August 30, 2009

Eat Real Street Food Festival

August 29, 2009

My Penchant for Beautiful Pottery

Wherever I go I am constantly on the look out for beautiful things.  Most women I know have extensive collections.  Whether it be nick knacks for the home, little statues, glassware, shoes (I know lots of women who spend much of their take home $$ on this one!), makeup, books etc.  Mostly I collect food. Beautiful, local, amazing food.  It goes away as quickly as it comes, but for me there is no greater joy than collecting and creating gloriously colorful, healthful and delicious food for my friends and family.  And unlike some other people's collections, I am really satisfied and happy to see it disappear.

The one other thing that I do scour the markets and shops for wherever I go is pottery to put the food into.  I love colorful pottery and while I started my collection with the very upscale Deruta tableware for four (I was single and childless then...who buys dinnerware for four?) I am equally attracted to the pottery of Mexico, Costa Rica, Portugal, Italy and have shipped and lugged home many examples to join my collection. My sweet Husband even bought me several pieces of darling, whimsical rainforest pottery when we visited Costa Rica, several years ago.

While many Chef's prefer snow white plates or for more dramatic effect, black vessels to "let the food shine"  I am of the thought that the gorgeous colors of the pottery complement the food and make a more celebratory presentation.  And for me and my family, my friends and my clients...coming together around the table over great food and drink is a reason to celebrate everyday.

I have even delved into making my own pottery.  Since collecting is expensive and I have no patience and an artistic bent anyway, I have decided that I too can design and paint my own pottery.  I started when I came back from Italy the first time by painting tiles to be coasters nearby where I lived in Los Gatos at the time, as a way to decompress after a long day managing restaurants and catering for Nordstrom.  And little by little, I have added lovely little pieces that I am happy to show off and use when I entertain and cater parties for clients.  

I painted some darling little whimsical oil and vinegar bottles when we lived in Arizona (don't ask).  I also designed and painted a sunflower mural on tile to go behind the dual fuel Dacor range that I gave up when we decided to move back to the liberal Bay Area (thankfully!).  I gave up the expensive range, but I brought my art with me!

Lately I have been working on replacing a counter top for a little wooden kitchen island that I bought in AZ.  I loved the  Mexican antique, but always hated the grubby grout and the burnt orange tile.  While pounding meat back a couple of months ago, I broke two of the took not even a second to get over being sorry and on to perusing my book about Italian artisans from Deruta, to Googling a local pottery place that would let me work on my design little by little.

I am not yet done.  About halfway after a month of work....but I am happy with how its going and will share the result here when I am finished.  

August 23, 2009

Preserving Summer Flavor

Wednesday, I found an incredible deal up in Suisun Valley where my daughter goes to day care.  It is a valley of farms, olives and grapes mostly, but dotted down a few long dirt roads, if you know where to go, are some great produce farms.  One in particular at this time of year has great berries.....and on this day, the deal was raspberries.

Now I am a very picky produce person.  I may not dust my house as often as some others, I may not get the cobwebs on my back porch as thoroughly as some, but when it comes to quality and the flavor factor in produce......well, let's just say I have an eye and nose for flavor.

So I got such a deal on organic raspberries, that I just had to try to preserve the flavor.  So my daughter and I got busy this afternoon and started researching raspberry jam.  Since my husband is diabetic, we really wanted to find a recipe that he could enjoy too.  Since I had never made jam without sugar, I was a little hesitant, even though I purchased Ball pectin that said that it could be made without sugar...I was skeptical.  Especially when I read the recipes inside the box that said to add unsweetened apple or grape juice to the mix.  I just couldn't see it when what I wanted was intense raspberry flavor!  

After doing numerous internet searches, looking at Elizabeth David's oven jam recipe, and Martha Stewart's recipes for preserves....I decided to follow my instincts and just make jam with Splenda. I cook and bake with Splenda all the time....I should be able to figure out a simple delicious jam recipe using this substitute too.

One note, after processing the jam, turn the jars upside down out onto a clean dry kitchen towel for ten minutes. I don't really remember why my Mama used to do this when putting up preserves, but hers turned out great every time!

Late Summer Raspberry Jam with Splenda
5 half pint Ball jars with lids and rings
7 pints of organic raspberries
1 package (1.75 gr) Ball No Sugar Needed Pectin
1/2 cup filtered water
3/4 cup Splenda, granulated

In a large pot, half filled with water, boil the jars and the lids (not the rings). Remove from heat and top with the pot lid to keep the jars hot while
readying the raspberries.

Fill a canning pot, lined with a jar rack, 3/4 full with water. Bring to a boil and keep at a simmer until you are ready to add the filled jars.

After washing the raspberries and letting air dry on a clean kitchen towel, pile the raspberries into a large sauce pan and crush with a potato masher, breaking up the berries, but not completely crushing them.  Sprinkle with powdered pectin.  Mix in the pectin gradually, stirring to incorporate.  Let stand ten minutes.

Add the water to the raspberry mixture and bring to a rolling boil and reaches 220 degrees.  Stir constantly and boil for one minute.  Remove from heat.  

Immediately start draining the hot jars and filling with the jam mixture to 1/4 inch from the rim.  Take out one lid at a time, pat dry with a clean towel and wipe the edge and rim of the filled jar.  Apply the lid and secure the ring.  Put filled jars into the simmering water bath, cover and bring the water up to a rolling boil.  Once at a boil, process the jars for ten minutes.

After ten minutes processing, remove the hot jars from the water bath, using canning tongs and turn the jar upside down on a clean kitchen towel and let sit for ten minutes. Turn the jars right side up on the towel and let sit for several hours. You may hear the tell tale popping sound of the lids.  This sound signifies that the seals have done their job!

Before labeling and storing, gently remove the rings on the jars and press lightly against the seals to make sure that the processing "took".  If the jars come unsealed easily at this point.  You will need to reheat the jam and re-process to seal again.

Makes 5 jars of raspberry jam.

August 16, 2009

Home Grown and Cherishing Simple Pleasures

This has been a time of growth for our family.  We have had to let go of a home, realize that serious illness can strike a healthy person at any time...and learn to go on, making difficult decisions along the way.  We have moved, stood by while a young man got shot dead by a machine gun in our new neighborhood a result of senseless gang violence.  We have watched our friends face hard decisions, leave relationships and friends, move away and have hardship with their businesses. These have all been obvious areas of difficulty.  

But with the bad, also comes good.  We still have our jobs, each other, a nice roof over our heads, great local food to eat and our youngest daughter starts kindergarten at a great school in two weeks and my niece starts law school.  We have made many new friends, helped to spread the word about supporting our local economy and farms, we have volunteered at the Edible Schoolyard and other Slow Food events, we have planted our own garden and are starting to reap the rewards of it all.

This weekend, we picked so many cherry tomatoes, we decided to can some.  I haven't really done much canning in my culinary career, but like so many people have come to lately, in these challenging times, I find comfort in the ways of my Mother and her Mother before her.  These things ignite my sense memory and bring my cherished deceased loved ones close again in my heart and mind.  

So Lucia and I halved tomatoes, chopped garlic and decided to take our very favorite tomato recipe, and can them so that we have the chance to savor the sweetness of summer when it is cold and wintry outside.  Below you will find the recipe for these Slow Roasted Tomatoes.  They are amazing.  Served with softly scrambled eggs and basil for breakfast or to top lightly toasted Acme baguettes spread with a mild goat cheese and a glass of wine.  I have had this for dinner more times lately than I can tell you, and I still never tire of the concentrated tomato sweetness.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

2 pints of tomatoes, cherry or Roma work best
2 cloves of garlic
good olive oil
sea salt
Herbs de Provence

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. 
Coat a cookie sheet lightly with olive oil.
Slice the tomatoes in half and place on the cookie sheet cut side down, close together.
Smash the garlic with a chef's knife, and chop finely.
Sprinkle the garlic over the tomatoes and then with the olive oil.
Season with sea salt and herbs de provence to taste.
Roast in the oven 45 minutes or until tomatoes have shriveled slightly and  about half the size.
Remove from the oven and put the roasted tomatoes, garlic, oil and all the juice into a covered 
   container in the refrigerator.
Will keep about a week, but I guarantee that these wont last that long!

August 13, 2009

Slow Food USA's Time for Lunch EAT-IN, Time for REAL food in schools!

Okay so most of you who know me well, know that I cook for kids and several times a year do special food functions for the CEO of Seneca Center and Alameda Board of Education representative, Ken Berrick. Ken is a master fund raiser and for the 22 or so years he has headed up Seneca, he has been fighting to make things better for Bay Area kids. The meals are important, because they keep Seneca at the fore front in legislators minds.

One thing is common, among all the people who visit Seneca each and every year. They all say what a good job our staff and administrators do in living and modeling our motto "unconditional care" and they say how great the food is.

I have been with Seneca for eight years. In that time, many changes have happened. But constant is the support that I have gotten in planning, ordering and producing good, clean and fair food for my kids and staff here. I would like to think that other therapeutic agencies and schools are modelling this part of what we have done here at Seneca, but alas....they are not.

Kids in most California public schools and in schools all over the country are treated like bargain trash compactors. The schools sell the USDA mass produced product that they get for free to our kids, and as a result, our kids are the fattest, most lethargic and unhealthiest in recorded history. In my opinion, this is due to several of the most important being the quality of food that they are being offered and served in schools.

It is bad enough in our society that most of us cannot afford our own homes, and have to choose to put good, clean and fair food on the table or put gas in our cars to get to work each day. No matter what challenges we face as adults, our children deserve to have good food in their bellies. Food that will not only nourish their bodies and minds...but their souls!!

Where our food comes from makes a difference! If you have not yet seen the barrage of politics of food and food supply books and movies out recently, I urge you to educate yourself about this issue if you haven’t already. Books like Fast Food Nation and the Omneviores Dilema. Movies like: SuperSize Me, Food Inc, King Corn and mass food production like it is. When a sick and injured cow is herded by a forklift into the slaughter house, alive and knowing what is about to happen...does that fear that rushes into that poor animal's brain also rush cortisol and adrenaline into the meat that we later consume? My opinion is that it does.

Modern day enslavement and abuse of immigrant and low-income American workers, mistreatment of our livestock and animals, diabetes, disease, death. If these costs were exposed to the average person, they would understand clearly that real, healthy, locally- and fairly-produced food is actually much cheaper than fast-food.

The time to act is now. Legislation for The Child Nutrition Act is a federal law that comes up for re-authorization in Congress every four to five years. It governs the National School Lunch Program, which sets the standard for the food that more than 30 million children eat every school day.

In the last few decades, as school budgets have been cut, our nation's schools have struggled to serve children the real food they need.

The deadline for reauthorizing the current Child Nutrition Act is September 2009. Unless we speak up this summer, “business as usual” on Capitol Hill will let Congress pass a Child Nutrition Act that continues to fail our children.

I urge all who read this to sign the petition and "EAT IN" for change this Labor Day. Around this great country of ours, Slow Food conviviums are organising huge community pot lucks to draw attention to this issue. If you really care about our children and believe that they deserve better food and food education in schools, then please click on the link below and sign up to join us in the fight! You will have the opportunity to eat some great food yourselves, get to know your neighbors and local food activists and learn what you can do to help.

Alice Waters says it best. "Good, clean and fair food is your a human being". Let's work with her and Michelle Obama to make we don't let our kids health slip through the cracks and good nutrition in schools is a great place to start!

August 09, 2009

Doggie Luv I am off food for this one.  But I must let you know that our daughter Lucia loves dogs as much as she loves food!  And more times than not, on our way to have a meal, we are stopped by one or twenty one dogs along the way.  This has proven to be quite a deterrent to getting to meals in a timely manner, as one never knows just how many dogs one may encounter while walking the very dog friendly streets of the Bay Area.

Seemingly from the time she was born, LuLu has been a dog person.  Yes, of course we have had our darling pitbull mix Bella three years prior to the time Lucia was born.  Of course, we cannot forget our big goofy boy Bruno, Bella's lovable and handsome mastiff pitt mix and companion.  We have many other dogs in our lives...there is Alfie, our dear friend Lisa's adorable white poodle.  There's Sparky, the Austrailian herding dog that lives with our friends Mary, Rick and Brendan in Fairfield, who lights up like a light bulb every time he hears Lucia's voice.  Of course we cannot forget Dixie, my Mother's bichon frisee that Lucia knew just for six months as a baby; and then dear Blondie....Bella's rival pitmix girl next door.  Lucia loves them all.

But our darling daughter does not discriminate.  She stops and gives her total attention to any dog that will have it.  And let's face it, rare is a dog that will not have a doggie girl's ardent stroking and sweet talk in their ears!  As for the doggie Mama and Daddies...well who doesn't want a cute little kid fawning all over their dog?  It would be like proud parents telling someone not to stop and admire their baby in a stroller!

As you can imagine, this can put a dent in the timing of our meals, or for that matter, getting to just about any place in a timely fashion!  The clock stands still while our girl offers her tender touch.  Only afterwards do we look at our cell phones and realize that we have spent a good 10 or 20 minutes in worship of some stranger's canine.  Ah well....I guess there are worse ways to spend an afternoon and after all, if it is true that what goes around comes around, our patience and Lucia's TLC will serve us well down the road.

August 08, 2009

Sunday Breakfast

We have a tradition since moving to Berkeley.  On Friday night, to celebrate the end of the week we go out to dinner.  Not usually a fancy affair.....though we usually spend more on food than most families I imagine, we pay for quality and support good, local ingredients.  Neighborhood places, owned by hardworking people who are really focused on the food.  But I digress.

The second part of the weekend food celebration comes on Sunday am, after the Saturday filled with taking the train to the City and spending the better part of the day foraging the best ingredients for my job at Seneca Center, elbowing through the amazing mix of locals and enthusiastic tourists at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.  I love my job, I love the market and all the farmers and local producers that  I have built a relationship with over the years working in the food business....but.....I also really love the chance to relax on Sunday mornings with my sweet Husband and daughter, over a meal that I had to do absolutely nothing for, except drag my hiney out of bed!

Berkeley is an amazing town.  Full of wonderful opinionated folks, a well educated bunch, passionate about their place in society.  It is one of the many reasons that we sought to make this our home.  Certainly, one of the most enjoyable things about Berkeley (Oakland and SF too for that matter!) is the availability of local, sustainably produced food and the hardworking folks that bring it to us everyday.  I am so grateful that on Sundays, I am not one of those people, but a benefactor.  

So on Sunday am we get up and without much thought as to where we will go, we head out the door to partake.  Sometimes I do a little internet research ahead of time, looking at reviews from other folk and Michael Bauer.  Sometimes I have a bee in my bonnet about places that I have had in que and wanted to try.  Most times, Troy and I have a brief discussion and we just go!  

Lucia sometimes has something to say about what she wants to eat, but if we gave her a choice about where to go...she most certainly chooses Cafe Fanny.  Cafe Fanny is one of our old standbys.  The people are so wonderful, always greeting us by name and taking joy in seeing Lucia run around, petting doggies that come with their parents, and sipping on her big girl warm chocolate from a bowl.  Her she has two favorite breakfast selections at Cafe Fanny.  The warm and nutty steel cut oats, served with lovely melting butter and maple syrup. But most often, she chooses a soft boiled egg with Acme toast.  My go-getter, not afraid of anything daughter turns into a real little lady at Cafe Fanny, with her napkin on her lap and her tiny little egg spoon, daintily scooping warm, slightly runny egg from the light green shell.  She usually leaves her toast for last, eating it with cream cheese and their homemade jam. 

Troy and I really like a little and popular French place on Shattuck, I am sure that you will already know of it, it is one of the most popular places for breakfast, it is called La Note.  I always order the same thing.  Softly scrambled eggs with goat cheese and herbs.  It comes with a side of the most delicious oven roasted tomatoes and I suggest that you splurge and get the buttery, crusty croissant or the huge half a baguette instead of the toast.  Leave the butter that it comes with alone, and spread it with the lovely not too sweet raspberry jam that is a house specialty here.  Pure breakfast heaven!!  

We also really like 900 Grayson.  However, we dont get to go here as often as we would because they are not open on Sundays. We usually choose this tiny little heaven of slow food if we suddenly get a wild hair and go out on Saturday morning instead, but as I said before, my Saturdays are usually packed full with the the opportunity does not happen often.  

We really like walking to Bette's on 4th Street. Consistently great food but sometimes the wait is just too much for hungry parents with a five year old.  I have a special place in my heart though for the folks at Bette's because my niece Brittany used to wait tables here.  

Meal Ticket, Cafe M and Leilas are all pretty good but for me uneven.  

Recently on a Sunday am when we decided to venture into the city for a meal, we took a chance and went to the really hipster, upscale Slow Club.  We had to wait more than an hour for a table, and had to really work to keep Lucia occupied for that huge amount of time (thank God for color books and washable pens!) but when we finally got to a table, we had an amazing meal. Lucia was happy with the oatmeal and I ordered a warm flat bread with wilted wild rocket, pecorino and a fried egg.  And...they serve Blue Bottle Coffee. Can you say YUM?  Fabulous is the best word that I can think of.  This place is on our short list for further ventures.

After our meal, we find a nice place to walk some of it off.  Coming prepared with LuLu's pink skitter helps to make it more fun for her, and we get a leisurely start to the end of our weekend. 

I love my job.  I love everything about it.  But I must say, at the end of a busy week being up at 5am, a wife, a mother, a chef and nutritional manager, a housekeeper, gardener, laundress and dog owner....I am most grateful on Sunday morning meals out with my family!

August 07, 2009

Grilled Pizza

Tonight after pruning the tomatoes plants that are quickly out growing the cages that I have used for the last three years, I decided to make some homemade pizza dough and grill some pizza.  This is my second attempt this summer at grilling pizza.  Last time, the crust was what was lacking.  Too thick and too many toppings.  This time I decided to keep it simple.

The pizza dough is better. Amazing.  This time, the crust is good. I wanted to find a way to stretch it thinner to get the crisp and chewy, Cheeseboard type crust that my little family has grown to love. After brushing it with garlic oil and laying it on a 500 degree preheated grill, it is a skill to keep it moving and get the nice char marks and crispy edges, without letting it rest too long and burning. 

So on go the oven roasted tomatoes, creamy goat cheese , smoked pork loin, and grilled gypsy peppers. For my daughter Lucia, a fire roasted tomato reduction and fresh mozzarella.  She is a fearless and adventurous eater....but really wants to be a kid eating cheese pizza tonight.  I oblige.  I make two 8 inch pies with the pork loin, one cheese pizza and one Frog Hollow Peach pizza drizzled with honey and dotted with dolce pecorino.  Delicious!

Since the weather was unusually balmy for Berkeley tonight, cut up some fresh Frog Hollow peaches, tiny Lucero strawberries and macerated them in a nice Spanish white wine with a squeeze of lime in two glasses to accompany the pizza for my Husband Troy and I.

Topping off the meal, slices from a miniscule, sweet watermelon.