On dasher, on prancer, on donner, on dinner.

Holiday card for the Underground Food Academy.
Concept by me.
Execution by Sarah Tejada.

Giving in to the Pig

I’m not one to fall for trends. Namely food trends. I didn’t pick up molecular gastronomy, I’ve never deep-fried a turkey, and, for the most part, I’ve dodged the bacon bullet. See, all the food blogs have been blowing up with bacon antics. Lattice bacon over pies, formed bacon cups for salad, chocolate-dipped bacon with bacon on top. I get it, second only to topping anything with a poached egg, adding bacon where bacon hasn’t gone before will instantly boost your web traffic. Got it. People like bacon.

I had no plans of incorporating bacon into my holiday baking, but it seemed to happen without my will. I was shopping for cooking equipment in LA, and I came across an adorable pig cookie cutter. Then I turned the corner to find pink sanding sugars. It had to happen. Pig cookies. Pig cookies with bacon.

I did quite a bit of research to see what other baco-philes had done before. There were a few bacon grease drop cookies, a bacon shortbread, and a chocolate-chip cookie with a bacon garnish. None of these would roll out. I decided to modify a standard rollout cookie, reducing the butter by a quarter to compensate for what the bacon would add. Just to be safe I crisped up the bacon nicely and drained it well on some paper towels.

Per the recipe, I chilled the dough, rolled it out, added my pink sugar and baked them up.

And then the moment of truth.

They’re good. Really. And it’s been insanely fun giving them to people. I like to not tell them that there’s bacon in them, then let them taste, squint, and furrow their brow trying to identify the mystery flavor. It’s not overt—an added savory factor to a rich cookie. Then they look at me, look at the pig-shaped cookie and put two and two together. Oh, this is a good one.



It’s that time of year where I start challenging myself in my CSA. I choose some safety things, some produce I know will get me through the week and then I go with a wildcard. This week it was parsnips. No, turnips. Yes, google image search is right. Turnips. Purple on the bottom, rotund, baffling.

I had ignored them for a few days when I decided it was finally time to make something of them. Naturally I wondered, WWAD? I turned to Waters’ The Art of Simple Food and looked up parsnips. Then realizing my mistake, I looked up turnips.

Apparently, they have enough moisture in them that you can throw them peeled and cut into a pan with a little butter and salt and they will cook up magically. Skeptical, I did as told.

I have no business being surprised this time. Really. I should know that no matter how impossibly simple Alice Water’s recipes are, they come out insanely good, every time.

They were crazy good. Sweet and starchy and really satisfying. If the thanksgiving menu wasn’t already set and the guest list not so short, I’d be bringing these to the table tomorrow.



Beef and Broccoli redux

Prather Ranch has this lovely little deal at my local farmer’s market. Five steaks for a cool $20. They’re decent-sized grass-fed sirloin tips- just enough to satiate a steak craving or good to divvy up for a modest dinner for two.

I felt something of a meat craving coming on, so I moved one steak from the freezer to the fridge before I left, and came home to a perfectly thawed cut of meat. On the blogs lately there’s been a “World’s Best Broccoli” recipe making the rounds, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I trimmed the stalks into florets, shook them with a little oil, S&P and turned to the steak. I’ve watched enough cooking shows to remember to dry the meat, salt and pepper it, and then lay it down in a hot pan. I let it cook about 4-5 minutes a side, and then, panic.

Crapfuckshitdamn, this must have been the part where I paid more attention to my email than the ‘how to cook a steak’ show of Good Eats. I quickly googled “bittman, steak,” and decided to have the steak join the roasting broccoli already in progress to cook through. The searing-hot pan, in no smart semblance of order was hit with a pat of butter, a splash of wine and sliced shallots. Not smart.

Smoking wine burned my eyes as I frantically opened windows and turned on fans in a stellar effort to keep my hair-trigger fire alarm from going off.

I failed. I hate my fire alarm.

But while the smoke was clearing, magic was happening back in the kitchen. The broccoli was searing itself into a sweet-nutty side dish. The meat was cooking through and the sauce was reducing all on its own.

Where the technique fell through, the ingredients saved the day. The steak came out perfect. Like, perfect perfect. Unabashedly pink with seared crust that made the smoke alarm seem almost justified in its reaction. This, with a roasted broccoli tossed with a little parm and a bit of lemon juice, made a damn fine beef and broccoli dinner. It was the kind of meal I was really glad I cooked for myself, because no one was witness to the spectacle that created it, plus I didn’t have to share if I didn’t want to.


Breakfast: The rut that isn’t.

Though I make a concerted effort to try new and different foods all the time, I’ll always fall into a breakfast rut. I’ll have something over and over for months on end, to the point that that food is so inextricably linked with that period of time. A double-tall latte and a bagel with two madelines drops me back driving carpool in high school. A misguided health phase in college meant a wheatberry English muffin topped with two floppy eggwhites and faux-sausage. Like an album you listen to over and over in one period of time, that you can’t shake the association.

And like that music seems to soundtrack that time period just right, for me that breakfast seems to go along just right with what was happening at the time. And it makes sense. Clearly, I believe food is more than just substance. That what’s on your plate says something about where you come from, what you hold dear, and what does or doesn’t matter to you. Driving those kids to school I was looking for something to offset my 1st cigarette buzz and the associate stomachache. That breakfast sandwich I wouldn’t go anywhere near now was well under 200 calories, which apparently was important to me at the time.

Right now, I’m in a different breakfast place. French-pressed coffee from Ritual, Four Barrel or Blue Bottle, zucchini bread I make every weekend, plus a daily attempt at the perfect omelette.

I like the new ritual of baking the week’s bread and deciding who gets the second loaf. I’m comforted by the 1 minute/3 minute rhythm of making coffee, seeing how much else I can get done around the kitchen in those intervals, and stirring the eggs in the pan until curds form, trying to find that perfect balance of hovering over the pan and just letting it be. I like looking out over my mini-side yard to see the animals run around, then unexpectedly getting a head-butt to the calf from a cat looking for any scraps. He never gets any, but that doesn’t diminish his resolve.

When it’s all done, I sit down and either catch up on yesterday’s Colbert or what piled up on the RSS feeder overnight. I make sure to make enough time for it all, even if it means getting up at ridiculous-o’clock to make it to the gym and have time enough for all this.

Yesterday I was trying to remember the breakfast ruts that came before and the spaces they came with: toast with sunny-side up eggs or bread with butter and jam at 90 Parker. Walnut rolls at my desk in the Pearl District. But I couldn’t remember when I had fallen into the habit of making time for breakfast, of setting aside some time to ease into the day.

I knew it was in Portland, and I knew Stumptown coffee was involved, and I knew that we used to trade urls like sections of a newspaper while some new band discovered on Pitchfork streamed wirelessly from the speakers. And just remembering these details brought back that time. It’s the same details that keep a sense of nostalgia always within arms length. The most-played tracks on my music library, my missing roasting pan, my first bike, spice jars.

But I had forgot about the rosemary bagels. Ideally with homemade butter or at least the good butter from the local dairy. And I forgot the name of the dairy, too. Not Strauss, that's here. I think it had two syllables. And I could look it up in an instant, I could have that name back at my disposal, but what's the point? Why reconstitute a memory and bolster that nostalgia?

I'm glad the details are getting lost. These threads of memory are quietly snapping one by one and one day, before I know it, they'll all have decayed through and broken, and then tension, the sinuous tug of longing won't be there so strongly. I think that soon enough I’ll fall into a new breakfast routine and before long, I’ll look back at a two-egg omelette, two generous slices of zucchini bread and a French-pressed cup of coffee and have an association I don’t have the benefit of knowing right now.

this lovely landscape

Apple Nougatine, recipe from the good people at Tartine Bakery, and a sure contender for new dishes that will grace the table at my family's thanksgiving. Apples were sliced and sauteed in butter and sugar, then piled over a puff pastry. Over the top is a magic little concoction of egg whites, sugar and sliced almonds that hints at a sticky candy that pulls it all together.


Just right.

I had no business making dinner. It had been a weekend of total gastronomic excess, starting with a breakfast of Duck Eggs Benedict, followed by a veritable cookathon of lasagna, roasted delicata squash, carrot-cauliflower soup and zucchini bread. There was a lot of produce that needed to be gotten through, and instead of consuming it, I just cooked all of it, all at once. Besides having a fridge full of food, I had just come back from my latest Underground Food Academy class- Cheesemaking Plus. We had spent the afternoon making ricotta and shaking cream to make butter, then ended it all by sinking pieces of baguette into a bubbling pot of expertly-crafted fondue.

More food should have been the last thing on my mind.
But there was something about the momentum of all the food-based activity that I couldn’t quit, and something about all the richness of the waiting leftovers I just couldn’t bear to tuck into. I wanted fresh and I wanted green and I think a part of me just didn’t want the weekend to end.

The only thing in my fridge that hadn’t been roasted, buttered or braised was a bunch of rainbow chard quietly awaiting its fate in the crisper. I like the ritual of chard. Of bathing the oversized leaves and stacking them in front of me. Of taking the time to see their astounding color veined through the greenery. Of separating the stalk from the greens in two deft slices and assigning them into different piles. The two parts cook at really different rates, and if you don’t treat it right, you’ll end up with super over-cooked greens or stalks that are more than a little toothy.

About halfway through prepping the chard, I realized I was going to have far too much food again, and the idea adding more leftovers to the obscene cache of food in my fridge was too much. So I called over a friend.

I boiled water for pasta, heated some oil in a pan to start some shallots softening. When they were edging towards brown, the slivered stalks go in. Also a good time for the pasta to start cooking. Once the stalks have softened enough. Chopped greens go to the pan (with a tablespoon of butter) and get covered and steam their way to doneness. Salt, stir in cooked pasta, add a little parm. Eat.

After a weekend of running around, of meeting people and prepping for an Academy class, of meals charged with expectation and interactions fraught with anticipation, there was something about sitting down to a simple meal comprised of all of 5 ingredients that felt like a whole lot of right. I hadn’t planned to cook, to have anyone over, to entertain, but I’m glad I did, that I gave into my impulses. Because once in awhile, shrugging off impulse-control can leave you feeling really, really satisfied.


UFA-The Ritual of Espresso

I thought I knew how to work an espresso machine. I really did. I learned the ropes when I was about 16. I’d quit my job manning the front desk at my dance studio to start over at the Dolce Café. Sam would reach up for the tins of Illy coffee I’d dump into the grinder and pull shot after shot for lattes, cappucinnos and, being that it was in Brentwood in the ‘90s, Iced-blended mochas.

I took the skill-set along with me to college and beyond, where I’d pull shots and steam milk, feeling confident in my concoctions. I stood behind my drinks. I can only feel terrible now for the hundreds, possibly thousands of coffee drinks I made for people, and how I contributed, in my own way, to the proliferation of terrible, ill-pulled espresso.

I hope that I can be forgiven now for the sins against coffee I once committed.

My revelation and re-education began on Sunday, when the Underground Food Academy got behind the counter and on the machine at Ritual Roasters. Chris Baca, Western Regional Barista Competition Champion 2008, was our fearless leader, giving the crew a crash course in espresso, from bean to machine.

There was a lot to take in, as every step was deceptively simple.

As I used to think it was something like this:
Grind the beans
Drop ground beans in the filter basket.
Sweep off extra.
Run the shot.

In fact it’s more like this:
Grind the beans (single origin or blend? What size grind? Don’t grind too much- keep the grind fresh fresh fresh)

Drop ground beans into the filter basket (while you’re grinding them, quick motions to drop in an even little pile, and settle the filter twice, maybe three times, but not too hard or else you’ll get channeling)

Sweep off extra (what’s your style? Back and forth three times with your first finger a little elevated, or flat, or pinched off between two digits?)

Tamp (flat tamper or beveled? even consistent pressure, keep your arm straight, tap it a little loose with the back of the tamper- THE BACK of the tamper!)

Run the shot (run the water through first, clean your deck, lock in the shot, then let it run a little, cup under if it’s looking good, but don’t pull it away too early—or too late!)


Like I said, it’s complicated. Katherine, a long-time espresso drinker (and maker) concluded that she “probably had never had a good shot of espresso before,” and vowed to try and apply her newly learned techniques “as much as (she) can!”

It was a damn good start to a new beginning, and Chris was a very patient teacher. There’s a lot more to learn, for certain. And with some luck and more UFA espresso classes, I’ll be on my way to righting my past wrongs.



Spotted in LA at the farmer's market while waiting in line for ice cream. If I didn't have a mint ship on the way, I would have opted for a t-rex donut.



New underground food academy classes!

I know, there's a post that needs to come about the food I've been making and the restaurants I've been discovering, but it's been all bikes and work and beans and rice for a bit of time now. But still, the UFA has been rockin' with Cheese 101 back in August and more classes up on the books. There are spaces available, somehow, so now's the time to get up on 'em.

Here’s the latest in classes for the UFA. Reserve your spot now. Like, right now.
Email us to see if there’s still a spot.

Behind the Bar with the UFA
September is comin’ up, and this month we’re on a theme of everything drinkable. Belly up to the bar, and take a taste of these new classes:

First up, Potent Potables.
Been watching Mad Men? Feeling a little thirsty? Well, get your cocktail on as Peggy Boston from coco500 takes us on a guided tour of the drink list. We’ll get all the bartending basics- from glassware to classic cocktails and tips on how best to stock your home bar. This is a hands-on class with full-on drink
building, stirring and shaking action. Get ready to get popular, as this class will have you hosting cocktail parties in no time.

Bartending 101

Saturday, September 20th, 1:00-2:00 pm
Coco500 in SOMA
$35/person. 10 people max.
Sign up via paypal to headmaster@undergroundfoodacademy.com

And now, for a totally different kind of bar.

Ritual Roasters boasts award-winning baristas that proudly pull the best shots in the city. And they’re going to let a few of us behind the bar to see what espresso-making is all about. From bean to grind to extraction to crema assessment, we’ll get a taste of the boot camp all ritual baristas undergo. It’s an
early class for a Saturday, but no doubt you’ll be wide awake by the time you’re on your way.

The Ritual of Espresso
Sunday, September 28th, 9:00-10:00 am.
Ritual Roasters, Flora Grubb Gardens.
$25/person. 5 person max.
Sign up via paypal to headmaster@undergroundfoodacademy.com


Underground Food Academy Update

The Underground Food Academy is up and running!

With over 130 students signed up and a half a dozen classes in the works, things are going exceedingly well. Last Sunday brought the inaugural class- a visit to Alemany Farms. Alemany Farms is an urban farm, right off the 280 freeway just on the side of one of the hills that makes Bernal Heights. Arriving at the farm, I had more than a little worry that my students wouldn’t be into it. After all, they were in for more than a few hours of actual, physical labor paid off by a harvest and simple farmhouse dinner of locally sourced meats and cheeses. But everyone dove in and got their hands all kinds of dirty. I felt slightly awkward taking (what I thought would be) the cushy job of weeding raspberry plants while a couple of them picked up shovels to fold in the new horse manure into the compost. But they were into it. Seriously.

Through the day we weeded, composted and harvested. And none of it was easy work. Even picking green beans for the dinner, which I thought would be really rewarding, took its toll on my back before too long. Within hours I had such a greater appreciation for all the effort that goes into the food on my plate.

Dinner was locally themed, as I took a cue from the urban farm to source meats, cheeses and wines produced as close to city centers as possible. We had a great goat cheese from Petaluma, a sheep’s milk from San Andreas, plus a kick-ass Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery. Charcuterie came from Framani and Molieri in the east bay. So good, and so damn satisfying.

Class #2 took an entirely different tack, as we visited Adam Smith at Fog City News for a seven course chocolate tasting. Adam has amassed one of the most astounding chocolate bar collections in the city, and his knowledge of chocolate is more than a little impressive. He took the group on a descending tour of cocoa percentage. All the way down to zero with our toes dipping into the dark, sinister world of white chocolate. He talked us from bean to bar and back again, explained the difference between a chocolate maker and a chocolatier and gave me some good ideas for field trips. We rounded out the tasting with some mix-ins with my suggestions. Bacon! Cardamom! Salt! Everyone left with a few bars and a stomachache. Job well done.

Next up, well, check the class listings.

On the Move: Lamb-tastic

Cooking from the Cupboard continues as I defrost my freezer and forage for the best ingredients the pantry has to offer. I must say, it’s going pretty well.

From time to time when I’m ordering produce from the CSA, I’m tempted by the meat offerings. The lure of some grassfed beef or lamb is too much to resist, and I take some home to leave in my freezer until I forget about it. Which happens a lot. Right now I have a whole lot of chuck roast and a couple of pounds of ground beef to conquer.

Today, however, I took on the lamb.

As faithful readers know, I went on something of a cardamom kick earlier in the year, which really turned into a gateway drug for other spices. Cumin came in the mix. Then playing with peppercorn mixes.

You see where this is going?

I took some little lamb loin chops, let them take a quick marinade with a spice mélange, garlic and olive oil, then hit them with hot heat about 3 minutes a side in a pan. I let them rest from their flurry of activity while I deglazed the pan with a little white wine and butter, steamed some zucchini and made some cous cous. And a mid-summer morrocan feast was born.

Not bad for 30 minutes of work.


On the Move: What's for Dinner

The City by Mouth may soon be something of a misnomer. I'm making the big leap to the East Bay. Lots of reasons. Lack of summer, lack of kitchen combined with some real estate prospecting and I find myself packing some boxes. In an effort to pack a few less, I'm challenging myself to subsist solely on what's in my fridge, pantry and freezer until I make a fresh start. I'll still be picking up my CSA, but other than that, if I can avoid the market, I will. That being said, I reserve the right to call on Wok Inn Cafe or Giorgio's when I want. Gotta eat there while I'm around

I've got enough protein in my freezer to last for more than awhile, and it's time I got to it. On the way home, I remembered some not-long forgotten chicken breasts. Defrosted, sauteed with some leeks and tossed with some fettucine, and I had dinner. It might not be thrilling to look at, but it was damn good to eat.

More adventures to come.


those people at work. they know me so well.

It always makes me a little nervous when workplace birthday festivities come along, because it’s usually the job of the office to distill your personality or your interests into one card or sign or cake or something. You get a card about karate when you quit it six months ago or a banner in the shape of a bottle of wine that just goes to confirm your burgeoning suspicions that you might be coming in hungover to the office a little too often. So when the rouse to call me into the kitchen came last week, I approached with a little trepidation. What did these people think I was all about?

They nailed it. Meat cupcakes for me, Giants ones for the other birthday celebrator in the office. Cats, ostensibly, for the both of us.
Meat cupcakes. Little porterhouses rendered in frosting. Well done.


Sandwiches and Parks

I didn’t always like parks. Not by a lot. Portland would have its days of seasonal gorgeousness and like freed prisoners, people break free of their cold corners and flood the parks. Suddenly everyone has a Frisbee or a dog. It’s college again and layers are shed to reveal inexplicably toned legs and arms. Dean once said it’s like a plane of hotness lands in PDX when the sun comes out. If you admitted to spending The Incredible Weekend inside, you were met with a haughty, disapproving look. So I’d try and play along. Take a towel and a book to the park behind my apartment and be at the park. And there I’d sit, shifting from one uncomfortable position to another, lying on my stomach, sitting Indian style, casually resting on my back propped on my elbows watching the dogs run by. I’d last about 20 minutes before I wrote the whole thing off as a hippie activity and go inside, draw the blinds and catch up on my Netflix. I’d lie on Monday. Said I went on a hike in Forest Park.

But in the lexicon of the lol: Park. Ur doin it wrong.

I was missing sandwiches. And I was missing the right park.

I’ve fallen for Dolores Park. It’s the only place I really ever want to be, watching the endless parade of entertainment go by. Motley crews of hungover missionites looking to make the best of the day. Cyclists laying down their fixed-gear bikes like proud trophies. Bridge and tunnelers creating the scene of an ersatz J.Crew photo shoot. And the families hurridly making their way to the other side of the park, away from the open containers, the swearing and the man who wanders from blanket to blanket with a cooler, singsonging “ganja treats.”

Dolores Park is a dangerous half-block away from some of the best food in the city. Besides the burritos, there’s Bi-rite, where their small aisles become even more unnavigable when the temperature spikes above 60 degrees. Hipsters in shorts and everyone with a bag a little too big tries to make themselves smaller as they turn sideways to choose some produce or order a sandwich. Apologies abound and patience can run thin, but the selection and sandwiches are worth the wait. The deli line and check-out line get confused quickly and if you don’t have a number in your hand, there’s little hope of seeing lunch outside of 20 minutes. I’ve sat outside, waiting to meet a friend and seen park-bound person after park-bound person trip out of the store, shell-shocked and weary, wide-eyed, ready to take their hard-earned lunch and do a fucklot of nothing for a few good hours.

And of late, I have a new plan. It’s not as convenient, but probably takes about the same amount of time. The answer? Saigon Sandwich. It’s a tiny little shop in the Tenderloin that’s rumoured to be a front for some shady dealings. And really, with their bahn mi being so instantly addictive and euphoria inducing, I wouldn’t be surprised if some dust from the bricks of heroin they may or may not be bundling in the back aren’t making it into the roast pork. Seriously, they’re that good. Freshly pickled vegetables, succulent meats and some kind of magic sauce all on a crusty French roll. For $2.75. Seriously. Not a typo. Two dollars and seventy-five cents.

Friday I was in a different park. A friend of mine is new to working on the Embarcadero, and had yet to uncover the simple beauty that is Secret Deli. The shop is entirely non-descript, could be in any office complex anywhere, but the lady there, she does amazing sandwiches. I don’t know what it is, but she can make a turkey-avo-swiss-on-wheat-no-tomato-no-mustard like no one’s business. The tuna melt on dutch crunch is just as awesome. I went for my regular and he ventured for the Cadillac Chicken, a veritable coma-inducing gut bomb you can really only get on a Friday where you have no intentions of being productive.

We took our sandwiches, we made our way to the little patch of park behind Fog City. It doesn’t provide nearly the same entertainment as Dolores. It’s more of an afterthought of urban greening than anything else, but it works. A slightly shady spot under a tree, two sandwiches and an oversized bag of chips and suddenly the workday has floated away. Traffic falls into a white-noise backdrop and muted conversations are only interrupted by the mid-day walking of secretaries and their dogs. Trepadation about sitting directly on the grass is gone and soon enough you’re there, stretched out, sandwich wrappers crumpled and wedged under the shoes you’ve just decided to take off, wondering how long you can stay without raising any eyebrows.

Though I'm inclined to stay for four hours, forty minutes is even enough to sit there, with a friend and a sandwich. "This," I hear myself saying,"this is what life is all about."


Introducing the Underground Food Academy

I'm not one to have ventures. I wouldn't ever really be inclined to start up a start-up or sink any savings into a seemingly sure thing. But then something happened. I had an idea. The kind of idea that keeps you from falling asleep because you can't stop thinking about it. Where new ideas stem from that one and there you are, smiling to yourself as you're walking down the street. This, I realized, could be really big.

Introducing The Underground Food Academy. I could tell you all about it here, but it's better if you just click on over here.


how to make friends. and enemies

Once in awhile a food comes along that’s good. Really good. Maybe even too good. Something so simple and irresistible that people ask you not to make it. “Don’t bring it around here,” they say. “I can’t contain myself.”

But it’s reactions like that, calls from my family where epithets are playfully spat that keep me making more. With a raised eyebrow and a sly little smirk, I offer, “Oh, why don’t I bring something sweet?”

This cruel joke I play, this tempting of willpower and ruin of diets? Simple. Matzoh brittle. Matzoh with a simple butter and sugar caramel poured and baked on, add chocolate chips and a sprinkling of pistachios and you’ve got friends. I’ve brought it to work and it was gone in an instant. I sent some home for Passover and my family almost stopped talking to me. I took it with me to a potluck last week and reveled in sitting across the kitchen, watching people and their reaction. They’d have one piece, then come up with ways of making it ok to have more.

There was bargaining: “The meal was veggie, so another piece is ok.”
Self-delusion. “Just one more piece. Just half of one more piece.”
Displaced empathy: “We can’t let that little half a piece sit there.”
And recruitment: “Have you tried this yet? Here, we’ll split one.”

It was insanely fun to watch. To see people get so excited about something I made. By far, it’s the most satisfying part of cooking for me. To get to watch someone else enjoy it, express genuine joy for what you brought to the table. It was, in a word, sweet.

Like coming across this empty bowl in the office kitchen a scant 20 minutes after I left it there, filled with brittle:

unfamiliar territory

In college, I wasn’t one for experimentation. I didn’t have the obligatory sophomore lesbian one-night stand. I had little interest in drugs. It always struck me that it wasn’t experimentation for curiosity’s sake but more for the shock value of doing it. It wasn’t about learning something from the experience, but about impressing your friends the next day. I was more interested in books and boys.

Some things never change.

But some things do. The older I get, the more confident I become, the more risks I’m willing to take. Things I’m more comfortable exploring. So it’s not entirely unexpected that I find myself down a certain dark road. A toe dipped in an unfamiliar pond. Suddenly and without warning, I’m cooking vegetarian food.

I know. It’s a shock. I’m sure it’s almost as hard for you to read as it is for me to admit. I’ve been alternately mocking and pitying vegetarians for years. I have a subscription to Meatpaper magazine. But driven by economy and curiosity, I wanted to see if I could satisfyingly subsist on veggies and legumes alone. If I could stave off the need to have meat at every meal.

And it’s going ok. I’ve been working on a lentil curry recipe that’s taking off. French techniques and Indian flavors. I start by softening onions, fennel and carrots in a little oil. Then add some simple yellow curry and cayenne. In goes some rainbow chard or kale, a fair amount of vegetable broth, then the lentils and chickpeas to simmer for about 10 minutes.

It’s good. Really good. It’s got a surprising depth of flavor considering the relatively flavorless individual parts. Then topped with a tangy dollop of yogurt (also new to me, it’s been on my “creepy foods” list for awhile), and it becomes a very satisfying and tasty bowl of food.

But don’t worry, I’m not converting. I don’t think I could make it through life without the crisp skin of a perfectly roasted chicken or fathom a perfect brunch complete without a strip or two of bacon or endure a long, cold winter with at least one day devoted to a long-simmering pot roast on the stove. But it’s nice to know there’s damn good food to be had that doesn’t require a trip to the butcher’s counter.


Flat out of matzoh

Hey kids! If you find the afikomen this year, you might not want to give it back. Turns out there's a city-wide matzoh shortage going on. Is this the first evidence of the looming food crisis? An anti-semetic conspiracy? An indicator that the small shops are too reliant on big purchasing power?

I looked up a recipe for homemade matzoh and, as the story goes, it's insanely simple. Flour water and salt. Mix it up, roll it out, poke holes and bake it. Then get the hell out of Egypt. I'd be all over DIY flatbread, but I woke up with a mean little cold.

Maybe tomorrow.


Hot Knife Action

Impromptu photo shoot this morning for an upcoming project. Fuck, I love my knives.


Sunday Dinners

The Sunday dinners have continued, both big and small. Two weeks ago was Louise for simple broccoli pasta with green garlic. Then there was Heather for rainbow chard fettucine and roasted beets with burratta. It’s been easy and casual and the food has finally been as good as I’ve wanted it to be. I’m no longer frantically trying to cook and eat the last of my CSA goods before the new delivery comes. In fact, my fridge ends up despondently empty by Monday night, leaving me happily justified in ordering Chinese.
Last Sunday I upped the guest list to five, meeting what might be the maximum capacity for my studio dining nook. I had to reach behind the linens to pull out one of the extra leaves for the table for the first time. It was a proud moment.

And it wouldn’t be the first one.

I didn’t have too many initial ideas in menu planning, thought I’d let the produce and the season give me some clues. But with a fridge full of winter-facing veggies and an outside temperature climbing to a freakishly lovely 77 degrees, I was clueless.
All I had were heavy foods and a desire for bright, happy flavors. The answer? Lemon.
But I’ll get to that.
As I’m in the process of working on my first catering job, dinner guests and co-workers have become unknowing test subjects for the menu. Some have been good, some haven’t. Starting with the thyme-onion jam on crackers with goat cheese? Kicked ass.

Continuing with these kale chips I’ve been reading about? Not so much.

The main course was a sweet, bright happy medium of winter ingredients and summer cravings. I did a chicken breast braised with fennel and lemon, served with some herb roasted yukons and some rainbow chard with leeks.

To finish, a shard of homemade matzoh toffee and some strauss vanilla ice cream. Any pic I would have taken would have been blurry, because that damn matzoh toffee is so good, it doesn’t stay in one place too long.

Good show, me. This is exactly the kind of food I love to do. Seasonal, simple, influenced by the weather outside and the feeling inside. Timing was dead-on, company was great. This will be happening again soon.


simple pleasure

A few years ago I was having a quick cocktail party in Portland. I had put together a nice little array of little bites. I had visited my cheese guy and picked up some good pieces, fleshed it out with some charcuterie plus salad bites in endive leaves. I think about ten minutes before people were supposed to arrive, I realized I wasn't going to have enough. I needed one more thing on the table. I turned to the fridge and had some celery, which I cut up as pretty as I could and, realizing I had nothing to make a dip out of, sprinkled some black hawaiian sea salt I'd recently picked up in LA. I thought, it might not taste good, but it'll at least be pretty.

I was wrong. It tasted great. Simple, bright celery tempered with a minerally salt. And it looked more than pretty. Contrasted on a black serving dish picked up by the salt, it was striking. It didn't look like just celery and salt.

It's become a regular snack for me, or a side to my latest lunch plan of charcuterie and cheeses. Seemingly a little fancy for the office lunch table, maybe. But I like it.


Clement Adventures

In terms of things to eat, I’m pretty lucky with where I live. I’m just a short walk away from Clement St, where you can track down a satisfying Bahn Mi, or the best red-tablecloth pizza joint in the city , or a veritable villa of tasty and impossibly cheap dumpling houses. Going down Clement can feel like going on a little adventure, a quick trip to another country where all bets are off, where you’re bound to stray from the usual because the usual is nowhere in sight. And this sense of adventure that’s triggered, it gets you to try new things, to go a little further off the map then you might be used to. Suddenly you’ve got that invincible vacation feeling and anything goes.

And it can be great. Last night dinner was at a little dumpling place I know only by sight and by sense memory. Somewhere on Clement between 5th and 6th is a little pink place with windows boasting egregiously thick Chinese donuts and trays on trays of steaming dumplings. The menu is expansive, dizzying and encourages trial. Why get mu-shu chicken when you can get wok-fried rice cakes with pork and greens (below).

That plus a platter of hand-crafted leek and shrimp dumplings plus a large-family size plate of pork with mustard greens over noodles. It was a lot of food. It was also $20.
But there are times when adventure can go a little too far. Especially when the adventure leads to Genki Crepe.

Genki Crepe always seems like a good idea at the time. “It’s so cute! It’s so fun! It’s packed full of endlessly amusing Japanese candy and packaged goods! We hardly spent anything on dinner, so let’s go be frivolous! I’m all jacked up on sodium and adventure that I could get anything! A crepe! Yes, a big crepe, the biggest one they have! Wait, they make them with ice cream? And cheesecake? Both? With whipped cream? Let’s get one! Ha ha ha this is so fun!“

And it is. It is fun. It’s fun until about five minutes after you bite into that sweet concoction that sets in a crippling stomachache coupled with a very, very intense sugar rush. All of a sudden the five blocks left to walk home seem impassable and all you’re inclined to do is giddily laugh, hold your stomach and wonder why, why , why you do this to yourself.

But it’s the adventure, the fun of it. The fact that in those five blocks you’ll discover another place to try. A little thai cafe or pho house with no legible menu in the window that just begs you to come in and explore. And to finish the adventure, you’ll wander into Genki Crepe, marvel at the candy and consider the strange sodas but, having learned your lesson, probably head out empty-handed.


not easter eggs

For the last couple of weeks, the eggs I've been getting from my CSA have been a beautiful collection of colors. A few brown, a few white and a few of a delicate blue hue. They look like spring in an egg carton, make me wonder about the origin of dying easter eggs around this time, make me feel lucky. It feels like a treat to get these really pretty eggs that taste so damn good. I like to eat the blue ones last.


something new

I think winter had finally caught up with me. My palate was downtrodden by a parade of root and leafy green vegetables that I’ve been roasting and sautéing again and again. All I could think to do to meats was roast them with garlic and herbs. Totally boring. Totally uninspired.

I wanted to taste something new. I thought bi-rite ice cream would help me out. Bring a little brightness, and it did. I picked up a pint of the oddest flavor I could find, Orange Cardamom, and for a minute or two, it was damn resplendent. But still, orange is a citrus I’m burning out on and cardamom, though I love it, I could already anticipate the taste.

Something newer. Brighter.

I turned to my fridge, and I found a bottle of sparkling red I hadn’t opened yet. I read about sparkling reds years ago as the perfect go-with for a BBQ. I figured why not bring in some brightness to another roasted dinner?

Good call, me.

The Brachetto is lovely. Kind of like a Moscato d’ Asti with a bit more fruit than flowers. Sparkly and refreshing and though it might not make sense seasonally, really cheered up a dinner of roasted lamb loins and sautéed chard.
This is a flavor combination that’ll be happening again soon. Maybe at my next dinner party, say?


The Jam Cartel

I’m not one to linger in denial. I know that I have the capacity and history to be a little obsessive about things. Food things. There’s a particular candy bar sold in Portland I’ve been pining after for awhile. I’ve been known to have the same breakfast over and over again for months on end.

And when I write months I might mean years.

An obsession is different for me than a craving. A craving can be assuaged in a few simple bites. I’ll crave pancakes or steak, but don’t need to have it day after day.

But I got in a little jam with a recent food obsession. I wrote about it a little while ago- the preserved fruits from welovejam. The kumquat marmalade was insanely good. I tried to pace myself, I knew it was in limited supply, but there was nothing I could do. I ran out.

So, being the reasonable person I am, I turned to my jam pusher. I emailed Eric at welovejam:

“Hi there

So, I'm nearing the bottom of my jar of the kumquat jam and I'm getting worried about my next fix. My breakfast has come to depend on good jam. Since I know the apricot jam is months away still, is there another product you recommend to tide me over? I'm in San Francisco, so if there's a grocery I should go to, point me there!”

Like I said, I’ll admit a problem when I have one.

So Eric wrote back, understood where I was coming from, and like a good dealer, came through. He didn’t have the apricot, but he could deliver some elephant heart jam.

And he did. Literally.

At a specified time (10:30 a.m. on a Sunday) at a specified place (my apartment building), Eric dropped by to deliver the goods. It couldn’t have been more like a drug deal if we had planned it. And it’s been good. Completes my latest breakfast kick of slow-cooked scrambled eggs, Niceragua La Union coffee and toast with butter and jam.

I’m really trying to pace myself this time. To hold out until the Blanheim apricot jam is ready. I’ve got about half a jar left of the good stuff. Wish me luck


And now, back to our regular food writing.

In an ongoing effort to resist the call of the take-out menu, I’ve been turning to the contents of my fridge and pantry for simple dinners. And they’ve been coming out really good. Plates of food with only a few ingredients that add up to a lot more than the sum of their parts. I made a broccoli pasta last week that was so good, it felt selfish not to share. In fact, two bites in, I brought it back to the kitchen so I could take a damn picture of it. Which is here:

So, I got this idea in my head that I should really start sharing this food a lot more. Have people over for dinner as much as schedules will allow. I can see my friends, share some food and enjoy food the way it should be enjoyed: with friends.

I kicked off my big plan by inviting my upstairs neighbors over for Sunday dinner But somehow, wrapped up in the idea of Entertaining, I abandoned my simple plan and ended up making something a lot more complicated. I spent all day browning, braising and simmering oxtail stew. I baked fresh bread to start and madelines to finish. It was nonstop work for most of the day and by the time I heard the knock at the door I was exhausted.

And to make it that much more unsatisfying, I wasn’t happy with the food. It was a lot of work for not a lot of payoff. I hadn’t let the liquid separate enough so the stew was too fatty and the meat didn’t get as tender as I hoped it would. And there wasn’t enough salt either.

Still, the bread was good, the cookies were fine, and it felt good to have people over. I’ve just got to go back to my initial idea. Simple, good food. Make a dinner I’d usually make for myself, just make enough to share.

I’ve got more than a few dinners lined up at my place in the next few weeks, and I will try damn hard to resist my cache of clipped recipes and scrawled ideas. I’m going to plan, but not overplan. Keep some charcuterie and cheeses on hand for snacky starters, turn to the CSA contents and basics for ideas. Let the ingredients do the impressing.

More to come on the dinner party series, for certain.