March 06, 2016

Sunday Morning Bread and Memories

Most Sunday mornings for me are a meditation. I love this time of day. It's quiet, which in an urban neighborhood is a very personally coveted time. This morning, after a particularly spectacular  El Nino deluge of rain and wind, the calm after the storm in the early hours of the morning is soothing.

It has become somewhat of a ritual on God's day, I awaken early, lie in bed and pray. Thankful for the depth and breadth of his goodness in my life. My family, my home, the schools that I work in and my ever expanding responsibilities there, my students, my amazing coworkers, the health of the people that I hold dear, and certainly...our food.

I arise then, feeling of gratitude washing over me, looking at myself in the mirror and wishing I would  have felt this way twenty years ago when the actual appearance of my face matched my energy, but aging and the shock of it all aside, I still descend the little curving staircase into my dining room and kitchen in a veil of thankfulness.

Fresh coffee in hand, a hard loud side pat pat pat for the big dog, and it's bread making time. In the quiet and not quite dark, not quite light part of this day, I think about my dad and my mama, every time I pull the slow autolypsing, sleeping sourdough from my refrigerator. My dad, learned to bake bread in the Merchant Marines, when he was barely twenty. He came to life especially when he talked about two things, his military experiences and fresh water fishing. 

Frank C. Mitchell , was a man who learned by doing. He was abandoned by his dad, early in life, and if my memory doesn't mistake me, his mom was mentally ill and removed from him. He was cared for by a neighboring family, the Lawrence's, and finally adopted by them when he was sixteen. Sadness always showed in the hidden creases of my dad's face. Thusly, only the people who really knew him well, saw his amazingly silly sense of humor and his dedication to not have to depend upon anyone in this life, except my mother of course. For him, baking was a ticket away from the violence of the ship he sailed on, and turned out to be a fortuitous assignment as well, feeding a thousand men homemade bread and pies. My dad said that he could trade anything for another piece of bread. Cigarettes, an extra hour of sleep, a haircut. 

Strangely enough, when I came along, my mama was the only baker in the household. I would awaken to the smell of yeast, and coffee. No wonder that I am constantly recreating these smells in my own household, olfactory memories evoke the strongest emotions. My dad had Sundays off, and he would make omelets, doused in what I am sorry to say was Velveeta cheese, but non the less they were delicious, especially because they were served with a slab of my mother's homemade bread.

It is interesting, as I sit here writing, in the streaming morning light of my colorful dining room;  my beautiful table,  a make shift office, which I suppose is appropriate for a chef, and I wonder and am amazed.... that although my parents had a beautiful garden, fresh water fish right out of our (then) unspoiled Northern California rivers, and homemade bread, our family often would serve manufactured food, like Velveeta. A strange calling card of a place and time I guess....but I digress.

Anyhow, my head is swirling with memories, each Sunday, as I smell the familiar smells of my life and make my bread for my family. Very different from my mother's all white bread, but delicious and full of old fashioned nutrition and probiotics driven by the bubbling sour dough starter. I think to myself, my dad and my mom would be proud, probably ARE proud, that I do this. Keeping our family tradition alive in a very delicious way.

February 27, 2016

A Day of Education.....Distinguished Visiting Chefs and Friends

This week was a killer. I really used to wonder what people that worked in schools did with all their time off....well..... four years later, I get it. Working in public schools is fabulous, full of purpose, and exhausting. I awake at 5am, and literally sprint through each day, M-F at full tilt, lifting heavy pots, wielding sharp knives, serving serving serving until 730pm, when I finally sit down for an hour of family time before my daughter goes to bed. It is no wonder that I feel like crap most Saturdays, even though I really LOVE my job and my life.

Anyway, although this week was tough, it was also amazing. I had the great opportunity to host a friend and accomplished chef, Tim Bodell from Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville on my home turf, in my PHS kitchen. As an extra bonus, he brought along with him, colleague Chef Tommaso Lacanfora, from the instep of the boot (Italy), the man who creates all the food at Palazzo Margherita, one of Coppola's resort properties around the world.

Every year in my Farm to Table class, I travel with twelve students from PHS, to farms in the far reaches of the Bay Area. I am so lucky to have made so many friends, with like values around food and service. They host us and educate us;  bringing to the fore how the exhaustive work and dedication of local farmers literally bring food to the tables of the families of my students. I love doing it each year, even though I am dead tired...I wouldn't miss the opportunity for the world. I get to plug in and reconnect with my passionate values of why I do this work.

This is how I met Chef Tim Bodell. The first year I offered my Summer class, one of the farms had to back out at the last moment. I brain stormed with a couple of my colleagues and found out that one of the parents of an enrolled student, was in fact the Director of Hospitality for FFCW and she offered their Geyserville property as a quick substitute trip. At the time, of course I took her up on her generous offer, but to be honest, I was skeptical. As fun as it might be to visit a winery, how would it fit into my class? I didn't have the time to research the answer and just leaned into the belief that everything happens for a reason and went with it.

When we arrived, I was truly amazed at the gorgeous property, with it's dramatic architecture and the peaked copper roof of the tasting room. The grand driveway lined with olive trees. The surrounding foothills covered with vines. I parked the van, my students tired from the long drive, and we headed up the stairs to meet Sally, our PHS parent, I immediately felt like it would be a day to remember. We were introduced to Liese, the Viticulturalist who took us on a tour through the vines. Her knowledge...inspiring me and our students. Just when it started to get too hot to stay in the vines, we were led to meet Chef Tim, who's larger than life frame could have been intimidating, but instead he emanated warmth and the true spirit of hospitality and patience. He lead us through his kitchen garden, letting my students taste and touch, explaining how everything from the garden gets used on the property. Although at the time, the garden was fairly new, the kitchen had already determined that they would like more on site ingredients, and so expansion was already in the works. In the relatively small space, Chef Tim created a sanctuary for pollinators. Bee hives,  owl houses, butterfly and hummingbird attracting flowers. Everything edible and meticulously planned to be in complete harmony with wildlife, and just a step outside for Chef Tim and his team.

Fast forward four years later, and three trips more to Chef Tim's kitchen. I am not only now, teaching my Summer class, but responsible for food service for both PHS and PMS and after lunch, three days a week, teaching upperclassmen a culinary arts class for ROP and of course, in the process of getting my teaching credential. As a part of my skills class, I bring in guest teachers. Sometimes chefs, always friends. As a result, I hand over the direction of my class, for just 40 minutes and learn something new right along with my students.

Chef Tim spoke about the precision that dominates the running of a professional kitchen, likening it to the military. And again, you would think a man with the stature of Chef Tim talking about the military would be intimidating, but his warmth tempered the conversation with his love and care of his profession, his staff and his customers. When he relinquished the floor to Chef Tomasso, we learned about life in a small Italian town, how Tomasso still thinks that his mother's food is the best of everything he's ever put into his mouth, and how honoring the simplicity of preparation and on hand seasonal ingredients makes the tastiest food.

Both men are extraordinarily charismatic. Soon a crowd of mostly girls, gathered outside my kitchen, iPhone cameras flashing, capturing the moment along with a reporter from the Piedmont Post and our school paper. All the time, the men working on a focaccia, made from scratch and topped with a delicious tomato sauce and kalamata olives. The texture was amazing, crispy and soft, crunch and piquant. My students were surprised at how delicious it was without more toppings.

At the end of the day, I really had to pinch myself. How did I ever get so lucky to land in this amazing place? To have the opportunity to get to know so many people doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do? I don't really have the answer...but I am grateful.

January 17, 2016

Bagels Baby!

See? I am keeping my promise. Even though it did not involve a pinky swear, serious and binding between my 12 year old daughter and I, here I am, exactly one week later.

Winter has truly arrived in the Bay Area, gentle rains have been coming every other day or so, and if this is this year's repeat of El Nino (that yes, I am old enough to actually have experienced and remember), I will take it.

I love the Fall the best of all the seasons. Weird for a chef. Most chef's, and even other folk who are serious about cooking love Spring, with its bounty of green garlic, asparagus, peas, and the beginnings of everything else showing their gorgeous little heads in gardens everywhere. They don't call it Spring Green for nothing! It is, in fact my favorite color....but I digress.

Many chefs embrace most ardently, Summer, when sweet berries and stone fruit rule the Farmers Markets. But not me. Perhaps it is because I attended culinary school, not in CA but back east in Providence RI, where I experienced my first and most gorgeous of Autumns. In fact, Autumn even has a specific smell...most East Coast folk will agree, and everyone else, well they just think I'm crazy. But that is okay. I have always had a very sensitive sense of of the reasons that I excel at my chosen profession I imagine.

But Winter....I love cosy vintage cashmere sweaters. I love fires in the fireplace (Ugh...don't start, people who I know and love in Berkeley), I love Christmas lights, and BAKING. Baking is my therapy. The more stressful my life, the more baked products my friends and family can count on. Bread is especially special to me. My dad being a baker in the Merchant Marines, my Mama baking homemade white dinner rolls each holiday, drenched in butter. But me, my fav is a crusty and chewy country loaf, made with a natural yeast starter or biga (Italian).

I have had my current sourdough starter going about a year or so, a gift from my dear friend and colleague, Mary. Her husband Bob is quite the chef himself, and he has been maintaining his starter for a long time.

Just about every weekend, I bake bread for the coming week. I became serious about it when I took on yet another additional role at PUSD, that of a culinary instructor. After lunchtime, three days a week, I jump right in and instruct a class of 20 Juniors and Seniors in the skills and techniques of preparing food. One of which, of course, is bread.  We are so spoiled in the Bay Area, so many great folks making damn delicious bread around here. But just over 3 years ago, my family moved from Berkeley to Oakland. And like I said in my post last week, the area that I would be able to afford is pretty much a good food desert. I could no longer walk to pick up my weekly bread at Acme. So I started working ardently, on making a great loaf myself.

I tried lots of different formulas, wanting to find a bread that didn't take two days of loving manipulation to bring to the table and alas, after 6 months or so of pretty mediocre breads, I resigned myself to Chad Robertson's Country Loaf bible, Tartine Bread.  You really do get what you give, especially with naturally leavened country style breads. It is, to be very frank, a process.

Proofing the bagels
So committed I was to it, working ardently each weekend, at first wanting to see if I could shorten the process. I'm a professional after all! I should be able to make this process my own.....Nope. The breads I turned out were decidedly ok, and they tasted good, but the rise was not terrific, the texture too dense and I am so damn picky.

One weekend, I remember vividly, I sighed, and decided to do Chad's formula by the letter, ALL 37 PAGES. It took a week, following his precise instructions, to get my starter really nice and active. I was religious in the feeding schedule. Every am, weighing in grams the 100 degree water and organic local flours I fed my baby with. After a week, the health of my baby really was evident, and so I began.

That next weekend, I turned out the most perfect loaf of bread I had every baked in my entire life! I was exhilarated and addicted. From that day, every week, with very little exception, I have been baking my family's bread.

Now, I have to admit, I have not been a fan of the Bay's version of bagels in the past. Too puffy, too cakey and not chewy enough for me. So when I walked into Beauty's Bagel Shop on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, my expectations were to bite into another hyped up, but mediocre product. Instead,  I revisited my own love for bagels that I found when I lived back East. They make Montreal style, wood fired bagels by hand each day, all of their spreads, to an extremely delicious result. Lucia especially, loves bagels (as any future student of NYU should), and Beauty's, though not producing NY style bagels, is the closest I have found in the Bay to delicious NY style fixings for bagels.

I have been sitting on the NYT formula for Montreal Bagels for quite awhile, I don't know why I decided to try them today. But I am sure glad I did. They came out a lovely golden brown, and my NY loving daughter, is enamored of the fact that we can make her favorite breakfast at home in about 2 hours.

Here are my notes:
Gorgeous finished product
*I halved the recipe, as 18 bagels is too much for my little family. Thusly I used just one whole, organic, free range egg and no yolk in my formula.
*I used roughly 1/2 cup of my sourdough starter, in addition to the yeast. I love the depth of flavor.
*I used extra virgin olive oil from Soul Food Farm.
*I used locally milled organic wheat bread flour from The Bale Grist Mill in St Helena.
*I found that 15-20 mins in the 450 degree oven, with a pizza stone was plenty of time to achieve a deep rich golden brown.
*I used parchment paper on the 1/2 size sheet pans to keep the bagels from sticking to the pan in the oven, as they are very sticky when they emerge from the honeyed boiling water.
*I decided not to roll my bagels in any accoutrement, as we prefer the bagels flavor to come though, although, next time I may caramelize a few onions to put on my husband's bagels

January 10, 2016

Been a long time......."Lucy! You have some 'splaining to do!"

Dear Readers.......Indeed I do. So much has happened since I last posted, but I have no excuse that is any different from any other Mom, Chef, Wife, Citizen, Dog Mama, Teacher. Life is fast, and busy. I let this one go into the outfield (sorry, Im not a sports no more references).

Since moving to Oakland from Berkeley 3 years ago, our lives seem to have gone into warp speed, (yes, I know, Star Wars just came out....again).  My baby girl is now fully into pre-teen mode, 6th grade and keeping me on my toes. My husband has quit driving due to damage in his eyes, done long before we met, from diabetic reinopathy, and thusly my responsibilities in our little family have gone through the ceiling. I am the sole driver, kid caregiver and transporter, homework helper (ugh! as much as I can with everything in education doing flip flops every few years!), meal planner/maker, home cleaner and maintainer (Troy can't see well enough to do any of it), gardener, teacher (we will get more into that in a minute), and bacon bringing homer. Whew! Yes.  My life is uber wrapped up in everyone else, and thusly I have VERY LITTLE TIME for the things that I enjoy, like reading and writing this blog.

But still, I am a very fortunate woman, with great passion for my family and what I do for a living, so my life also feels full to the brim of purpose these days. Since accepting the position of Director of Nutrition and Executive Chef at PUSD, I have tripled sales in food service, combined forces with Di, who has been overseeing food for the middle school for 22 years (egads!), hired my dear friend, colleague and techie guru Mary, to work with us and hired another PT person, Anita to fill in the gaps and lend culinary support.
On top of combining food service for two schools, planning, ordering, writing menus, receiving product, producing two meals a day for both schools from scratch out of my kitchen, and managing student TAs who help us every period of every day, I have added an ROP Culinary course, after lunch, for Juniors and Seniors. Writing that cirriculum, teaching and evaluating skills, producing results and grading each student. In the Summer, I still teach my Farm to Table course, taking students to my dear friend's local farms, learning about how they do their work, getting inspired and coming back to my kitchen to plan and cook and serve a meal using what we have learned and products we have gleaned from the farm, for a local Cerebral Palsy Center's clients and staff. Full. Of. Purpose.

Our urban neighborhood is a bit of a good food desert though. Sad but true. I could not afford to buy a home in any of the places I truly wanted to be, so that I could walk everywhere. Here, most things require a car or a bus, and honestly, most of the places you could walk to, you...or certainly I, would not want to go to anyway. There are alot of bad things that still go on nearby, but many good things happening here too. More families, better gardens, community coffee in the am on Fridays, etc.

My main goal, in our surrounding neighborhood, is to connect with the powers at be at nearby Mills College,
and talk them into bringing in a farmers market once a week on campus. It would bring our community together, it would also allow residents of this good food desert to get some exposure and access to great food and ingredients and of course be great PR for Mills as well. Just like in the movie....."If you build it, they will come". Maybe that's why I am here. To build it.

So........One of my goals this 2016, is to put some effort into this blog each Sunday. Yes...You heard it! I'm actually even putting it on my calendar. And if you don't see me here, nudge me will you? Or call me out even! Here's to a fruitful year of good food, great ideas and words pulled into being.

Pinky swear.

October 28, 2013

Hey Folks........Yes, yes yes. I know. It has indeed been a long time. So much has happened. But of course, I will spare you the details. family is in a new home! In Oakland. Near Mills College. Of our own. So so much has happened. But we are happy. We are healthy. Troy is down FOUR, count em, FOUR pant sizes and we are looking for God's good grace to lead us in this new neighborhood. I have been cooking up a storm in my new kitchen, still trying to make it mine. But many recipes to come. Stay tuned...........