Every September I take a picture like this, but this year we have something new: peacotums! That’s peach + apricot + plum, the latest in the explosion of pluots, plumcots & apriums that we’ve been enjoying for the past decade or so. Blossom Bluff has been working on these babies for a few years & this is the first season they’ve brought them to market. Instantly addictive, like an extra-sweet pluot, & beautiful to boot. They’re the ones on the river rocks in the middle & lower right. The upper right rock has Flavor Grenade pluots on it.
Today I pulled out the dried-up old sweetpeas & planted sunflower seedlings. The padrón pepper plant is finally giving me a few peppers at a time. Purple string beans are going strong & the cherry tomato is gangbusters. This afternoon I found a sneaky overgrown squash.
Then I picked blackberries & made a pie.
Bay Area blackberry lovers, listen up!
The blackberry season may be late this year, but it promises to be the most slammin bumper crop I ever did anticipate. The blossoms are so big, they’re bouquet-worthy. In June they covered the brambles in pinkish white masses.
The bees have been on them like nobody’s business.
If you only go blackberry picking once in your life, let this be the summer. Put it on the calendar for 3 or 4 weeks from now.
That’s all I gotta say.
I know I’m a mercurial blogger, but I do try to stay at least somewhat on top of our thriving local ice cream scene. So: after a most tantalizing slow tease of a build-up over the past several months, Scream is open & scooping 6 flavors of sorbet, all vegan. They will over the next few weeks work up to 18 flavors at a time, including some sweetened with honey, maple & agave, for y’all who may be averse to processed white sugar. They’ve also got sorbet sandwiches (the cookies are not vegan—yet) & prepacked sorbet to go.
I homed right in on the lemon shiso flavor, but dude behind the counter was making sure I sampled my way there, with very pleasurable stops at satsuma, grapefruit, cranberry orange, pistachio, & Askinosie chocolate. All of them were as good as they possibly could be, except for the grapefruit, which had an odd pithy flavor that went sadly astray of its mark—& I’m speaking as an avowed grapefruit fanatic. The chocolate, on the other hand, provoked me & the customer sampling beside me into an incoherent contest of descriptions: insane, crazy, mmm & oh baby were some of what we uttered before he bought a pint of the stuff to go & I (so disciplined) returned my attentions to the lemon shiso, which was all that I had hoped it would be.
$3 will get you a tiny cup, which may not sit well with you value queens out there—I know because I am one myself, but when it comes to my white sugar quota I actually don’t mind a small portion. I was more than happy with my perfect little scoop of acidy-perfumy sweetness, which I ate sitting on the window bench watching the last bit of sunset.
Oh, & the dairy? You won’t even think about missing it.
Hours: 11am to 9pm every day except Monday. Next to Bakesale Betty in Temescal, with the very charming old-skool vertical neon sign proclaiming SORBET. A most excellent & necessary addition to the hood. Much as I hate to speak ill of any ice cream shop, this is Tara’s final cue to just give up already.
Sorry no pictures; that’ll teach me to leave the house without my camera.
(I know, kinda crappy photo. I’ll give you some nice waves at the end of the post to make up for it.)
I started with cucumber gazpacho in mind, but my recipe wanted lemon & I only had lime. Well, lime is friends with melon, & gazpacho is friends with cilantro & pepper, so…
Fill your blender jar with an assortment of peeled, seeded cucumbers, cut into chunks. I like to get a bunch of different kinds of cukes from different stands at the farmers market, but you could keep it simple & just use one kind.
Then pour in:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
1/8 cup white wine vinegar
Blend so the level goes down.
Lime juice; start with half a lime. You may want to add more later.
A very small, very mild pepper. By very small I mean not much bigger than a finger.
Couple sprigs of cilantro
Small pinch of cayenne
Salt & pepper
Melon, a couple of big scoops (with a regular soup spoon or tablespoon). I tried this with an Eel River melon from Full Belly & also with an Ambrosia melon; I suspect almost any melon would work. Will try Galia next.
(optional) Small clove garlic
Blend again, taste, & adjust as necessary. You are aiming for a balance of flavors that tastes good to you; it will not be great yet, until you give it several hours—preferably a whole day—in the fridge. See if you can detect just a little hint of the melon; it should not be a sweet soup. Then stick the whole thing in the fridge.
Next day, put it back on the blender & give it another go, just a few seconds, to re-blend anything that separated while it was sitting. Then garnish as you like, or not.
It’s finally really summer!
This year I really got a bee in my bonnet about cherry-picking in Brentwood. I’ve made it to the age I am (ladylike ahem) without ever picking cherries, & this seemed so very wrong that I almost drove out there by myself(!) on Memorial Day(!) because of course everybody else was hiding at home doing deep cleaning & home repairs, which is the only reasonable way to deal with major holidays. Fortunately The Witch talked some sense into me, mostly by offering to give me some of the cherries she had picked just a couple days earlier while suffering a migraine & heinous Memorial weekend traffic. Even though she was very generous with her hard-won Bings, I still had a hankering for more, & especially for that orchard experience.
Fortunately, this (non-holiday) weekend, Dan was traveling through on his way home from China, & agreed to accompany me on my fruity excursion despite his jetlag. He was a good sport even when it turned out the a/c in our car was busted! We tried to make ourselves feel better by talking about humidity & heat in places like Bangladesh. I’m not sure whether it helped or not.
Anyway, we followed the “organic” signs to Enos Farms, where the nice man reminded us to put on sunscreen & explained that the Rainier trees were mixed in randomly among the Lapins—a charming arrangement.
Here is Dan with Rainiers (not the best picture, but it was the only one I took of the orchard):
There were hardly any people there at Enos, just us & an Indian family with very cute little kids, & granny in a sari. We wandered among the lovely trees that were all dripping with bright, fat, beautiful cherries.
I think they give you those giant buckets because even 5 or 6 pounds doesn’t look like very much:
So moderate did this amount look to us that we went to another farm to pick Bings. (I really wanted my Bings!) We got there only 15 minutes from closing. The place had been quite picked over so that you had to climb ladders to the good cherries up high. We were getting very overheated, tired & thirsty, & to judge by their demeanor so were the workers there. It was a whole different scene from the first place. I won’t mention the name of the farm because I suspect that if we had gone there first it would have been satisfying enough. As it was we were still happy with our couple pounds of Bings, & drove away in search of the largest cups of ice & liquid we could find.
Here is a tip for you when negotiating America. By “America” here I mean those ubiquitous, homogenous, monstrous turd-piles of multi malls containing Michael’s craft store, Home Depot, Walmart, OfficeMax, usual assortment of fast-food franchises, all the same stores you have seen in all the places you’ve been in this great country of ours. These turd-piles smear themselves across the outskirts of every town that ever used to be (& sometimes still are) interesting & unique, including Brentwood. Not long after leaving the farm area we passed through a chunk of new-looking residential suburbia, & then into the America we had seen on our way into town. We knew we could get our icy cups of liquid somewhere in America.
There are many forms of resistance. You can be well-prepared & bring enough ice & drinks with you so that you never have to set foot in America. You can drive around searching for the last little local store in town. You can just go ahead & be hot & thirsty until you get home, it’s only an hour, it won’t kill you. You can go big-picture, decide it’s not worth wasting energy on resistance over something so small as a drink, & just go to whatever bit of America is most convenient & then get out of there & return to your life in which you are hopefully doing something constructive & revolutionary on a daily basis.
Or you can do what I have learned to do: drive into one of those malls & look for the little food franchise that you’ve never heard of. In this case it was Bagel Something. Bagel Street? Bagel Avenue? Bagel Town? You know, something utterly bland & forgettable having to do with bagels. We went in & saw obvious Asian influence: taro & honeydew smoothies, a good selection of tea.
While I was in the bathroom running cold water over my wrists, Dan talked to the proprietor, a 30something Asian guy, probably Chinese, who turned out to be from Oakland & had moved out there in the past couple years for this business opportunity. He said that whole mall was only three years old. When we sat down we noticed Chinese art on the wall & a trippy print Dan described as “future-primitive Hawaiian fantasia” (at least I think that’s what he said)! With dolphins!
Back home I got out our most enormous salad bowl & filled it, I mean filled it, with all the cherries. Now that’s a lot of cherries!
Gillian Welch & David Rawlings at the Fillmore: More than worth the backache from standing all night long. That hallowed room is really not for creaky old bodies, but 10 feet from the stage with the flawless crystal sound, Gil & Dave working their magic, breathing & creating as one organism, it’s so good, it feels like love.
Warren pears: Almost not of this world—but they are of this world, they come from the ground, they grow on trees & aren’t we lucky beyond belief? It seems like insanity to eat any other fruit right now. (I am insane, though, & cannot refuse the last of the melons & stone fruits.)
Gourmet magazine: A different kind of love, more material & mundane perhaps, but no less real. I grew up ogling those centerfolds every month, year after yummy year. I refuse to say RIP! Will someone come in & rescue it somehow? Am I in denial?
I went on a getaway with my pal the Triathlete to Door County, Wisconsin, where her mother-in-law has an old house. Behind the house is the sweetest meadow you ever did see.
Their neighbor mows these perfect walking paths through the meadow & a nearby grove of trees… I don’t know if he is some kind of landscaping design genius or what, but the paths are completely satisfying in every way: where they go, how they branch off from one another, how they are curved or straight in different places. Some of the coarser cut-off grasses make a truly excellent, quiet crunching sound under your shoes when you walk on them. I took the wildflower book out there one morning & identified at least three different asters.
When we weren’t hanging out in the meadow, the Triathlete was giving me a grand tour of awesome swimming spots. I swam in a warm little lake, & in wavy, windy Lake Michigan proper, & that tiny little shape is me swimming in Ellison Bay:
Plus I made a cherry pie, because Door County is famous for its pie-perfect sour cherries. We got the last of the season’s cherries. I’m pretty dang proud, because I’ve always relied on a food processor to make my piecrusts, but this one was all by hand & it actually turned out just fine. Didn’t know I had it in me! We bought local cherry honey to sweeten this pie. (Don’t mind all the cherry goo, we had only enough butter to make a top crust, no bottom.) It was delicious!
You know how foodies (& other people, too) sometimes like to poll each other on what their last meal would be? Extravagant requests come up, tall fantasy orders for the prison chef (assuming this last meal would be before you get sent off to the chair at midnight).
I’ve always said it would have to be something I cook for myself. Even if they couldn’t let me cook in the kitchen, I could at least toss a salad for myself in my cell. How sweet, how profoundly self-loving it is, to cook for yourself: an unbroken throughline from thought or desire to action & creation to mouth to stomach, a completed circuit. I make my salad exactly how I want it.
This is comfort food for me, a late-night salad:
3 or 4 handfuls of small lettuces, mostly Little Gems (from Blue Heron)
1/2 of a large Dapple Dandy pluot
3 small pink radishes
flat leaf parsley
sherry vinaigrette (olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt & pepper)
I don’t want a lot of ingredients at 10 pm when I’m sad for no specific reason & lots of specific reasons, both at once. I want something simple & beautiful & nurturing, & I want to make it myself, taking my time to pay attention to what I’m doing, making tiny adjustments & changes as I move toward perfecting this small, finite vision. Maybe that’s why salad is so comforting to me: it is an easily attainable* perfection when so much else is so impossibly far from perfect.
I started by washing the leaves, spinning them dry & dumping them in the bowl. Then I mandolined the radishes, scattering the dots of them on top of the leaves. I cut a pluot in half & mandolined most of the half into sheer, soft little sheets that folded upon themselves; what was left, I realized I wanted cut into tiny chunks. Then I chopped some parsley, stirred up my dressing, tossed the salad, & served half of it onto my darling’s plate. I ate my half right out of the big salad bowl, because that feels good too in its own way.
There is no real border between the making & the eating of a late-night comfort salad. It’s the whole process that soothes from start to finish. Making a salad I want to eat is something I can rely on in myself, something I can always touch when too much is uncertain. Things feel more hopeful after that.
*Yes, I know it’s not easily attainable for most people. Chances are it’s within reach for most people reading this blog, though.
Arugula, sliced endive, mandolined Ambrosia apples (just because that’s what kind I happened to have), walnuts, Iberico (break off little nubs with your fingers). If you let this salad sit about 15-20 minutes after you dress it, the apples become rather deliciously pliable. Or just eat it slowly to experience the full range of appleness, from the first crisp bites to the last relaxed mouthful.
Truth be told, I can’t remember what dressing I used (educated guess: usual suspect red wine mustard vinaigrette), because I made this salad back in that Other Time, in the Bad Old Days, before we had a president who could not only form a complete sentence, but have it actually mean something, & furthermore, do sensible shit like shut down Gitmo. Seriously, I had gotten so pathetically downtrodden, so totally used to everything being done wrong all the time that I assumed all this “shut down Gitmo the first day” business was just some fantasy we had, one of those wistful lefty sighs that blows away with the least breeze of reality. Now? Let’s just say I’m feeling Obamalicious! Although tired. Exhausted, actually. My po little brain is working overtime to carve out new neural pathways to accommodate the fact that, apparently, I’m kinda in love with the whole First Family. Never thought I’d hear myself say such a thing in all my born days. I’m so confused, I’ve been taking way more naps than usual.
Not confused, however, about Aretha’s hat!!! (The people who don’t like it, now they’re confused.)
I’ve been busy lately! Coupla weekends ago I had a quintessentially East Bay foodie day with The Witch. First we went to a chicken workshop (yes we have urban chicken fantasies!) at EcoHouse, where I got no good photos of the chickens, but this friendly duck came to investigate my camera:
After that, we dropped by the People’s Grocery garden party, where we ate an embarrassment of padrón peppers & admired this lovely kiwi vine:
Then I felt kinda crappy for a week & didn’t do anything interesting. I think maybe I successfully fought off a full-blown cold.
Once recovered, I had to come up with a goodbye card for the incomparable Steve Woodall, who is leaving (wah!) to run the Columbia Center for Book & Paper Arts after nurturing our own San Francisco Center for the Book from its very beginning. I have always been in awe of Steve’s big, big heart. He is one of the kindest people you could ever hope to meet, & somehow manages to keep tons of stuff running smoothly with the most easygoing manner… I just don’t know how a person becomes like that. If I’m lucky maybe I’ll get to be a little more like him in my next life.
Anyway, you can imagine the pressure was on since I knew that about a hundred killer book artists were all making cards for Steve too. None of this running out to buy a card & scrawling something in it with a ballpoint pen for this crowd, no way. Not when John DeMerritt is making one of his famous boxes to put all the cards in. I was so distracted by the card situation that I forgot all about bringing food to the party until like half an hour before I had to leave. Doh! The fridge looked pretty bare & I thought I’d have to run out & buy something on the way, but you know, that’s not how I like to do things if I can help it. I spent too many years of my life as the person who brought chips & salsa to potlucks. (Although for the record, let me say at least it was always Casa Sanchez. I did have standards.)
Here is Mother of Invention Salad. We have fuyu persimmons on the tree right now, so I grabbed two of those, plus an apple & half a head of some speckly chicory (sorry I can’t remember the name of it—you could use radicchio or anything similar). Mandolined the fruit, squeezed some lemon juice over it. Sliced the chicory; the tops of the leaves were too soft to do on the mandoline, so I did that with a knife & then hit the mandoline when I got closer to the stem end. Tossed it all with red wine mustard vinaigrette (thanks again, Orangette!) & then thought it needed some green, so I ran out into the garden & pinched off some pineapple sage for garnish. Done!
Of course, when I got to the party it turned out everybody else had brought chips & salsa, bread & cheese, & wine. Occupational hazard of the book arts: no way in hell do you have time for anything else. Now I remember why I always used to do the Casa Sanchez thing… & why I don’t edition books anymore!
Next night, it was the reception for Road Trip at San Jose Museum of Art. I hadn’t seen the show yet so was quite eager to find out how it looked. I have to say I’m pleased as punch to be in this show. Curator Kristen Evangelista did a fabulous job; how often do you go to a big group show like that & really enjoy most of the stuff in it?!
It was a fun opening too. Five Dollar Suit was playing bluegrass, & the food was thematic, reaching its conceptual peak with these teeny tiny chicken fried steaks, sandwiched in biscuits with gravy, here modeled by the talented, hardworking hands of Noah Lang & Donna Ozawa.
Things I’m thinking about cooking & eating:
Tomato sauce: Anticipating our freezers in winter, Plastic Lam & I split a 20 pound crate of dry-farmed Early Girls. I made my sauce using Pim’s brilliant concept & it kicked ass! Now I’m thinking I shoulda got a whole crate for my own greedy self.
Salade Niçoise: Something got me thinking about Niçoise lately, I’m not sure what. Then I had a lunch date with Cooking Show & we went wandering down College Av. looking at menus, until we saw that Somerset had a lovely back patio & Niçoise on the menu. Perfect! ...we thought. The patio was wonderful, but the salad? I’m sorry, but I could do so much better. Sugary-sweet salad dressing? GONG! No green beans, when we are at the height of green bean season? GONG! The conspicuous absence of green beans was made more glaring by the presence of asparagus—where did it come from at this time of year?! The hard-boiled eggs had their yolks whipped (think deviled eggs), which felt like trying too hard. Seared fresh ahi, too, seemed like a nice idea on paper but on the plate also felt like trying too hard. Gimme a can! Cooking Show loved the fries that came with her steak sandwich, though. We agreed we would go back there just to eat fries on that nice patio. Meanwhile, I am determined to make my own Niçoise, one that’ll show Somerset’s salad what’s what.
Chocolate coconut tapioca pudding: I should probably spell this out more clearly. Tapioca pudding, made with coconut milk. Then color it chocolate. First encountered at Good Earth in Fairfax, with the following ingredients: coconut milk, chocolate, tapioca, maple syrup, vanilla, salt. Seems like it should be easy enough, right?
Apple pie: I think I mentioned this before. I even bought the apples last week in the midst of that oddly autumnal moment we had. Then the weather snapped back to the September that I know & love: scorching, brilliant blue skies—in short, weather for…
Or, a scoop of Earl Grey & a scoop of saffron orange blossom from Ici, floral & refreshing. Happy late summer, Bay Area!
I think I smell an apple pie in my near future. Could be as soon as next week.
One of these things is not like the others, but sometimes I just gotta brag about my fabulous bro—how I love this little skirt!
Now back to our regular programming.
Blackberry nectarine plum pie, made with wild blackberries from the Eel River…
...& piecrust cookies, because I always have leftover pie dough (but of course, never enough to make a whole nother pie).
Spotted in Willits en route to the river:
Seems to be the Summer of the Clafoutis. I’ve been having quite a love affair with all eggy things, now that the Riverdog pastured eggs have transformed my entire egg reality. It’s an egg renaissance around here for sure.
Here, then, is fig clafoutis, prompted by my mother’s food-oriented (of course: I ask food questions, she gives me food answers) report on her trip to Provence.
Using a very well-seasoned cast iron pan, you follow procedure for my easy fig thing, except instead of taking the figs out of the pan, you flip em over so the inside, cut half is facing up. Then drizzle honey all over, making sure a lot of the honey ends up on the bottom of the pan. I wasn’t measuring but I guess it was about 1/4 cup of honey. Pour your batter over, then slide the whole thing into the oven. For the batter, I pretty much followed Orangette’s recipe, except instead of sugar, I squirted a bit (hm, maybe a tablespoon) of agave syrup into the batter, & figured the honey would take care of the rest.
It did. Yum!
& just because I haven’t posted a salad in a while, don’t you think I haven’t been eating any…
Does August not rock harder than any other month? Go on & try to convince me there’s a sweeter time of year.
A couple weeks ago I scrawled on kitchen scrap paper this little list of things to make & eat! It floated along the kitchen currents from chair to floor to counter, & every once in a while I’d catch it & check things off. I’m happy to say I’ve done everything on the list. Some of em I did more than once! This kind of to-do list is great for summertime food, & also this approach to it: first dream some simple dreams… & then just kinda let them happen. July is not the time to get all uptight & structured about getting things done.
corn with cilantro & lime: on or off the cob, yellow or white, with olive oil or butter… I buy my corn from Avalos whenever possible, or Catalan. (Not to get all essentialist, but there’s something so satisfying about the fact that Chicano-owned farms are growing the best organic corn. I feel downright smug on their behalf.)
stonefruit clafoutis: I already showed you a photo of this one. No specific recipe. You break some eggs, whisk in some milk & flour, a bit of agave syrup.
BLT: need I say more?
melon & prosciutto: a classic, of course, but I tend to forget about it for years at a time, probably because I was vegetarian for so long.
white peach ice cream: this was originally gonna be lychee ice cream, but then Cooking Show & I were walking by Mr. PVC’s garden eden & spied his little peach tree heavy with fruit; the irrigation guy who was there said he’d been instructed to “eat as many peaches as possible” & invited us to help. Well twist my arm! I loaded up the hood of my sweatshirt, topped it off with a few apricots, & then had to do something with them pretty much right away because they were that ripe.
blackberry pie: this has become somewhat of a birthday week ritual for me. All seems right with the world when you’re making a blackberry pie.
pesto: the first of many batches!
Here are the Japan food photos I promised!
It was ume season & we saw this little ume giveaway on the street. Note the perfectly knotted plastic bags so thoughtfully provided:
It was also hydrangea season. Cherry blossoms get all the press, but I thought the hydrangea enthusiasm was pretty dang intense too:
More pretty sweets:
King of Nosh took us to a cute French-Italian place that was tucked away on a quiet lane in Shibuya. When it was time for dessert they brought us this adorable little corkboard:
He also showed me a very good okonomiyaki time in Shimokitazawa. I don’t understand why okonomiyaki isn’t everywhere, all over the world, especially in breakfast places in the USA. Pancakes, homefries, eggs, okonomiyaki… why not?
Four variations on the matcha donut theme:
They like their bread tall:
I always thought I didn’t like eggplant, but apparently when you slather it with miso & grill (broil?) it to perfection, I fuckin love it.
I also fuckin love ice cream, but that’s not exactly news. Gelato from the very-mobbed Pariya in the Foodshow basement of Tokyu Dept. Store, also in Shibuya: lychee, plum, jasmine chocolate cake(!), & coconut banana maple. Then we went back & had green tea tiramisu, apricot, & cherry.