egg mctasty

One of my really deep, dark, guilty pleasures is a secret love of Egg McMuffins. I know, I know! You don't have to say anything to me about the many evils of that transfat emporium. But come on, the egg, the cheese, the ham…We all have our vices–at least I don't eat beef!

Anyway, now that I've publicly shamed myself, I do have to note in my defense that it's very rare that I actually indulge in these cravings. It's usually only when I have a road trip or some other last minute foodless emergency as an excuse. (Am I backpedaling fast enough yet?)

Well take this morning for example. The urge struck, but luckily I had the provisions to make my own healthier (and much tastier) version at home–toasted Pugliese bread, sliced yogurt cheese, preservative-free Black Forest ham, and farm fresh organic eggs. The perfect combo of crunchy, chewy, gooey and salty. I'd much rather eat this than drive through the golden arches any day.

Now if only healthy food could be affordable and accessible for everyone. Which reminds me, have you all signed the petition for a sustainable USDA yet?

overnight waffles

So much for the pancake resolution. I kind of knew it wouldn't last given my being more of a savory breakfast person. That plus my tendency to get bored by habit and routine. Last night the kids were talking about waffles so I decided to start a batch of our family favorite–overnight waffles. I've experimented with LOTS of varieties of waffles (sweet potato, pecan, cornmeal, you name it) but these are really so unbelievably good once you eat them you won't want to eat any other kind ever again.

This recipe has been around for a long time but I had never tried it until last May when an old friend Viola (who I had recently reconnected with out of the blue on Facebook) posted a comment about it in her status update. (Inspiration comes in the strangest places sometimes). There are a lot of variations on the basic concept of the overnight (aka raised or yeasted) waffle, but it was Marion Cunningham who made them famous. Here's her recipe

I generally mix equal parts all-purpose and white whole wheat flour to make them slightly (ha!) healthier. But in any case, they are amazing (it's all about the butter!) I've made them tons of times but haven't written about them here before only because they never stick around long enough for me to photograph!

winter walk

We finally started getting some much needed rain yesterday. Great for the environment, but the dreary gray skies don’t do much for my state of mind. This morning I really needed to clear my head so I went out in the light showers for a quiet walk in the woods near my house. It was so soothing to be alone in the stillness of winter, just the sound of water dripping off of trees and the soggy squish of wet leaves underfoot. It gave me an opportunity to slow down and focus on the small things (in a good way) like water drops on leaves,

moss and lichen covered rocks,

and sculptural rain-slicked trees.

The walk made me think about two different Rilke quotes that I’ve always liked:

“if there is nothing you can share with other people, try to be close to Things; they will not
abandon you”

and

“Being an artist
means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the
storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come.”

Words to live by.

a chicken in every pot pie

It seemed like a lot of people were cooking some kind of Presidential-themed food yesterday in honor of the inauguration–pineapple-based dishes for Obama's Hawaiian background or Chicago style hot dogs or pizza etc. I can't claim to have had any such forethought or intention but when I was making these individual biscuit-topped chicken potpies I did think about Herbert Hoover's famous 1928 election promise: "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." Of course, shortly after he said that the country plunged into the Great Depression. So maybe this dinner was actually a send-off to the more recent Republican President whose record of failure rivals Hoover's. In any case, it was a tasty dinner to mark the start of better days ahead.

summer in winter

For the last week or so we've been having these freakishly sunny and warm days. Of course the lack of rain and what this hot spell means in the larger environmental context is extremely concerning, but in a nearsighted, selfish way it sure has been pleasant!

This afternoon my brother and I took the boys for a bike ride in the marshlands along the north end of the San Francisco Bay. The air was so still and the light so crisp it made me want to keep riding and riding and never turn back. 

When we did return home, the fresh evening air inspired me to have a spur-of-the-moment cookout in the garden. Rather than using the barbecue, I set up a grate on our open fire ring so we could sit around campfire style. The boys put their jackets on over their pajamas and we grilled sausages and roasted marshmallows.

It was such a beautiful day. More than the weather and the activities and the food though, what gives me the most joy is being able to share my sense of spontaneity and the importance of celebrating the moment with my children.

prosecco risotto

Last summer a friend of mine told me about a new recipe website a friend of his had started called cookstr.com.  It seemed like an interesting idea–content that comes entirely from cookbooks written by trusted chefs and cookbook authors. But between my enormous collection of printed cookbooks, all the magazines and food blogs I read and several robust recipe websites, I don't really have a shortage of ways to find good recipes.

So to be honest, I wasn't really all that excited by this venture. There is something to be said for having one spot where you can simultaneously find recipes from the likes of Mark Bittman, Alice Waters, and Marcella Hazan (to name only a few.) But, (at least so far) a lot of these chefs only have a sampling of recipes on the site (the minimum required is 20 per chef). This results in Cookstr being more of a promotional site for marketing cookbooks (which is fine, the publishing industry needs all the help it can get right now!) than a really robust database of recipes.

I tend to plan my meals either based on one random ingredient that I happen to have in surplus (from my garden or the market), or some passing mood that comes from the weather or season, or just because of what happens to be in my fridge at the moment. So when I'm searching for a recipe what I really want is a wide search with lots of volume of results. Part of the process I like is sorting through and separating the bad recipes from the good ones. 

A few days ago, I was trying to think of some new things to do with sweet potatoes and I thought (despite my reservations) I'd give Cookstr a try. I entered "sweet potato" as my search term and got 40 results. That was already a bit disheartening since the same search on Epicurious, for example, results in 356 results. I pressed on. None of the results on Cookstr.com really sounded that exciting but I did find one recipe for a Cheesy Sweet and White Potato Soup that I could make without a trip out to the store. I should have been wary about any recipe that pairs cheddar cheese and sweet potato (I'm sorry, but I mean really, what the hell?) but I made it anyway. What a mistake.

I was tempted to photograph it for the blog because it did look really pretty—the orange creamsicle color with the contrasting green peas sprinkled on top. But I just did not want to eat this soup. Minus one for Cookstr, but I figured at least part of the blame was mine for choosing a recipe that sounded so off in the first place. So today I decided to give the site another try.

After all my prosecco drinking over the holidays I still had one half-finished bottle in the fridge that I knew I would use for cooking. So back to Cookstr to enter "prosecco." Six results. (To be fair, Epicurious only had seven results.) I was happy to see one of the recipes was for Champagne Risotto which I could make with the ingredients I had on hand. Of course, this is a really simple dish that requires a recipe about as much as oatmeal or scrambled eggs does. But still, it might not have come to mind for me to make without the inspiration from Cookstr.

Unless you use bad ingredients It's pretty hard to go wrong with this dish. Since I had homemade chicken stock and imported parmigiano-reggiano, it was pretty tasty. The real question is whether Cookstr.com will become part of my recipe search destinations or not. I think I'll give it a few more tests over the next few months and see how it fairs.

the salmon cabin comes home

For those of you who have been following this blog, you might remember my random encounter/love-at-first-site experience with a derelict pilot house back in October of last year.

Well, a few weeks after I saw it I decided to go back and start knocking on doors until I could track down the owner. I eventually did and learned it was rescued from a 1920's era salmon fishing boat that was recently demolished. Since then, I've spent the last few months negotiating the details of how I could bring this into my life.

Today it finally came home and is now sitting in my garden, propped up on blocks! To say it needs a lot of work is a gross understatement, but I'm so happy to have it. It's not just about the structure itself (though it is pretty cool!) but what it represents to me. As a dreamer and a die-hard romantic, living in this "get real" world of ours can sometimes be a difficult and deeply disappointing experience. So when something magical like this actually comes together it makes me hopeful that dreams and romantic notions really can come true.

blueberry buttermilk pancakes

After last week's idea of making a different pancake every Saturday, I had the initial temptation to start trying wildly innovative recipes. But since experimentation is more the rule than the exception around here, I decided to break from normal and do something conventional. What could be more classic than Blueberry Buttermilk pancakes? I didn't even try to mix-it up by adding whole wheat flour or cornmeal or anything unusual. I just followed a very standard recipe. The results were exactly as they should have been–fluffy, fruity, tasty. But as I've said before, I just don't get that worked up about pancakes no matter how good they are (I'm more of a savory breakfast person). But one of my sons exclaimed, "These are the best pancakes I've eaten in my whole life!" We'll see what he has to say next week.

rogue italian interloper

I love when plants self-sow. I suppose a tidy gardener wouldn't like the chaos of unintended plants popping up all over, but I always like the surprise of seeing what's going to turn up where.

Today when I was raking leaves off a small patch of lawn near the patio I suddenly noticed the delicious bitter smell of arugula. I then realized the entire edge of lawn was flanked by self-propagated arugula! It made me laugh out loud. Of all the plants I grow in the garden, arugula is definitely the most like a wild weed, and I'm used to it appearing all over the place. But something about it turning up away from the vegetable garden and amidst the lawn was amusing. The rogue Italian interloper. Theme for my day!

pancake resolution

This morning my kids and I came up with a New Year's resolution to try making a new and different kind of pancake every Saturday morning. I'm not sure how long we'll actually be able to keep it up (especially because my breakfast tastes lean more toward the savory) but it should be fun project for awhile.

Kicking things off today we made Cinnamon Oatmeal pancakes from a recipe I found on epicurious.com served with a pomegranate maple syrup. The pancake recipe as written seemed more like a cookie dough than a pancake batter. In order to improve it I reduced the amount of brown sugar (by about half) and also added some milk to get the right consistency. I also happened to have some overripe bananas I needed to use, so I mashed those in as well.

For the syrup I was inspired by the leftover pomegranate juice from my New Year's Eve Pomegranate Cosmos (delicious BTW). I mixed equal parts of the juice and maple syrup, brought to a boil and then added a bit of cornstarch to thicken. A pretty color and a little healthier than straight syrup.

I'm not someone who can really rave about a pancake (unless it's more of a savory fritter) but the kids loved them. I'm more interested in thinking about what the next variation will be.