Satsuma mandarins...the perfect winter snack, gift, everything!

Satsuma mandarins...the perfect winter snack, gift, everything!
peel, eat, repeat

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ahhhhh, yes that's it....just breathe deeply and often

It looks like we may actually have a winter this year! Rain already and lots of snow in them there hills creates a sense of optimism much needed at this time of the year especially in a drought. Holiday madness marches in, assesses us and proceeds to attack from all angles sparing no one in the wake, religious or not. Stress joins the party in epic proportions weakening immune and temper systems, patience flying out the door as fast as the heat you built up all day keeping the door shut and all of the sudden your ho, ho, ho escapes with it. Break the cycle, be the first one on your block to have a de=stressed holiday and share it with all. Perhaps this will be the year of do less. Meaning, less gifts, fewer decorations, less fat and alcohol, to suggest a few lesses. Now I’m am in no way shape or form suggesting no one have any fun, no ma’am, just merely suggesting that there is more fun to be had when you can enjoy it without worry or hassle. Many years ago we (I) had a pow- wow with me, and my son, and stated the obvious, if I am happy everyone is happy, and, switched around aint, so pretty. To all the doers out there, slow down. Your first tier decorations are awesome; leave it at that, even if your Mrs. Jones next door did not get the memo. As my yoga teacher states daily “stick to your own mat”.  Less is more in giving. Teachers, coaches, hair stylists and even the mail man are happy with a card and will welcome not having to regift your gift, again. Family, draw numbers and get one! Little kids the exception, but stress to your kids that in order to receive, you must give. Cull the toy box and take it to a shelter to make room for new booty. You get the drift. 

Parties are madly pulsating with once a year energy and abandon challenging the best of us, even in our most stable moments, which are fleeting at best for the month. By all means go, go have a blast, but take food you can eat in between junk like mandarin oranges, my favorite and conveniently in season, salad you can easily fork into your mouth while talking and soda water to infill between each wine or whatever is going to puff you up and give you a headache in the morning but makes you the life of the party at the moment. You can soda water in between and still be funny and coy! Good news! Shop at least once a week at the farmers market and actually cook and eat what you buy. Make a lot of soups. Souper key to balancing those events is watching it between them. There are an amazing array of fruits and veggies in season and a couple of my favorites are pomegranates, not just because of the super sexy and exciting Greek mythology surrounding them either, and citrus. Crazy new varieties of citrus keep popping up so experiment like a mad scientist, you will not be sorry.

Persephone is said to have been held prisoner for six months of the year by her husband, Hades, because he tricked her into eating six pomegranate seeds while she was his prisoner. This so devastated her mother, Demeter, that she no longer blessed the earth with fertility for those six months. Could be one ancient explanation for the seasons. Whatever the cause, when pomegranates come around they are a delight to behold. Representing romance and mysticism can’t hurt either. If cleaning may stop you from partaking in the pomegranate, cut off the top, score the sides and immerse in water to dislodge the arils. They will sink and the inedible pith will float. Use these sweet tart seeds to liven up a salad with Fuyu persimmon slices while dousing all in orange vinaigrette. Swallow the seed after you suck out the juice, this is where all the fiber is stored. Pomegranates are packed full of vitamin C and an amazing source of antioxidants. You can get fresh pressed pomegranate juice all winter at most farmers’ markets. This amazingly nutrient filled ruby nectar is a great sauce medium. Reduce 2 cups pomegranate juice with 2 cups stock. Take down by half and add a few tablespoons of honey, a handful of toasted walnuts and a sprinkling of fresh thyme. Toss your grilled chicken breast or better yet, grilled eggplant with the result to achieve romance and health in your life. Shake fresh pressed pomegranate juice with a dash of soda water, a tablespoon of simple syrup and a nice jigger of good vodka. Strain into an iced martini glass and garnish liberally with fresh arils and a wedge of lime creating the perfect holiday cocktail literally guaranteeing passage at all the best parties of the season.

Newer to arrive at the party of the seasonal farmers markets are the cocktail grapefruits. Also known as the Mandelo, they are a genius cross between ancient ancestors, mandarins and a pommelo’s. Not technically a grapefruit, this luscious fruit is eligible to be thoroughly enjoyed by statin consuming friends. White fleshed and a little seedy, cocktail grapefruits have not yet achieved huge commercial success which bodes well for tirelessly loyal farmers market shoppers as it remains as it was when created, tenderly amazing, instead of molded into something that packs and ships better.
Uniquely flavored, crazy sweet and addictively juicy by the cross of citrus, cocktail grapefruits meld well with savory as well as sour, acidic or sweet flavor profiles delectable bushwhacking taste buds as well as visitors to your table. Juice of said grapefruit muddled with mint leaves and enriched by a shot of rum is sweet enough to bypass simple syrup for a winter take on the mojito. Sprinkle brown sugar and lemon juice into a sauté pan with hot melted butter to caramelize thick slices of cocktail grapefruit to lavishly slather over ice cream, French toast, pound cake or a loved one’s body.
Get out into the chilly winter and engorge your lungs and body with the scents of the season. Walk, hike, bike, stay on pavement in rain but do it! Uncountable blessings and amazing good will reward you, a happy, de-stressed you. Happy Holidays!
The Farmers Market Lovers Calendar is once again available for a simple holiday gift purchase at or I deliver!!

Turkey Breast Braised w/ dried apricots and pancetta
1 spilt turkey breast, bone in
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup white wine
¼ pound diced pancetta
1 cup dried apricots, chopped rough
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
Heat a large oven roasting pan and add olive oil. Season turkey and brown in pan, turning once. Add onions and pancetta and sauté until caramelized. Add apricots and stock. Cover and cook for 1 hour a 350 oven. Meet should fall off the bone. Serve over polenta.

Prawns, marinated and grilled in soft tortillas w/ avocado salsa
1 pound wild or local prawns, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped oregano
1 lemon, zested

Marinate shrimp for 2 hours in above. Grill on hot grill 3 to 4 minutes. Chop and place in soft corn tortillas. Sprinkle w/ queso fresco or shredded jack and avocado salsa.

Avocado salsa
1 avocado, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1 lemon, juice and grated peel
1 fuyu persimmon, chopped 
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped jalapeño
1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all in bowl. Season to taste.

Fresh Kale Salad w/ Pomegranate Arils and Fuyu Persimmons
1 large bunch kale of any kind, sliced and washed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 to 2 lemons or 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 cup pomegranate arils
2 Fuyu persimmons, sliced
1 bunch green onions, sliced
Sea salt and pepper to taste or Braggs Amino Acids to taste
Toss kale, tomatoes, fruits and green onions in a large salad bowl. Drizzle on lemon juice, zest and olive oil and toss well. Season w/ Braggs or salt. Let sit a few minutes to gently “cook” the kale for a few minutes or up to an hour before serving. Serves 4 to 6.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Autumn and winter squashes are overflowing bowed tables at farmers markets as we bundle and bustle into late months on the calendar. Many cucurbits are overlooked and used strictly as décor on merry porches until the poinsettias replace them to the backyard somewhere. Smooth, yellow and oblong, spaghetti squash is in the class of most interesting American native cucurbits. Raw, it may resemble any other hard winter squash with seeds. Taking on an otherworldly character when baked, the flesh falls from leather like skin resembling precisely sliced vermicelli ribbons beckoning to be combined in all manner of mysterious creations picking up flavor nuances like a greedy hitchhiker. Slice in half and remove seeds to begin your culinary adventures. Bake with olive oil or butter filled cavity, seasoned with sea salt and pepper, snuggled in a covered baking dish in a hot 425* oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Fluff with a fork to devour creamy strands as is or while feeling exotic, mix with some freshly made garam masala, orange zest and toasted almonds serving alongside nice lamb Tagine. Sauté sliced winter vegetables with awesome olive oil paired generously with chopped soft herbs, parsley, marjoram, tarragon and a touch of tomato sauce and lavishly drape over sweet ribbons for a sexy, soul craving break from holiday “food” onslaught. Leftover cooked squash can be sweetly incorporated into cinnamon spiked pancakes or cranberry studded pumpkin muffins leaving bamboozled partakers with a lingering cucurbit flavor wondering what they just ate. 

Not just for carving to scare wee bairns, some pumpkins are amazing eaten. Deep red and magenta to almost make believe orange, the Rouge Vif d’Etampes looks like something out of a fairytale. AKA Cinderella pumpkin, owing to the resemblance of a famous getaway 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. 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.

Creamy yellow and orange specked with long green furrows, the Delicata squash is almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Also known as Sweet Potato squash the Delicata does indeed marry well with the yam. Pick firm and heavy squash and prepare to roast, sauté or mash by removing both ends and peeling the skin off. Slice in half lengthwise removing seeds to free up the flesh for a velvety soup concocted by roasting and puréeing squash with a touch of stock, apple cider vinegar and cinnamon spiked cream. Create an amazing Thanksgiving side dish of sliced Delicata layered with sliced apples, onions, fresh thyme and grated Gruyere baked to bubbling golden brown. Embellish mashed potatoes with half mashed squash and a few zests of orange peel. Cube and simmer along with lentils, garlic and fresh ground cumin warming chilly winter tummies.  After partaking in the delights of this squash you’ll never lose sight of the culinary pleasure enclosed in that astoundingly beautiful shell.

As of this writing, still no rain, but the ridges around us are amazing in their scorched simplicity and deserve a romp up and down dusty trail, spotting owls, coyotes, spiders, snakes and all manner of wildlife native to our hood. There is a group of 16 turkeys we spot almost every hike. They started out as 17 babies about 3 or 4 months ago and to our knowledge have only lost one. Traveling in a tight group throughout the park probably helps in survival. So fun to casually monitor animal friends in our midst. Get out and start from any staging area, you won’t be sorry as about halfway along your bliss kicks in and you remember what you are grateful for as stresses slough off leaving you in good shape to happily continue on through life.
The Farmers Market Lovers Calendar is once again available for holiday gift purchases at or I deliver!! Happy Thanksgiving!!

As I pen this column, fires rage unrelenting all over California and the West. So little water, still, and so much devastation for those affected by these roaring, totally unforgiving amoebic infernos, fueled on all sides by nothing less than the best firewood money can buy. My sister and her family are among the many hundreds of folks that are staring hollow eyed at the gaping nothingness of their devastatingly burnt out properties. How do you recover from something like this? Anyone ever burnt out can tell you that you never really, totally do. The smell and pain tinged with a little nagging fear will linger long after new buildings, photos and memories are created. But they all got out alive, unlike others, and  life goes on in the strong and beautiful  communities of the mountain people that live daily with the threat of fire never expecting it to really actually happen to them. Blessings to all.
Considering the small amounts of water that my fruit trees and vegetable gardens have been receiving all summer, surprisingly it has been a wacko year for apples among other produce. I have a red delicious tree that looks like something out of the Wizard of Oz that’s going to start talking to you and throwing apples if your response aint right. Granny Smiths are big and juicy and falling off almost quicker than I can pick them off the tree or ground. At College Park the apple tree has so many apples that coach Keck reports his weight room students are eating them.
Usually first to ripen at summers decline are McIntosh apples. Said to be descended from a single tree discovered in a field in Canada by farmer John McIntosh in 1811, the McIntosh apple has seen some days. Chains of DNA history abound around this apple and it has sparked many a new variety off its branches mixed with other heirlooms. Attractive, with dark red to crimson with green swaths of tint running through, these creamy fleshed beauties have a sweet crunch with just the right acidity, seductively addicting you to the variety and keeping one on their toes for each season when they show up at the market. McIntosh are an early variety and are at their peak perfectly ripe off the tree by mid September to mid October and don’t hold really well past a week or two of picking before losing a bit of characteristic brightness.
An apple eater could get drunk off their honey sweetness and many do early in season preferring to simply eat out of hand, at first. McIntosh, or any of the varieties for that matter of apples, are great for concocting fresh apple sauce to eat warm with a touch of cinnamon and vanilla bean. Cakes explode with apple flavor while the red skin of the apple gives the batter a complex pink hue. Cider from the McIntosh is thick with lavish texture and glittery palate notes. Savory applications can cause a pitter patter of the heart when apples are sautéed with butternut squash and onions and baked into a quiche with a tender, buttery crust and dollops of smooth, melted chevre. Pork chops sautéed to a crispy exterior are enhanced immensely by the addition of your precious apple sauce. Chicken goes classical when coupled along with a buttery, sautéed apples, cognac and cream. McIntosh apples are enshrouded with lore and go away faster than a rainy cherry season. Be alert and be happy when their season may cross your path. Other varieties of heirloom apples can be easily scored for the next few months at the local farmers markets.
Heirloom apples refer to a seed that has not been altered. Apples are actually part of the rose family and are traceable to fourth century Egypt, Babylonia and China. In North America they go back to pilgrim settlers of Massachusetts. Easterners feel possessive about their apples but in Northern California and the Northwest we have some pretty fine heirlooms to choose from at the farmers’ markets. Fragile heirlooms don’t ship well and will not be obtained elsewhere unless it is off your own tree. Core apples whole and slice into rounds to brush with walnut oil and place on a medium hot grill. Grill three minutes on each side and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar immediately as you remove from the grill. Puree one cup of fresh strawberries and warm in a saucepan. Drizzle over apple slices. Whether it is an Arkansas Black, Honeycrisp, Red Banana, Black Twig or Cox’s Orange Pippin, the flavor of an heirloom apple soars miles above the flavor of a common apple grown who knows where, who knows when and isn’t just better when you are looking the farmer in the eye and talking apples?
This is an amazing time to get up in our local hills and hike. Wildlife is plentiful as are intricately woven spider webs dusted with morning dew, glittering in early sunlight. Move it or lose it.
Apple and Pear Bars w/ Streusel Topping
1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
2 t baking powder
1 T cinnamon
1 t sea salt
1 cup turbinado sugar
¾ cup almond milk
2 T coconut oil
2 t vanilla extract
1 egg
1 cup diced apples
1 cup diced pears
½ cup raisins or dried cranberries

Streusel Topping
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup oats
¼ cup whole wheat flour
3 T coconut oil
1 T vanilla
1 T cinnamon
1 t sea salt
Preheat oven to 350*
Spray a baking pan with coconut oil. I use a large cookie sheet with edges but any baking dish will do.
Measure dry ingredients into pour bowl or onto a piece of parchment paper for easy pouring into wet ingredients. Combine sugar, milk, egg and vanilla and beat well. Pour in dry ingredients and mix lightly. Add fruit and fold in. Spoon into baking pan.
Mix all streusel ingredients together until moist and crumbly. Sprinkle generously onto batter in pan. I poke holes into the batter like Foccacia bread so topping actually gets into the batter. Bake for 15 minutes and check to see if top is firm. Bake another 5 if needed. Let cool a bit and cut into squares or bars as desired.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Plumb time for plums

August resides well in the Diablo Valley when big spacious, blue skies accompanied by blazing hot and dry days are part of your definition of the eighth month of our year. Conditions such as these bode very well for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons and stone fruits, thriving in loamy soil, occasionally drenched with some conserved, allotted water, creating an environment for them to be comfortably staking out real estate on the steamy side of the garden that they call home soaking up every sun bloated ray they can absorb creating amazingly big, fat, juicy fruits and vegetables for us to drunkenly consume at will, creating a conceptual whole, sweet life we live, nutritionally anyway.
As peaking produce overflows our yards and farmer’s market tables, canning and jamming take center stage in the kitchens of our summer life, acutely present in every nose for miles around your house. Plucking just picked cucumbers matched with astoundingly fragrant fresh dill heads and garlic, from the vine or market table, to be transformed in a matter of a few hours with the help of salt, vinegar and mystical alchemy to glistening jade jars of love. Tubs of peaches, nectarines and strawberries, washed and cut up, boiled in a sugar melted narcotic haze combined with whatever else heat flustered minds can imagine to mix in, become addicting, visions of fingers running along the sides and bottoms of almost empty, cooled jam pots, already beginning to gel as you gaze upon gem like colors, bedazzling eyes and minds with the promise of the perfect piece of toast come winter.
As my Satsuma plum tree encourages vast quantities of cascading fruit onto dry ground below I am fraught with sweet memories of my own Mom’s Satsuma plum which is why I have one growing in my yard today. Drupe in familial origin having a large stone pit encasing inner seed, plums are indeed a fruit engineered to provoke tender memories stemming from an age of earlier innocence in your life. Grandma’s always possessed a gnarly old tree to climb midsummer retrieving juicy fruits to stain anything on your body quenching a thirst only satisfied by that plum at that time. Plums date back centuries to milder climates of Asia, Eastern Europe and the Americas but Roman historian and scientist, Pliny the Elder, maintained plums originated in Armenia and were the first cultivated fruit known. Many cultures invest in the power of spring plum blossoms, all knowing at least half of those sweetly fragrant, showy blooms represent a plum to eat, juice dripping down chin. Over years many crosses of plums have appeared in markets probably none more identifiable than the San Rosa, another Luther Burbank discovery, tempting with creamy yellowish pink flesh, sugar sweet with a tart skin. Pretty much the epitome of what comes to mind for a plum when ears share the word with brains.  Satsuma plums have deep, dark richly mahogany red interiors, with a mysteriously herbal, tart - honeyed flesh perfect for retrieving childhood images. Plum wines play a major part in several cultures for simple enjoyment as well as medicinal purposes along with beautiful ceremonial displays.
Fortunately for us plums are still immensely popular with farmers continuing to grow and sell heirloom varieties along with any kind of cross imaginable, almost. Apriums are a 30-70 mix of an apricot and a plum as pluots are a 70 – 30 mix of plum and apricot. Softly orange inside and out with a scant fuzz, or deeply magenta, both perform due diligence to represent the plum family owning tastes that are sublime. Available only from your yard or farmers’ markets, they are summer stone fruit at its best. Before frankenfruit visions scare you off, these inter bred fruits are crossed, not genetically modified, as safe as a Blenheim to devour. Eaten slowly out of hand, eyes closed, juice popping as your teeth sink into tart skin, can be the best way to explore this fruit.
Fresh plum salsa with chopped plums, scallions, cilantro, jalapeño and garlic tossed with lime juice and a shot of fruity olive oil is incredible accompanying freshly grilled fish with a light shower of sea salt. Slice plums and toss with arugula, pine nuts, veiny blue and thick balsamic. Plums set the stage for an amazingly simple crisp, slurped hot with vanilla ice cream slowly melting on top.  Plums pureed and simmered with fresh ginger, garlic, honey, rice vinegar and soy sauce create a dip worthy of the most royal dumpling or skewer. Plum jam assures summer in the winter and looks so good in their jeweled jars they can be used for home décor year round. Beyond simple to prepare, all efforts pay supremely for months.
Plum Jam
8 cups chopped Satsuma plums
3 tablespoons fruit pectin
2 cups turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Peel and juice of 1 big, juicy lemon

Heat plums in a deep, heavy pan that won’t scorch.  Mix ½ cup sugar with the pectin and stir into plums. Bring to a complete rolling boil that you can’t stir down and add the rest of the sugar, lemon juice and vanilla. Bring back to a rolling boil that you can’t stir down. When you reach that point, set your timer for 2 minutes and boil for 2 minutes. Turn off heat and place into sterilized half pint jars. Close lids tightly. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 half pints.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Summer jamming - Could get dangerous

Jam making has always been an extremely sensual experience for me in every sense of the word. Taste, beauty, smell, touch, inspiration inevitably hits at about 98 degrees F when fruit starts to drip off of trees in fertility inducing heat. As if from a dream, as nature intended, you immediately wake to craving an addiction not felt for about 10 months. Capturing lightning in a bottle is heady stuff indeed. Sparks of permanence shoot out of every jar, until it is consumed, leaving nothing behind but the jar begging to be refilled. I am spurred my some interior fire, adding to the heat that usually spends me but on jam and canning days excites me. I have been known to close all window shades, turn on the fans and make jam naked under my apron. Unless there are people around.
 I have made jam only once with a date and it was probably the sexiest experience I have ever had. He was a much younger guy, the executive chef at a local golf club, who had never made jam before and asked me to teach him. We had been dancing around each other for a few months, having dinner, taking hikes, but never anything solidly sexual yet, not even a real kiss.  Being a single guy, barely 30, he had nothing we needed for jam making at his house, younger chefs are notorious for this, and I had a 7 year old at mine.
So I went to the farmers market choosing just ripe enough peaches and nectarines, strawberries whose fragrance I could detect before I had a bead on them and picked the herbs from my garden almost whispering incantations of passion as I went along. l gathered everything we needed, enticing him with combinations of white nectarines and rose geranium and peach with lavender as I unloaded pots, strainers, tongs and sun swollen fruits, ready for the jar from my van at his house.  Cooking equipment always excites chefs and food adds immensely to the fire while a new process learned to be tried out on clients or customers is intoxicating with possibilities. At first it was all business. Getting the canner boiling, sterilizing jars, cleaning and cutting up fruit in preparation for boiling with sugar and pectin and making sure all mise en place was in order.  Having a smallish kitchen, it was inevitable that our arms and thighs brushed one another at times during the lesson. He was a beautiful student and beyond willing to learn and I kept thinking, “I cannot be the only one this turned on”.  
As his counter filled up with glistening jars of brilliantly gemstone colored jars of jam, as the evening wore on, he suggested something to eat. I loved hearing him say that because I loved watching him eat. It was endless the amount of food he could consume with such reverence and curiosity, speaking the same language I do as I eat, especially at a new restaurant with new culinary experiences. He suggested a little Italian place around the corner from his house and we settled in at a little table for two. He ordered several items off the menu as we are wont to do without regard for what we will finish, taste being the goal of the dining event. Kicking off my sandals under the table to cool off came as naturally as wiping a bead of sweat from my brow. As we sipped wine, after a hot afternoon and evening of jam making, it hit hard and fast. Eating garden warm tomatoes with Burratta and balsamic, torn basil acidic sweet on the tongue, fat, juicy prawns sautéed in olive oil and lemon, prosciutto silky alongside dripping melon, we slowly became so  inflamed with food passion that when out feet touched under the table accidently, we both jumped. He had kicked his sandals off as well and he reached for my hand. Imploring with his eyes, “Is this ok?” Feeling allure, carnality and innocence all at once, covered with goose bumps, still smelling caramelized sugar and boiling fruit in my head, I almost fainted. It took everything we had to finish eating and make it out to his truck before we started devouring each other in kisses unlike previously shared.
Ending up at his house, as we walked into the back kitchen door, engulfed with olfactory overload,  scents of lavender, rose geranium and fruits, he looked at me and silently, actually picked me up, that does not happen much in my 5 foot eleven life, and that was the beginning of my jam passion summer with the chef. It is somewhat of a surprise to me that there are no soft core porn movies involving jam making or even cooking together for that matter. I mean Babettes Feast is pretty sexy and Eat, Drink, Man and Woman is crazy but a jam making stand alone, I have not seen that one.

I won’t even get into pickles in this one. For another time. Suffice to say, if you have not made jam, in the heat of summer, fruit luminous, begging to be boiled and slathered on bread, it is time. Better yet shared with a special someone.

Strawberry and Basil Jam
2 cups sugar
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
2 large or 4 small basil leave
2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
Combine the sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strawberries and continue to cook over very low heat for 35 minutes, until the strawberries release some of their juices and the mixture boils slowly. Cook until a small amount of the juice gels on a very cold plate, about 30 minute more. (I keep one in the freezer.) Pour carefully into 2, sterile pint canning jars and place either 1 big or 2 small basil leaves in each jar. Either process in a water bath for 10 minutes or keep refrigerated. Refrigerated jam will keep for a couple of weeks.

Friday, June 26, 2015

cruising with the Gods

Perched on the edge of our floor to ceiling window, muscles pleasantly strained and alert as we search the inky black sky for the milky way while traversing by ship through the Ionian and Adriatic seas, my mind settles on bliss, peace, gratitude most of all. How did it take me well into my fifties to feel this brilliant disorienting experience of traversing on water?
Cruising on a small Windstar ship with my friend Lisa was a first for us both. We knew we’d see ruins being in Greece, but the allure of supremely intelligent carnality, luminous innocence and reverberating life still, after thousands of years, emanating energy from the marble and stones of massive columns and building still standing is startlingly abstract and ridiculously real at once. Hearing and realizing where our words come from by an inspired guide is riveting as your eyes seek them out carved into ancient walls and structures, almost hearing murmurous conversations between ancient gods and rulers and their muses, as they set the course of history.
Basking in intense sun as we roam ruins evokes a sense of hardship, agony, as men, laborers, toiled towards completion of temples for their Gods to reside in. Accomplished with purpose, graciously articulated comfort as well as efficiency in their environment, completion of these temples and shrines along with growing enough food to survive, was the only way of life expected for these laborers for many centuries of our history. Their technology was cutting, moving and placing massive stones.
Touring though the sites of the 1, 2 and 3rd Olympics we were educated as to how the athletes competed naked and barefoot, rubbing their bodies with pure olive oil and dirt in anticipation of brutal competitions against other warriors. Scandalous they were not, on the contrary they were puritanical in their single minded goals to win, purposely provoking love and compatibility as their sameness was part of the struggle to rise above each other.  Tent cities sprouted up for months before and after the Olympics’ as training was a major part of the actual competitions. Baths were always present as before as well as after, athletes bathed ceremoniously. After competitions, before the bath, athletes scraped their bodies of the olive oil and dirt, moisturized by their sweat, into small bottles to be sold as sacred ointments and rubs to the adoring scores of public observers to the games.
Having never cruised before I was not prepared for the immense beauty and solitude of the seas we were smoothly splitting. Our ship was pretty small, around 200 passengers and about 380 feet long.  Our adorably capable Italian Captain Ignazio Tatulli, operated his ship flawlessly through the clearly endless aquamarine water, creating a marriage of exciting and calm, an oasis of capability, every crew having as much fun as they were working hard. Interaction with the crew was one of the best parts of the day and later into the week they put on a line dancing event and then an actual talent show where one of the waiters turned into a crooning balladeer while others morphed into an awesome rock band. Our customer service gal honored us with a beautiful rendition of a popular folk song. Other crew performed a hysterical act of synchronized swimming that had me laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe and I was going to pee my pants. Food was very accomplished and our chef was open to suggestions, taking us on a farmer’s market tour in Montenegro that was interesting informative and great fun. Dalmatian prosciutto is rosy red tasting of perfect salty smoke. Local cheeses salted our mouths as a perfect foil for chilled local white wines.  Mussels in Albania melted as butter on your tongue, briny and luminous, sexual as always. Deliciously mesmerizing.
Local olive oils we tasted as well as brought home, had a quality of earth, terroir, it is very important to the Greeks, their earth from which grapes and olives spring forth and as like here in California the earth characteristics change from parcel to parcel creating differences and nuances in the oils and wines totally discernible to your precious taste buds and olfactory sensitivities. In Venice, our Captain entertained us at one of his local haunts, a charming trattoria, serving local specialties in a small and rustic, very comfortable restaurant. We had luscious antipasto with prosciutto and burrata you could eat off each other with intensely fresh tomatoes and basil plus olive oil acidic enough to captivate and spark imaginative possibilities. Tiramisu served in darling mason jars will be appearing on my menus. Grains stirred as risotto, tossed with silky cheese, roasted coins of fresh zucchini and silky melted cheese totally put me over the edge. I bought the grain and managed to get it home to make here with my lavender and zucchini. Ignazio also introduced Lisa and I to Primitive Memoria, and Italian varietal similar to zinfandel but far more complicated and divine.
Akin to beginning a new found relationship, my excitement over cruising, only small ships though, is captivating my obsessive desire to travel overseas. It was soooo easy and amazing. Life is short and a vast world awaits our presence.  Having a best friend for a travel agent does not hinder the reality to scoot either. 

FYI: All arranged through Alamo World Travel, Lisa Kallen

Summer produce is probably one of best reasons to live in Northern California. It is almost endless. We are blessed with the sweetest fruits, tastiest tomatoes, hottest peppers and adding to that is an endless amount of summer yum love but ball parked at kitchen sink could cover it, mostly.
At this writing, it is starting to heat up translating warm nights to ripening goods in our yards as well as markets. Two of my favorites are local corn and stone fruits. In recent years both have gotten tooth achingly sweet. I have definite major fondness for yellow corn but being in the minority creates minor difficulty finding it. Alas usually farmers markets come through for a successful hunt. Equally impressive are yellow, sometimes called mango, nectarines at the farmers markets. Actually pretty strong mango nuances invoke balmy breezes and swaying palms while juice is delightfully dripping down arms and chins. These are amazing as grilled accompaniments to any kind of cooked savory meats as well as being heart stopping alongside waffles or French toast doused with butter and syrup.

Local yellow and white corns in their return to the farmers markets create one of my favorite phenomena of satisfying a DNA seasonal craving and knowing awareness of proximity to taste buds while actually delivering on the promise quenching all expectations regardless of how much effort is required in preparations.

Not happy being a specter at the feast, white corn insists on having summer meals staged around it. Cut it raw off the cob throwing dazzling kernels into a salad of chopped cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, sweet red onion sliced thin, basil and feta. Dress with zest and juice of lemon or orange, drizzle good olive oil and rice vinegar and toss. This salad ensures lots of party re-invites. For cob gnawers, b-b-qing corn in the husk is an adventurous treat. Peel back husks and remove as much silk as possible leaving the husks intact. Mix soft butter, chopped jalapeño and lime zest together with your hands and spread on the corn lovingly. Close the husks back up and place on grill out of direct heat for about 10 minutes. This combination of flavors lingers on your taste buds like a lingering good dream. For an amazing final act, throw plenty of raw kernels into your favorite corn bread recipe serving piping hot with plenty of butter, real maple syrup and macerated blackberries. Now we are talking Brentwood corn.

Nectarines are said to be named after nectar consumed by Olympic Gods and white nectarines only strengthen that myth. Low acid strips modesty of sugar levels baring floral nuances begging to be paired with rose geranium, lavender and well made prosciutto. Said glorious globes weighing down tables at the farmers’ markets beckon to be immediately consumed out of hand. When that gets old, try a shortcake spin slicing up nectarines and macerating in Framboise, spooned over a fluffy biscuit topped off with mascarpone whipped with lemon curd. Insert heavy sigh here. Lovingly lay slices over fresh pizza dough finishing with gorgonzola, lemon thyme and toasted walnuts baked in a hot oven marrying flavors for life. Transform cereal with white nectarines, berries and yogurt motivating your taste buds to sing louder than the most talented mourning doves.

 Grilled Nectarines w/ Whipped Mascarpone
 4 nectarines, split in half and stone removed
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 cup of mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon of honey

Brush the cut side of the fruit with olive oil and place on the grill. Brush the skin side for when you turn. Grill on each side about 3 minutes. Remove from grill.
Place mascarpone and honey in a small bowl and whip together.
On a plate, place the nectarine, cut side up and fill with a dollop of mascarpone. Serves 8.

Nectarine and Blueberry Shortcake
2 nectarines, spit, stone removed and sliced
1 pint of fresh blueberries, cleaned
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
4 shortcakes
½ pint of whipping cream
½ pint of crème fraiche
1 tablespoon of sugar

Mix the nectarines and blueberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar and balsamic.
Whip cream to a very soft peak. Fold in the crème fraiche and 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Split shortcakes and place on individual plates. Spoon fruit over one side of them and dollop whipped cream on. Place other side on top and dollop a little more cream on top. Serves 4.