Sunday, October 29, 2006

Harvest Feast

Heirloom Tomato Tart * Apple Tart * Scallops & Greens * Popovers!

I console myself that I at least started off the day with a little activity - the annual grape harvest - Cabernet grapes, which, with a little fermentation become wine a few years down the line. Between two of us we had only one pair of clippers, so I amused myself by tasting said grapes when I wasn't cutting. There really is a difference between the first growth (sweet) and second growth (sour) grapes. Alas, no more stomping of the grapes like I Love Lucy, but a lovely day to idle in the sun and try out new shadow puppets amidst the vines.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

It's All about the Sugar

I'm used to Halloween being an ode to candy and so I happily stock up on chocolate sweets each year, hoping that trick-or-treaters will actually stop by for some sugary goodness. And since I consistently (and optimistically?) overestimate the trick-or-treater flow, I fully expect to be stuck with leftover Snickers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups this year. Costumes and candy I get, but since when did inflatable pumpkins and life-sized ghosts and Halloween lights have a place on this candy-filled day?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

reason to do a happy dance

I was browsing at a local bookshop looking for nothing in particular when my eye fell upon The Murray's Cheese Handbook, a skinny yellow book that had me practically dancing in the aisles a few minutes later. Only my inability to read while simultaneously dancing stopped me.

I chanced upon Murray's Cheese in Greenwich Village last year and was filled with instant regret that I couldn't sample many of the exotic goods hidden in their aging room. It's a fantastic little store with wonderful treasures. Now I can study up before my next visit. Whereas many cheese primers feature glossy, though not terribly descriptive pictures, this one categorizes tastes by country and milk to name a few, and even features a list of "Sexiest Cheeses." I tested the primer by looking up a some of my favorites, Cowgirl Creamy Mt. Tam and Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue to be specific, and found a description and story to accompany each. There's also a crash course in cheese terminology and craft. My cheese exploration thus far has been limited to random things I read about and the nose test, which has made for a lovely journey through the cheese counter, but I'm ready to give my tastings a bit more focus. I think I've found just the guide.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

New Old Addiction

I've long been a devotee of Girl Scout cookies. It probably stems from my days as a salesgirl, when I went door-to-door and in the process, met my entire neighborhood. The sweet little lady who lives down the street may not know my name, but she still knows me as the Girl Scout Cookie Girl and it's many, many years later.

But I digress. I was a Safeway today perusing the cookie aisle when I was confronted by a horrifically gaudy orange packet that read "Keebler Fudge Shoppe Peanut Butter Filled Cookies." Could these be Tagalongs (though I still refer to them as Peanut Butter Patties) in disguise? It was worth a try. I promptly opened the packet (well, first I paid for them and went home - I do have some restraint!) and ate nearly an entire row of chocolaty-peanut butter bliss. If I closed by eyes I wouldn't be able to tell the Keelber variety apart from my Girl Scout favorites, though the biscuit portion of this cookie is chocolate rather than vanilla.

Girl Scout Cookies arrive once a year. I go to Safeway once a week. Just how bad this might be I can't even fathom.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Why I have a Palm Pilot

I thought I'd make restaurant reservations in advance for my NYC dinners, not all of them, but for a couple that require advance planning. Turns out the "reservation book doesn't open" until a month prior to the date requested. Yes, that's their phrase and not mine. I can handle a little stuffiness for a truly spectacular meal, so I've marked my calendar with a variety of dates during which I will crawl to the phone at 6AM to make sure I can get through on the "reservation line" once it opens. And yes, I did verify the phone numbers. No sense in getting up early and dialing the wrong number!

I shall leave the restaurants a mystery until I've secured bookings. And I do have a contingency plan in case I can't get reservations at my top choices. I thought about making a flow-chart but decided that might be carrying things a bit too far. Instead, I programmed a series of restaurant numbers into my phone. And set an alarm on my Palm Pilot.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

An Egg Mystery

On a whim, I ordered two eggs scrambled because Woohoo said they were "fluffy" at this particular brunch place. They were fluffy indeed, but I can't figure out how they came to be that way. Unlike normal scrambled eggs, these did not appear scrambled. On my plate was a smooth round disk of scrambled eggs. There was no browning, no skin, and definitely a bit of grease. The eggs were indeed fluffy, but in the absence of tell-tale scrambling marks, I wonder if the eggs were:

A. Microwaved - seems like a lot of trouble for a pretty hopping cafe
B. Baked - there was no skin on the eggs and no browning
C. Steamed - there was a lot of grease on the surface of the disk

I'm sure there was cream or full milk in the mix to enhance the eggs, which were quite good, though oddly presented. And still a mystery.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


I paid a visit to the farmer's market this morning and during my first turn 'round the market sampled all the heirloom tomatoes available. I was quickly seduced by a particular group of Brandywines that had the most winning flavor and decided it was worth splurging for them. Then my eye fell upon a bunch of purple carrots just as I was preparing to pay. As I later learned, these were Purple Dragon carrots whose skin hid a surprisingly bright orange interior. After the sample of the crunchiness won over my taste buds, I decided that these too were worth a splurge. (For the record, they taste like carrots, but earthy and with an extra sweetness.) And then I started chatting up the grower about the other varieties of baby carrots he had on hand, and since my family's weakness for steamed baby carrots renders us into Bugs Bunny wannabes, I ended up with not only the Purple Dragons, but white, golden Kinbi, standard orange, and some pink-purple Japanese variety. And to top off a great morning at the market, I snapped up pounds and pounds of english peas which I happily shelled and am snacking upon as I type.

When I got home I decided it wouldn't hurt to arrange everything into a centerpiece (preparing for Thanksgiving) though I'm fairly certain that none of these items will be around in late November...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

51 Days

A few years ago, Chef decided to make a cranberry-orange relish at Thanksgiving. He liked it. The rest of us are averse to cranberry and orange in combination so we delighted in the usual Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce and Whole Berry Sauce.

The next year I added my homemade cranberry apple chutney to the mix. I was lukewarm about it, but was provoked to action when Chef said he was again making the cranberry-orange concoction. And so began the cranberry sauce competition, not so much a competition, but rather a time for Chef and I to indulge in nonsense trash talk at the table. I'm embarrassed to say that several of our guests were made to feel awkward when we demanded (very nicely) that they pick a favorite sauce. We never resorted to bribery and there was no prize save bragging rights.

I'm retiring this year. Even I don't particularly care for my dish. Chef can have a whole bowl of organic goodness, but I'm sticking with Ocean Spray. Though they're basically the same sugary product, it's essential we have both jellied and whole berry at the table each year. It's all about the texture. And the sugar. And the knowledge that if you shave off one side of the jellied variety, it will balance on a flat surface and you won't have any flying cranberry sauce as you attempt to slice a piece for your plate.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Dream Sequence

The last time I was in New York I very nearly went to Gotham, but in the end my friend chose Fleur de Sel, which was cozy, chic, and had a lovely three-course lunch special. Everything was very dramatically presented on plates dotted with basil and berry and balsamic extracts. I can only imagine how many little squeeze bottles littered the kitchen. As we walked out the door after our leisurely meal, the waiter handed us individually-packed butter biscuits, homemade no less. What a way to make an impression!

Later that afternoon, curious about the meal that could have been, I took a detour just so I could walk by Gotham, which for all I knew might have been the Batcave or some such nonsense. It was cavernous, but not intimidating. Some months later I woke up from a refreshing sleep with the fragments of a dream floating in my mind. I'd been eating somewhere familiar in my dream and it took me ages to sort through the haze, but I finally concluded my dream dinner (literally) took place at Gotham. I think I'm adding it to my NYC list. If not for dinner, then certainly for lunch. Hoping reality lives up to the dream.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Call Me a Creature of Habit

I think I've been to Quiznos twice a week for the past month.

And I've only tried two things on the menu.

I sheepishly admit that the only reason I deviated from the Roasted Chicken with Honey Mustard Salad on one occasion was because the person working behind the counter was about to anticipate my order and I felt like being witty and fresh and unpredictable. And so I ordered the Classic Cobb. The thrill of spontaneous decision-making!

For someone who loves to eat all sorts of things and who takes great delight in trying new things, I'm curiously a girl of habit. Quiznos is a function of convenience. It's on the way from Point A to Point B, and since Point B usually entails me being late and having to take notes at at meeting, the salad is a non-fussy, filling way to be present without being disruptive. Or so I think. I have been known to drop salad all over the place, to have my salad spill all over my bag, and other inelegant happenings do take place from time to time, but at least it's a predictable kind of mess.

And yes, I fully realize the irony in going to a sandwich shop and failing to order a sandwich.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Fall Festivals: Evening Edition

I got an e-mail from EA inviting me to meet up with her for a night out at the Italian festival which promised food and entertainment. It was supposed to be a cold night, but she very charmingly (and knowingly) ended her e-mail with "yes, I did use the allure of food to get you there." She knows me well.

California fall is 60 degrees in the evening, hardly brisk, but noticeable if you're eating cappuccino chip gelato. We had to depart shortly thereafter since everyone in the group had pretty much turned into a popsicle. But prior to that, I had a delicious moment (or perhaps there were multiple moments) of eggplant sandwich or meatball sandwich? Penne pasta or ravioli? Cannoli or stromboli? Fried this or fried that? I ended up skipping the fried stuff and instead delighted in a lovely meatball sandwich...and ravioli. All eaten while standing, at times while standing and watching the dance contest. It may have been a cold night, but there were only warm fuzzies while eating and hanging out with friends.