the zest of the lime then juice the lime. Mix the lime zest and juice with the grilled corn kernels, onion, chile, cilantro and oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve the corn over slices of the heirloom tomato.

We are currently resting our minds and bodies lounging by Lake Champlain in the Adirondacks with dear friends. Yesterday I spent the afternoon watching the leaves dance in the wind over the water. This is a much needed break before I return to civilization to visit family, then back to begin maintenance immunotherapy and wrap up my last weeks of work.   

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Distractions Abound

Although we continue to cook and eat, I’ve been unable to focus on writing lately. The accumulation of almost 18 years of papers, emails and files need to be sorted and dispositioned as I prepare to leave my job (and maybe my career). I’m contemplating what I might do next. I have been concerned with illness and tragedy in the lives of my family and friends. And I’m faced with preparing for a whirlwind vacation from West to East where we’ll visit both family and friends, staying 8 different places in 17 days. I’m tired just thinking about it.

Last night we entertained friends for dinner. The meal was a resounding success, even though every item on the menu but one was a first time recipe. I’ll start with the dessert since that’s the only photo I took. I wanted something light for a summer evening, but decided on gelato too late to make it ourselves. We purchased limoncello gelato, but I did make these shortbread cookies. I served the gelato with a splash of Kim of Liv Life’s homemade limoncello on top, along with the cookies. One guest requested a cup of tea after the gelato and polished off most of the rest of the cookies. Need I say they were good???!!! And really easy to make, too.

Lemon-Lime Basil Shortbread Cookies
(from Bon Appetit Magazine)

1 c all-purpose flour
½ c powdered sugar, plus more for pressing cookies 
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled, cut into ½” cubes
2 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, sliced
1 tsp lemon zest, finely grated
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp lime zest, finely grated
¼ tsp kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place ingredients in food processor and pulse until large, moist clumps form. Measure tablespoonfuls of dough and roll between your palms to form balls. Place on a large baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Lightly dust the bottom of a flat measuring cup with powdered sugar and press dough balls into flat 2 inch rounds. Bake until edges are brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

It was fun planning a menu for people who don't like salmon, cheese, spicy food, and can't eat nuts or fruit. These are the staples or our regular cuisine. For appetizers we had garlic shrimp, steamed artichokes and La Brea rosemary bread with a garlic wine dipping sauce accompanied by La Honda Sauvignon Blanc. The main course was skewers of grilled chicken with mint and red onions, Greek salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and Feta cheese (on the side) with tzatziki and fresh pita bread. A second bottle of sauvignon blanc was consumed; this time we chose Kendall Jackson. 

Maybe soon, life will become more normal.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Party Nibbles

Gina of SPCookieQueen invited us to her macaron-making party on Saturday. It was a LONG trek to her house, on a sweltering hot day, but well worth the trip. We had a wonderful afternoon cooking in Gina’s beautiful and spacious kitchen and she’s an excellent teacher. It was fun to meet some other local bloggers as well.

There will be more party stories later, but for now, I’ll share one of the appetizers we prepared to provide sustenance for the busy students as we tackled the macarons. This was a last minute idea after seeing a recipe in a Bon Appetit magazine. The original recipe called for a log of goat cheese, but I discovered we only had about a third of a log. We had one of our favorite cheeses on hand, Redwood Hill Farms raw goat’s milk feta, so that was grated and mixed with the original cheese. The recipe called for adding lemon peel and olive oil on top after forming the ball of cheese, but Larry wasn’t paying attention and put them into the cheese mixture. 

So instead of a firm cheese ball, it was quite soft, more like a spread. But it actually worked out quite well. We liked it so much, we made it again for our dinner guests yesterday, reducing the oil so that it would form a firmer ball, but still adding the lemon to the mixture. Both ways were a hit. So here’s our version for the spread from Saturday:

Larry’s New Lemony Cheese Spread 
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine

½ log soft goat cheese
Equal amount Redwood Hill Farms raw goat’s milk feta, grated
1 tsp lemon peel, finely grated
3 Tbsp  high quality extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp fresh thyme, chopped
½ tsp pink peppercorns, ground or crushed
Meyer lemon oil or syrup

Mix first four ingredients well and shape into a ball or put into a small bowl. Chill. Before serving, drizzle with Meyer lemon oil and sprinkle with thyme and peppercorns. Serve with crackers or baguette slices.

I’ve been struggling to keep up lately and have gotten behind in both reading and posting. I’m winding down my job where I’ve been for over 17 years and will be departing at the end of the summer. I need to find a new job, but I have no idea what I want to do. Maybe a complete career change. My recent post-treatment tests showed good results and I’ll now go into a phase of two years of maintenance immunotherapy – that’s good news, by the way, compared to the alternatives. Life is unsettled; change is in the air.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Sweet Life

Sunday morning arrives sunny, with a cool breeze. By the theoretical opening time of 9am at the farmers' market, all the parking spaces are taken, the market is packed with shoppers and some are already leaving with full baskets and bags. But we are undaunted, in spite of the crowd. It is a beautiful day and I’m in the mood to shop.

The Mountain View market is not fancy. Most vendors just throw their produce out on a table with no fanfare and it sells itself. But there are a few who take a little more care. I love this stall where today the young woman tending it had decorated her space with artichoke blossoms. 

The first treat of the morning is the long-awaited arrival of the Brentwood corn. Picked early this morning, probably before dawn, and delivered straight to the market. Due to our cold and rainy (non-existent) spring the corn is over a month late to appear this year. I am not the only one elated at the corn's arrival. I later pass a man who shouts with glee to his wife in the distance “BRENTWOOD CORN!!!”  and I know exactly how he feels. I have great plans for corn this week, digging out some of my favorite recipes.

And then there are figs. The first of the season. How sweet it is! We will have balsamic fig, goat cheese and arugula pizza for dinner tonight to celebrate.

There are so many people today, it is difficult to take photographs. But I can't resist elbowing my way in to snap a few photos when I have the opportunity. We are fortunate to live in a place with such beautiful local produce and I just have to show it off. Now if the tomatoes would just hurry up and get ripe. I’m still pining for my Tomato Guy.

In contrast to the glorious morning, as I finish writing this post, I received a call from my daughter-in-law with tragic news. Matt spent the weekend attending a bachelor party rafting trip for one of his closest friends, a young man we have known and loved since they attended college together. The groom’s father apparently drowned on the trip in the deadly rapids of the Kern River this morning – they still have not found him tonight. Please keep the Kilgore family in your thoughts and prayers as they come to grips with terrible event. Our dinner was not the celebration that we had planned, but I am reminded once again to treasure every moment.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Newton's Fruit Thins

As part of the FoodBuzz Tastemaker program, I recently received a package of Newton’s Fruit Thins, a new cookie from Nabisco, the makers of Fig Newtons. I have been known to eat an entire package of Fig Newtons in one sitting, so I couldn’t image how they could improve on such a great cookie. But I was more than willing to try these new cookies to see what I thought.

Fruit Thins come in four flavors, Cranberry Citrus Oat, Blueberry Brown Sugar, Chocolate Raspberry and Fig & Honey. When I signed up hoping to receive the cookies, I wished for either the cranberry or fig. No such luck. I got blueberry. I am not a huge fan of blueberries. But when I opened the resealable package, I was pleasantly surprised. The aroma of freshly baked blueberry muffins wafted from the package!

And they taste like blueberry muffins, too! We loved these cookies. Light and crisp, they have somehow captured the essence of a muffin into these yummy cookies. It was difficult not to eat at least half the bag in the taste test. I am a cookie purist and don’t usually make them into other things, but these might make a great crust for a pie or topping for a fruit crisp. Now I can’t wait to try the fig and cranberry flavors. That’s all I need – more good cookies to tempt me!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Going Greener

I’ve been trying to eat more greens. I’ve always consumed more than my fair share of fruit, but am not a lover of “greens”. Even growing up in the South, those turnip, collard and mustard greens were always just icky and I refused to touch them. But I learned recently if you treat them right, they can be your friend.

Especially if you are fighting cancer. I keep reading how important it is to consume enough leafy green, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables to ward off those nasty cancer cells. So I’m making a conscious effort to eat at least seven servings a day. My grandson, Isaac, is setting a very good example as he is a lover of all fruits and many vegetables. Here he is eating seaweed last weekend for lunch. Who would feed their baby seaweed?!!! A mother who loves it herself! And so does Isaac. But not me. I tried it out as one of my greens, but it maybe it’s like cilantro - some people have a gene that make it taste nasty. If so, I definitely have the nasty- tasting seaweed gene. Seaweed did not make my list of approved greens. But go, Isaac!

Many weeks at the farmers’ market I’ll try something new that’s leafy and green and we’ve made some good discoveries. I’ve gently sautéed kale as a side dish before, but never used it as the single green in a salad. I found a kale salad recipe on that I have modified a little. Something different from an everyday green salad. The kale has a more substantial texture than lettuce or a spring mix.

Kale Salad

2 Tbsp dried cranberries
2 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 bunch kale, center ribs and stems removed, leaves thinly sliced crosswise
2 Tbsp pine nuts lightly toasted (pecans or almonds would also be good)
Fresh Parmesan cheese shavings

Whisk balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, honey, oil and salt in a large bowl. Add kale, cranberries and nuts. Toss to coat. Let marinate 10 minutes at room temperature, tossing occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle Parmesan over salad to serve.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Killer Good Curry

Oddly shaped flat green leaves bundled by a rubber band. What could they be? I queried the lady at the farmers’ market regarding their identity. Kaffir lime leaves. I'm thrilled! I’ve seen a number of recipes calling for these leaves and never knew where to get them. I didn’t dare put them on the grocery list since Larry gets really annoyed when I list exotic ingredients that I can’t even describe. I readily paid $1 for the leaves.

But of course, when I got home, I couldn’t find any of the recipes I had seen previously. But I had the leaves and was determined to use them. So I did a search on to see what I could find. I selected a vegetable curry and a Thai shrimp and noodle soup to use the leaves.

If you’ve thought that I haven’t been cooking much lately, you would be correct. For the last couple of months, I just haven’t had the energy. Sometimes I plan menus and make the shopping list, but Larry has done all the shopping and cooking. He’s actually done almost everything except the laundry. After he turned all my white clothes blue on our honeymoon, he has never again been allowed to touch the laundry.

This vegetable curry was the first thing I’ve been interested in cooking in ages. And I was not disappointed. I’ve never tried making a curry from scratch – I’ve always started with a ready-made sauce and added some custom touches. This sauce was rich and complex, with plenty of spiciness and enough heat to suit my love of spicy food. You can always adjust the heat based on the amount of the chiles and remove the seeds if desired to make it milder. I based this recipe on the version, but adapted it based on my experience and for ingredients I had on hand. Although this version is vegetarian, this same sauce would be perfect for shrimp or chicken and cashews would also make a nice addition. We served it over brown basmati rice and it was definitely a filling meal.

South Indian Vegetable Curry
Adapted from Bon Appetit
(It says 4 servings, but we thought it made at least 6)

1 large onion, cut into chunks
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 piece fresh ginger, 2” x 1”, peeled
3 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp garam masala
2 tsp ground cumin
1 Thai bird chile, chopped
2 Tbsp tomato paste
3 cups vegetable broth
2 tsp packed golden brown sugar
2 kaffir lime leaves
2 whole green cardamom pods
1 lb yams, peeled, cut into 1” cubes
12 oz. russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1” cubes
¼ - ½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
3 large carrots, peeled, cut into ½” rounds
2 tomatoes, cored, chopped
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Handful baby spinach leaves
Fresh cilantro leaves

Puree first 7 ingredients in processor until a paste forms. Cook in a large pot over medium heat until aromatic, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add tomato paste. Cook until mixture begins to darken, stirring often, about 5 more minutes.

Add broth, brown sugar, lime leaves  and cardamom. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring often and scraping up browned bits.

Add yams, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, salt and pepper to mixture in pot. Add coconut milk to taste. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Add spinach and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Remove and discard lime leaves and cardamom pods. Serve over rice and garnish with cilantro leaves.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Food, food, food, new restaurants, new faces, more food. That’s the idea of Dishcrawl. You purchase a ticket in advance without knowing the exact locations you’ll be eating or the menu. It’s fun to be surprised!

We attended our first Dishcrawl in San Jose on Sunday. We started with empanadas and beer from the mMoon restaurant served on the penthouse floor of a new luxury condo complex downtown. Panoramic views of the city scene accompanied by the crisp and tasty corn or beef empanadas was a great way to start the evening. I was expecting appetizer, bite-sized servings, but these were the full-sized deal, served with a family secret churri sauce.

After enjoying the view and the Argentine pastries, we “crawled” a couple of blocks to MoBowl food truck. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that the owner, Kevin Wu, is a friend and I have written about his truck before. We enjoyed a sampler prepared specially for the crawlers. Each of us was served a chicken wing, five-spice pulled pork (his signature dish) over rice, salad and a cheesecake eggroll. Excellent as always!

Our next stop was Peggy Sue’s. They serve typical diner fare in a 50’s diner setting. We had a rather long wait to be served, but enjoyed talking with the other crawlers at our table. We had a mini-milkshake while we waited. I chose the rich and creamy chocolate. Other choices were vanilla or strawberry. Apparently we were supposed to get two types of burger and fries to sample - a bacon cheese burger with garlic fries and a pineapple burger with sweet potato fries. But they ran out of the pineapple/sweet potato selection before we were served. No matter - the serving size was large and the fries were quite greasy, so I didn’t need more. 

Our last stop was around the corner at Satori Tea Company. We tried two iced teas - a caffeine-free multi-fruit tea and guayusa, an Ecuadorian tea, along with scones and biscuits. The guayusa was quite refreshing with a light cinnamon flavor that would also make a great hot tea. We finished the “crawl” with a hot rose tea.

The whole event took about two and a half hours for about 35 people. We enjoyed it all, ate entirely too much, and will definitely do it again. You can find the schedule for Bay Area Dishcrawls and a few other locations at Dishcrawl.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

And on to the Cheese...

After visiting two wineries near Santa Rosa on Sunday morning, we were ready to head home taking a roundabout route. Larry had done some research to locate two cheese factories along the way. We drove off into nowhere following the directions on his GPS to the Matos Cheese Factory. The review reported it was located on a farm where they make a Portuguese-style cow’s milk cheese in the tradition of the family’s homeland in the Azores.

We almost missed the roadside sign, but turned down a bumpy dirt road deep in farm country. We finally arrived at a farmhouse where there were cows and dogs and a whirring tractor in the driveway, along with several elderly weather-worn men, none of whom took any note of us.

Then we saw the sign in the window of a shed announcing the Cheese Factory was OPEN.  It looked like a farm shed to me. We gingerly opened the door to a small room with a single wheel of cheese in a display cabinet. A buzzer sounded as we opened the door. After waiting several minutes, an older woman appeared. As we had read, she didn’t speak English, only Portuguese. But she offered us each a nice sized chunk of the cheese to sample.

The St. Jorge cheese looked dry like Parmesan, but had a much creamier texture and a slightly nutty flavor. It was delicious and only $7.99 per pound. We purchased a pound with no hesitation. There was a map of the Azores on the wall and Larry showed her where he had visited in the Navy. She then showed us the different island where her family came from. She clearly understood English, but she spoke only in Portuguese. Although my Portuguese is very rusty and I couldn’t reply, I had no trouble understanding everything she said. I explained to her that I had studied Brazilian Portuguese but understood her. I’m sure we would have sounded very strange to anyone who overheard us. What a kick! She let me take photos in the back room where the cheese ages.

Larry couldn’t resist checking out the happy California cows after our purchase. I kept my distance as I have an irrational fear of cows due to a childhood mishap where I fell off the back of a pickup truck into a group of what I perceived as aggressive, unfriendly cows. But these definitely appeared happy. They kept running around clicking their rear heels in the air; behavior I’d never seen before!

Our final stop was the Marin French Cheese Company-another place you’d never find if you weren’t looking. This cheese factory was a large traditional store, with many samples of their different varieties of soft-ripened Bries and Camemberts available for tasting, along with condiments. This company has been making these cheeses for 145 years. Again, quite delicious. I used some of the Camembert we purchased to make a cheesy polenta for dinner last night.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Weekend, Wine and Weather - Part 2

When I wondered if I could weather a weekend trip yet, I had no idea how much real weather we would encounter. During the course of the day on Sunday, we experienced sunshine, wind, heavy rain, thunder and lightning and three different hail storms. The hail is of particular concern at the vineyards since the grapes are already starting to form on the vines and could easily be damaged at this stage.

But it was a great day for wine tasting. Our first stop, right after a late breakfast at a local diner, was Sonoma Cutrer. We had a coupon for free tasting and read they are known for their chardonnays and pinot noirs. The grounds at the winery are beautiful and they had hosted a croquet tournament the previous day. That meant there were several extra wines open and available for tasting. Their chardonnays age very well and we compared several different styles from 2006 and 2007, as well as a Founder’s Reserve from 2001. Although we hadn’t intended to make any purchases on this trip other than to pick up our KJ club shipment, we bought four bottles here.

Usually one stop before lunch is enough for me, but we were very close to a favorite we discovered on a previous trip, Martin Ray Winery. It was such a great experience we wanted to return. This is a historic winery site with several labels of different price and style of wines. And once again we struck gold! Their pickup party was the night before and they had about 25 wines that needed to be consumed by someone – so why not us??!!

We tasted our way through all the labels comparing their chardonnays, pinot noirs, merlots, cabernet sauvignons, and their high end cabs as well. Also a few others. I gave up at 15. It was all I could manage. This was all before lunch. But we spent several hours tasting and chatting with the server and the other guests, having a delightful morning, while the weather came and went.

And I think I discovered the secret to wine tasting before lunch – pancakes. We went to a local diner for breakfast and when I ordered a short stack, the waitress gave me a “look” and said, “Have you ever seen our pancakes? You only want one.” She was right. It was bigger than the plate and I only ate half. But it served a good purpose. Twenty plus wines before lunch and not even a buzz.

Somehow in one week, between wine club pickups and purchases, we managed to add 24 bottles to our ever-growing collection. Anybody want to come for dinner?

Still to come – dinner at Willi’s and our cheese adventure

Friday, May 20, 2011

Weekend, Wine and Weather

Over the weekend, we decided to see if I could weather a relaxing trip to wine country. I haven’t felt well enough to get out much lately, but my immunotherapy is complete and my energy level is beginning to recover. Originally Larry had signed up for a wood-fired oven cooking class at Kendall Jackson Winery, but it was cancelled at the last minute. So we had no specific plans and I could take it nice and easy. Since we had already made hotel reservations, etc, KJ offered us a complimentary food and wine pairing to make up for the inconvenience of the class being cancelled. Do I need to keep saying how well they treat their wine club members? 

We’ve enjoyed the food pairing several times, but the menu changes seasonally, depending on what's growing in their extensive garden there at the wine center. We always enjoy a stroll in the gardens whatever the season, checking out the flowers, vegetables and herbs. They also offer tours if you're interested.

It was an extremely busy day for the pairings. I counted at least 30 people; far more than any other time we’ve been there. We told Matthew, the chef we’ve come to know and appreciate, to take his time with us as we had no commitments. As usual, they served us several wines to sample while setting up for our tasting.

The menu mixed new selections and old favorites. All pairings were excellent. You can always tell they put a lot of effort into these pairing menus:

Grilled Baby Fava Bean Pods sprinkled with sea salt and lemon juice paired with 2009 Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. Perfect.
Potato Leek Soup with a drizzle of olive oil and a Crab Cake with lemon aioli paired with 2008 Jackson Hills ChardonnayPerfect so far say my notes from the tasting.

Buckwheat Crepe with Smoked Ham Hocks and Bellwether Farms Carmody Cheese with 2006 Highland Estates Seco Highlands Pinot Noir. I should just stop repeating Perfect. The smoky ham with the earthy pinot – perfect.
Here’s where I’m in heaven – Sweet Tea Brined Niman Ranch Pork Belly Slider with Syrah BBQ Sauce with 2006 Highland Estates Alisos Hills Syrah. This is so exquisite I always save it for last. And if we’re doing the cheese or dessert pairing, I always beg Matthew for a pork belly slider on the side. Divine.
Cabernet Braised Short Ribs and Creamy Grits with 2005 Highland Estates Trace Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. This was a new one for me and has a great story. I usually hate grits, but these were delicious. These come from the Old Mill of Guilford outside Greensboro, NC. I couldn’t believe it! Almost everything else KJ uses is local, but Matthew said this is the only place to get grits this good. When I was a child, I lived near this historic mill, but it wasn’t operational then. It was a relic on the side of the road that you could visit as a historic site. I think I went there with my Girl Scout Troop. But we used to drive by it all the time. Now they are back in production and making the best grits in the world!

Buttermilk Pecan Tart with Ruthie’s Meyer Lemon Curd with 2008 Late Harvest Reisling. The apricots in the tart are soaked in verjus, but are not too sweet. And neither is the wine. Perfect.
Mama Frischkorn’s Caramel Corn and 2006 Late Harvest Chardonnay. This is the sweet one. Makes your teeth sweat as my friend Cali would say. I don’t love this caramel corn, but it’s addicting. I always eat it anyway. No photo of the caramel corn. You know what it looks like - caramel corn.

And of course, they always bring us an extra treat - a big glass of port and a chocolate truffle to finish off the tasting. Matthew is very good to us. And although we only meant to pick up our shipment. We bought four more bottles of wine – our port supply was depleted. After our 2 ½ hour tasting and a walk in the garden, we headed to our hotel where I slept all afternoon. I woke up just in time to go eat again – at one of our favorite restaurants in Healdsburg, Willie’s Seafood and Raw Bar.

More to come on our weekend – Willie’s, WEATHER, more wine and a cheese adventure.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Magnum Ice Cream Bars

In my first anniversary post, I said I’d never gotten anything free from having a food blog. Well, just a few days later that was no longer true. Through the FoodBuzz Tastemaker program, I received a coupon for a free box of Magnum ice cream bars provided by the manufacturer. The letter said there were two coupons, but I only received one. Oh, well.

The ice cream bars come in a variety of flavors, but my grocery store didn’t have the one I really wanted to try, the double caramel. So I chose almond for the freebie and bought a box of the double chocolate just for good measure. Three bars come in the box.

The almond bars are vanilla bean ice cream dipped in Belgian milk chocolate with almond bits. At 300 calories each, I expected pure decadence. I was a little disappointed. The vanilla ice cream seemed lighter and fluffier than I would have expected and the chocolate coating seemed a little thin and also not very rich for Belgian chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, I love ice cream and had no trouble eating all three, although I did split them with my husband.

We devoured the double chocolate version as well. No will power here. Again, the ice cream wasn’t as dense as I expected and this one weighed in at 360 calories. Probably due to the layer of chocolate sauce in between the ice cream and the dipped chocolate layer. This was definitely a unique touch. Somehow this one has 3 grams of fiber!

I might purchase these again, but I’d really like to try the double caramel version when I can find it. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Another Mother's Day

Another year has passed without her. When I was a little girl, my mother sewed amazing, elaborate outfits for my dolls, including intricately knitted Barbie-size ski sweaters. But she really wasn’t a good cook. Maybe that ability, or desire, or both, skips a generation. Her mother was a traditional Southern cook whose Sunday dinners consisted of fried chicken, biscuits and fresh vegetables from my grandfather's garden. I think my mother saw food as a necessity rather than something to enjoy. She delegated much of the cooking to me by the time I was in junior high school. 

I was raised on packaged foods-canned, frozen and boxed. I never had fresh peaches, pineapple or pears, only canned. Chinese and Italian food came from a can as well. When we were growing up, my mother made us eat food that I considered inedible (and still do): creamed chip beef on toast, oyster stew and brussel sprouts. I would lock myself in my room rather than face some of these meals.

In spite of the cringe factor, food binds us together as families. Both good food and bad contribute to the memories we share. My mother would eat most anything, but she particularly despised green peas. As adults, we had an understanding. Whenever she came to visit I would serve her peas, which I love, in repayment for all the disgusting food she served me as a child. She understood and always ate every last pea in penance for the food of my childhood.

My mother died six years ago. Her departure leaves a hole in my life that can never be filled. Today, on Mother's Day, I would give anything to be serving her another plate of peas.

A good friend recently sat with her mother for most of two months as she slipped away, dying of cancer. Her mother was only 63. My mother died suddenly with no opportunity for me to say goodbye. I’m not sure which is harder. At least my mother was much older. As a 12-year hospice volunteer, I have seen many variations of loss. But today I think of all of us who have lost our mothers and reflect on their lives and how they made us who we are. And if you are fortunate enough to still have a loving mother, cherish your time together.

(Adapted from an earlier post)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cheese Club Med

Last weekend we attended Cheese Club Med at the Palo Alto Cheese School. This was an opportunity to try a variety of Mediterranean cheeses with various wines and accompaniments. As we gathered, we enjoyed a refreshing cocktail made with Prosecco, chili, mint, lime and French vermouth. It had a kick, but was still light and perfect for a warm afternoon. It was served with warm pita bread and Saganaki, made from broiled Kefalograviera cheese.

Chef Jaimie Casey gathered the following cheeses for our afternoon adventure. 
We each had plates of :

Greek Sheep’s Milk Feta
Mahon, a cow’s milk cheese from Spain
Perla Grigia with Truffle, a cow’s milk cheese from Italy
Pecorino Romano Pepato, sheep’s milk cheese from Italy
Pata Cabra Mitica, goat's milk from Spain
Montbriac, cow’s milk blue cheese from France

Accompaniments included olives, toasted almonds and pecans, quince paste, muscat grapes, French bread, cranberry walnut bread and a spoon of a Spanish chorizo and chick pea compote.

Our drinks for pairing included:
Casal Garcia Vinho Verde
Mas Que Vino Cercavio Tempranillo ‘07
Sandeman Sherry Cream Armada

We spent two lovely hours discussing the cheeses and trying the various pairings. My favorite cheese was the Perla Grigia with Truffle (about 4 o'clock on the plate). It has cinnamon and nutmeg as well as the black truffle and was absolutely divine with the cranberry bread and Tempranillo. Perfect for a winter holiday party. I'll keep it in mind for that purpose, but I liked it so much, I’ve already bought some to enjoy just for myself! No special occasion required.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Lunch

Happy Easter to everyone who celebrates it! April 24 is the latest date for Easter since 1943, but you wouldn’t know it from our weather here in Northern California. It is cloudy and chilly with a chance of rain. It would normally be in the 80’s by now. But with no egg hunt this year, the weather doesn’t matter. We’ll be comfy and cozy inside with friends.

We settled on a very simple menu for Easter lunch. So simple, I keep thinking I must be forgetting something. Our main course is inspired by an appetizer Chef Jaimie Casey served at a recent pairing seminar we attended at J Lohr Winery. We’re having pork loin in Cheddar Scallion Biscuits served with a choice of Jaimie’s homemade jams that she’s given us in recent months - pluot, pomegranate or Satsuma tangerine. We served this to my son and his wife recently and Matt said these were the best biscuits he’s ever eaten. The biscuit recipe came from Kim at Liv Life.

I wanted to make the salad from yesterday's dream Easter dinner, but Larry was in the mood for something “crunchy.” There’s a recipe in Seriously Simple Holidays by Diane Rossen Worthington that I was eyeing at Christmas but never made. It’s a main course chopped salad, but I easily adapted it as a side dish and made it a little less “wintery.” It is perfect to accompany pork.

Winter (Spring with my changes) Chopped Salad

1Tbsp Trader Joe's whole grain Dijon mustard  
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 c olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

1 head radicchio, cored and chopped
2 heads romaine, light green and white only, chopped
1 Fuji apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 c dried cranberries
1 c pecans, chopped and toasted
1 c Greek Isle sheep's milk feta cheese

Whisk together the first four ingredients to make the dressing. Salt and pepper to taste.
Put the other ingredients into a large bowl. Pour dressing over greens mixture and toss to coat. Salt and pepper to taste. 

By request, Paul is bringing the scalloped potatoes he made for Christmas Eve dinner. And for dessert Larry made a brown sugar and cinnamon coffee cake that has been a standard on our brunch menus for over 20 years. The cake is accompanied by Black Pepper Balsamic Strawberries and Bananas.

For an added treat, last night I made the Peanut Butter Buttons by The Curvy Carrot from my dream menu. Except I followed the original recipe and used peanut M&Ms, not peanut butter Reese's pieces and added green sprinkles to look a little like Easter grass. We had to buy a gigantic bag of M&Ms that cost a fortune to get the Easter colors. I’m sure somebody around here will eat them.

On a final Easter note, if you haven’t seen this, you MUST go check out the Bacon and Egg Easter Basket at Elise's Kitchen. This is so awesome. She should get an award for this amazing creation. And I hope the Easter bunny was good to you if you were expecting a visit.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Tag

Freeze tag, refrigerator tag, cigarette tag and…who knew there was such a thing as Easter tag? And did anybody who didn’t grow up in tobacco country play cigarette tag? My husband and I grew up in different tobacco growing states, but we both played cigarette tag as children. And now there's Easter tag. Kate at Kate’s Kitchen tagged me in a game where you are supposed to create your Easter dinner menu from your previous blog posts and then tag 10 more people to do the same.

It’s Saturday afternoon, so I think I’ll have to change the rules of the game. I’m not going to tag anyone else since it's so late, but I thought it would be fun to play. I went through my last year’s posts and realized I don’t have many recipes. My blog is more about what and where I eat and drink – events, travels, restaurants, classes, and certainly what we cook as well, but not so much about recipes.

So I’m changing the rules again. I’ve saved quite a collection of recipes from other bloggers that I want to try someday. My dream menu is going to be created from their recipes. The disadvantage is you won’t see their photos here; you’ll need to go to their pages to see their exquisite creations.

Often we do a brunch for up to 30 people for Easter. But this year, I’m not feeling up to that so we will be cooking for our friends next door. My precious grandson is spending his first Easter with his other California grandparents and their annual celebration. We were invited to join them, but the three hour drive each way with a party in between was too daunting for me. I need to conserve energy since I’m only at the half way point of immunotherapy.

So I’ve designed this menu, not for a brunch of 30, but for the six of us who will be enjoying lunch together tomorrow. 

Thai Basil Spritzer from An Opera Singer in the Kitchen – This is the only item on the dream menu I’ve actually made before. Mine didn’t turn out as green as hers and I didn’t think it needed the sweetner. Our guests tomorrow don’t drink alcohol, so it’s a perfect choice.

Easy Baked Crab and Artichoke Dip from Jason at Ancient Fire Wines. Sarah loves artichoke dip!

Spring Quiche from The Cilantropist. This has one of my favorite cheeses, Humboldt Fog, and I can't wait to try it.

Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms from Brian at A Food For Thought

Citrus and Mixed Greens Salad by Gina - her blog used to be What's for Dinner Across States Lines, but now is renamed SPCookie Queen 

Peanut Butter Buttons from The Curvy Carrot

Since I’m still working on our real menu, maybe some of these will show up. But Larry is doing most of the cooking this year, so he gets the final vote. This will probably remain a dream menu for now. I'll let you know what we settle on for the real meal.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bark for Easter

Sarah at 5

Back in 2000, when my friend Sarah was just 5 years old, she invited me over to dye Easter eggs with them. She felt sorry for me that I hadn't dyed eggs in 20 years. My son Matt was grown and away at college and Sarah heard me say that he wouldn’t dye eggs even when he was little. I’ve always thought his aversion to holiday activities was a form of rebellion since they are so important to me. I guess he could have chosen worse ways to rebel!

So dyeing eggs with Sarah and her mom, Cali, has become a tradition over the years. We dye eggs the week before Easter, making a huge mess and creating both beauties and some really ugly specimens as we try out new techniques and experiment.

I recently sent Cali and Sarah links with recipes to consider for Sarah’s upcoming Sweet Sixteen birthday party. They loved the Easter Candy Bark by Lindsey at Gingerbread Bagels. The beautiful pastel colors in the photos proved to be very enticing. And being chocolate lovers, Cali and Sarah proposed that this year we break with tradition and make bark instead of dyeing eggs.

Sarah at almost 16
 So earlier this week we gathered  our Easter candies and convened  to make our first-ever Easter Bark.  It is so easy to make. All you do is  chop up the decorative candies,  melt the chocolate chips, and  marble the pink candy melts into  the chocolate. 

 Then you press in all those  beautiful colored candies and voila!  You have a beautiful collage of  candy. For detailed directions you  can go to Lindsey’s link above.

We put far more candy and cookie pieces into our bark than Lindsey’s photos in the original recipe. Ours was really packed with crunch - over the top and decadent. We had so much fun, we’ve decided this could become a new tradition; bark for every holiday of the year! Bark! Bark! Bark!