Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Toast to New Beginnings & a Weekend Well Spent

I’ve wrestled with how to express a recent experience, an experience shared with a hundred other people, and yet a unique experience.
Eat, Write, Retreat! has occupied many waking moments since Sunday afternoon. As I watched tweets and blog posts and comments flow around the Ethernet, I was amazed and impressed by the clarity of thought and engaging storytelling. Still, I was overwhelmed and in a mental swirl. Finally, deciding to put pan to stove and fingers to keyboard and try something…anything…what emerged are the lessons I learned and dinner…

Push boundaries & escape the status quo

At 7:30 on a Tuesday night after being out of town for 10 days, I found myself hungry and wanting an easy answer. Ordering out was tempting for the convenience, wine as dinner was tempting for different reasons – something was missing from both of these answers.

It was the same dilemma when I considered the Eat, Write, Retreat! I could stay home and enjoy a rare night in my own bed and be in my comfortable weekend routine or invest in something outside of my comfort zone. At 7:30 on a Tuesday night, I got cooking…guess that's also true of 6 o’clock on Friday, May 20th…when a new world opened up to me.

Start with what you have & build on it

So what’s lying around waiting to be eaten? Assorted pasta, rices and grains, grape tomatoes, asparagus, chicken thighs, bell peppers, Italian sausage, sun dried tomatoes, capers, and of course, wine. The pasta yelled the loudest and the tomatoes and asparagus were making their voices heard…is this the direction to go?

Lying latent in me are my enjoyment of photography, passion for food and wine, struggle with writing – enjoy it when I do it, but don’t do it enough, love of learning and extreme discomfort with cocktail parties and meeting new people…what have I gotten myself into?

Challenge old patterns & imagine new possibilities

Pasta with tomatoes, green veg and cheese – a comfortable standard in this kitchen…hmm. What if I step out of my comfort zone and do a spin on sausage and peppers – my baseball game fave? Inspired! At least for a week night. With water on the boil and sausage sizzling, I wield my knife to chop, chop, chop my way through a Vidalia onion and colorful bell peppers. The caramelized sausage leaves a delicious brown crust on the pan…I’ve got just the thing to deglaze…a glass of summer…Patton Valley rosé…it’s dancing in the pan as my taste buds anticipate the first bite.

While the onions and peppers are melting into the sausage, I reflect on how Lisa and Renee would style & capture the food, how Monica would translate it into story, and anticipate my first bite of a new creation.

Count your blessings, especially memories that nourish the soul

The pasta is getting acquainted with the sausage mix and some Parmigiano-Reggiano, so I have five or ten minutes to assemble my camera and a setting, wash the pan and knife and load the dishwasher. While it’s late and no gardening chores got done, how lucky am I to have a great meal and glass of wine ahead of me? And while I struggle with how to share my thoughts, I feel enriched by the conversations, the learning, the meals, the sense of community and of course that crazy swag bag!

Celebrate in the moment & think to the future

As I sit down to dinner, after an abbreviated photo shoot,

I raise a glass to Robyn & Casey for creating a picture perfect event, to the panelists who shared their perspectives so we could each find our own way, and my fellow participants who welcomed me into their community in a way that continues to feel like a warm embrace.

At the first bite, I am happy and content, thrilled to have tried something new and impromptu and remembering a Red Sox game at Fenway. At the second bite, I am thinking ahead to what I would do differently next time…add some fennel? Use fresh mozzarella?

So too with my blog, as I prepare to hit the publish button, I am thrilled to have my first post in over a year. And am thinking ahead…shall I share a treasured story from cooking class in Bali? A visit to a balsamic attic at Cavazzone? A new journey of discovery? Thanks to this weekend and the encouragement of professionals and friends,

the door is open and a new world awaits me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Friends, Friendship and Ravioli

Recently, I’ve been thinking about friends and the ribbon of friendship weaving through our lives. Old friends, new friends, sisters who are friends and friends with whom I’ve lost touch – so many memories of friends, old and new, involve sharing something to eat and drink. It puts in a mind of pasta – strong, tender, simple, sublime, and good for the soul.

Last week, one of my dearest friends from childhood was kind enough to drive four hours to spend the weekend with me. The espresso machine was warmed up, the sour cream banana bread was baked and we were able to start getting reacquainted. We had plans to go on a hike, pick apples, visit the local farmer’s market, or just get out of the house…but first we thought we’d have some lunch and a splash of wine. We opened a bottle of Muga rosé and headed out to the deck while the puff pastry shell pre-baked. The sun was warm, the wine was cool and the conversation sparkling – so the pre-baking crossed into baking…definitely the sign of things to come.

The gruyere tart was ridiculously easy (yes, even though my pre-baking mishap seems to tell a different story) – grated cheese on the shell, topped with asparagus alternating tip to toe, drizzle with olive oil, grind some pepper, sprinkle some salt, and then into the oven to bake. This is one of those recipes that is incredibly simple and showcases quality ingredients – we had it hot and cold and loved it both ways! This tart will be making another appearance (or three) at holiday time. Check the details in Martha Stewarts’s Everyday Food cookbook.

So one glass turned into two, one story into three and the clock turned to four – the field trip was canceled as we could not drag ourselves out of our deck chairs…what a fabulous way to spend a day – instead of a hike, I took a walk down memory lane with a dear friend – the best kind of exercise imaginable.

For dinner we decided to make butternut squash ravioli.
The Silver Spoon is considered the Italian Joy of Cooking, so it seemed a great choice to guide us through the meal. Teri made the pasta while I took on the filling. The pasta is so easy (if you’re not the one kneading) – eggs, flour and salt. The filling was too, squash through the food mill (it smelled amazing), bread crumbs, parmesan cheese (now it is mouthwatering) salt, pepper, and olive oil.
Roll, roll, roll, fill, fill, fill, seal, seal, seal, boil, boil, boil and done! Finished with a simple sage and butter sauce – amazing ingredients lovingly prepared = amazing taste. We poured a Dutton Goldfield Chardonnay and the angels were singing…even the ones with tarnished wings!

Does this mean when I cook and eat alone that I’m not with a friend? These are the times I enjoy an alternate view of friends and friendship – an old friend, like the recently popular Mastering the Art of French Cooking, guides me through the steps, my copper pan sautéing the veal evokes a visit to Dehillerin, and the glass of chardonnay feels like an old friend I met at a barrel tasting. While I eat and sip, I can remember the thrill of meeting Julia Child or eating, drinking and laughing my way through France with friends…the circle of friendship is complete. To all of my friends thank you for then and now.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

San Francisco Field Trip

A sunny, breezy Friday afternoon in San Francisco – life is so very good! Just enough time to have check in, have lunch, and spend an hour or so in the MOMA sketching. Sad not to have done the exhibits and tour, but this weekend is about food, wine and the outdoors.

Dinner at A16 – heard amazing things about the cookbook so wanted to check it out. We were positively gasping for wine and were thrilled with our choice – Alberto Longo Negroamaro Rosé “Donnadele”. We kicked off with Manila clams with assorted beans, cherry tomatoes and grilled bread – pretty delicious. Next up was the funghi pizza – adorned with proscuitto San Daniele. About this time the table next to us was re-seated. The star of the table shall remain nameless – Ms. Overwhelmingly Loud Talker. Our pasta arrived soon after and the flavor was drowned out by Ms. OLT – so too was the pleasure of the evening. I’d come back for lunch when a more “lively” atmosphere is more comfortable.

Saturday morning…must find espresso and the farmer’s market! I’ve been dreaming of the scrambled egg sandwich from Hayes Street Grill – but the coffee and the market must be savored first. Latte in hand, I am at peace – good morning! It’s a spectacular day in San Francisco! I love every booth – check out the Miner’s lettuce with the cute little bloom in the middle of each leaf and the conehead cabbage – intriguing. Next trip? Roli Roti. Memories of the stands in Paris with lovely potatoes roasted in the dripping chicken juices – heaven! Inside – visit Culinaire for a trip through the French countryside and chat with Peter – he’s charming and loves what he does – Alsace here I come. Don’t miss The Gardener – every item is perfectly chosen – including a fun hat that looked good on my bean head. Happy times. Before the camera “incident”. Suffice it to say that the gods of the bay bridge should be content for some time to come and those little straps are there for a reason.

Fast forward to Arlequin Wine in Hayes Valley – two wipeouts and one de-railed chain later – a bottle of pink Chinon on a secluded terrace. If pink is the weekend wine theme, then memories of France is Saturday’s theme. The wine has saved the day – two cameras (one new) are intact and there are no more bicycle incidents!

Piperade! A word that brings joy to my soul. The food, the service, and the vibe are all wonderful here. This is my must visit place – after a day of misadventures, I found myself hoping I’d not overbuilt my past visits, but no, it is just as wonderful as before! Unsurprisingly, we are ready for a glass of wine – not pink – Herri Mina Irouleguy – a favorite! We started with the garlic and egg soup and the stuffed piquillo pepper. The soup was delicious; the pepper was fabu! Continued with hake in a vinegar reduction and pork shank. Tucked into the chocolate cake with crème fraiche and crème caramel for dessert and waddled happily back to our hotel.

Fog rolled in overnight and threatened our bike ride across the bridge – we decided to kick it off with breakfast at The Plant. An organic café overlooking the bay – cameras were kept inside the railing and we enjoyed an incident-free omelet with fresh corn and cherry tomatoes. The carrot orange ginger juice was refreshing and made me feel healthy and ready to tackle the ride!

The first sign of trouble came at the Fort Mason incline (90 degrees); at the marina we watched the fog roll in from the west, pouring into the bay. Next came the soft sand trail – does anyone have any idea of how old and out of shape I am? So we get to the base of the bridge – yes, that’s it the orange fog-shrouded smudge 100 or so feet straight above our heads; yes that narrow, foggy, curvy, steep, two-way road is the path – who’s idea was this? Oh, hmmm, nevermind.

A lot of fog and a spot of vertigo later, we find brilliant sun and breeze through Sausalito with a brief stop for a floating picnic. Tiburon here we come, Tiburon he we come, Tiburon here we come, Tiburon are you there, are you some sort of Atlantis or fountain of youth, am I Don Quixote chasing windmills in this blistering heat on my newfangled horse? Ferry boats with cold beer are my new favorite San Francisco treat!

We are soo-oo-oo ready to ditch the bikes. Instead, we sooth ourselves with musings of clam chowder at Hog Island – closed?! Was the camera not offering enough? The gods of the bay hear our plea and we score two seats at Slanted Door! After my first glass of Kalmuck Zweigelt Rosé, I was back in the pink! The crispy imperial and spring rolls and shaking beef were perfection on a plate! Is it possible to waddle on a bike?

Monday – last day in town – one last meal – Hog Island! The clam chowder calls and calls…it would be rude not to answer. Crazy wait, but a glass of Sancerre and some fun making nice with our host help the time pass quickly – and score us an outside table – that gods of the bay are with us again. The clam chowder? Perfection in a bowl! We finish off by sipping another glass of sancerre with baked finocchio oysters – divine! We say goodbye to our new friend Kelli (that’s with a chainsaw over the “i”) and head for gelato…we burned a lot of calories yesterday! They call it Ciao Gelato, I say Ciao Bella! Hello lovely gelatos and sorbets – try to Sicilian lemon or the pink grapefruit campari.

As the sun goes down, I head for my plane and savor happy food dreams all the way home.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tomatoes Three Ways

A quick update on the was gone in flash (not the camera's unfortunately). Another batch is on the drawing board but will have to wait until after San Francisco.It finally got to be summer and the tomatoes starting ripening in batches big enough to cook. I was reminiscing about cooking classes in Barcelona and Tuscany and started to poke around for recipes...The first recipe I found was from Osteria La Gramola ( days in the restaurant kitchen with Cecilia guiding us, while Massimo kept us in wine and olive oil and grappa, and their son baked amazing bread. We made pappa al pomodoro with the ingredients in the center picture. Simply saute the finely minced leek, garlic and chili until brown then add tomatoes that have been through the food mill. Cook it for about an hour and season with salt, pepper and basil. Add thinly sliced stale bread and stir with a wooden spoon until most of the liquid is gone...easy and amazingly delicious.

The Barcelona recipes are MIA, but the memories are still wonderful ( …paella, crema catalan, wine (of course) and gazpacho. Instead I found a recipe in My Kitchen in Spain; Janet Mendel doesn’t just give the recipe, she tells the story. Gazpacho is much like that of pappa – it was peasant food created out of what was available and needed to be used. I used bread in mine and red bell pepper instead of green. The trimmed bread crusts made fresh croutons; joining the croutons were diced cucumbers and swirl of peppery olive oil. The ingredients are similar, bread, tomatoes, and garlic, but the tastes and textures couldnot be more different. Try them both.

For the third installment and the first picture, I cooked up a pot of linguine. While that was on the boil, I diced an assortment of the you know whats – pineapple heirlooms, cherry heirlooms and yellow grapes. Into a dish with finely chopped garlic, a splash of balsamic, a bigger splash of olive oil, s & p, and chiffonade of a healthy sprig of basil. I let the heat of the linguine take care of the “cooking” so this meal was out of the garden and on the table in less than ½ hour…sweet!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Taste of Spain

If this wine weren't so fantastic, the memory would be fading! It is hard to believe that the bottle has been empty for lo', these many weeks. You should know I have a particular fondness for riojas, especially whites and pinks and reds. This rosé from Muga is zesty and hints of strawberry; the color is deep and rich…it reminds me a bit of one of my old favorite crayolas – salmon. A happy memory and a delicious wine! It was less than $15 from me and more than worth it! Until you can get to Spain, sip this wine and pretend.Two Buck Chuck Tasting Alert After a lazy day poolside with red meat on the menu, some friends and I did a tasting of the Merlot and Shiraz on Sunday evening. It was fun and random and our reward for finishing the LA and NY Times crossword puzzle. The merlot was quite fine; we agreed that for big holiday parties we would be quite content to pour this wine -- @ $ 3.29 it was more than twice better than a lot of under $10 bottles. Ok, so it's not 2 buck chuck anymore but 329 buck chuck doesn't flow as well after a couple of glasses. The shiraz was drinkable but came in a distant second. I wonder about the chard...hmmm...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dinner on the Deck with the Reynolds

So Lucian was home from Miami and we thought it was time for a family dinner and a few rounds of the Whad'Ya Know Show? game. Here's the menu...Chipotle-orange pulled pork -- slow cooked all day's the link,0,5087816.storyI modified a few things...most planned, one not. We were planning some other sauces so I left out the orange zest to done it down a bit; it was a hot day so used a slow cooker instead of the oven, was so not baking brioche rolls (see hot day) so bought kaiser rolls...used some sauce to keep the meat moist and put the rest in a squirt bottle for the a flake so forgot to grate and serve the cheese.Jake's Turkish Coffee Barbecue Sauce (The Barbecue Bible - Raichlen - p 465) -- even if you don't love coffee, you will love this sauce, plus once you fire up the espresso machine you may as well have a latte!Lemon Mop (The Great Ribs Book - Carpenter & Sandison - p 66) -- substituted lime for lemon and the leftover is a mighty good on grilled chicken.Lime Pickled Mangoes with Ginger and Chiles (License to Grill - Schlesinger & Willoughby - p 336) -- Definitely the hit of the party...sweet, hot, healthy and delicious!Grilled poblanos and serranos, Joy's beans -- one pot of garden and one of baked, and Irene's pesto pasta salad. I am too full to mention desserts, but I will say that Bobby Flay's sangria is a summer staple at my house. The white peach was reeeaaallly tough to pass on, but brave girl that I am, I branched out from p 251 to p 250 (don't try this at home). Two (or maybe four -- it got a bit blurry) thumbs up for Bolo's Pomegranate Sangria from Bobby Flay's From My Kitchen to Your Table) This cookbook is fabu...everything I've made out of it has become an instant family favorite...especially the grilled pork tenderloin and lemon-thyme rice...back to the sangria...I always use peaches in my sangria and this was no exception...between the pomegranate juice and all the fruit, I am pretty sure I got my daily allowance of fruits...a new twist on the apple a day plan....For those of you who are fans of NPR and for those of you who aren't the game is a lot of fun...we range in ages from 10 to 90+ and had way too much post-prandial mental's a sample question...Question: Can you eat your pet in California? A. Yes, B. No, C. Sometimes.Answer: Buy the game to find out. You'll also learn what kind of pig Porky'd think narrowing down to three choices would help...but not so much....until next time...

A Taste of Portugal

This wine is summer in a glass! Gatão Vinho Verde...lemony fresh, slightly frizzante, low in alcohol! It is lively in your mouth and slightly tart. Enjoy this on the deck with the bamboo wind chimes bongling in the breeze, Stan Getz on the stereo while gazing at the flowers or stars. Sweet memories that will bring sunshine to your mind and a smile to your face deep into winter while you plan your field trip to Portugal...a trip you can afford thanks to the $7.99 price (DC area).