Everything Eats: Humpback Whales in the Monterey Bay

This is a humpback whale, lunge feeding less than 20 yards from shore near New Brighton State Beach in Santa Cruz County. The humpbacks showed up a month or so ago, following massive schools of anchovies into the Monterey Bay. I used to get a thrill seeing far-distant spouts from the beach. NEVER did I think whales would show up a stone’s throw away.

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Because an “amuse bouche” should actually be amusing

There are some things – images, tastes, sounds – that separate the forest and the trees, the dancer and the dance, the beautiful and the sublime. You stumble across them in the most unlikely moments, making every encounter with magnificence that much more magnificent.

Here is one of those things – the most “amusing” amuse bouche ever.

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Balsamic zucchini “chips” with garlic and almonds

The zucchini harvest has begun! I’m not yet regretting the 5 plants I popped in the ground planning for a summer of squash blossom quesadillas and my dream of edible flower pizza, but the season is young. No doubt in a couple of months I’ll find a monstrous zucchini or two hidden under the scarlet runner beans as in years past and have to do something drastic again. But in the meantime I was excited to gather my first summer garden crop: green onions, snow peas, and zucchini, and set out to make hot and sour soup for supper. But there’s something about freshly gathered produce that says – slow down, you move too fast. You’ve got to make the garden last . . . LL and I admired our first zucchini, and he suggested we try thinly slicing and pan frying them in a little hot oil. One thing led to another – I added minced garlic and sliced green onions to the sizzling zucchini, and then, inspired by my new Almonds book, added a small handful of those nuts, roughly chopped. What the heck – I picked a squash blossom to toss in on the heat and finished with a sprinkling of coarse kosher salt. We heaped it on a plate and tasted – it was good, really freshly fantastically good, but needed something else, something . . . Balsamic vinegar! Just 3 or 4 drops of thick richly favored tangy aged burnt sienna gold tossed throughout the dish gave it – dare I say? – depth. Truly. Took it beyond a nice fresh zucchini and almond... read more

Watermelon salad for a summer BBQ

We are not a particularly Handy Family, so I was surprised when LL suggested we spend Memorial Day weekend sanding and revarnishing the kitchen cabinets. They definitely needed to be slathered with love after all these years of heavy use (18 years, really, since we built the kitchen? Wow!) And we had the time – when you live next to the beach, you tend to stay away from it on days the crowds appear. Like Memorial Day. So we enlisted the help of a Handy Friend, dug around in the shed to find the palm and detail sanders left over from a different round of remodeling, stocked up on sandpaper, and away we went. But sanding is a long and dusty process. Especially when old friends stop by with bottles of wine and Kid One shows up for a visit and the new Marianne’s Ice Cream shop opens on the corner that very day and the dog wanted to take a long walk. I didn’t end up helping with the work at all . . . there was lunch to make and dinner to pick up early from Aptos St BBQ because they often sell out early, and then we needed more sandpaper, and suddenly it was supper time and we realized that this project was going to take waaaaaaaaay longer than we anticipated. Just when we were on the edge of feeling disheartened at the enormity of this thing we were not going to finish, our lovely friend Barbara showed up with this gorgeous, festive watermelon salad: chopped up fruit tossed with minced red onion, feta cheese, and... read more

Verve Coffee Roasters is Just the Best

I’ve long thought that there was very little scientific and technological progress in the Middle Ages because – seeing as water quality was dicey at best – people sat around drinking beer and hard cider all day. Nothing like a steady diet of strong mead to fuel superstition and conflict, right? It’s not by chance the Age of Enlightenment coincided with the mainstream availability of coffee. An entire continent shook off a centuries-long muddled haze and embraced the caffeine-fueled investigation of rational thought. And there’s no better place in town to pursue rational thought than Verve Coffee Roasters. Verve’s coffee has personality, style, rich chewy flavor and a satisfying balance of flavors you find in expensive red wine. My favorite storefront is the Santa Cruz Pacific Avenue location: slabs of rustic wooden furniture, hip concrete floor, slate blue walls, gleaming chrome, fresh flowers and colorful artwork . . . it’s gorgeous. Even the cookies are lovely: You can get to know the teroir of your beans: No problem if you’re not in the mood for coffee – this coffee cherry tea is light and zingy: And it’s not just me – Verve consistently wins awards’ recently it made Thrillist’s 11 Best Coffee Roasters in America, the Epicurious 25 Best Coffee Shops in America and Eater’s 38 Essential Coffee Shops Across America. Best looking cappuccino around: Watch this video to learn how the award-wining baristas at Verve create their art:... read more

Hot weather celery salad

Our fog is M.I.A. I’ve lived next to the Monterey Bay for 24 years as of this past April Fool’s Day, and I can’t remember a year in which there have been so many days with temperatures over 80 degrees here at the beach. I just checked on the Weather Underground Almanac: 15 days this calendar year so far, including 4 in January. Generally, once the air here heats to a toasty 75 or so it rises, as air is wont to do, and the void is filled by a cooler marine layer coming in from the sea. Read: fog. Climate change is the new black. My peppers and tomatoes are happy; the dog is miserable; the boy has the swimming unit in P.E. this month so is fine. It’s a dry heat, you know. I’m a native Midwesterner; there’s no room here to complain. Hot days deserve hot day meals. Here’s a Gayle’s-bakery inspired salad I made on this particular evening. Hers had shaved parmesan cheese and walnuts, but I have a spouse who shudders at the very mention of walnuts. It’s easy to improvise, and since I’ve been kind of addicted to pepitas since my San Diego trip a few years ago, they were the salty crunch of choice. And because my inspiration was moving south of the border, I added jicama and cotija. Toss with a lemon vinaigrette, and you have a perfect hot-weather meal.* Hot weather celery salad   Save Print Prep time 10 mins Total time 10 mins   Crunchy celery and jicama in a zesty vinaigrette are an excellent hot-weather meal Author: Life in a Skillet Recipe type: salads Serves: 4... read more

The Amazing Texas-Toast-Bacon-and-Egg-Sandwich

Kid Two still loves Texas toast but along the way has acquired a taste for paninis with egg and baby greens with a bit of cheese. It was only a matter of time before he decided to try and combine the buttery crunchiness of Texas toast with savory eggy-ness of his panini. Like all good things, it’s a bit of work, but totally worth it. You have to start by making Texas toast. When that’s finished, layer thin slices of cheese and a handful of baby greens on one side. Top with crumbled, cooked bacon and a cooked scrambled egg. Top with the second piece of toast and there you go – a tasty handful of the ultimate bacon and egg meal: It’s pretty good on a paper plate with strawberries, too:... read more

You should eat at Palo Alto’s Reposado

Really. It’s SO GOOD! I chose Resposado mostly at random . . . LL and I were driving up to Palo Alto to visit Kid One during his lunch break. I poked around online the night before to pick a place because the area is chock-full of restaurants and we didn’t waste his lunch hour deciding. You know how that can go. Resposado called out to me because we all like Mexican food and I can’t resist queso fundido. I figured it would be fine, maybe even pretty good. I wasn’t counting on it being fabulous. And fabulous it was. The open space is – I’ll have to go with “handsome” here. Exposed beams, blue wall, concrete floors, gleaming wooden tables, lively art with thoughtful artistic touches . . . it’s artistic without being foofy. A place where one could have an evolved sort of business lunch, not the Don Draper kind. There’s a second floor balcony/bar that might be fun at night, but this day served as a great spot to sneak a shot of my family. That’s Kid One in the grey hoodie in the middle, ordering. Wearing a grey hoodie at work; that’s how you know he’s working in the tech industry. On to the food. Here’s why this place was incredible – every dish [metaphorically, not literally] burst with flavor. Limes, peppers, radishes, shitake mushrooms . . . I think the chefs just got really creative in making California/Mexican dishes lively. Here’s the guacamole;  the avocados are on the chunky side and were super-fresh, a little heat from serrano chilis. It’s also pretty – the multicolored tortilla... read more

One pot meal: chicken-garlic-rice

I stumbled across this recipe somewhere online last year and bookmarked it; I liked the one-pot family meal aspect as well as the variation on 40 clove chicken. It’s just a fryer and rice cooked together slowly in a pot – I’ll let you click here for the recipe for Happy Chicken with Loads of Cloves (Roast Chicken and Garlic) courtesy The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight. The chicken was incredible moist, as you’d expect, and it wasn’t really garlicky at all; in fact, I felt like it needed a little more seasoning. I would make it again with a bunch of chopped spinach and some white pepper, paprika, and chili flakes. It’s supposed to serve 4, but we had another entire meal of leftovers. Maybe we just weren’t that hungry? In my mind, it easily would serve 6 – 8 if you have a large chicken and divide it just... read more

Macarons from La Patisserie Chouquette

Here are a few lovely photos my niece texted to me from St. Louis’s La Patisserie Chouquette. At 13, she has a good eye as well as good taste! The patisserie was started by Simone Faure, former executive pastry chef of the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans. It’s a “peanut free gluten free friendly French bakery” and was voted Best Bakery in last year’s Riverfront Times poll. It’s the place you have to check out the next time you are in the Show Me Stte. ... read more

Ahi Tartare Just Like Michael Mina

One weekend LL and I spent the weekend in San Francisco to see Kiki and Herb at the A.C.T.,  but the show seemed sad and we were happy so we snuck out and walked down to the St. Francis where we went to sit at the bar at the Compass Rose but it was the new Michael Mina (which is the old Michael Mina now) and we were wowed by his tuna tartare. It was one of those astonishing dishes, prepared table side – in our case, bar side – with gorgeous pink rich ahi and crisp sweet diced pears and salty pine nuts with the zing of garlic and the heat of jalapeño held together with quail eggs. It was a dish we had to recreate. The first time, we followed the recipe faithfully, special ordering sashimi-grade ahi from Deluxe Foods and tracking down quail eggs at Whole Foods. The second time we were a bit more lackadaisical. Whole Foods had stopped carrying quail eggs because of the discovery that the birds were, in fact, NOT free-range, so we omitted the egg entirely. We used canned jalapeño and pre-crushed garlic, used olive oil instead of sesame because we were out. And you know, what? It was still delicious. Keep this in mind next time you want an elegant zinger for a dinner party. It’s too good to hoard for yourself! Ahi Tartare Just Like Michael Mina Makes   Save Print This is an intensely flavorful and rich dish created by chef Michael Mina Author: Michael Mina with minor variations Recipe type: entree, appetizer Ingredients 8 oz. Sashimi grade... read more

Scrambled Eggs and Waffle Fries

We’ve been enjoying Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show so much this week! He even holds Kid Two’s attention, and my 15-year old cultural critic is a tough nut to crack. And those suits!  I rarely – ok, never – saw his Late Show; just WAY past my bedtime. So even though I’d occasionally catch online clips, I never did appreciate how very creative, polished, and entertaining he is. I’m a fan. I always take note when a song talks about food in some way, so I perked up at a mention in Vanity Fair that Fallon knew that Paul McCartney used “scrambled eggs” and a placeholder for “yesterday” when he wrote the song. Too tempting. He got McCartney to agreed to appear as a guest AND showed him a new verse about “waffle fries” to convince him to perform the piece. They perform it completely straight. Awesome. embedded by Embedded Video  ... read more

Roadside Sausage Sign, San Jose

  There’s a pretty good history of the defunct and demolished Stephen’s Meat Products plant you can read by clicking here. You don’t have to know anything about it, though, to appreciate the lone sign as a testament to times past. Great... read more

Cook The Books Club Winner!

Last week Deb from Kahakai Kitchen contacted me asking if I’d guest judge their Cook The Books Club contest for the book “Baking Cakes in Kigali.” Well – yes! The Cook The Books Club is a bimonthly book club and blog event in which the hosts, along with any other interested person, reads a predetermined food-related book, blogs her thoughts, and prepares a dish inspired by the book. Fun! Here are my responses to the thoughtful and inspiring blog posts that were submitted, and congratulations to the winner Camilla from Culinary Adventures With Camilla. Thank you for inviting me to play! I plan to join you next time for Twain’s Feast: Searching for America’s Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens.... read more
I'm Maggie,
a food-loving, curiosity-seeking mom raising two boys, a dog, and a tankful of fish next to the beach. Welcome to my skillet!
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