Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Weekend Break(fast)

Aaaaaaahhh... Big *sigh* of relief. 

We have made it to the weekend and both members of the (very nice, very hardworking) demolition crew have gone home for a well-deserved rest. They worked like crazy all week and all we did was supply mid-morning coffee. Now, we have the peaceful, if dusty, house to ourselves and we can play around with making breakfast in our makeshift kitchen.

We peeled off the dust-covered drop cloths and began.

Nothing special, really, just bacon and eggs, but we are trying out our new toaster (the packers packed the other one because I didn't hide it in time), and setting up our coffeemaker for the first time in the living room. Nothing is where it ought to be, so it's all a bit of a puzzle, but we are enjoying the process of organizing as we go.

We had looked forward all week to a morning when we didn't have to be up, showered and dressed by 0730 but, of course, Murphy's Law dictated that we couldn't sleep later than 0600, so we got up anyway and began breakfast just as the dawn was breaking. Even had to turn on the light that My Beloved rigged for just such a morning.

As I was cracking eggs and flipping bacon on a table/counter that is too short for me, I mused that this must have been how Julia Child felt all the time, she being so tall and counters (especially in France) being so short. Belated appreciation for my own kitchen counters, ugly as they were, and renewed appreciation for Ms. Child, who must have done that amazing cookery in uncomfortable surroundings.

The yolks of the eggs were as bright an orange as the bowl I was cracking them into. The bacon sizzled quietly alongside. The toaster popped companionably and the coffee trickled musically into the pot. Leftover pineapple from the lunch Jan brought us last Thursday was served still in its plastic store container. 

The sun rose behind a bank of clouds that parted just over the city, bathing the buildings in pink light and leaving the Marin hills in shadow as we sat down to breakfast. 

The only sounds were those of newspaper pages being turned, coffee gurgling into the pot, cutlery clinking on a plate, and the crunch of toast. There was half a piece of bacon left for Cora, who snoozed peacefully through our breakfast, as content as we were with the morning break.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Lest You Feel Pity

Yes, we are surrounded by dust and demolition. Yes, we are finding that what we thought was a very comfortable guest room is, in fact, a little too small. And, yes, we wish we could wave a magic wand and transport ourselves into a wonderfully improved and finished kitchen and bathroom. No such luck. But lest you feel pity for us, it's not all bad.

For example, I do have a microwave oven and that goofy hot plate to use, and the first day of demolition was so warm we could eat outside on the deck. My trusty Weber grill produced some killer lamb chops and cousin Jan brought us lunch yesterday, wonderful rare roast beef sandwiches on Dutch crunch rolls. While she was at it, she brought us a roasted chicken and fresh asparagus for our dinner. 

So, the house may be swathed in drop cloths and blanketed with the dust of ages, and we may be closeted downstairs in the office to buffer the din, but there are fresh tulips and daffodils on the table and we are doing fine.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Away From The Noise

I don't want this blog to become an endless complaint about the noise of remodeling a kitchen, nor do I want it to become solely a restaurant review blog, but we are eating out a lot recently to escape the crashing, pounding, and general mayhem.

We were up in Novato, a little north of us, to retrieve some samples from the purveyor of counter tops, and we decided to stop for lunch at a new-to-us restaurant in the repurposed Hamilton Air Force base.  It is called Beso. They have a shady outdoor deck and a nice, varied menu. 

The harried waitress was having trouble keeping up with all the orders, but otherwise it was a very enjoyable lunch. We started by sharing a plate of truffle fries, which were simply splendid, crisp on the outside, tender on the inside and redolent from a table away of wonderful fungal deliciousness. 

We probably should have stopped there but My Beloved enjoyed his stir-fry kind of plate with beef and fresh veggies (he didn't eat the fries as it also came with rice - kind of a strange combo, but the part he ate was good), and I asked for the Asian chicken salad. It was certainly very generous, with a huge piece of sautéed dark meat topping the salad and a criss-cross of enoki mushrooms for decoration. Candied walnuts made a change from the more common almonds or cashews and the big slices of cucumber were a nice addition on a hot day.

We sat in the dappled shade discussing this and that ideas for the kitchen counters and enjoying the peace and quiet of this lovely location.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Stress Relief

It was a Hair On Fire Monday. We had a letter from the IRS telling us we owed $7K in back taxes for 2012. My Beloved was on the phone on and off all day trying to figure out if that was true as well as trying to settle this year's tax return. The worker bees were upstairs reducing our "cool, vintage kitchen" to rubble in preparation for building a new kitchen. Cora was literally dogging our tracks, frightened by the noise and the upset to her peaceful routine. It was downright hot, too, something we rarely experience here in the foggy, cool San Francisco bay area. And we are sharing an office, which our love may or may not survive. 

We had plans to pick up Naomi and Sam at their apartment so we could see their adorable baby, Izzie, before going off to Chez Panisse for their farewell dinner. We were running late and I was already "bedewing" my light clothes after my shower. Finally had to call and ask our guests to meet us at the restaurant, missing our Izzie visit. Damn!

So, with all that bouncing around in our heads, you can imagine what a pleasure it was to be greeted by a maitre-d with a serious calm, be escorted upstairs to the bar where our guests bought us a glass of prosecco, and be seated in the beautiful Craftsman-style dining room. Peace descended as soon as we entered the door.

The Monday night menu is not as fancy as the rest of the week, but they still gave us the little printed menus to describe the delights to come, and the service is always the very best, friendly without being familiar, unobtrusive and prompt. 

First, bacalao fritters with pickled spring vegetables. I asked what bacalao is - salt cod - and, in this case, made with local Pacific cod. Perfectly crisp and golden on the outside, sweet and almost like brandade on the inside. The little pickles of early vegetables were lovely with the fritters, very mildly pickled and still retaining their beautiful colors - radishes still bright red, carrots holding on to their lively orange.

Then a plate of paella cooked over a wood fire so the rice retained just a hint of smokiness and each shellfish was perfectly cooked. The shrimp were as rich as the lobster pieces, the chorizo finely chopped so it was a salty surprise here and there in the rice, and the tiny clams each contained a sea-flavored morsel. In addition to fresh spring peas, there were also tender fava beans throughout the rice. Slender asparagus and green onions had been quickly charred to bring out their flavors and there was a pool of beautiful, buttery, bright yellow sauce just in case the rest wasn't enough to thrill you. Every bite had something delightful in it and it was a feast for the eyes as well as for the belly.

Dessert was three kinds of cold citrus preparations, candied kumquat ice cream, blood orange sherbet, and mandarin orange granita all served together. One spoonful of creamy, rich ice cream studded with little, chewy, sweet-tart surprises was followed by one of tart, tingly sherbet that kept my tongue alive throughout. The granita was hidden under the other two, the sweet, crunchy finish, singing with flavor.

We sat and talked, sipping lattes and after dinner drinks, catching up with our young friends and their splendid plans. One of the things I most love about Chez Panisse is the feeling of leisure it gives you. Even after the bill arrives, there is no sense of rushing you out the door. Because their seatings, only two in the evening, are well spaced, you have time for chatting and relaxing and appreciating the meal you just enjoyed.

After dinner, nicely full, we walked down the street in the warm night air (a wonderful anomaly in our neck of the woods), still with ideas to impart and memories to share. Hugs and promises to keep in touch and they were gone to relieve the babysitter.  My Beloved and I drove home with the windows open, deeply content.


Monday, April 7, 2014

The Art Of Destruction

As I write, Luis and Brandon are upstairs creating havoc. They are deconstructing my kitchen amid lots of pounding and sawing, making the dust of ages fly as they take apart the old cupboards, pry up the hideous tiles that I have always hated, and carry away the sad, broken cooktop. While it looks like chaos, there is art to the work they are doing now.

We are pretty useless in this stage of the work, so we just come downstairs to our office with Cora, partly to escape the noise and mostly just to stay out of the way. Our contribution this morning was to show the guys where the bathroom is and to bring them a cup of hot, black coffee to fuel their hard work.

No cooking will happen today, even though we have a countertop stove. Instead, we are taking our young friends Naomi and Sam to Chez Panisse for a farewell dinner. Naomi has completed her Ph.D. in Classics at Cal and has accepted an exciting professorship at Harvard, so they will be moving to the Boston area in midsummer. 

Selfishly, we will miss their young presence, but we always knew that Naomi is a rock star of her specialty, so we knew it was unlikely that they would stay here. Sam is a shining star in his specialty, too, so they will go far, both physically and academically. 

There is an art to what happens in the kitchens at Chez Panisse, too, so it will be interesting to compare the art of destruction with the art of consumption, all in the same day.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Ready To Roll

Things are a little at sixes and sevens around here. 

The pictures still have to come down and the clock and sofa must be draped in drop cloths, but the kitchen is mostly moved into the living room where we will be cooking until the kitchen remodel is finished. We will also tape up a plastic drop cloth behind the white table to protect the wall from spatters. And we will likely think of ten other things we need in the "kitchen."

Demolition begins next week. Wish us luck!


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Poutine

Every now and then, My Beloved and I like to venture into the big city for an evening. We did this more when I worked in the city but since I retired, it's a very special occasion. We had heard that the musical "Mamma Mia" was back in town and, it being one of my all-time favorites, we gathered up our pal Sari and cousin Jan to go with us. 

If you haven't seen "Mamma Mia" in live performance, you really should. I love the movie, too, (despite the gorgeous Pierce Brosnan's singing) but there is nothing quite so wonderful as a stage performance. The sets are clever, the music is lively, and there is something just plain awe-inspiring in watching the performers put themselves out there, risking it all just to entertain you. Their talent and courage make it a fantastic experience. If you aren't on your feet and dancing by the end - well, you just will be.

Anyway, we all went out for dinner before the show, trying a new-to-us restaurant called "Sauce" in the Hayes Valley section of San Francisco. It has a somewhat quirky menu with all kinds of interesting preparations. Sari enjoyed the beef short ribs presented as Beef Wellington topped with duxelles and wrapped in pastry. Jan and My Beloved had the butterfish special and both said it was yummy. I went for the Brussels sprout salad with chili-dusted pumpkin seeds, followed by poutine.

I had heard about poutine from my food blogs and from my older brother and his wife who recently spent a long, snowy weekend in the city of Quebec, Canada but I had never tried it myself. I have to admit that the idea of French fries topped with cheese curds and slathered with brown gravy sounded a little weird to me, but I learned early on that if Canadians like something, it's going to be good. Like everyone else in the world, I love Canadians and that admiration has never steered me wrong.

This is truly comfort food. It was fairly bland, pretty rich, and wonderfully filling. My plate was advertised as an appetizer but it was the opposite, an appetite appeaser. Rather than French fries, this presentation used russet potato skin spears that had been baked and lightly sautéed before the topping and slathering began. The unctuous cheese melted under its blanket of smooth gravy, oozing amongst the potato slices.

It would be great on a rainy evening or, better yet, a snowy one, perhaps after skiing when you are cold right down to your toes. After the winter they've been having in the northern tier of States this year, I'll bet a whole bunch of people have converted to poutine. Because we live in mild California and I hadn't been on the slopes all day, I was unable to finish my generous portion.

After dinner, we hurried down Market Street toward the theater, full of good dinner and anticipation, ready to be enchanted, to clap and laugh and dance to the music.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Grilled Cheese Nirvana

While I had my waffle iron out to make stuffing waffles, I decided to use it as a panini press. Have you ever make a  grilled cheese sandwich in a waffle iron? Well, neither had I, and it seemed like a fun idea.

To get the full value of this story, you need to know that my waffle iron is very special. I bought it perhaps 30 years ago in tiny Hilton, New York at a little shop called The Fixer's Offerings. The Fixer went around finding other people's castoffs, repairing and returning them to service. He was the ultimate recycler 20 years before the term "recycling" became a household word.

I bought the waffle iron mostly because I was enchanted by the two little round burners, the metal on-off switches that were sure to become red hot during the baking (they do), and the cloth-wrapped cord. Obviously, I was going through some kind of vintage stage.

Anyway, what I brought home as a quirky, five dollar purchase has been with me ever since. Other waffle irons have come and gone in my life but this one remains. It simply makes the best waffles on earth, and in a fraction of the time of any other waffle baker I have owned. The grates are seasoned from years of use, so they don't need greasing any more. Oh, it has some drawbacks, like the red hot switches and the fact that it can overheat, but all those considerations are minor compared to nearly instant and delicious waffles.

So, when I thought about putting a grilled cheese sandwich into my waffle iron, I thought carefully first. I didn't want anything to screw up my precious find. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

I needn't have worried - the waffle iron accepted the sandwich and the weight of the heavy metal grates flattened it down so that the whole sandwich settled into the grid and toasted to a golden brown in just a few minutes. No sticking, no protest, it just went to work.

Oh, my heavens! What a lovely, crisp, buttery, gooey perfection of a sandwich! The Swiss cheese melted not onto the bread but rather into it, and became one with it. We couldn't tell where the bread ended and the cheese began, except for the long threads molten of cheese that pulled out with each bite. This was grilled cheese nirvana.

I immediately began thinking about other ways to riff on the sandwich but My Beloved stopped me. "This is perfect just as it is," he said and, as he so often is, he was right. No need to gild an already golden sandwich.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Wacky Waffle Wednesday

Here comes a shameful confession: My Beloved and I watch Guy Fieri. There, I've said it! 
I know most foodies would turn up their noses, but we get a kick out of his antics, his hairdo, and his "I just love myself" attitude. 

To give you some context, we discovered Guy Fieri years ago at an outdoor arts and crafts fair near Jenner, California, (he's a NOCA native) when we were out exploring one day. We stopped at the fair around lunch time and, seeing the line for hot dogs was a mile long, decided to go for the salmon line, which had far fewer people in it. That planked salmon was from Guy's restaurant, Johnny Garlic's, and it was so delicious that we cornered the chef (not Guy) and demanded his recipe. We couldn't believe anyone (even me!) would prefer tube steaks to this killer salmon. We've been planking ever since.

All that as prelude to our watching an episode of Guy's series, "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" in which he interviewed a guy in Syracuse, New York who makes stuffing waffles. What?? Yes, waffles made with stuffing. I have since learned that stuffing waffles are a great way to use up leftover stuffing at Thanksgiving, but I had never heard of such a thing so I just had to try them.

On that show, they demonstrate in rapid-fire order the ingredients that go into each dish, and the ones for stuffing waffles sounded easy enough, so here we go! Basically, you just assemble what you would normally stuff into your Thanksgiving turkey, let it soak up for a while, then press it into a waffle iron until it's crisp on the outside and the veggies are cooked through. I was initially uncertain about whether the raw onion and celery would get cooked but, magically, they did.

On the show, they also heated turkey slices and added gravy, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, so I just followed suit - what the heck!  Thanksgiving in March - why ever not? 

I got the turkey slices and the mashed spuds from the deli section of my market and briefly heated the former in a small pan and the latter in the microwave. I made a simple gravy with some turkey stock I had in the freezer (butter, flour to make a roux, cook it a little, then add turkey stock a bit at a time, salt and pepper and voilà!) but you could buy that in a bottle if you didn't have stock on hand.

The meal was as much of a kick as that silly show is - the turkey was moist, the spuds loved swimming in gravy, the cranberry sauce was surprised to be called upon mid-year, and those stuffing waffles just made us smile. I mean, really - crisp stuffing?  Who couldn't love that?

The second graders I tutor love a book called "Wacky Wednesday." All kinds of fun and weird things happen in that book; if they had included a meal, I'm sure it would have been stuffing waffles.

Stuffing Waffles, adapted from Funk 'n' Waffles in Syracuse, NY

6 slices ciabatta bread (or other while bread)
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 egg
1/2 cup or more turkey or chicken stock to moisten
thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste
(next time, I will add sautéed mushrooms)

Mix the egg with the stock to blend. Add the herbs and mix to blend. Add onion, celery, and bread and mix thoroughly. Add more stock if needed - you want the "batter" to be quite moist. Let it stand for about 20-30 minutes to soak the bread thoroughly.

Pile a big spoonful into a heated waffle iron that has been sprayed with cooking spray (I used canola spray). Press down the lid and allow to cook until steaming has stopped and top and bottom are crisp. Serve topped with turkey slices, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Love Is In The Air

If we didn't already know it was spring from the calendar and the weather, we'd know it from all the love floating around. Last weekend, we were guests at a beautiful wedding in a stunning setting when cousin Sherry married her long time partner, Kathy. They wrote their own vows, chose a good friend to officiate, and threw a fun party to celebrate afterwards. We are suckers for weddings, anyway, and this one was extra special.

Then, not only are Guy and Irene getting married in May (as I talked about here), but now my Fairy Goddaughter, Pamela, has a ring on her finger, too. She and her guy Matt have been an item for a couple of years now, so no one was very surprised, but we are all tickled pink. We approve of her taste in guys.

Pamela, who we call Louis (pronounced like the French), has been dear to my heart from the day she was born. I actually attended her birth, along with her father, in the operating room and was there when her mother told the nurse her name, Pamela, after me. In the list of honors in my life, that is easily Number One. 

And that kid just charmed the socks off all of us. She was an adorable baby, a sweet little girl with a determined chin to show the world she was no pushover, a graceful and athletic teen, a gorgeous young woman, a successful career woman who gives back to her community - and she just keeps getting better. 

So, when I was cleaning out my pantry in preparation for the kitchen remodel and I came across this cake mix for a diminutive, heart-shaped cake that some sweet person gave me long ago, I decided to bake it up in honor of all the happy couples we know and love. Sari and Jeff. Sherry and Kathy. Louis and Matt. Irene and Guy.

Happy Spring!