Friday, June 26, 2009

Puttering About in a Small Kitchen

Chinese, Japanese, and Italian eggplant

my notes...

Earlier this week I went a little food crazy.

Chris was working late one night when I decided to tackle the lemon-blueberry yogurt cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen that I had stumbled upon during my blueberry recipe search. There were some perfect blueberries lounging
in my kitchen that needed to be put to good use. I'd happily eaten many straight from the bowl, but was in the mood to bake something with the rest. I proceeded to dirty a few bowls, measuring cups & spoons, and a bread pan. I changed very little in the recipe. I subsituted whole wheat flour for 1/3 of the white flour and added the lemon juice and powdered sugar glaze mentioned in her list of other ideas for the cake.

Of course, baking a cake wasn't enough. I felt some sort of magnetic pull toward using each and every bowl, pan, and utensil in my kitchen. I didn't fight it. It reminded of the night my mom and I decided to bake an apple pie. The mood did not strike until midnight. We decided to just go with it and headed out the door toward a nearby 24-hour grocery store. We were sleepy and silly, yet muddled through the recipe and were happily enjoying our homemade pie a few hours later. It's one of my favorite memories.

There were leftovers I could have eaten. It could have been an easy and low key night, but instead I felt inspired to remain in the kitchen and make something with the eggplant stash I'd purchased earlier in the day. Chris and I had been perusing the stands at the Tuesday market following an exceptional lunch at Boulette's Larder--they do everything right and this day had been no exception. We turned a corner and found ourselves standing in front of a table piled high with eggplant of all sorts, Japanese, Chinese, and Italian. I was studying the different shapes and sizes and trying to decide which type I preferred when Chris suggested Why don't you buy all three. Cook them all and see which you like best. I said Oh yes yes, The Eggplant Challenge. Good idea! I bought one of each.

At this point I'd prepared the batter, but the cake still needed to bake for 50 minutes. My eggplant challenge would have to wait. I only have one oven in this small kitchen you know... Luckily, I'm almost opposed to kitchen gadgets and appliances, so the small size of my kitchen isn't much of an issue (although I wouldn't mind a south facing window in front of my sink...). I'm a back-to-basics type when it comes to the kitchen and see most gadgets and appliances as superfluous. I just need a few good pans, a sharp knife, and a cutting board.

So, while the cake baked, I decided to prep the ingredients I'd need for my challenge and the ingredients for a pasta dish I was concocting in my head. The pasta dish had been inspired by an eggplant based recipe I'd seen on The Wednesday Chef the prior week. My version ended up a little different from Luisa's and Melissa's, but the core of the original recipe remained fairly intact. I switched to whole wheat pasta (Eduardo's whole wheat penne), went back to Melissa's lamb versus beef (for some reason I was in such a lamb mood this week...3 meals w/ lamb!), added some grape tomatoes, used three types of eggplant versus one, substituted cilantro for mint, and swapped out yogurt and melted butter for Parmigiano-Reggiano that I grated on top (sometimes I'm so predictable).

The cake was set to cool and I was finally able to cook the eggplant. I diced each eggplant into cubes of about 1/2-3/4", tossed them in olive oil, garlic (just a little), and salt before spreading each variety onto its own pan and placing those pans inside a 500 degree oven. The eggplant cooked quickly, in about 15 minutes. I let it cool slightly and then grabbed my notepad and pen and began tasting and taking notes.

The Japanese eggplant was soft and creamy, it almost melted in my mouth. This sounds nice, but frankly I enjoyed the other two more firmly textured varieties over the melt-in-your-mouth variety. It was a little sour. The skin was slightly bitter and the thickest of the three, but it did crisp up a bit and that was nice. I was surprised because I'd anticipated that the Japanese eggplant would be my favorite. It ranked 3rd (aka - last).

The Italian eggplant had the "eggplant taste" with which I am most familiar. It turns out that most familiar does not equate to best, not by any means. The skin was chewy, but not as thick as the Japanese. The skin did not crisp up at all. The seeds of the Italian eggplant were most prominent. It held its shape during cooking better than the Japanese, but not as well as the Chinese. The taste, especially when compared side-by-side with the Japanese and Chinese varieties, fell very flat. It was quite bland and I'll reiterate that this bland taste appeared after being tossed in olive oil, garlic, and salt. This not a good thing. The Italian eggplant ranked 2nd.

The Chinese eggplant held its shape during cooking. It had the thinnest skin. There weren't any bitter or sour notes noticed during the tasting. The skin was thin and unobtrusive. It absorbed the olive oil, garlic, and salt nicely. This eggplant was firm yet soft on the inside, and lightly crisp on the outside. There was a hint of sweetness in the flesh. The Chinese eggplant was the clear winner.

By the time I'd baked and glazed the cake, performed the eggplant challenge, and prepared my pasta dish, it was quite late and I was almost too sleepy to enjoy my creations, but I didn't mind. It was worth it. It might not be every girl's idea of a good time, but I actually enjoyed my evening of puttering about in the kitchen for hours on end.

Just as I finished my bowl of late-night pasta, Chris walked in the door. We sat down at the kitchen table together and ate slices of sweet cake before collapsing into bed and falling quickly into a deep and restful sleep.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009



the illumination is so bright
i can't see

definition defaults to flat

bare &
burned to white

yet, it remains

holding all that matters
and all i fear

all i need to see

Saturday, June 20, 2009

sometimes the city makes you soft

I've always believed that living in the the city resulted in toughening up and living in the country softened people. Today I'm not so sure.

I started thinking back to one of our
Stinson Beach Motel vacations. We spent our mornings rising early enough to jump out of bed and rush to the picnic area near the beach before anyone else would arrive and disturb our favorite gopher (there were probably several gophers, but we liked believing that we saw the same busy gopher every morning). We'd quietly sit on a picnic table with our coffees and try not to giggle too loudly as we watched him scurry about and pop his head up through various holes surrounding the picnic tables. We didn't know what sort of important work was going on underground, but we found it all very entertaining. We weren't worried about the picnic area. We were just visiting for a few days and then returning to San Francisco.

Then some big things changed and we were suddenly starting a kitchen garden behind our new home in Point Reyes. Our happy gopher days were immediately over. We were no longer entertained by gophers. It was hard work keeping them at bay to protect our fruit, veggies, and herbs. Whenever we saw a new telltale mound of dirt or a little gopher head pop up through a hole in the yard we'd growl--grrrrrrrrr.

I could tell a similar story about the deer in West Marin. They were darling and Bambi-like until they started eating my peas and the new heliotrope plant we were told was "deer resistant". I now believe what Mostly Natives Nursery states on their website "
There is no such thing as a deer proof plant. Some deer somewhere has eaten everything that we know of including poisonous plants." The deer in Point Reyes are tough. They stare you down. They have no fear.

While cleaning a head of lettuce today I stumbled upon a tiny snail, it was incredibly small, the size of a grain of jasmine rice. I stopped what I was doing and became mesmerized by this miniature creature as it moved slowly along an inner lettuce leaf. Just months ago I was at war with the snails in my yard, buying little anti-snail copper fences and dreaming up new ideas for beer traps. Today, back in San Francisco and without a yard, much further from the lush landscape that surrounded me back then, I find I've warmed up to the snails, at least to this little guy. I carefully removed the leaf, snail and all, from the lettuce head and took it outside. I gently placed the snail, atop it's giant magic carpet of a lettuce leaf, on a steep weed-covered slope behind my apartment and wished it a long and happy life.

This weekend was supposed to be a computer-free weekend, but I cheated. Without my yard and garden I sometimes spend too much time on my laptop. I'm not feeling much remorse because my cheating was rewarded with this beautiful poem found on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Sometimes breaking the rules pays off. I'll follow the rules tomorrow.

Appreciating poetry, forgiving rule breaking, giving a perfectly good lettuce leaf to a snail ...see how soft I am?

A Small Dragon
by Brian Patten

I've found a small dragon in the woodshed.
Think it must have come from deep inside a forest
because it's damp and green and leaves
are still reflecting in its eyes.

I fed it on many things, tried grass,
the roots of stars, hazel-nut and dandelion,
but it stared up at me as if to say, I need
foods you can't provide.

It made a nest among the coal,
not unlike a bird's but larger,
it is out of place here
and is quite silent.

If you believed in it I would come
hurrying to your house to let you share my wonder,
but I want instead to see
if you yourself will pass this way.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Melencolia I, 2009

Understanding Albrecht Dürer this morning...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

do you bathe your blinds?

blinds in the tub

I have not yet taken a shower, but my blinds are enjoying a bubble bath. It doesn't seem fair.

The second set is about to be addressed, each and every slat, one by one. There are four sets total. Do other people do this?

If there is a better way to get blinds clean, I have not discovered it. The whole project is quite a hassle, so it does not happen very often. I procrastinate as long as possible, and then, when I cannot stand it, not for another moment, I decide--today is the day. Today is that day.

Here's what I do:
I turn on the hot water, add a little dish washing liquid, and run a few inches of water into the tub. Next I drop the blinds into the hot soapy water and let them soak. After the soaking period, I set my gardener's knee pad on the floor beside the tub to protect my knees and I drape a folded
towel over the side of the tub to protect my ribs. I kneel on the pad, lean over the towel-padded side of the tub, and begin running each slat between my thumb and forefinger to remove whatever it is that accumulates on urban blinds. The blinds not only bathe in bubbles, they shower. They have to be showered to remove the soapy residue and this means I end up pretty wet too. I also have to dry them (and myself!) before hanging them back up and moving on to the next set.

It takes some time, but when I finish all four sets, an entire wall of my apartment will be sparkly white. It will feel different in here, better.

Do I sound like a stereotypical 1950s housewife? I think I do...a little bit. Uh oh. Please forgive me, Betty Friedan. I don't enjoy the process, just the result.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

pirates, peach pizza, and pickles

how to start a saturday:

wake up naturally, sans alarm--always a good thing!

#2 savor a Caffe Trieste cappuccino

#3 slowly stroll to the ferry building

#4 rest on an old railroad tie and nibble on a Frog Hollow petite pizza (peach, ricotta, and bacon) while watching the Jug Town Pirates do their thing

#5 go home with a mound of sweet Rainier cherries, two stems of lemon verbena (not sure what I'm doing with these yet--any suggestions?), and homemade pickle ingredients (mixed bunch of carrots, Armenian cucumbers, and a big fat beautiful red onion)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

spontaneous organic covert...oh my!

If you live in the Bay Area, get your booty over to Kitchenette--pronto!

Dogpatch Lunch: Tuesday 06/09

cornmeal fried cod roll chayote, kumquats, cilantro, jalapeno, garlic mayonnaise, fresh lemon…cabbage slaw $8.50

mt. tam cheese & rhubarb-ginger jam baguette walnut persillade, arugula $6.50

4505’s spicy chicharrones $3.-

hazelnut button cookies $.50

lemon verbena arnold palmer $2.-

We arrived promptly at 11:30am, just as the door was opening. As we walked along a parking area, behind a strip of loading docks, on the backside of an industrial building in the Dogpatch neighborhood, we spotted Kitchenette's sandwich board and witty greeting. Joel from Dependable Letterpress, just around the corner, had clued us in on all necessary details--hours, location, the food is excellent.

The concise menu for the day was posted on a small easel set upon a simple table just inside the loading dock. For such an unexpected location and set-up, they seemed to know exactly what they were doing--they didn't mess around. No fluff. Luckily, the Mt. Tam & rhubarb-ginger goodness on a baguette was not yet available. This made our decision easy, no pondering.

We decided on two cornmeal fried cod rolls along with a few other treats. A line was forming and the customers waiting, many of them well-heeled, looked hungry, so we ordered and got out of the way. We shared a bag of melt-in-your-mouth and perfectly seasoned chicharrones while patiently waiting on a wooden bench beside the loading dock/restaurant, sipping our lemon verbena Arnold Palmers, and enjoying the view--asphalt, abandoned buildings, chain link fence, and some nice dry weeds.

It was well worth it! They didn't waste any time. Kitchenette was all business, everything was very efficient. Our sandwiches were brought out toot-sweet. We opened our brown boxes, adorned with the name of the little covert operation stamped in red ink, to find our warm fresh sandwiches wrapped neatly in paper resting beside a small container of wonderfully light cabbage slaw--all packaging compostable.

Funny thing happened...someone from CBS channel 5 showed up and interviewed us as part of a segment on SF Bay Area "nonstaurants". Now Chris is committed to a guest post on my blog!

I wish I would have grabbed a couple of those Mt. Tam & rhubarb-ginger jam baguettes for dinner tonight. This post is making me hungry. Oh well... Thanks Joel!

4505 aptly label their chicharrones as part of our swine so fine product line.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

strawberries for dinner

Strawberries with Buttermilk & Vanilla Sugar

Fill dessert bowl 3/4 full with cold buttermilk
Spoon in 1 - 2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
Drop halved strawberries into bowl

Friday, June 5, 2009

what is wild?

Wild? Domesticated? Cultivated? Genetically modified? Vampires? Do any of us really understand our food? Do we want to understand our food? It's a quandary...

Sometimes I grow tired of all of the data and just want to eat what looks good and tastes good, but then I hear Mr. Standage discussing his new book during an interview on NPR and I find myself being pulled back into the tangle of data defining what we eat. I cannot deny that I am, yet again, intrigued. The San Francisco Public Library has my request--I am 13/13 holds.