Special sh#% holiday gift shopping

Special sh#% holiday gift shopping

I saw these bottles and thought it was TOTAL GENIUS marketing. A Texas company called Special Sh$% is making all sorts of seasonings and gift packs, just in case you – or a close frenemy – need a little bit of  savory sh&^ in your life. (Or your kitchen.) I can’t speak for the quality of the ingredients, at 12.95/bottle, I’ll wait for someone to give me a jar of my own some...
Santa Cruz’s age of Aquarius

Santa Cruz’s age of Aquarius

There really aren’t that many restaurants in Santa Cruz County that have an excellent ocean view with equally engaging food. And THAT is why I love Aquarius restaurant at the Dream Inn. The Dream Inn is the coastline’s tallest multi-story hotel that had probably gotten to be a little shabby by the time LL proposed to me there all those years ago, but in recent years received an upscale hipster-worthy remodel from new management Joie de Vivre along with a total foodie remake of the restaurant, newly christened Aquarius. I LOVE this place . . .  LL and I go there a few times a year for lunch when schedules permit – are we really that busy?? This Monday, there were only three other tables seated, and we sat watching some hardcore couple in wetsuits playing kettleball in the surf with a couple of sea lions peeking their shiny heads up from the sea. If you ever are traveling along the coast between San Jose and Monterey, this is one restaurant worth stopping for both the food and the view – and it’s even a hotel restaurant. I’ve dug up a few photos for you to see why: Artisan reuben sandwich I say "artisan" because the pastrami came from Santa Cruz's own El Salchichero butcher shop, home of locally raised meats and artistry in the hands of owner Chris LaVeque. Then the sauerkraut isn't just any sauerkraut - it's Farmhouse Culture, also a Santa Cruz creation. Aromatic, spicy, and delicious. The scene of the crime The Dream Inn, now a Joie de Vivre-managed property, houses Aquarius. It's also where...
Curried celery root soup

Curried celery root soup

A fabulous warming winter root vegetable soup recipe with celeriac and curry – my delicious and divine interpretation of a Nepenthe soup. Easily adaptable to a vegetarian diet and completely gluten-free. Enjoy! Click through for recipe and photos.

Pike Market, Seattle

Pike Market, Seattle

Soulard Market in St. Louis was my first farmer’s market experience, and as a girl I thought the whole experience quite alien – instead of linoleum floors and neat aisles, we’d walk the chilly concrete open-air hallway past stalls heaped with produce, whole fish piled on ice, beef tongue behind scratched glass cases and packets of novelty chocolate-covered insects to tempt. The bustle continued inside, with fresh cut flowers and kittens for sale and real fountain sodas against the far wall. Those memories popped into my mind after stumbling across Seattle’s Pike Place Market one Thursday evening. I’d flown into Seattle for BlogHer Food ’12 and was wandering along, getting my bearings, and there it was – a super-sized Soulard chock full of fish, flowers, and a multinational array of food. There was chocolate pasta and fresh garlic scapes, a Polish Pottery stall, one selling Middle Eastern spices, a woman selling ocarinas. It was marvelous. I didn’t take anywhere near enough pictures, but here you go – a few of the sights....
First pick of home-grown blackberries

First pick of home-grown blackberries

My neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks, so that awkward strip of land between property line and county-maintained street is a landscape free-for-all, a curb value coda. A few neighbors fill the space with asphalt. Others plant prim mounds of multicolored lantana, rosemary and lavender bushes, pots of bamboo, or birds of paradise; almost everything grows here. Many carefully groom the space with pebbles that coordinate with their house color. Many also just let weeds and visiting cars fill the space. Last year I ripped out a native landscape garden I’d established in our strip during one enthusiasm in favor of my newest obsession – growing only/mostly things we can eat. Kid Two helped me dig deep holes in the clay dirt, mixing in fine soil, filling the space with tiny springs of bareroot grapes, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and huckleberries. One day, I thought, we’ll be able to pick a few berries as we walk to the beach, or gather an after-school snack, or maybe even grow enough for a batch of homegrown jam. Dream-berries. The reality of a berry patch has certainly not been as glamorous as my fantasy. We navigated the jigsaw puzzle of drip irrigation only once, but everything else is continuous. Fertilizing, mulching, weeding the prickly California roses that kept sprouting up, figuring out how to train the prickly brambles away from the street, from scratching my arms and leaving stickers in my thumb. We’ve done the work randomly, mindlessly, losing track, really of when to expect a harvest. Life was that much sweeter then, after pulling into the driveway from vacation – mind already building the endless...
Retro gourmet at Craft & Commerce

Retro gourmet at Craft & Commerce

Imagine the nerdy-cool kid from high school: the quiet and deliberately unfashionable one, the one who chose to wear horn-rimmed glasses and ride his bike to school every single day, the one who actually understood all the cultural references, and who surprised everyone by nonchalantly unveiling an enormous Calvin & Hobbes tattoo on his back one day toward the end of senior year. Imagine he went on to graduate studies in Twentieth-Century American Literature and spent the requisite semester at Oxford where he fell in love with pub life, rough-hewn wood, and full-bodied beer. Then he spent a summer on his uncle’s farm, where he fell in love with state fairs and home-cooked meals and classic rock, spending pleasantly stoned evenings absorbing The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys and Welcome to the Machine and Court of the Crimson King through oversized headphones. Then, with newly acquired grown-up tastebuds and the deepened courage of his convictions, he made a life-changing leap to culinary school. And he was good. And so he opened a Restaurant. Imagine he approached the task philosophically, defining the vision of simplicity, value, and quality he’d experienced in his life thus far, and he used that vision to define his design, decor, and menu – inadvertently inventing a nouveau nostalgia along the way. And the rest of the world gets it because they’ve jumped on that early wave of hipster-dom he rode in his youth. Thus he created a Destination. That’s my vision, anyway, of how Craft & Commerce came to be. Call it fan fiction, foodie-style. My fantasy is based in delicious truth, though – here’s the evidence: He...
Voluptuous vegetable sandwich

Voluptuous vegetable sandwich

We had an Easter Sunday picnic basket from the Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar restaurant that turned a casual lunch into haute cuisine . . . a vegetable sandwich made positively voluptuous – studded with thickly sliced grilled eggplant, beefy tomato, and mild roasted red peppers, all dripping with richly flavored olive oil, sandwiched between slabs of densely olive-studded bread, and slathered with creamy parsley-laced Jersey ricotta. Mmmm. All the more awesome – accompanied by chips, a crunchy melange of thinly sliced and quickly fried roots: turnips, parsnips, golden beets, yams. Yum.   Their chicken curry was a close runner-up, shredded chicken mixed with Greek yogurt and curry spices, layered on another toothy homemade bread, this one laced with pecan chunks and raisins and probably made with spelt, and a few fresh spinach leaves. The spicy apply chutney was meant to be slathered on the bread for a fully tricked out taste sensation.   Other treats in our lunch baskets: packets of dried mixed fruit, figs, cherries, apricots, and golden raisins; salty mixed nuts, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, and pecans; and a crumbly oat and raisin-laced house made granola bar. I brought those goodies home for Kid Two to enjoy in his lunch this...
Mita Gourmet

Mita Gourmet

When you land in Loreto, Baja California Sur, once you get through customs and settled into your casita or cabana, it will be time to get your bearings over a bit of dinner. Mita Gourmet is an excellent place to start. Located at the eastern edge of the historic plaza, it’s easy walking distance from anywhere you may be staying in town. Sit outside, take in the activities on the square, and sip your first margarita. Hopefully, guitarist Herzon Rivera will be there too, picking his way through a set that ranges from “My Way to “Wish You Were Here” to “Hotel California.” He’s awesome – make sure you have an extra 200 pesos to buy his CD. Be sure to order a bowl of crema de almejas with a side of flour tortillas. Chef Juan Carlos makes the luscious, velvety clam chowder with béchamel and chocolate clams, a local specialty named for the color of their shell, not the taste: The menu is quite extensive if you’re still hungry; it’s very old-school steakhouse with a Mexican flair and as much heat as you can handle. LL’s fresh halibut Veracruz, packed with chocolate clams, shrimp, olives, onion, and pepper in a zesty tomato sauce topped with a scoop of rice, was also quite tasty. Sadly, the photo doesn’t do it much justice: Mita Gourmet, like most of the restaurants in Loreto, does not take credit cards. No worries, though; there is an ATM on the opposite side of the square where you can get pesos from your credit or debit...
How to stuff a wild zucchini

How to stuff a wild zucchini

The zucchini have gone completely wild this year. It didn’t start out that way; they were actually slow to grow. I planted the 4″ starts the second week of May; by the third week of June they’d barely doubled in size. So I worked a handful of Dr. Earth into the soil and got the drip irrigation going. Drip, drop, drip, drop, 1 gallon psi for 30 minutes every other day. With a week 3 foot high stems sporting dinner plate-sized leaves waved high in the air. One day I found a monstrous 3 pound zucchini I swear hadn’t existed the day before. I went away the second week of July and, returning home, discovered the zucchini had gone completely wild. They’d snuck out of their raised bed, crowded out the cucumber and spinach, and sported platter-sized leaves. Hidden underneath were dozens of tastefully-sized baby zucchini . . . dinner! I’d just been reading the Southwest Airlines flight magazine featuring this recipe for zucchini carpaccio recipe, so we were on. I didn’t worry too much about arranging the thinly sliced squash in lovely pattern on the plate, just sliced, sprinkled drizzled, and ate – and it was so good! Dinner from the garden – a fantasy coming true. We’ve made it several time since, occasionally using white balsamic vinegar and leaving out the olive oil and lemon, depending on what’s handy. Then we started harvesting zucchini blossoms – they’ve starred in over a dozen meals over the last 8 weeks – and they really are the best part of the plant.  We’ve eaten them stuffed with mozzarella and chives, dredged in...
Squash blossoms in paradise

Squash blossoms in paradise

Here’s a question: if you were stranded on a desert island and could bring one book with you with the stipulation that all your food – recipes as well as ingredients – must come from that book, what book would you choose? (be sure to answer the question in the comments; prize for the best answer!) My friend at Novelbite would definitely be able to recommend an actual piece of literature that would have enough sustenance in food AND story. For me, though, there’s no question – I’d choose a cookbook – California Rancho Cooking. I found it several years ago in Sutter’s Fort gift shop in Sacramento during Kid Two’s fourth-grade pilgrimage to our state’s capital. The fort was built in 1821; much still stands as a visual demonstration of life in that era. Recognizing author Jacqueline Higuera McMahon’s name from her occasional San Francisco Chronicle food section stories, I bought it immediately. It turned out to be was a perfect book for the place; she’s an eight-generation Californian whose family received one of last Spanish land grant ranchos in 1821, just before Mexican independence. Ok, so it’s thin on plot, but she sprinkles in enough glimpses of rancho life to keep my imagination flowing on a desert island. Plus, the flavor of life on a rancho is mouth-watering; from simple breakfasts of sweet milk tortillas to picnics of spicy chicken and potato salad to celebrations studded with Chilean empanadas and sweet tamales, those Spanish and Mexican roots come through strong. It’s the perfect book for my sense of place, too. I know why there’s a recipe featuring wild mustard greens; I...
First fruit

First fruit

Tons of rock. Yards of soil. Comparing the relative values of heirloom seeds vs. organic starts. Six trips to the nursery to puzzle together a jigsaw of drip irrigation. Finally my garden fantasies are starting to bear fruit.

Tartiflette

Tartiflette

Short days and cool nights often call for a rich, hearty entree. Try this tartiflette, a type of potatoes au gratin with ham that is made using the distinctive reblochon cheese. Delicious!

Photographs and memories and potato salad

Photographs and memories and potato salad

Awkwardly slow-dancing to “Nights in White Satin,” bar hopping on Bourbon Street, and really, really, irresponsible adult chaperones. Food often evokes memories, of course. But in this case the memories were so elusive, and the food item so rarely cooked, the recollection took months to surface. It’s all the power of potato salad.