Archive for October, 2007

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

If I had lived on a farm in the days or yore, I would’ve lived in savoury anticipation of harvest season. In the pale sun of late morning, after breakfast, I would put on my warm wool sweater which I had knit last spring (in this history, I can knit, too) and my muddy boots to tramp out to my garden to collect ripe squash, onions, and firm, winy apples for a big farm lunch. The air is crisp and clean and smells like earth as I dig up some potatoes and start thinking about all the canning that needs to be done and the root cellar which I’ll soon fill. This morning’s bread is ready to go in the oven. Must think about starting the Christmas cake soon.

I feel I can make this definitive alternate-history prediction because of the way I look forward to fall and its vegetable bounty nowadays. There are certain recipes that I don’t make on purpose the rest of the year because if it’s not fall enough outside, they just don’t taste as good. It’s kind of like Christmas cookies, I guess- one could make them in July, but it wouldn’t be the same, wouldn’t be as special. My fall-only menu includes pretty much anything with butternut squash, rutabaga, turnips, shepherd’s pie, any kind of really dense and sticky dessert, and heavy, hearty casseroles. The weather all but demands it and as a result, I think I eat more during fall than any other time of the year, save Christmas. How can I resist? Not only does the kitchen now feel cozier for the oven, rather than stiflingly hot, the root vegetables are at their peak, the corn is here, the apples are dropping, and the mushrooms are at their musty best.

cimg7136.jpg O, Mushooms! Nothing is more quintessentially fall than mushrooms. Wrinkly, dark, musty and aromatic, I will always favour a recipe in which they are involved. Divine in an omelette, earthy in a stew, dense in a salad; even a portebello can effectively masquerade as the patty in a burger. And my mushroom stems never go to waste as Sammy happily snarfs them up when offered.

On one of our most recent sojourns to the Saturday market, we came upon the an irresistible bargain on chanterelle mushrooms at Far West Fungi. These guys know their way around the mushroom, but I usually feel a little intimidated by the staff, like if I were to ask a question about a type of mushroom, the answer would be preceded with a mild snort of derision as if to say “what- you mean you don’t know?” This time, however, I didn’t hestitate approach the counter and hand over the $5 for an orangey, little basket of these usually prohibitively expensive variety. Immediately, I began thinking that I would use them in an omelette following a Thomas Keller recipe I saw online somewhere. Unfortunately, search though I might, I couldn’t find it again and I don’t yet own The French Laundry Cookbook. cimg7152.jpgHowever, I fortuitously connected with another intriguing recipe in Nigella’s book: Mushroom Ragout. Now this, was going to be outstanding because truly, ragout is all that is fall. This recipe – my mouth waters just thinking about it – is all about wild mushrooms and this is how I chose to honour the chanterelles. Sautéed in butter and herbs, deglazed with white wine, thickened with a little flour, some onions and parsley and then sloppily served over soft, polenta with parmesan. The mushroom were just this side of firm and could not have been better presented or more flavourfully offered than in such a ragout. I should’ve garnished the bowls with newly fallen leaves.

Zero Segue

Monday, October 15th, 2007

There are two items on this menu that sound…   intriguing.


Why would there need to be a vegan version?

This is a picture of birds waiting for the light to change at an intersection in The Mission:



Monday, October 8th, 2007

Living in Calgary, one of my most favourite weekend activities was getting groceries. Usually, it was quite an episode and took up the better part of a day- we would start by creating a menu for the week, sifting through magazines and cookbooks and remembering meals prepared on TV that we wanted to re-create, and then building a shopping list from our menu. Because we generally had to ferret out a couple of “exotic” items like creme fraiche or medjool dates, it was not uncommon for us to drive around to make a stop at the butcher, the Cookbook company and Sunterra Market to get all the things that the Co-op didn’t carry. Having a car made quick work of this, of course; I suppose we technically could’ve walked to all these locations on separate trips but practically speaking, there was no way that would ever happen. 12 blocks is 11 blocks too many to carry a heavy week’s worth of food and I just couldn’t age myself 20 years and buy a trolley for the groceries. The closest we came to walking for groceries was hitting the cheese store a block away for a last minute added decadence to a meal. If it was a special grocery day and we were all out of wine, we would also make the trek south to the Real Canadian Superstore Liquor Store in order to get a discounted case of wine. This extension necessitated a stop at a Starbucks for pre-journey caffeination, an extra added bonus to the fun of grocery shopping.

Now that we’ve become settled once more, it didn’t take long for that routine to begin again, albeit with several modifications. For starters, we don’t hesitate to put a recipe on our menu if it calls for somewhat out-of-the-ordinary ingredients. Chances are that whatever it is that we haven’t heard of before exists in both organic and non-organic form at Rainbow Grocery. Secondly, it’s October and we dress in T-shirts to head out on our errands.

prius.jpg Thirdly – and this is a major modification- we do not have a car. Instead, we car-share now. We are card-carrying Zipcar members and yesterday, we shared our first car, a Prius. It’s so very California to drive a Prius and I have to admit that it was quite fun, startling pedestrians upon whom we sneaked up because we make no sound with our hybrid-electric. Ha ha!

Being as how this excursion was anticipated to last more than a couple of hours, we brought along our coffee mugs to make a stop along the way for organic (fourth modification) coffee, which is always available no matter how minute the coffee shop. Our plans were mildly foiled by the street fair in The Castro yesterday but we managed to snake through the steep backroads, skirting the affair and arriving back on Market street, thanks to Google Maps on the iPhone (fifth modification).

hp_logo.jpgShopping at Rainbow is such a pleasure. The bulk foods section is larger than any I’ve seen anywhere and offers the choice of every spice under the sun (indeed, I could’ve bought 0.5-1.3% oil content cinnamon instead of the less expensive 3.4-4.2% oil content cinnamon that I selected), flours, nuts, pastas, dried fruits, granola, grains, pretty much anything that qualifies as dried goods. The produce is excellent- I once bought two organic peaches for five dollars that had been shipped to the store by trucks using bio-diesel fuel, whatever that is. Organic raisin bran, fair-trade coffee-flower honey, gourmet sparkling lemonade, cage-free, hormone-free organic eggs, these are all things we bought. I would go so far as to call this a unique San Francisco experience- it should be on the tourist route (though I’m glad it’s not). This part of our Sunday is indeed a modification from our former existence- not only is almost all of the stuff we buy organic, and vegetarian (no meat products at Rainbow) but it is also “exotic” and available at one place; we used to shop at a major grocery chain for everything save a few out-of the ordinary items, but now it is the reverse: we shop at the specialty grocery for everything save a few mundane things like tonic water and beef broth.

However, there is one thing that Rainbow can’t do, besides offer meat for sale: they can’t offer inexpensive organic stuff. I refuse to spend eleven dollars on organic tea-tree-oil shampoo if I don’t have to. But not to worry, there is a store just a few blocks further (all flat, so the Prius used only the battery for nearly the whole jaunt) that fills in that gap. Trader Joe’s is kind of an Everyman’s organic store. The idea is to offer cheap organic goods so that the average citizen can afford to take advantage of healthy, enviro-conscious stuff without spending half the rent money. Ergo, this is where we buy our butter, most of our meat (they even have organic, grass-fed beef), our shampoo and our cheap, discount-if-you-buy-12, wine. Occasionally, this results in hideous wine (see previous entry) but it’s worth the risk. So, what was that, the eighth modification to our previous routine? The ninth is the fact that we use our own shopping bags all of the time for groceries. In fact, I would feel out of place not using our own bags. If we use all our own bags at Trader Joe’s, we get to enter a contest to win $25-worth of groceries and if we use all our own bags at Rainbow, we don’t get the stink eye from the check-out person. Well worth the effort to bring the bags.

cimg7130.jpgThough I really don’t have an element of our old routine to which to compare it, when we got home from our journey and unpacked all the groceries, we had just enough time to mix up some margaritas to go with our organic chips and salsa so that we have a snack on our roof top in sun while watching the Fleet Week Air Show over the bay. Gorgeous day, gorgeous margaritas, lovely salmon with balsamic vinaigrette and fennel salad for dinner.


Cheap and Happy

Friday, October 5th, 2007

cimg7158.jpgOfficially, this wine has no name. That, perhaps, should have been our first clue. The fact that it has a smiley face instead of a label, and that the description on the back speaks of the “flavour of happiness” should have warned me against buying it. I don’t know what I was thinking except that we needed two more bottles of wine in order to get the bulk discount at Trader Joe’s, this one was $5.99, and I was being lazy and silly. I have learned my lesson. Better to have been short a bottle and to not have gotten the discount rather than buy this swill and have to drain it down the sink. After the first puckering sip, I hoped that it just needed air but that was a fool’s hope. It was heinous. Not since Shanghai have we had to pour an entire bottle down the sink because the wine was simply awful.

Speaking of China, though, we ordered chinese take-out last night after we opened a fresh bottle. With a name like “Andy’s Chinese Cuisine”, what is one to expect? It’s kind of hard to know because the eponymy could be on purpose, giving the illusion of humble when it is really divine. Of course, it could be genuinely humble, a hole-in-the-wall with a greasy kitchen, mismatched tables and chairs and cheap, too-thin paper napkins. One cannot necessarily judge by the name or the look of the restaurant- the food from either could turn out to be a fabulous bargain or a disastrously bland, or MSG’d mistake. Sometimes, the nastiest of dives makes the tastiest of take-out and the places that look posh could serve sad, Americanized imitations of the original cuisine. cimg7159.jpgIt turns out that Andy’s is someplace in between. After Marc had placed our order, we noticed that our photocopied menu had been trying to tell us that Andy’s had been voted as the Best of the Bay for its Kung Pao chicken. Luckily, we had ordered it. I don’t exactly know what Kung Pao chicken is supposed to taste like (unless I count the version we ate while in China, but I can’t, really, because it was likely a tourist-ized version of the original), but Andy’s was pretty good: a little spicy, nicely oniony, lots of chicken. The best part about the meal was the take-out boxes. You just don’t see these in Canada where every place seems to use styrofoam containers. These are the classic Chinese take-out containers, the kind you see in the movies, the kind I thought were perpetuated only by movies and TV but were not actually in use anymore. How very quaint.

Speaking of “quaint” and “dive”, it turns out that a purveyor of food can be both. A couple of weeks ago, we took the car in to have its smog emission test which left us with about 20 minutes of waiting time in a gas station. Rather than sit at the picnic table in the parking lot, we wandered off for a snack and went into the first shop we saw that served coffee: The 5 Star Truffle Cafe. It’s a small, dark place with an old espresso machine, an ancient glass display case and a guy making a mountain of truffles behind the counter. It’s the truffle store next to the gas station on Divisadero. While we waited for the guy in front of us to have his order for 60 truffles filled, we perused the flavours: mocha, cognac, coconut, espresso, hazelnut, orange… there were at least 10 or 12 different kinds. The man in the front of us asked to taste the Earl Grey truffle; when he nodded and held up 10 fingers, I concluded it was good and said as much. He continued to nod and rolled his eyes to say it was fantastic. I joked he must be the most popular guy at his office to bring in so many truffles, but he corrected me, saying that his partner had just died and that he was collecting some of his favourite foods for the celebration of his life taking place that afternoon. Wasn’t really expecting to hear sad news, but I guess it means that at least these truffles were somebody’s favourite. We ordered 20. They were exquisite, especially the Earl Grey.