Wednesday, July 28, 2010

When A Meal is More Than A Meal

Do you ever have those meals at home, 
even if it's just family that turn into something 
 so memorable?
It's been happening a lot around here lately.
The inspiration can come from a borrowed magazine,
a beloved cookbook or a new favorite blog-
anywhere really.
More often than not, what makes the 
meal a memorable event (and maybe it's just
one dish) is effort. 
You know, when someone takes it upon themselves
to reach out of their comfort zone, challenge
their talents and tap into their fortitude.
Let's see, with that in mind,
 there was the bbq oysters, 
mussels in tomato broth, slow smoked pork (and beef)
linguine and name a few.
Most recently,
my daughter, upon hearing I was thinking pasta
for dinner decided that she was going to make 
homemade fettuccine.
Hmm, well it just so happens we were having coffee
 with a friend who has a pasta machine- check.
Hit the Italian market up the street for 00 flour
and San Marzano tomatoes-check.
Basil from the garden -check.
Well what followed was an afternoon and 
kitchen full of flour, dough and more flour,
there was stirring, kneading, rolling
and drying (over a broomstick) 
Who cooks without wine?
and after a lot of effort and happy determination.
we ended up with the a fabulous meal of
handmade, fettuccine with a light tomato basil sauce.
Combined with much conversation and
 a couple bottles of wine, it was more than
a meal...
It was divine. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Watermelon Is The Answer

 I hear the word and I think summer.
 Here we are in the middle of the season, full swing...
kids playing games after dark, family camping (for some)
 road trips, staying up late, picnics, bbqs
and plenty of backyard fun. 
There is an inkling of 'back to school' in the air 
and even though it does not apply to me, I refuse to 
believe that fall is on the horizon.
I digress.
Last year I read something from Wally Amos
(yes, the cookie guy) on the subject
of watermelons which I found really cool.
 I give you 
his Watermelon Credo...
(Don't worry, there's a cocktail recipe too!)
                                                     W -Whatever you believe creates your
                                                            reality.Believe that life is a positive
                                                           experience and it will be.
                                                     A-  Attitude is the magic word. Your 
                                                           greatest asset is your attitude. Be 
                                                           positive regardless.
                                                     T-  Together everyone achieves more. 
                                                           There are no limits to what we can
                                                           accomplish together. I am more
                                                           than I am but less than we are.
                                                     E-  Enthusiasm is the wellspring of life.
                                                           There is no limit to what can be
                                                           accomplished with enough
                                                      R- Respect yourself as well as others.
                                                           When you begin to respect yourself,
                                                           your whole world changes.
                                                     M- Make commitments, not excuses. 
                                                          There is overwhelming power in the
                                                           words "yes I will".
                                                     E- Everyday can be a fun day. Fun 
                                                           is the lubricant that keeps life
                                                           moving forward. laugh a lot.
                                                       L- Love is the answer.Whatever
                                                            the question, love is the answer.
                                                            It's the greatest force 
                                                            in the Universe.
                                                      O- One day at a time. How do you
                                                            eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
                                                            All of life happens in increments
                                                            of one.
                                                      N- never give up or become a victim. 
                                                           You are guaranteed to lose, if you
                                                            give up. Winston Churchill was right,
                                                            "Never, never, never give up."
                                                             It works, if you work it.

Wally also goes on to say that "watermelon is FUN,
 inspirational and a great reminder for us to always
live from our highest self. Do not allow yourself 
to be overwhelmed by events. Let watermelon 
remind you that you are larger than events.
You have the power to create and change
events by what you believe."

Isn't that cool?
Now for that cocktail...
From No Recipes but don't worry-
there's a recipe.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Birds, Butterflies and Happy Blue Flowers

Summer is so awesome. The birds seem  ecstatic
when the nights are warm and the early mornings are bright.
I can lay awake and hear so many 'voices', there are
so many different layers, songs and pitches.
On the really warm nights, it's 
the equivalent to a grade schooler's sleepover-
running around all night, playing games in the dark.
I love going to sleep to their sounds and consider it a treat 
to have them as my wake up call.
One of the great things of keeping a garden is 
to be able to see how nature ie birds and butterflies 
enjoy and interact with what we as gardeners provide.
We have a very large Buddleia bush which 
is a magnate for butterflies in our garden. The other day,
I saw the first two and honestly, these butterflies were 
so beautiful and big, they were flying around, 
dipping here and there and their wings were so... dense
 that when they passed by my head I could hear their wings
flapping, almost like a hummingbird- wow!
Our flower bed always starts out early Spring
with bright pinks and yellows and then as we move into the height
of summer, I think it's nice to bring in 
some cooler tones like lavender and blue, 
this year, our first blueberries... so exciting...
but it is a race to see who eats more- us or the birds!
One of my favorite (blue)perennials is delphinium-
I love the tall stalks of blue poking up and out of the bed.
With that in mind, I have to say I am so proud of this 
unbelievable flower which I planted last year
and brought to maturity this year...
it's called a Verbascum and it is literally, over 6 foot tall!
Definitely, the most exotic specimen I've yet.

No matter if we are lucky enough to have 'nature'
outside our window, in your own backyard or even in
 a destination journey, the important part, is keep our ears
and eyes open, enjoy and simply, be amazed.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bacon Bacon Bacon...

Ok, what ever happened to 
'Pork- the new white meat'?
It seems that the healthy side of pork has fallen from grace
and the underbelly of the pork world has taken over...
My son, seems to cook 
bacon everyday for breakfast  and now the 
place smells like a cook house-
( frankly, I prefer the scent of lemon and eucalyptus).
We now have a (son built) smoker next to the bbqs
in which to slow smoke pork shoulders, ribs etc.
 Don't get me wrong we've been eating high on the hog...
 These are his slow smoked pork spareribs (OMG).
Certainly, no matter where you live, you cannot go to a restaurant
worth it's salt (lick) and not find some kind of 
smoked, cured or  bbq pork on the menu.
The amount of blogs dedicated to bacon 
could fill up a small town phone book,
Have you heard of the "Bacon Explosion"?
Neither had I until this weekend...
From the blog called "BBQ ADDICTS"  I offer up the recipe 
for thisjelly roll of sausage (w bacon) rolled up in a 
'woven mat' of bacon  then smoked on the grill.
Some how I missed the "Bacon Bowl",
but here is a recap from Off The Broiler.
And it's not just the meat itself but the flavor 
has now begun to permeate all facets 
of  culinary world.
How about 
you've got to have "Bacon Hot Sauce"
and "Bacon Moon Pies" should be on your bucket list.
My daughter even got in on the act and recently made caramels...
with a recipe she found at "Not Without Salt".
At some point, you're gonna have to try something like
But the Kicker perhaps is ...
Bakon Vodka - I mean,who wouldn't want their 
favorite cocktail infused with  umm
peppered bacon? Hey, when in Rome,
you've gotta go with the flow, right?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Get The Weekend Started Right

How about warm, fresh from the oven
upside down pecan rolls?
These are from Father's Day at our house.
Alycia was the Adventurous chef
who got up and started at 5:30 am.
The recipe is from a cookbook I received 
for a wedding shower gift (30 years ago)-
(published 1979)
(My well used and loved copy)
I have never been brave enough to make them-
(there are ALOT of steps) but our friend Patti,
 has been making them for years (has same book).
The whole process is quite an undertaking,
 bowls, mixing, rising, kneading, rolling and of course
waiting and watching while they bake. The smell 
alone is worth it, but the flavors, the texture and the richness 
without being sugary sweet is incomparable
to any I've ever had. 
(Tartine, eat your heart out)
I have found a recipe to use as a step by step 
general guide and I offer this photo of the
ingredients form the book ...
Bottom line, this weekend,
be adventurous, make a mess, enjoy the process...
and fill your kitchen with the smell of something
 from the oven.


Friday, July 2, 2010

As American As.....

I love the 4th of July!
You know it's summer...
Bar B Que, parades, neighborhood and friends- 
kicking back, playing games...
from volleyball to beer pong... 
and always...Fireworks of some sort!

You can't really have a 4th of July without 
some display of fireworks.
Whether it's (rogue) sparklers in the street or
watching the big displays in the sky,
I love the colors and the excitement!
I will never forget the time when driving 
through South Carolina, we pulled up to 
what was for my son Mecca...
the largest warehouse,  full of fireworks
any of us had ever seen. 
It was so much fun and ...weird
walking through and seeing floor to ceiling (like Costco) 
displays of brightly packaged contraband.
I think we still have a few things to share!

We're going to the Silvarado parade
over in Calistoga in the am. 
It is the quintessential
small town parade, with 
displays of floats, clowns, horse-drawn fire rigs, 
local politicians, old cars, everything 
red white and blue and straw hats galore,
it is (this is Napa Valley!) 
Martha Stewart meets Ralph Lauren-
Main Street USA. 
From field trips to backyards,
whether it's cooking and pie eating contests
backyard drinking games, leg races
or simply enjoying 
a nice bottle of wine with friends
get out, share some laughs and 
definitely, let the sparks fly in the sky.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cooking Inspiration

Do you remember
 where, when or why
 you wanted to cook? 
Of course, I so have emulated 
my Mom's adepts use 
of Italian seasonings with her
 sauce perfection, my Dad's southern dishes,
and certainly was influenced by my Mother-in law's
Bon Appetite and Gourmet accomplishments.
But, truly I consider myself a self taught cook.
I, was the one who read "The Joy of Cooking"
from school to work as a student in 
San Francisco. I was a sponge when it came to 
PBS shows - from Julia Child and Jacques Pepin
to Martin Yan and Jeff Smith along with (of course)
those first few 
books of Martha Stewart.
From the gougere's of Elizabeth David
to posole of Diana Kennedy, I am there.
How lucky then, was I to be here in California
where the birth of a new approach 
to American cooking began?
I so remember the reverence I felt after bringing home
by Alice waters.(4/15/83 - receipt in book!)
Yes, we had eaten at her 'cafe' upstairs along with 
 her former partner-
Jeremiah Towers 'very chic' restaurant "Stars"
but it wasn't until I had this cookbook 
for my own to reference that I began to understand 
the importance of her influence and scope.
I immediately felt, no,appreciated 
the reverence and integrity she brought to the table.
The respect and understanding of the need for fresh,
local, small, organic ingredients and the
 connection of farm to table was palpable  and visionary.
Like MFK, this could be read from cover to cover,
gathering a mindset and philosophy as well as recipes.
There are so many inspirations here...
not how to throw together a meal in two minutes,
but more about what one can achieve with 
honest ingredients, passion and devotion.
Now, as then I use the book as inspiration,
for flavors and  combinations as a base
 from which to build.
The flavors and combinations
 so recognizable now, as iconic- yet
 so new and easy- on any given day.
Here are a few of my favorites...

Whole Baked Garlic with White Cheese-
   and Peasant bread
Potato and Truffle Salad
Spit Roasted (chicken) with-
Anchovy Olive Butter
Corn Soup with Roasted Poblano Chiles
Salmon Baked with Anchovy Butter
Green Bean Salad with Shallots and Chervil
I could go on, but...
 how much fun
would it be for all of us to return
to our own roots (of cooking) this summer
and simply enjoy and make the most of what's at hand?
Truly, I think this is what Alice was
inspiring us to do all along.