Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sitting around a nice house party at Stephanie’s last September talking about doing this 500 mile back pack/trek/walk/hike called the Camino de Santiago over the French Pyrenees and into Northwestern Spain to the coast at Finisterre was one thing but almost a year later donning the beastly pack and boarding a plane in San Francisco leaving our homes and families for 6 weeks was quite another. Arriving in Paris, we had 19 hours for walking, sitting in cafes and window shopping, not putting anymore weight at all in the pack, before catching a train to Bayonne and winding our way by bus to the beautifully sweet mountain hamlet of St. Jean Pied de Port where after an amazing communal supper and communal sleeping we would begin our 500 mile or 785 kilometer jaunt ending eventually in Santiago Spain. St Jean is literally the foot gate over the mountains and the trail has been used for centuries by pilgrims seeking penance and joy, war criminals and heroes stealing through the freezing nights to save the world and sheepherders grazing their herds.
Our first few nights were spent in albergues where bunk beds are arranged in 4 to 8 or so in a room and bathrooms are coed and shared by many. Took these not spring chickens a minute to get used to it donning shower shoes for sure. Dining was a family affair with all the pilgrims staying at the albergues sharing a meal at long tables. We met more people than carter has pills and made so many hard and fast friends that a bed or couch awaits in most European countries should the need arise. We figured out the back pack score pretty swiftly and sent a big box of stuff from our packs home the morning before we started walking with no regrets at all. Our first day was short but brutally steep climbing about 3000 feet in a few hours time. Constantly accompanied by unending mountain vistas with sheep and goats aplenty, breathtakingly lovely with air as sharp as a knife blade, as we trudged anaerobic, red faced and puffing regardless of months of training to our goal for the day. We heaved our bodies with our 23 pound packs onto the deck of our insanely welcomed albergue in Orison for the evening being greeted with ice cold mugs of local beer and salty peanuts. Sitting there with only the Pyrenees in all their amazing foxglove, hydrangea and fern filled craggy but lusciously green glory before us, fog creeping fingers slowly between valleys, all knowing of the communal meal awaiting us, a gal met my gaze and we recognized each other from Kelly Duarte’s Halloween party in  Martinez. Michele Matson lives in town and her hiking partner and long time friend Jamie Kruse was born and raised in Martinez and her dad was the mayor for several years when she was growing up. My mom was not surprised I ran into someone I knew in the French Pyrenees in a place you can only get to by hiking there.
We found our bunks, did our laundry, took showers and settled into our first real night on the trail eating Basque food and drinking local wines with 30 other pilgrims, most on their first night too, very festive, listening to sheep and night birds as well as pilgrims snoring, until falling gently asleep filled with the knowledge that the next day would bring the most strenuously brutal hike of the entire trip cresting the Pyrenees and ending up at an 11th century monastery in Roncesvalles Spain.
Flan de Cafe
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup low-fat milk
1/2 cup espresso coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
20 whole coffee beans

6 individual servings in ramekins.
Set ramekins in a large glass baking dish (9-inch x 13-inch).
Heat 4-5 cups of water in a pot for the water bath.
Put a heavy skillet or saucepan over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup sugar. With the back of a wooden spoon, keep sugar moving constantly until sugar is completely melted, and of a rich medium brown color (caramelized).
Carefully spoon caramelized sugar into each of the 6 ramekins or large dish.
Pre-heat oven to 325F (162C) degrees.
Scald milk and cream in a saucepan. Remove immediately and stir in the coffee.
Meanwhile in a mixing bowl, beat slightly 3 eggs. Mix in 1/4 cup sugar.
Stirring constantly, gradually add hot cream mixture to egg yolk mixture. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Blend in vanilla extract. Ladle mixture into ramekins.
Pour in hot water until there is about 1/2-inch of water in the baking dish for boiling water bath. Fill about a third way up. Bake uncovered in water bath for 50-60 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean when inserted half way between center and the edge of dish.
Note: To ensure the custard does not over-cook, check doneness after 45 minutes, then every 3-5 minutes.
Remove ramekins from the water bath. Set on a cooling rack until lukewarm, then chill thoroughly in refrigerator.
Un-mold by running a knife around the inside edge of baking dish. Place a small dessert plate on the top of the ramekin. With one hand under the ramekin and the other on top of the place, turn over. Tap the ramekin and the flan should drop onto the plate
Garnish with the whole coffee beans and serve.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Walking the Camino de Santiago....that's right, a long one for sure

Well after about a year of planning, waffling, making up our minds and sticking to it and training, with absolute and complete joyfulness I can say that the time has finally come to get on that plane and start walking. Along with a couple of my friends, we are going to walk the Way. We start walking on Friday, June 27, 2014, after a long plane ride and a sort of long train ride through some pretty amazing country. Prepared is probably an understatement. We have been training for months, walking the hills of Briones, Mt. Tam and Tilden, to name a few local areas to hike. Eschewing all sumptuousness and luxury, we are packed and repacked in our backpacks and have all the latest and greatest of minimal quick dry, ultra light ( sometimes sort of ugly) clothes. I have cut my bar of soap in half to reduce weight but the make up still is packed....we'll see down the road how long it takes for me to throw it away.Everything is limited in that there pack and it is still heavy but never more than I can handle and after wearing it full for a couple of months already all is good. So I say here and now before beginning up the Pyrenees.

I have been told that this is the trip of a lifetime but I am making travel a reality in my life and I say it is the first in a long series of trips in a lifetime of really amazing journeys. Adventure and physicality are staples in my life especially as more suns circle our earth and full moons pass by. Our story starts in St. Jean Pied de Port at the base of the Pyrenees in France. The trail of Napoleon winds up the mountains and down the other side into Roncesvalles, Spain, in the Basque country. From there we meaner 400 plus miles to end at the Compostela de Santiago in Santiago, Spain. Future blogs will hopefully fill in those blanks in the blithe mention of walking 490 miles.We complete our journey traveling to the Western most point in Spain, Finisterre. We will be aiming for 15 or so give or take miles a day for about 33 or 34 days to complete the ridiculous aforementioned number of miles  along incredibly scenic Basque routes through North Western Spain.

Ancient is our path trod my millions over the millennia, humans alongside spirits guaranteeing great company on our journey. Hikers from around the globe looking for spiritual healing, reasons abounding running the gamut, countless inspirations and prompts for one foot in front of the other across the miles to rest in the comfort of local albergues or hostels catering specifically to the pilgrims of the Way. Nightly sharing of meals and bunk beds await. I am taking ear plugs but my experienced Camino friend says that you are so bushed by the end of the day that you won't need anything to block out the snores of a few hundred be mates.

so I will try my best to share the history and beauty of my path roaming in and out of wifi and charging stations for my iphone to get it all down. Maybe I'll even learn how to get photos on!! Yay. Anyhoo, till then I offer and proffer the time honored greeting"Buen Camino".

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

RIP Katrina Katrina the wickedly lovable beer barrel black cat with yellow eyes that loved anyone who hated her and hated anyone that bestowed worship passed away today due to her sweet little fickle heart giving out. We don’t really know what happened and a kitty post mortem was not in the cards but we do know it was crazy fast. Is it harder when you know for a long while and keep her comfortable and love her like crazy for the little while left to pet and give her way too many treats prompting some to mention maybe a pound could come off behind their hand or to one day notice short breaths and take her to the vet and she dies right there? I know for her it was the way we all would want to go for sure but it was a shocking, breath taking, confusion causing few days for Luke and I. Katrina was 9 years old when she died. Actually pretty young I guess. Most of our other kitties lived twice that but they were also a different breed and had pretty decent starts to life. Katrina was brought to us in a little tiny cardboard box, rescued lying next to her dead mother in a parking lot. We bottle fed her and she thrived, or actually blew into our lives like a hurricane, prompting her name. She was what I call a curtain climbing madwoman kitty. Always entertaining and as she slowed down after a couple years, one of her favorite pastimes besides chasing wildlife in her own wildlife territory was to sit on the arm of the couch and stealthily claw swat in nanoseconds all that passed by her place of relaxed attention. She leaves behind her little sister kitty Trixie, who is lost without her nemesis as well as us and an extended group of close family and friends that will miss her. May the angel on your stone watch out for you and bless you in repose. xooxoxox

spring has sprung!

My oldest sister was born on April Fool’s Day so we were all well versed in silly trickery and jokes on her special day, not particularly at her, but at us all. Coming from a family with endless siblings, we entertained ourselves well and constantly with pranks and jokes abundantly present at most times. The boys were the worst. Whether a brother, cousin or uncle, they had a tendency toward the gross fetes with a wicked twinkle emanating from the eyes and flowing outward. A frog down the back of a tee shirt or rubber snake shenanigans…. The girls expressed sweeter mischievousness in the forms of hiding a favored bra or locking the bedroom window so you couldn’t crawl back in come dawn. Even so we always loved the beginning of April. Walking the hood most evenings with my mom, we love looking at all the Easter yards overflowing with pastel colored flowering trees and bulbs. Pink camellias, tulips, lilac scented breezes and the promise of the pool opening soon, spring is hard core here with summer just around the corner. Since we are in a drought officially in California water conservation is a big topic. Nonetheless it is still a good idea to get that summer garden in along with an efficient drip system to keep it going. Relaxing as it is to stand outside come dusk and check out your babies while watering them with a garden hose, it uses a lot more water than is needed. As I sit here penning this missive on March 14, the gardener guy on PBS is telling me it is ok to put my tomatoes in. Seems early but these are strange weather days indeed. Farmer’s market tables are literally bowing under luscious piles of asparagus, leeks, spring garlic, potatoes, amazingly sweet, oh so dainty spring onions and so much more. We are picking greens from our gardens and sautéing them with the garlic or adding them to protein shakes like there is no tomorrow. After a long winter of broccoli and cauliflower, moving into asparagus season is almost illegal in the pleasure gained from a simple steam and crack of sea salt or sizzled on a hot grill drizzled with lemon oil. Carrots are crazy in season now as well. In conversations where carrots are mentioned, visions of those bizarre orange baby thumbs prolific in the grocery likely come up. Not a good representation of this amazing taproot family boasting parsley, fennel, dill and cumin among kin. Gently excavating your home grown carrot from loamy earth, devouring warm from the sun can be a religious experience. Next best is purchasing at your farmers’ markets with perky chartreuse fringe intact plainly displaying degree of freshness. Recognizably comfortable orange inside and out, carrots also come in purple, white, yellow and red with shades bordering on fluorescent dazzling eyes as well as sweetly captivating tongues. Reunite relatives by slicing carrots thin, tossing with toasted, ground cumin seed, olive oil and lemon completed by showering with finely chopped parsley and crumbled feta. Jazz up crudités by grilling slices of variously hued carrots, spring onions, asparagus and peas napped with tarragon and chive vinaigrette or a yummy homemade hummus dip. Have I mentioned carrot cake frosted with honey-vanilla cream cheese icing? Perfectly healthy treat! The local hills have all greened up with wildflowers abundant and showy along the trails and in the canyons beckoning road weary travelers to enjoy the magnificence and peace our ridges have to offer in the simple joy of a walk. Happy Spring! Carrot Ginger Soup 5 carrots, chopped 1 onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, chopped 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped 4 cups stock 2 tablespoons rice vinegar ½ cup crème fraiche Salt and pepper to taste Sauté carrots, onion and garlic in olive oil in tall soup pot for 5 minutes. Add stock and vinegar and simmer until carrots are tender. Puree and season with salt and pepper. Garnish w/ crème fraiche. Makes 6 cups.
Taking off to a location thousands of miles away, in a different time zone, different season, traversing in a few modalities of vehicles and arriving after many hours, regardless of how it may present itself initially in your stress filled frontal lobe, is beyond exhilarating for me. Recently returned from a whirlwind trip to New York City. So fun. Pre senior girl friends gone wild. Becoming an annual tradition, the St. Patrick’s Day parade in the city is just dang fun. I have so many generous and amazing friends and Gigi is the NYC pusher girl while Sheila is the home base. Can I just say how incredible it is to actually have a home base in that city? Thank you Sheila!! We covered all the bases in a compressed period of time. Amazing jazz from David Hazeltine at Smoke jazz club, the Met, the all important and massively inebriated parade of St. Patrick, a great show, the miles of subway, great food and friends. I love that subway system. I love all the walking, miles of walking. There may be no better place on earth to watch people from every race and nation carrying on with everyday life. We were even in front of the Plaza Hotel with our friend Eloise. Eataly in Chelsea, a cooperative project between Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and many other amazing food players, is one of my favorite places to end my trip. Amazing rich Italian chocolate bunnies for my young man’s Easter basket, yes he still gets one, unbelievable cheeses, pasta, produce, oils, vinegars, the sweetest, freshest pesce, grossly accroutred butcher counter, coffee, vino, it just goes on and on. Three restaurants beckoned us and we chose the all fish one….scallops perfectly browned on top and bottom, an art to achieve, nestled on a mountain of mixed expertly sautéed wild and domestic mushrooms drizzled in a lemony sauce, divinely inspired, deceitfully filling every nook and cranny leaving me in a narcotic haze yet acutely present of my taste buds softly sighing with joy. Cocktails at Sirio’s on 5th avenue, watching the parade behind the incredibly luxurious glass of the Hotel Pierre, avoiding face freezing temperatures while ceremoniously sipping Jameson, again, and giggling waxing ecstatic with the pure pleasure of a brilliant vacation is really an inspired way to take a break from strolling the parade route even if just for an hour or two as that particular parade goes on forever and no matter how many breaks you take you can still pick up anywhere you choose to. Irish pubs are a must for this trip. For some reason, and trust me this rarely ever happens any other place or time, these pubs are full of handsome Irish men who totally appreciate the virtues of a California gal. So fun to flirt and kiss the Irish on their day. Again another fabulous trip to a far off land, leaving life at home, at a standstill and coming home to sun, a garden perched on the edge of breaking out in full glory of spring, squirrels racing in circles on the roof, jumping from tree to tree as two very happy cats, their rock has returned, salaciously gazing but rarely chasing as they lay in sun filled hiding places especially chosen for this purpose, Cheshire in their leisure comes to and end. Already looking forward to next year.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Thank you Lisa!!!!

College Park Organic Garden and Diablo Day Community School Organic Garden both have a new garden angel by the name of Lisa Meyers. Her company Meyers Homegrown Organics has been selling vegetable seedlings and plants at the Pleasant Hill Farmers Market all summer and as her season nears a successful end she has donated a huge amount of winter vegetable seedlings to our gardens for the students to plant, coaxing a long and fruitful winter crop from a living gift. Lisa and her husband Phil live in Pleasant Hill but Lisa is a Martinez native herself. Lisa and Phil’s inspired gift is the definition of full fledged community involvement in the gardens and have put an apple cheeked rosy glow on all of our students faces. We are immeasurably grateful and will surely support Meyers Organics in the future and we wish them a fruitful season as their business grows. As we traverse the cool season we look forward to a stunning winter garden overflowing with kale, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and much more. Tramping through pumpkin farms and the farmers markets always induces juicy imaginative ideas for cookies, pies, cakes and savory dishes. Especially charming are those divinely inspired Cinderella pumpkins. Deep red and magenta to almost make believe orange, the Rouge Vif d’Etampes looks like something out of a fairytale. Also known as Cinderella pumpkin, owing to the resemblance of a famous get away coach, this French heirloom cucurbit makes for excellent, long lasting décor. Legend has it that this pumpkin may have been the variety cultivated by the Pilgrims and served at the second Thanksgiving dinner. Don’t be captivated by her squashed, deeply ribbed good looks alone though as the molten orange flesh is creamy sweet, beckoning to be pie filling as much as savory treats. Gently slice off top scooping out seeds, saving them to sprinkle with salty olive oil and roasted for crunchy tidbits alongside nibbles at the Thanksgiving gorge. Create a layered casserole inside the pumpkin by throwing sliced zucchini, chopped onion, grated parmesan and cooked spinach into the cleaned pumpkin. Top off with eggs beaten with cream and seasoned with salt and pepper. Put the top back on placing on a baking sheet in 350* oven for about an hour until the egg mixture has set. Use the rich flesh for pie, cookies and breads by cutting off top, slicing in half and scooping out seeds. Place in a baking dish with a ½ inch of water, cover and bake at 350* until soft. Puree or mash and use according to your recipe. You will likely have several recipes worth of pumpkin puree from just one so I measure it out according to recipes and freeze it in batches for later culinary tricks and treats. Add chocolate chips top any pumpkin cookie or bread recipe for a surprisingly addictive sweet. My motto: Two for décor and one to eat now. You will never buy a can of pumpkin again. We have been greatly blessed with ridiculously gorgeous days and chilly evenings in our valley as the season changes and local flora and fauna in neighboring yards don sunset colors day and night with leaves turning crazy hues of almost unnatural reds and ghoulish oranges. This time of year is always challenging for adults to remain on the straight and narrow resisting urges to steal candy from wee ones amped into complete sugar induced joyfulness almost unhinged in the belief that they won’t notice a few missing peanut butter cups. Hope everyone was a little naughty and sated that annual gig. As our slightly craze inducing season creeps up, stalking with holiday décor before Thanksgiving menu’s hit the planning stage consider the fact that a good hike in the hill around us can induce an amazing endorphin created narcotic haze seeping into every brainy nook and cranny as well as a good yoga class sooths tightened muscles so while you are gearing up for frenzy take time to heal in and out and enjoy our amazing valley we call home. Homemade Peanut Butter Cups Makes around 4 dozen 1 cup creamy unsalted peanut butter 4 tablespoons unsalted butter ½ cup turbinado sugar or brown sugar ½ cup powdered sugar 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt 32 ounces high-quality dark chocolate or chocolate chips Mix together peanut butter, butter, sugars, and salt in a bowl. Taste, then add more salt if needed. Roughly chop chocolate and melt it in a double boiler or in microwave. Arrange mini cupcake wrappers on a baking sheet. Pour just enough chocolate in to fill the bottom of the wrapper about 1/8 of an inch. Let set in fridge for 10 minutes. While the chocolate is chilling, begin shaping heaping teaspoons of peanut butter and sugar filling into flattened balls that will fit into mini cupcake wrappers on top of chocolate. Remove chocolate from the fridge and pop a ball into each one. Reheat remaining chocolate and pour into cupcake wrappers to cover the balls. Sprinkle the tops with a little extra coarse sea salt if you like and let set in fridge at least 20 minutes. Remove and pack into air tight containers or devour all you can in the next hour and give the rest to friends and family.

temps they are a chaaaaanging

There is a certain DNA phenomenon that kicks in during season changes, deliberately and with purpose in our bodies as weather and shadows change. Autumn brings a sweet little chill with it, longed for after months of dry skies and high mercury. Familiar longings, temporarily pushed aside for sweet flowers, intoxicating stone fruits and luscious tomatoes resurface with nagging intensity almost overnight begging to be quelled with roasted butternut squash and crunchy sweet grapes tossed into end of summer arugula with torn fresh basil. Soups start to sound really good while beef stew craving comes roaring out of left field totally unannounced. Fall is here. We saw it coming, we do every year and while summer gives up the fight we yearn to cook just a bit more than usual satiating powerful culinary wants and needs in the process. Gardens are waning and if you have not done it yet, get the winter garden in now. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, onions, garlic, lettuce, carrots beets, arugula, winter peas, the list could go on for awhile because we live in Northern California and it is easy. We can coax an astounding amount of food out of the earth year round pretty easily just by planting it now and pretty much not a whole lot else for the rest of the winter. Imperative for success is to get the seeds, seedlings or smaller plants into the ground while it is still above 55 degrees at night giving them plenty of resources to build up a hearty system acrawl with roots. You may not see a lot happening above ground but it is moving along hypnotically like long a slow rock ballad achieving breathless satisfaction in completion and harvest of your own sweet songs of nature. Weeding and watering factor in but nowhere near the attention seizers as the summer garden diva can be. Sweet peas, snapdragons, hollyhocks, poppies and lupine seeds like to be planted now as well. Buried and forgotten until they start to come up in early spring bringing immense joy in the discovery of new life after winters chill. We do have seasons here in the Bay Area; they just as a little blurred between the lines as a slightly crooked juror sometimes may. Pomegranates and persimmons gracefully hang jewel like from leaf barren trees peevishly preening, waiting for thirsty fingers to grab and mouths to savor autumn delights. All greens from kale and Swiss chard to lettuces of all kinds have resurrected lush and salient now that solar rays are finished blazing for the season. Apples are everywhere. As out of hand and sliced up eating get old try making applesauce or apple crisp to brighten up ever shortening evenings. Pears are mostly cold storage at this point but the Alhambra Pear People at the farmers markets have incredible Bartlett’s and if you are lucky a French Butter pear or two still left for you to snag and slurp. Farmers’ markets are gearing down as crops dwindle out but are still there offering amazing choices weekly to be procured and prepared in any assortment of delightful means. A visit to Matt and Nate or Connie and Lupe at the Pleasant Hill market will be most gratifying with seasonal goods as well. The long and patiently awaited meat market next door is soon to be a reality for all the carnivores’ out there so be on the lookout. Hiking and outdoor walking in Briones and all the ridges is never better than this time of year in my opinion with mists crawling all over and animals scurrying here and there in preparation for the supposed long winter. This side of our beloved Mount Diablo is good for hiking but heartbreakingly enough we will be staying off the east side for many moons to come. Our prayers and thoughts go out to all the families affected by that dang fire. It will be a long time in the healing but we can hope for rain and join a tree planting party to help it along. Apple Sauce This will make about 4 to 5 cups depending on your apple choice. Also if you use a sweet variety you may want to use water instead of juice and adjust the lemon juice. The lemon juice has the added effect of keeping everything a nice color as well. You can store unused sauce in a jar with a tight fitting lid in the reefer and use within the week. 6 large apples, peeled, cored, rough chop ¼ cup white grape juice or apple juice Juice and rind from a big lemon Cinnamon to taste Vanilla to taste Place apples, juices and lemon peel in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Cover and cook until apple are soft enough to mash. Add vanilla with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Serve warm. Fresh Fruit Crisp 6 cups fruit 1 cup wheat flour 1 cup brown sugar or turbinado sugar ½ cup butter, melted (1 cube) 1 T vanilla 1 T cinnamon ½ c oats 1 t salt Preheat oven 375*. Spray 8x8 baking dish. Place fruit in dish. Mix flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, oats and salt in bowl. Crumble onto fruit. Bake 1 hour until fruit bubbles and top is crunchy and lightly browned. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or cold the next day for a very decadent but sensuous and utterly fulfilling breakfast. Serves 6.