Archive for April, 2013

A Slice of My Life – Week 17

April 30, 2013

Coming home from a vacation is never easy.  Coming home from Hawaii is particularly jarring.  Where is that smell of gardenias?  What happened to my lei?  Why is there no shave ice anywhere near me?  Why does the air feel cool at night?  You know.  But I have to say, coming home to sunshine and warm temperatures for now and the foreseeable future make re-entry a lot easier.  Above, a little sprinkler running.

Indian food testing.  Of all the classes I taught in Seattle, my Indian class was the most popular.  I planned to teach it twice and, because the class kept selling out, I ended up teaching it six times.  Earlier this fall, our school had an auction and I teamed up with a friend to offer this class as an auction item.  (She hosted the class because my kitchen is too small to teach in.)  In preparation, I practiced all my recipes and added a new one that was a big hit.  I’ll share the recipe with you this week.

This is a bathroom in our house that we recently remodeled.  It is hard to photograph because of how the light comes in.  I wish I had a before photo because the change is pretty miraculous.  I’ve mentioned this before, but our house is in the fire zone of Oakland.  In 1991, a huge fire came through and burned over 3,000 homes.  Almost every single house in our vicinity burned.  The people who rebuilt our house tried to recreate the house they lost and tracked down all the outdated paint colors and finishes that had been in the original.  Fortunately for us, another couple owned the house before we bought it and systematically remodeled almost the whole house.  The rooms they didn’t get to were two of the bathrooms, the room that became Graham’s (which was used as a storage room), and the laundry room.  The bathrooms were covered in hideous wallpaper and had mauve toilets and mauve shell sinks, and terrible ugly tile.  We opted to leave the bathroom in Spencer’s room in all its ugly glory since he and Graham are the only ones who use it.  This bathroom we updated and I’m really pleased with how it turned out.  The laundry room is much more functional and organized and Graham’s room went from being the worst room in the house to probably the best.  I will post more photos soon.

This little light hangs in my kitchen.  It is right above a small seating area.  I almost never turn it on because there is almost never anyone sitting in the seating area, but it always looks like it is on because of how the sun hits it.

My new favorite single girl (as in husband is out of town) dinner.  Quinoa, kale, avocado, 4-minute egg, chile sauce.

Last weekend, I attended the Big Traveling Potluck.  I didn’t take many pictures.  Many people try and capture as many shots of themselves and friends as they can and write big recap posts about events like these.  I opted to not do that.  I had kind of mixed feelings going in to the event.  I am no longer interested in going to the big blog events (like BlogHer Food or IFBC) because I feel that the content is constantly repeated and the conferences have gotten so huge that all sense of community and intimacy have been lost.  The Big Potluck and its sister event, The Big Traveling Potluck appealed to me because of its size (about 80) and because the message seemed to be about building community rather than learning about how to get more hits on your site.  I’ve made some amazing friends in my years as a food blogger and my interest in attending events is more about seeing the friends I know, meeting friends I know only through social media, and meeting brand new people.

I say all that and then I have to add the caveat that big social gatherings are hard for me.  They are hard for me even if I know every single person but they are especially difficult when most of the people are unknown.  I majored in theatre in college and I am good at acting like an outgoing person but inside I am an introvert and continually extending myself socially can be exhausting for me.  This event was wonderful in that I did see some of my old friends, I did meet some of my Instagram and Twitter friends (all of them as lovely as I had thought they would be), and I did meet totally new-to-me people who surprised me with their friendliness and graciousness.  I feel like I earned at least ten new friends which is such a treat.

Ever since moving to California, I’ve thought about trying In-n-Out.  I know they are famous for their hamburgers but I know you can get a grilled cheese and I had heard the fries are good.  Wah-wah-wah.  The grilled cheese, which is just a cheeseburger without the burger part, was gross enough to not finish it, and the fries were limp and terrible.  I have heard you should get them “crispy” but I don’t like crispy fries.  The best part of the meal was the Diet Coke.

Whenever I wear these shoes, I get compliments on them from strangers and friends alike.  I decided to count the people who said they liked them on a day when I was around a lot of people (the end of the Potluck and the flight home).  I got 13 compliments on these shoes in one day!  Too bad they kill my feet…

Aaaaaaannnndd back to reality.  Lunch box packing.  I hate packing lunches.

My Old Job

April 25, 2013

My first job working with food kind of fell in my lap.  I had a good friend who had recently hired a personal chef.  While she liked the convenience, she found the food heavy and not all that inspired.  Without thinking too carefully I said, “I’ll cook for you.”  Without thinking too carefully she said, “OK.”  And suddenly, poof!, I was a personal chef.  The arrangement worked out for both of us and my friend recommended me to another family.  Up until I had Spencer, I cooked for those two families three nights a week.

When all was said and done, I did that job for three years.  I had my two regular families for all that time and a few others who stopped and started.  Graham, who is now eight, was 17 months old when I started cooking for money and I did it through my pregnancy with Spencer and, after a short maternity leave, when he was an infant.  I was lucky to have had very flexible clients who were great eaters and were just happy to eat whatever I brought them.  I was able to be creative and make a serious dent in my “want to make” recipe file.

I kept notebooks with every menu I ever made.  It is amazing to look back and see the food I was able to produce in my kitchen with very small children and not a lot of time.  In all three years, I almost never repeated dishes and when I did, it was because someone had made a request.  I’ve been thinking about those days recently because I’ve been thinking about whether or not I’d like to start personal cheffing again.  I loved doing it and the only reason I stopped is because I found the work too solitary.  Teaching cooking classes allowed me to have prep time alone but then to share time and food with others.

Whenever I think about starting up again, I think of this dinner.  It was the first thing I made for my first client and I agonized over the choice.  I felt so much pressure (from myself) for the meal to be a hit.  I wanted so badly to succeed.  Because of that, I went to a no-fail cookbook, Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, and made a favorite dish.

Over the years since I hung up the personal chef hat, I have made this dish many times.  I’ve made others like it too – I just really like my red lentils.  They are quick cooking and healthy and in about the time it takes for the rice to cook, you have a tasty and nutritious meal.  Recently I saw tables full of broccoli romanesco at the farmers’ market and whenever I see that beautiful vegetable, I always think of this dish.  After several years of making other versions of red lentil dhal, it was nice to come back to an old favorite.  There are a lot of steps to her recipe, and a little underseasoning, so I tweaked it to my current tastes.  Still, a classic is a classic.

One Year Ago:  Ginger Fried Rice with Roasted Tempeh, Maple Blueberry Tea Cake
Two Years Ago:  Butterscotch Pudding Tarts, Greek Salad
Three Years Ago:  Leek Frittata, Strawberry Ricotta Tartlets
Four Years Ago:  Ricotta Calzones with Broccoli Rabe, Miso Soup
Fragrant Red Lentils  with Broccoli Romanesco
Adapted from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen
Serves 4

The final swirl of spices in oil might sound like an annoying extra step but it is really what makes this dish special.  I like to use coconut oil in this type of cooking but feel free to use butter, ghee, or another type of oil.

3 tbsp. coconut oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large jalapeño chile, seeded and diced
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1½ tsp. ground turmeric
¼ tsp. cayenne
2 cups red lentils
1 bay leaf
Kosher or sea salt
1 can coconut milk
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
1 head broccoli romanesco or cauliflower, cut into bite sized pieces
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
Cooked basmati rice for serving

Place a large saucepan over medium heat.  Spoon in about 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil, then add the onion and a large pinch of salt.  When the onion is translucent and starting to brown, about 5 minutes, add the ginger, garlic and chile.  Sauté for a couple of minutes, then add the ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne.  Stir for one minute, then add the lentils.  Stir to coat the lentils with the spices, then pour in 3 cups of water.  Turn up the heat so the mixture boils, then add the bay leaf, and turn the heat down so the mixture simmers.  Partially cover the pot and cook until the lentils are soft and most of the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and simmer for another few minutes until the lentils are very soft and falling apart.  Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro.  Cover and keep warm.

Steam the broccoli romanesco or cauliflower until tender.

To finish, heat another tablespoon of coconut oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the mustard and cumin seeds and cook until they become very fragrant and the mustard seeds start to pop.  Immediately add to the red lentils and stir to combine.

To serve, pack the hot rice into ramekins and turn them upside down, one each, in a shallow pasta bowl.  Spoon a cup or more of the lentils around them, then lift off the ramekin, leaving the rice intact.  Top with the broccoli romanesco and garnish with cilantro sprigs.


A Slice of My Life – Kauai Edition

April 23, 2013

Last week, that week of utter craziness in Boston and Waco and unbelievable disappointment in our government, I was in Hawaii.  Kauai to be exact.  We heard the news about the bombings because a friend who came with us on our trip happened to be watching the news as she ran on the treadmill.  We were six hours behind the East coast and, it felt, a million miles away from all the bad things that were happening.  Kauai was actually a great place to be in a time of fear and uncertainty.  We didn’t have to shield our kids from the news because they were in the water from morning until evening.  And truthfully, whenever the tv was on, it was tuned to the Disney channel or Cartoon Network.  I relied on Facebook and the New York Times on my phone for updates and I felt utterly sick at times that I was sitting by the pool with a Mai Tai and watching my kids splash around while people were recuperating from unimaginable injuries in hospitals and others were imprisoned in their homes while a manhunt went on.  But what can I do?  I was on vacation, on an island in the middle of the Pacific, while some really bad shit went down in our country.  Does that mean I shouldn’t tell you about our trip?  I don’t think so.  So here we go.

This was our family’s fourth trip to Kauai.  Our first time Spencer had just turned a year and Graham was three.  I remember, viscerally, the stress of traveling that far with children that young.  My kids actually did great, I was the one who was a mess.  In general, I am not a high stress worrying kind of person.  But traveling across time zones on long flights with my children when they were young was hard for me.  It is so different now, at ages eight and six.  They pretty much entertained themselves, with the help of a combination of iPad, Leap Pad, and DVD players, and all the snacks that I don’t usually let them eat (think those white crackers with spreadable cheese), for the duration of the five hour flight.  We left Oakland early in the morning and arrived, thanks to a three hour time difference, around 9:30 in the morning.  That left us with a bonus day of sun and swimming.  Above is where I parked myself for the first three days of the trip.

If you have been to Kauai, you know the weather is not a sure bet.  Our first time there, we had six hours of sun in seven days.  (You should click on that link if for no other reason than to see my kids at ages two and four – impossibly cute if I do say so myself.)  After that trip, we decided it would be a good idea to tack on a couple of days in Poipu at the beginning of the trip.  Poipu (which the boys thought was the funniest word ever) is on the sunny side of the island and it is nice to know that, if nothing else, we will get a few days of sun.  The Sheraton has a terrific pool and the beach is just steps away.

The view from our room in Poipu, setting up for the luau.  We contemplated going but realized that there was almost nothing for the boys and me to eat (the vegetarians in the family), so we opted to just watch from our balcony.

The boys liked the pretty girls “shaking their booties”.  All righty then.

Several examples of island style.  My dress is from that cool boutique in Oakland.

It wasn’t all sun and swimming and fruity beverages.  After three days in Poipu, we headed north and west to Princeville.  We stopped on the way for lunch in Kapa’a at a restaurant where we have eaten before.  Randy ordered fish tacos as he usually does when he has the opportunity.  About five minutes after finishing his lunch, he got a really bad headache.  Then his face turned bright red.  I suggested we turn around and head for the hospital near the airport.  He told me that he wanted to press on and we’d see how he felt.  This is something that Randy sometimes does, he won’t admit that something is wrong until it is dire.  Is this a guy thing?  Not only would he not turn around but he insisted on driving.  As we got on the road, I saw a sign for an urgent care just out of Kapa’a and made him make the turn.  It turns out they have an ER, thankfully.  In just a few minutes after checking in, his whole body turned bright red.  In order not to scare the boys or have them tear up the waiting room, we went back into town to get shave ice, more on that treat later, and waited for the call to come get him.  It turns out that Randy got scromboid poisoning, something that can affect certain kinds of fish if they are not refrigerated properly.  The redness was basically one huge hive that covered him in a histamine response.  It is amazing what the body can do when faced with an invader.  After some IV benadryl, his color was back to normal and away we went.  Needless to say, I drove the rest of the way.  Later in the trip, Randy got a bad cold and was hit by a car while riding his bike.  Again we were lucky and he was all right.

Princeville.  The only downside to our time share is that is not on the beach, although the pool is terrific.  We are just a few miles from Hanalei Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, and we are up the hill from a lovely St. Regis, where we have beach privileges.

Not too shabby.  We have to bring our own towels so we are recognized as the riff raff and we are NOT allowed in their pool.  We are allowed to order $15 cocktails however.

I’ve lived most of my life on the West Coast and right near the water.  The water has mostly been a Sound and is most recently a Bay.  Being in Hawaii and looking out on the Pacific Ocean is awe-inspiring.

I read three books.  Two are not really worth mentioning (all right, I read The Night Circus after hearing great things about it and all I thought was meh).  This one though.  Wow.  I’m kind of a fiction snob and was prepared not to like it or just to think of it as a beach read.  It was a beach read in that is has a great plot, but I also found it moving and very well written.  I half expected it to fall apart at the end as so many books that start well do (helllloooo Gone Girl), but the end was just as great as the rest.  Pick it up!

Every single day we had shave ice.  That is not a misprint.  In Hawaii it is shave (no “d”) ice and it is nothing like a sno-cone.  The ice truly is shaved from a huge block so it melts on the tongue like ice cream, and there is no crunching or pool of syrup left in your cup when you are done.  At first we got one for the boys to share (they are large) but Randy and kept dipping our spoons into it.  Then we got each of the boys their own but Randy and I kept dipping our spoons into it.  Finally, the boys each got their own and Randy and I got one to share.  Such good stuff.

Those rainy days I was telling you about.  It was still in the 70’s so it did not stop the boys from swimming.

Or me from drinking.

The annual boys in Aloha shirts in Randy’s arms photo.  (Here is the one from last time.)  I warned him that after poisoning, a bad cold, and a collision between his bike and a car that he did not need a hernia on top of everything.  Maybe next time the boys will pick him up.

Pickled Lemons

April 11, 2013

About ten years ago, I realized that using fresh citrus in my cooking made a huge difference in the way things tasted.  It all started the year we lived in London and my refrigerator was so tiny that I couldn’t justify taking up room with a bottle of lemon juice.  Instead, I bought fresh lemons and stored them in a fruit bowl out on the counter.  Suddenly, my food was so much brighter.  I never looked back.  Living in Seattle, I bought lemons at Costco and kept them in my crisper drawer.  They keep well and I never wanted to be without them, which is why I bought them in bulk.

It makes me laugh now.  Thinking of buying lemons at Costco.  Imagining of a day when I would need a lemon and be out of them.  That day will never come as long as I have this tree in my front yard.  I’ve mentioned this before, but our house is in the fire zone of the Oakland hills.  In 1991, over 3,000 houses burned down, including all the homes on our street and the streets below us.  For some reason, this tree survived.  I’m not sure how a house can burn down and a tree, that is made of wood, can stay standing, but there you go.  There are many lemon trees in our neighborhood but this one is one of the largest and most prolific.  When we moved in last fall, I was delighted to see so many lemons.  Little did I know it would go truly gangbusters once the late winter set in.  Now they are literally falling off the tree. I use a lot of citrus in my cooking and yet I can’t keep up.  We picked a bunch last week, gave them to the neighbors who don’t have trees of their own, and there are still so many just waiting to be picked.  Lots of lemons calls for drastic measures.

When I was in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, Lara, the lovely owner of Book Larder, mentioned that she had made the lemon pickles from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem.  Glancing at the recipe, I realized that this would be a good way to use a lot of lemons since you are pickling them in their own juice.  I made a double batch, put some aside for friends, and have been using the rest ever since in likely and unlikely places.  They were a delicious condiment for an Indian feast and also tasted good on top of poached eggs that were sitting on top of a potato cake.  Basically anyplace where a big dollop of flavor and a dose of sour would be welcome.

One Year Ago:  Chickpea, Artichoke, and Spinach Stew
Two Years Ago:  Pane con Formaggion (Cheese Bread), Banana-Date Tea Cake
Three Years Ago:  Black Bean Tostadas, Cinnamon Chocolate Ribbon Cake
Four Years Ago:  Butterscotch Spiral Coffee Cake, Orange Cinnamon Biscotti

Quick Pickled Lemons
Makes about 1½ quarts

½ red chile (DT: I used a green jalapeño because I had some on hand)
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 small-medium unwaxed lemons, halved lengthwise and sliced widthwise as thinly as possibly
3 tbsp. superfine sugar
1½ tsp. coarse sea salt
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp. sweet paprika
¼ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground turmeric

Use a mortar and pestle to smash the chile with 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice; you want to get a rough looking paste.  Transfer this to a large bowl along with all the other ingredients.  Use your hands to mix everything together well so that all the flavors get massaged into the lemons.  Leave in a covered bowl overnight, then transfer to sterilized sealed jar the next day.  The lemons will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


A Slice of My Life – The Past Few Weeks

April 9, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, the boys and I went to Seattle for their spring break.  We had a very sweet visit, stayed with four different friends, ate in some restaurants I had been wanting to try, played in some parks, hit the Pike Place Market, visited Book Larder, and drove around in a minivan loaned to us by our friend Debbie.  It was exactly what I needed.  Graham can be a little unsettled when we travel but he was so happy to be in a place he recognized and remembered.  When we got out of the car at the Market, it started to rain.  He lifted his beautiful face up to the sky, held out his arms, and yelled, “I miss the rain!”

We got plenty of sun too and gorgeous skies.

I took the boys to the park I liked best when I was a kid.  Luther Burbank on Mercer Island if you are a Seattle dweller.

The restaurants we went to were a little disappointing (Wandering Goose and Shanik).  By far the best food I had were the meals made by friends.  My friend Joy made this delightful lunch for us.

Favorite coffee spot and a visit with Megan.  There is very good coffee in Oakland but it is better in Seattle.

Leaving Seattle on a day like this is tough.

Back in Oakland, I made these cakes for Easter Sunday.  The recipe was a bit perplexing but they turned out well.

I got a review copy of Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy.  I made this delicious kale and soba noodle salad.

I shared my struggles with acid reflux and a recipe for this Thai green curry.  Thanks so much to all of you for comments, emails, and suggestions.  It is a journey, that is for sure.

At hair cut time, I was ready to chop most of it off.  My stylist dissuaded me, suggesting I would miss the curl.  She proposed this happy medium.  I liked it for one day, until I realized that it is totally uneven and now I’m back to wanting to chop it.

My books from Book Larder came.  Is there a better mail day?  Sadly, I don’t think I chose well with Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables – too much meat.

Driving around the hill of Montclair can be entertaining.  Many of the streets are named after astrological signs.  Or planets.

So. Many. Lemons.

We picked about 100 of them and gave them to neighbors.  I also made a quick pickled lemon recipe from the Jerusalem cookbook.  They are amazing!

On Friday, the boys and I got on BART and went into the city to meet Randy at his office.  This is the view from Randy’s office, looking back across the Bay Bridge and into Oakland.

We started a supper club here in Oakland.  We did one in Seattle for almost eight years and loved it so decided we should do one here.  We invited some of the other kindergarten families and had a great night.  A friend noticed that you can see Randy and Graham welcoming our guests in the upper right hand corner of this shot.


I made these potato and Jerusalem artichoke blini.  A bit of work but they turned out really well.  I topped them with blue cheese, broiled them, and then topped them with dressed salad leaves and pear slices.

I didn’t get a shot of the dessert, which is a shame because it was awesome.  Chocolate Whiskey Tart.  I served farmers’ market strawberries along side that I tossed with lime zest and chopped candied ginger.  I learned that tip from Denise and wow! does it make strawberries taste incredible and a little dressed up.

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