Monday, December 29, 2014

A day in The City

Pork shoulder at Trou Normand
San Francisco, December 29, 2014—
A FULL DAY in San Francisco today, touring Fisherman's Wharf and North Beach and, of course, checking up on comestibles.

Let's start with breakfast — we did, of course. We'd heard so many good things about one Mission District bakery, for so long, that we began there. A popular spot, no doubt about it; and the items in the case looked very nice. The croissants, while baked to a perfect color, were too big for our taste, and I thought a little too bready; and our caffe lattes were weak, and what coffee flavor there was seemed a little sour, a little bitter. Definitely not the best coffee in town. We bought a gougère and a couple of "rochers" — meringues — for later, and then stepped around the corner to try another place we'd heard about.

Here the croissants were just as I like them: very flaky, dark golden brown, a reasonable size — but a little cold at the center, as if they'd been held a while under refrigeration, then brought up to temperature. And my cappuccino was really not very good: very bitter; undrinkable. Oh well: as a friend pointed out, off to a bad start.

At midday we split the gougère and the meringues: the gougère was very nice indeed; the almond rocher tasty; the chocolate-nugget rocher unpleasant, I thought, as to both texture and flavor — simply not a good combination. We went on, though, to an old favorite of mine for lunch, where I had a perfectly acceptable mozzarella-and-basil panino with a glass of Pinot grigio, and we then finished with a cappuccino laced with that warming, comforting egg liqueur Vov. Graffeo coffee! Clean espresso machine! Barista who knows her stuff! Shoulda gone there for breakfast!

Dinner at a place new to me, down in the financial district. I'm not sure the menu makes a lot of sense: the restaurant has a Norman French name, the menu runs to northern Italy. We began with four items from the charcuterie-salumi menu (there were four of us at table): pork paté with fennel and thyme; lardo; "dry guanciale" made with garlic, clove, and red wine, and "rabbit salami" flavored with sweet peppers and white wine, along with a "brassica salad" with pickled cippolini and pecorino.

Alas, the lardo was rancid and inedible, and the guanciale tended in that direction. The paté was delicious, we thought; also the rabbit salami. The salad was very nice, though I'd have loved a few more of those delicious little cippolini.

Given the opportunity to make a scientific comparison, as I explained to the grandchildren, I could hardly pass up the braised pork shoulder for my main course. It was quite as delicious as it had been the previous night, at another restaurant, though instead of being vaguely Cajun it was now vaguely Italian, with just the slightest hint of a gremolata accompaniment.

Dessert: pies from Mission Bakery. Mine was a walnut pie, and I liked it very much; it followed beautifully the trou normand that introduced it — a small glass of Calvados, a little rough perhaps but that's in its nature, nice and apple-y, not too artificially sweet.
Mâcon blanc, Bonhomme, 2012 (a little thin but developing well); Nebbiolo, Monsecco, 2010 (very nice indeed)
•Tartine Bakery, 600 Guerrero Street, San Francisco; 415-487-2600
•Craftsman and Wolves, 746 Valencia Street, San Francisco; 415-913-7713
•Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store, 566 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco; 415-362-0536
•Trou Normand, 140 New Montgomery Street, San Francisco; 415-975-0876

Back to Boxing Room

San Francisco, December 28, 2014—
DINNER IN THE CITY again tonight, at the restaurant where a granddaughter is working as hostess. A Cajun sort of place, where we ate a couple of weeks ago quite successfully. It was quite nice again tonight.

It was easy enough to order: the nightly special on the blackboard promised everything: Crispy pork shoulder with celery root purée, applesauce, roasted carrots and Brussels sprouts, in a pork reduction, with frisée and pickled red onion salad. The pork was nicely braised with the skin still crackling-crisp; the reduction was deep and nicely balanced, the vegetables deeply roasted and full of flavor. With that, a side of fried potatoes, another of corn muffins (soft and succulent).

Afterward, I'm afraid, three desserts: apple cobbler with malt ice cream; bread pudding; beignets. Really a very nice dinner.
Dolcetto, Palmina Vineyards (Santa Barbara), 2011
•Boxing Room Restaurant, 399 Grove Street, San Francisco; 415-430-6590BoxingRoomPork.jpg

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas, day three: goose

Eastside Road, December 27, 2014—
THAT'S COOK'S MENU, written down on the back of an envelope. But let me tell you about this Christmas goose. A week ago I went into town to have some tires installed. As I left the house I told Cook I'd stop off at the farmers market and pick up a goose, as we'd recently had an e-mail announcing the limited availability of same — nice fresh organic goose, raised locally.

Check the freezer, Cook said, and make sure we don't already have one. We don't, I said, I'm sure we don't. Check it anyway, Cook said.

And at that moment came a telephone call from the neighbor down the hill, whose big upright freezer we share. Guess what I found in your freezer, she said, a goose.

See, Cook said, I thought there'd be a goose in there, don't you buy another one.

We'll see, I said.

Don't you buy another one, she repeated, as I stepped out the door. I stopped at the neighbor's house down the hill, and she saw me through the kitchen window. I knew, just as I was hanging up, that I shouldn't have made that call, she said. Well, I said, you really messed things up; we'd have had two geese; now we have only the one.

To tell the truth one was enough, but I like to have spare parts, and plenty of rendered goose-fat, and a nice supply of goose stock, in order to make a cassoulet down the line a month or so. But there it was: one goose.

And that, curiously, with no wings — they'd been surgically removed at the breast, not the elbow, the armpit, or wingpit, or whatever you call it. This was apparently a wild goose someone had shot, and had found it easier to remove the wings than to pluck them. I don't know exactly where it came from.

In any case Cook roasted it today, and we had eight guests to Christmas Three. Canapés: liver mousse from the neighbor down the hill, and sliced fennel, and some very nice burrata. Then dinner: Roast goose, roast potatoes, roast Hubbard squash brought by another of the guests. The sauerkraut was tender and delicate, cooked in Pinot grigio. Wild rice with button mushrooms, and a green salad with shallot vinaigrette.

Cook makes the Nocino, but so do various culinary friends. It's made of green walnuts, gathered on St. John's Day in June, chopped, macerated in alcohol, and combined with a sugar syrup, then aged — I believe it's not ready until Christmas. It's splendid on vanilla ice cream.
Pinot grigio, Barefoot Bynum, nv; "Rubicon" (Cabernet sauvignon-Merlot blend), Niebaum-Coppola, 1995 (thanks, Mia and Ron); Cabernet sauvignon, Simi (Alexander Valley), 2000; and Kenwood, Sonoma county, 2002 (thanks, Kendall)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Boxing Day: Truffles

Eastside Road, December 26, 2014—
A SURPRISE GIFT on Christmas Eve called out to be put to use two days afterward: four small white truffles from… California! I don't know exactly where
in California; only that they were apparently found at the Farmers' Market in San Francisco's Ferry Building

Many years ago — at least twenty years ago, perhaps more — we had a white truffle from the state of Oregon. We were not at all impressed: to me it had no flavor at all, no aroma, nothing. I dismissed the idea of extra-Italic white truffles from then on, though I had had grey truffle from Algeria, I think, which had some remote resemblance to the real thing. (Come to think of it, that Oregon truffle may have been a grey one too.)

These four little guys were definitely white truffles, though their skins looked the slightest bit pinkish; I don't know why. They didn't have a lot of aroma, to my nose, but they were intriguing, so we decided on slicing them over pasts.

Here's the result: fettuccine cooked al dente, tossed in butter, with the truffles shaved over them, as you see, then mixed into the hot pasta to bring the slices to temperature. They were delicious. Subtler than those we had in October, in Monferrato, to be sure. But nutty, deep, flavorful. Almost makes me want to fight my way through the poison oak to see what might be underground up on the hill.

Green salad.
Sauvignon blanc

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Day

duck leg.jpg
Eastside Road, December 25, 2014—
ONLY THE TWO of us at table tonight — we had our big dinner yesterday, and the goose will be here later — so we were content tonight with duck legs en confit, store-bought in town but very tasty. Cook simply browned them slowly in the black iron skillet, and served them with sides of oven-roasted vegetables and steamed broccoli. Yes, that's a spoonful of cranberry jelly at nine o'clock: complements the crisp rich duck skin perfectly.

After the green salad, a very fine little Christmas pudding sent all the way from Melbourne, from — whom? Niece, or sister-in-law? We'll have to clear that up. It arrived done up in its cheesecloth; Cook steamed it and made some brandy-brown sugar-butter sauce for it, and we felt we were having a properly Pom pleasure…

"Guadagni" red from the three-liter jug, Preston of Dry Creek

Christmas Eve

Eastside Road, December 24, 2014—
CLEARLY ONE OF the Hundred Plates: Roast leg of lamb. And there is no simpler way to roast one, nor more festive, than this Gigot à la ficelle, leg of lamb on a string. Of course you have to prepare for it. I'm not sure how this gigot was prepped, but I suspect it was simply trussed and salted; I don't think I'd have done more than that. Oh: and a hole was drilled through the bone at its end, to run the ficelle through. Ordinary kitchen twine is all you need — the twine must be at least two-ply, as the roasting method depends on the string's natural tendency to twist.

And the string must be soaked: you don't want it getting hot and burning through, dropping the roast onto the hearth!
Drilling the bone. Note ullage in bottle!

Now it's simply a matter of tying one end of the string to the gigot, through the hole in the bone, and the other end to a nail in the mantel over the fireplace, letting the gigot hang a little above center, the fire well behind it. Obviously there'll be some experimenting to do to get the fire at the right degree of heat. And it's heat you want, not flames.

The gigot will probably begin to spin of its own accord soon after you've hung it. When it's spun as far as the string likes in one direction, darned if it doesn't stop, then begin turning back the other way. I don't know if it's true that faster spinning slows the roasting; it seems so to me, but this may be a delusion. In any case, it roasts on all sides. You may want to finish it on the grill.` \

You'll notice a pyrex baking dish below the roast, to catch the drippings; in the dish, blanched potatoes and onions, roasting in their turn before the fire.

All this was done by the neighbors down the hill. Eric is practised at this; he does most of the meat cooking in the family, outside in good weather, inside like this when it's cold or rainy — or, I imagine, he wants to socialize with the guests while cooking. Either way, the result is consistently delicious.

on the grill.jpgroast lamb.jpgtarts.jpg
Grilling the sausagesOn the plateServing the tarts

Afterward, the green salad, and cheeses, and then, back in the living room, the Christmas tarts: a fresh pineapple tart with almond pastry; a perfect nut tart. Egg nog with, as you may have noticed, Bourbon, brandy, and a float of dark rum…
Trebbiano, "'l Tresen", La Chimera (Chiomonte, Piemonte): crisp, spicy, floral, very interesting); Volnay-Santenots Maison Naudin Père et fils (Savigny-les-Beaune, 1962 (absolutely optimal, mature but luscious, deep and strong); Syrah, Unti (Dry Creek Valley), 2012 (nicely balanced, young, good presence and finish)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Eastside Road, December 21 and 22, 2014—
AND HOME-MADE TACOS, at that, and delicious; good enough for two days running. Lindsey chopped up a chorizo and fried it in its own fat in the black iron skillet, and then assembled these tacos in the kitchen, as you see, I hope, in the photo at the right.

The tortillas are organic corn ones made fairly locally; we wouldn't have any other. (Well, I do like wheat tortillas as well.) On them, the chorizo, beans of course, chopped cilantro, chunks of avocado, grated Cheddar cheese, chopped onion, and a squeeze of lime juice.

Yes, we had a green salad afterward…

"Guadagni" red from the three-liter jug, Preston of Dry Creek


Eastside Road, December 20, 2014—
SINCE TONIGHT'S DINNER is a repeat of the soup from a couple of days ago, and since it was followed as so many of our dinners are by the tossed green salad, I thought I'd just remind you, as if you wanted the reminder, how I go about making my vinaigrette:

IMG_7544.jpgSmash a clove of garlic with the right amount of salt.

We use good salt from the Ile de Ré. The right amount will make a nice creamy paste.
Yes, that's a bit of the green shoot in there — I try to avoid them; some people find them bitter.
IMG_7546.jpgAdd the right amount of olive oil; certainly enough to cover the garlic.

Let this stand while you eat your dinner.
IMG_7549.jpgWhen you're ready to serve the salad, add the right amount of vinegar. Most vinaigrette recipes specify a ratio of vinegar to oil, but I think the proportion varies depending on the strength and acidity of each component. Experiment.
IMG_7550.jpgUsing the fork you smashed the garlic with, emulsify the vinaigrette. I simply whisk the fork back and forth horizontally, always leaving the tines under the surface. You don't want air in the vinaigrette, just the four sacred ingredients: garlic, salt, oil, vinegar.

(Of course you can substitute lemon juice for vinegar.)
IMG_7552.jpgFinally, add the greens and croutons (if you're using them) to the bowl and toss the salad, using your hands if no one's looking, or two forks if you're squeamish.

I can't eat salad without a slice of bread.

Water, not wine, with salad!

Back to Bravas

Eastside Road, December 19, 2014—
NO PHOTOGRAPH to show you this time: I was too busy having fun. It was a birthday dinner for our friend down the hill, who has a fondness for things Andalucian (as who in this family does not), so a tapas dinner seemed appropriate.

This is the way to enjoy such a dinner: two couples, a fairly quiet corner table, lots of courses, a couple of bottles of wine, discreet service — oh, and an interesting menu of items nicely prepared. Every birthday should be like this.
Fermin Jamon Iberico
Pan tomate
Bacalao toast
Bacon wrapped dates with blue cheese and Marcona almondsbacon
Sautéed spinach with toasted garlic, pine nuts, and raisins
Marinated olives with pickled garlic and Idiazabal cheese
Marcona almonds with rosemary and pimentón salt
Patatas bravas: fried potatoes, piquant sauce, aïoli
Cider braised chorizo with Shishito peppers
Tuna belly salad: green olives, egg, celery
Spanish and local cheese with fig nam and Marcona crackers
Alicante, "La Tremenda", Monastrell, 2010
• Bravas Bar de Tapas, 420Center Street, Healdsburg; 707-433-7700

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fava soup

Eastside Road, December 18, 2014—
COOK'S BEEN CLEANING out the stocks, preparing perhaps for the new year. The freezer has room enough now to chill our Martini glasses; you can almost see the back of the refrigerator, you can even find space on the pantry shelves to set something down when you're looking behind vinegar bottles or saucepans or packages of tea or a jar of honey.

The other day she came out of the pantry with a package of dried favas; no idea where they came from, or how long they've been there. What to do with them? Why not go to the Internet for an idea?

Epicurious produced a recipe involving onion, garlic, olive oil, pepper, cumin, coriander, allspice, canned tomatoes, broth, rice, chopped pistachios, and yogurt. What luck! Everything was on hand except, of course, the yogurt, which is not to the personal taste of anyone in this house. Cook substituted a bit of cayenne, which seems reasonable to me. The texture was delicious; the spices conspired nicely; there's a little left for lunch.

Green salad afterward, and a little Point Reyes blue cheese…
"Guadagni" red from the three-liter jug, Preston of Dry Creek, tasty

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Out to dinner

Eastside Road, December 17, 2014—
BEAR WITH ME: Yes, our favorite East Bay restaurant again. We had to be in Berkeley for an early meeting yesterday, so drove down the previous late afternoon, the weather being what it is, and dined downstairs with the good friend who'd offered her little apartment for the night.

Monday night downstairs is a shorter, less expensive meal, as a general rule, and tonight was no exception, even though it was the first dinner in a week of menus taken from the new book French Roots by Jean-Pierre Moullé and Denise Lurton Moullé (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press; haven't read it yet; hope to get to it soon).

J-P was the head chef at Chez Panisse for many many many years, just how many would be difficult to reckon as there were interregna from time to time, but dating way back into the 1970s, and I think his long residency has been perhaps the principal influence on the Chez Panisse style as it has evolved — long on technique, attentive to detail, ultimately concerned with bringing basic household cooking, what I think of as cusine bonne femme, into a sophisticated restaurant dining room. (All this married, of course, to the ethical foundation Alice has demanded, with which he fully agrees.)

This was a decidedly bonne femme menu: salad; rabbit; custard. But look how it was elevated:salad.jpg
Smoked Bolinas black cod and endive salad with crème fraîche
fresh young greens, of course, including chervil, endive, and radicchio, artfully curled and piled up, with a well-calculated percentage of softly poached fish and a drizzle of crème fraîche. Delightful play of textures here.

(I did not take this photo; I forgot. My dinner companion was fortunately more attentive. She usually is.)
Le lapin à la moutarde de Denise:
Devil's Gulch Ranch rabbit braised with mustard and onions; with glazed carrots and peppercress
I came close to not including this photograph, which does not do justice to the visual beauty of the dish — a complex beauty difficult to capture with a telephone! When the plate arrived I lifted it to my face to breathe in the aroma (I do this often; I hope it doesn't bother my companions), and I said Ah, Bistro! But when I tasted the succulent rabbit I said No, not bistro: restaurant. The sweet flavor of rabbit was certainly forward, but enhanced by bay, thyme, and white wine, and no more than exactly the right amount — to my taste, anyway — of Dijon mustard. The recipe is in French Roots, and I'll be cooking it soon, I promise.

Île flottante
That's it in the photo at the top: Floating Island, but nothing like the one my mother used to make, which was My-T-Fine vanilla pudding in a Pyrex bowl with meringue baked on top in the oven of the uncertain wood-burning cookstove. This was an elegant affair, with various preserved and/or stewed fruits decorating the serving, not an island but an archipelago. I almost asked for seconds, but we were at the early seating…
Pinot gris, Zellenberg (Alsace), Marc Tempé, 2011; Morgon, M. Lapierre, 2012
Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525
NEXT DAY WE STOPPED for a snack at Bartavelle, the café wedged between Acme Bakery (where we'd gone for a loaf of bread) and Kermit Lynch Imports (where I wanted to go for a case or two of wine, but forbore). I meant to get only a nibble, but was seduced by the crostini: we had two of the brandade, as soft and nicely calculated a brandade as I've had anywhere, including Spain; and one of the ciccioli, nicely crunchy rillettes from Fifth Quarter Charcuterie, a place we're going to have to explore. With these, a half glass of clean, bright Rosato provided by the neighbor, and then an interesting almond-paste cookie with an amarena cherry inside.

Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar, 1603 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley; 510-524-2473red beans.jpg
A DASH ACROSS the bay to the de Young Museum, there to see Keith Haring and (more impressive) great Southwestern ceramics and weavings; and then dinner at a New Orleans-themed place significant to us for the presence of a granddaughter at the host stand — thus does the restaurant industry continue through the generations.

Here I had what the menu listed simply as Red Beans & Sausage. Red beans and rice it was (white for me, thank you, not brown), with a generous amount of pulled pork sustaining the not overcooked beans, and a very nicely grilled, spicy pork andouille sausage, made in house I believe and very tasty.

Like the sausage, the pork in the beans incorporated a certain amount of cartilage, giving bite and texture to the dish. I mushed the rice and beans all together, of course, and ate every bit with pleasure, and was completely satisfied. On the side, collard greens with ham hock, a big serving in a small iron cauldron, easily enough for both of us. With the good hush puppies alongside, this was all I needed for a satisfying supper…
Dolcetto, Palmina Vineyards (Santa Barbara), 2011
Boxing Room Restaurant, 399 Grove Street, San Francisco; 415-430-6590

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pizza with a difference

Eastside Road, December 14, 2014—
IT WILL NOT SURPRISE Constant Reader to find that I have little patience for the gluten-free craze. I respect those who have legitimate concerns, of course; celiac disease can be no picnic. But the gluten controversy has reached epic dimension, and the blame should not fall, I think, on wheat, which after all has sustained our species for quite a while now. I'm pretty much convinced that to the extent that gluten has been problematic it's been because of method, not substance: I'm persuaded that it's the milling, and the addition of chemicals to the separated parts of the wheat grain before they're brought back together in the milling process, that has upset so many modern guts.

And so I did my little scoff routine when the menu at lunch mentioned a gluten-free pizza. How could this be possible, I asked myself; and then I asked the waitress. Oh, she said, we have one pizza that's made with chickpea flour, not wheat.

Wow! Chickpea flour! One of my favorite things is soca, the sorta pancake you get in Nice, made of chickpea flour. Maybe this pizza will be something like that!

So I has this Margarita pizza — the classic tomato, mozarella, and basil, though since it's Sunday why not bake an egg on top too — cooked on a rolled-out crust made of chickpea flour. And it was, in fact, very tasty indeed; I'd recommend it to anyone, regardless of sensitivities.
White Rhone varietals, "Madam Preston," Preston of Dry Creek, 2012 — a favorite of mine.
• Jackson's Bar and Oven, 135 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa; 707-545-6900
salmon green beans.jpgSALMON PATÉ on toast again tonight, with green beans, delicious ones, cooked in butter with minced shallots. Cook has made a good supply of this paté, apparently, and I'll never tire of it. It's just smoked salmon mashed with lots and lots of butter and minced chives, is all it is, but it tastes like a million dollars. The green salad afterward, and a couple of apples…
Cheap Pinot grigio

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bravas; salmon

salmon toasts.jpg
Eastside Road, December 13, 2014—
MIDDAY SUPPER today, in town, with a couple of old friends who'd drive up for the occasion. We're lucky at our end of the county to a local chain of restaurants, each with its own well-focused personality — a steak house, a couple of small-plate places, a vaguely Italian American standard, and the tapas place we'd decided on.

Bravas serves really wonderful Spanish ham, jamón de Serrano, but I wasn't in the mood today. Instead, my companion and I split a plate of delicious boquerones, white anchovies in vinaigrette, and a tuna-belly salad with lettuces, sliced onion, green olives. She went on to the Spanish tortilla; I had the skirt steak, served on a bed of soft blue cheese and heavily sauced with whole mustard seeds — too heavily for my taste, in fact.
Albariña, Licia; Tempranillo, La Tremenda (nice)
• Bravas Bar de Tapas, 420 Center Street, Healdsburg; 707-433-7700
Supper at home — that's it in the photo — was a bit of leftover risotto — a dish that doesn't suffer from a couple of days in the icebox — and some smoked salmon paté on toast — followed, of course, by a green salad, then fruit.
Cheap Pinot grigio

Friday, December 12, 2014

My turn: lamb shanks

Eastside Road, December 12, 2014—
I DO LIKE TO COOK every now and again — but tonight revealed that I sure am out of practice. The first course went well enough, a sort of casual salade lyonnaise: I cut two slices of good bacon into squares maybe half an inch on a side and rendered them very slowly in the black iron skillet, made a vinaigrette with olive oil, some of the warm bacon fat, salt, and sherry vinegar, dressed a couple of small heads of frisée with that, then put a poached egg on each serving. Toast on the side, as you see.

So far, so good. But Richard Olney's foolproof recipe for lamb shanks, which I've made a number of times, seems to have moved into the pit of complacency — knowing how simple and reliable it is, I got careless. I browned the shanks in too much olive oil; it never let the lamb take over. The many cloves of garlic cooked too hard, and didn't purée properly in the food mill.

Lamb shanks, finished.jpg

Still, it's a delicious dish. The dry herbes de Provence that I brought back from Nice over a year ago haven't lost their savor. I cooked up a batch of De Cecco's fettucine to put the little bit of sauce on, and though the dish was undersalted it was good enough. Next week I'll do better. It takes time to get yer chops back.

Since salad was the entrée, no need for green salad afterward. Instead, the last slice of Thanksgiving's pumpkin pie, with a little bit of hard sauce.

Cheap Pinot grigio

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chicken with mustard

chicken.jpgEastside Road, December 11, 2014—
CHICKEN, WELL, YES, chicken is a problem. We don't eat chicken nearly as much as we did thirty or forty years ago. We eat organic now, of course, and an organic chicken not industrially raised is not that easily found. When the market's on, in Healdsburg, we buy chicken there from time to time: but tell the truth I'm not as keen on this guy's chicken as I once was. I'm sure it's our fault, not his, certainly not his chickens's. We bought these chicken legs, for example, several weeks ago; they were frozen, and they took up residence in our freezer, and that wasn't the best treatment they could have had.

(Reminds me of that wonderful old joke. A guy had a pet parrot, but the parrot was a little obnoxious from time to time, and though the guy warned him to shape up or he'd have to take a little punishment, the parrot continued to annoy him. Finally he grabbed the thing and threw it in the freezer.

(An hour or so later he got to feeling pretty bad about it. After all, a parrot is native to tropical climes; the freezer was really pretty harsh treatment. So he put his beer down, got up, walked into the kitchen, and let the poor thing out.

(Parrot looks at him, still shivering and downcast, and says Sorry, boss, I promise I'll never be obnoxious again. I'm sure I deserved to be punished, but I'm sorry, and I'm grateful that you let me out. I'll be good from now on, I promise. But — if you don't mind my asking — what did that poor chicken do?)

Pumpkin pie.jpgAnyhow, Cook cooked this chicken leg for a long time, though the recipe she was following referred to the dish as "fried." It starts out with a mix of Dijon mustard, paprika, pepper, and salt; you toss the chicken in that mixture, then fry it in a skillet in which you've browned onion in bacon fat.

The sauce is finished with cream, white wine, and thyme, and the result really made me think of Paris bistros — appropriately, I suppose, because the recipe's from David Lebovitz's book My Paris Kitchen. With the chicken, as you see, mashed potatoes, to carry the extra sauce; and cabbage, because it's winter. The chicken is garnished with parsley.

Since we had cabbage, no need for the green salad. But I did have dessert — the last slice of a delicious cheesecake our granddaughter made fully a week ago. It held beautifully: I have to ask her for the recipe.

parsley.jpgWhen we returned to the kitchen Cook surveyed the butcher-block island that's at the heart of our kitchen. Oh: we should have finished that parsley, she said, with our second helpings. It's a volunteer Italian parsley plant that's come up by the yard can down by the gate. Really, I said, I didn't know there was a parsley down there… Oh yes, she said, What, you haven't noticed it? But we really shouldn't have wasted that…
A frugal woman, that Cook of mine…
Sauvignon blanc, Earthstone (Healdsburg), 2013: simple, unmemorable, pleasant

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bogman cereal

Eastside Road, December 9, 2014—
THERE'S NO DOUBT that I've written about this before; it's one of the problems with blogging, especially for seven years: you forget what you've already written; you repeat things. But, as Samuel Beckett writes somewhere, I can't go on, I'll go on.

I also don't recall when I first made bogman cereal. Certainly before I knew what to call it: it was our Prague-born son-in-law, a fellow who knows hard times having grown up in a People's Paradise, who said, on first being introduced to it, that it was exactly what had been found in the stomach of an unfortunate who'd been in a Danish peat-bog for the last thousand years.

In any case it's what we have for breakfast on cold mornings. Here's how I make it:

In the evening, after dinner, I fill the tin-lined heavy copper fait-tout, one of my favorite saucepans, with water, just up to the rivets holding the handle to the pan. That turns out to be a cup and a third: I just checked. It's the first time I've measured it (and the last).

grains.jpgThen, using a little scoop which I haven't been able to find for a year or so so now I use my hands instead, which is messy because some of the grains inevitably get dropped, I add the grain. The blend varies, but always includes both hard (red) and soft (white) wheat, preferably in equal proportion. It may also include oats. It may also include rye. The green grains in this photo are rye groats. I don't know what the suspicious-looking dark objects are; some exotic kind of grain. The two important principals here are, first, never under any circumstance include millet; second, the grains must be whole, not milled or rolled or anything like that.

I pour the grains into the water, using the scoop — the hands don't do this at all neatly — forming a cone of grain; and I pour it in until the peak of the cone just breaks the surface of the water. One of these days I'll measure that too, so I can "publish" a proper recipe. This isn't that day. As you'll see below, it really doesn't matter.

OnBurner1.jpgI then bring this mixture to a boil; then turn it way down to simmer for a little while, how long matters but can only be established by trial and error. When I'm finished for the day, just before retiring, I turn it off if it's still simmering, and cover it. You have to keep the grain covered with water, of course, and I've added it from time to time while simmering if necessary, and certainly top it off before turning in for the night But you leave it on the stove, where it retains its warmth and continues to cook gently until it's cold.

In the morning, first thing on getting up, turn the burner back on underneath the pot, to bring the cereal back to a simmer. Top up with more water if necessary. As you'll notice in the photo at the top, we sometimes add raisins. Chopped prunes or dried apricots or figs work too. Some people I've know will think of adding sugar, or butter, but not Calvinist Me; I eat it with just a bit of milk.

If it's too chewy, you haven't simmered it long enough. Do that next time. Cooking time varies with the grain and how long you've had it. This particular batch is a year old; it lives in a tin box refrigerator. And, yes, that's my nice old coffee bowl in the photo, bought thirty years ago or so in Brittany; and, yes, my caffelatte goes into it when I've eaten the cereal; and, no, I don't rinse it between, no reason to.
PERHAPS IT WILL NOT be inappropriate for me to thank here, in this inconspicuous spot at the bottom of the blog, a few people who have commented lately on Eating Every Day recently, not least of them my own younger daughter. I write these entries more sporadically now than in earlier days, but I find I'm still compelled somehow to write them. It's an almost daily ritual, a mental exercise. It makes me think about things too easily taken for granted.

The comment that precipitated the present discussion followed the recent extensive description of a dinner downstairs at Chez Panisse. A private correspondence followed, in which the question was put succinctly:
I only meant to open the discussion out into an area that seemed to cry out for amplification--i.e., was your primary interest in more "common fare" motivated by a desire to explore food at that level, or were you deliberately
evading (or avoiding) the implied comparison between the mother ship [Chez Panisse] and everywhere else?
To me it's all a question of what we eat, every day. Some days are more everyday than others, of course, and that's one of the (often understated or even completely sub limina) themes here. But in fact a feature of Chez Panisse, in my admittedly possibly biased view, is that its cooks and directors do not think of its cuisine as elevated in quite the way other restaurants do. There is no aspiration to a Michelin star. Not one, let alone three. What is important is source, soundness, clarity, technique. Not kitchen architecture, not whiz-bang postmodern taste combinations, not molecular froth and liquid nitrogen. (In truth much modern restaurant cuisine seems to me to be largely smoke and mirrors.)

So I guess my answer is that I'm motivated by a desire to explore and consider food from the most basic level, and let comparisons arise where they will among any readers. Last night's risotto and this morning's bogman cereal are splendid examples of this: there's a magic in the marriage of grains and liquid and heat; the result is a little like what I imagine dwells within our bodies, fermenting, exchanging flavors and memories, energizing, ultimately decaying. I'm going to stop thinking about it now, and turn to some light reading. It's Fast Day, and there's still plenty of time.


Eastside Road, December 8, 2014—
YEARS AGO, YOU may not believe it, I used to do nearly all the cooking in this family. I was retired; Cook was not. She was still working as a professional pastry chef, and the last thing either of us thought fair was for her to have to cook dinner after a long day at the stoves.

One of the things I always enjoyed cooking was risotto. Cook and I have few disagreements, and it's surprising, perhaps, that so many of them center on this harmless entertainment, this classic dish that is at once so simple and so dubtly demanding. So, while I very much enjoyed tonight's risotto, to the point of having a second helping; and though the not very complimentary photo you're looking at is of Cook's risotto as we had it tonight, I'll tell you how I make risotto — or rather how I made it, in those long-ago days before Cook too reached a well-deserved retirement, freeing her to cook nearly every day at home, for no wages and, I'm afraid, nowhere near the gratitude she (and her cooking) deserves…

Well: you begin with a skillet, we use stainless steel, on that we agree; and you put olive oil in it, Cook adds a little butter I believe, and you soften in that oil some minced onion. Well: I soften minced onion; Cook browns chopped onion, even letting some of the bits get really quite dark. In my opinion the onion should be no darker than the rice that follows, but that's just my opinion.

Next you add the rice, which must be Arborio or perhaps some other short-grained fat Po Valley rice, on that we agree. You cook the rice in the oil (and possibly butter), with the onions, until…

Well, difficult to explain exactly when. I like the outside half, let's say, of each grain become rather transparent, while the central half of the grain is still opaque white. Another way to tell is to take a grain of rice between the teeth, and feel the way you can bite through part of the grain, then meet the interior, which will feel crumbly, not soft, between your teeth.

At this point I begin adding the stock, which has been simmering in a pot on an adjacent burner. You add the stock, we both agree, slowly, a ladleful at a time; and after each addition you stir the rice, moving it about, with a wooden paddle, we agree on that too. You let each ladleful cook down to nothing: it's being absorbed by the rice, though a little of it is evaporating and making the house smell good. When it's all soaked in, you add the next ladleful, and stir, and so on.

When the rice has absorbed all the stock it can, and any more will simply make a soup instead of a risotto, you stop adding stock and instead add a glass or so of white wine. THIS IS A MAJOR POINT OF CONTENTION. Cook adds the wine before the stock; I add it after. My theory is that the wine, which is usually cold, will shock the rice and make it resistant to the addition of the stock. The rice has got nice and hot with its onions in the olive oil, and the stock is also simmering hot: if you add the wine before the stock, even if the wine is at room temperature and not out of the refrigerator, the rice will have to do a little U-turn on its way to perfection. None of us wants a bucket of room-temperature water thrown on us while relaxing in a hot bath; why do that to the risotto?

Pumpkin pie.jpgIn any case: The risotto is finished. Now you may stir in some cooked peas, even some frozen peas which come in handy for this purpose and no other. You may add some chopped browned (not too brown!) bits of prosciutto. You will certainly add some grated Parmesan cheese.

Serve it in heated bowls, of course, and grate more cheese on top, but not too much. Risotto should taste first of rice, then of poultry stock, then of onion and olive oil; the cheese simply glues all these flavors together.

One more point of discussion: how to pronounce the name of this classic dish, surely one of the Hundred Plates? With an open "o," say I: ree-zought-tow, don't slide too much into that final (nonexistant, in Italian) "w."

We had a green salad afterward, with a sherry-vinegar vinaigrette, and then a slice of marvelous pumpkin pie from a delicious, subtly chthonic pumpkin brought home a week or so ago from Ojai. Thanks, Jim and Lisa.
Cheap Pinot grigio

December Week

Eastside Road, December 8, 2014—
WELL, THEN, LET'S get on with it; I don't seem able to abandon a project so long tended. That's last night's supper you see to the left: black beans with chopped raw onion and grated Cheddar cheese strewn on top to melt into the beans; some chopped cilantro for flavor and vitamins, lime wedges on the side for the necessary acid, a corn tortilla. We had the usual green salad afterward, of course.
Red wine

WE HAD BEANS on Wednesday as well, served similarly, with nice big wedges of avocado on the side. Cook had read somewhere that one doesn't really need to soak dry beans for hours before cooking them, and decided to put the revisionist screed to the test. The beans took a very long time to grow tender, but then they've been in the pantry a long time, most of that time very dry. As for me, I'd return to soaking them.
THURSDAY HAD BEEN a special night in the local restaurant business, with generous percentages of the evening's take dedicated to AIDS-based charities, so we went out to a local bistro. We'd liked it a lot previously, but last spring the place doubled in size, having got hold of the neighboring storefront, and it seems to me some of the charm is gone. I started out with OnionSoupKL.jpg a classic French onion soup, a dish I like on a cold night. This wasn't utterly authentic; it didn't take me back to Les Halles; the cheese wasn't the perfect Gruyère; but it was good and lord knows the presentation was appropriately rustic.

Next, however, came a dish so confused and rich I wasn't able to finish it — tagliatelle with wild mushrooms: porcini, chanterelles, and (I think) black trumpets. The sauce was based on mushrooms; I was told this was a vegetarian dish; but it was intense and rich; I could have sworn the sauce included marrow. A little went a long way: tasty; solid; but rich.
Murgo, Etnarosso (Sicily), 2011: a new varietal to me, only 12.5% alcohol but deep and substantial, easily standing up to the mushrooms, and still very good three days later.
• K&L Bistro, 119 South Main Street, Sebastopol; 707-823-6614
FRIDAY WE WERE BACK — dare I say it? — at Chez Panisse, in the Café this time, with out-of-town relatives, including not one but two great-granddaughters. We dined late in the afternoon, past three o'clock, and I was hungry. I started with salad: shaved fennel, radish, and carrot, with Meyer lemon and radicchio, a festive sort of salad, its colors, shapes, and textures tumbled into a very attractive offering.
After that, grilled duck leg with sweet peppers, smooth white polenta, and a salsa incorporating fried herbs — an imaginative treatment, I think, for an entrée which never seems to wear out its welcome. It was Zinfandel Week at Chez Panisse, so naturally I took advantage of the tasting flight:
Zinfandel: Turley, Old Vines, 2012; Bucklin: Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley, 2006; Scherrer: Old & Mature, Alexander Valley, 1999
and a pleasure it is to have a comparison like this. Even the Turley, comparatively young, was mature and luscious; the Scherrer was textbook.
•Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525
RoastChicken.jpgSATURDAY NIGHT we were home again with nothing better than a couple of chicken legs. Cook braised them up and served them with dressing and mashed potato, almost like yet another Thanksgiving dinner, complete with the cranberry sauce, which I must say I do love with roast or braised poultry. Green salad afterward, of course… And, since it was Saturday and we'd had Martinis before dinner, just a drop of that Murgo from Thursday night.
THAT LEAVES YESTERDAY, Sunday. Home again; black beans again — as you've seen, up at the top of this scattershot post. Green salad afterward, and with it, the last of the Murgo. What shall we have tonight?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Chez Panisse, food, business, and values

Eastside Road, December 1, 2014—
AFTER MORE YEARS than I like to think about, I'm considering closing the door on this blog. It began as an outgrowth of e-mails I sent to a number of friends reporting on our travels, and quickly evolved to be simply an online journal. I liked to think it would have value for a number of usefulnesses: drawing attention to businesses we find agreeable, occasionally providing a recipe, most of all speculating on the value and surprise and reward of indulging that most basic of human needs: hunger.

(I write about other matters than food, though not as regularly. You'll find those discussions on another blog, The Eastside View.)

Two or three mottos seem to attend nearly everything I do. The unexamined life is not worth living. (Socrates, not my favorite guy.) The study of the meaning and the value of art works. (Joseph Kerman, defining criticism.) Cherish. Consider. Conserve. Create. (The composer Lou Harrison.) Off-hand as most of the posts on this blog have been, these mottos have always been behind them.

As I head toward my eightieth birthday I'm thinking of drawing up a new agenda, reflecting revised sets of priorities, and I'm not sure this blog will have a place on that agenda. And I won't pretend that my uncertainty on the matter isn't enhanced, as you might say, by a recent comment, following the discussion the other day of a recent dinner at Chez Panisse:
I guess one other possibility is that Chez Panisse has always invested in the "purity" of its ingredients, rather than their "richness."

But purity and freshness and imaginative energy don't come cheap, except very rarely. It would be hard to think of a restaurant that has a shifting, creative menu, with decent wines, that could market its fare for less the $40-50 per person per meal.

But Chez Panisse asks $65-90 per meal, which puts it in an entirely different echelon. And it sports a big service compris as well.

To be taken seriously as a gourmet blogger, I would think you'd be obliged to compare Chez Pa [sic] with other restaurants at the same level of aspiration. Otherwise, it's likely to be seen as promotion.
My response to this has grown too long for the "comments" page, so I set it here:

I’M NOT SURE what you mean by “purity” and “richness”.

I think the days of fifty-dollar restaurant meals of any quality are long gone, and I’ve come to think of this general trend as not a matter of rising prices but one of declining value of the dollar.

Your comment suggests categorization of restaurants by their prices. That’s a reasonable approach on first sight, but we must still look behind the menu price to determine value. And what, by the way, do we mean by the “value” of a restaurant and its meal?

I value the quality of the meal, including its material, its preparation, its appearance, its service, its finish — an analytical approach you can bring to any exercise of critical appreciation.

The value of a restaurant comprises the quality of its meals, of course: but it goes further. It comprises also its contribution to its communities. Its social community: the people who come through its doors, whether to work or to dine. Its civic community: how it fits into the network of laws, architecture, transportation, and local economy. And the community of its “industry,” both vertical and horizontal: by which I mean heritage — what it learns from and contributes to the history of the institution of restaurants — and collaboration — its position within the community of other restaurants in its neighborhood.

All this is somewhere at the back of my mind, far from conscious thought, when I sit down at a restaurant table, virtually any restaurant table. The meal and its qualities; the restaurant and its.

Of course there’s a wide range of restaurants, and while it’s true I’m something of a “gourmet” as you put it, I try not to be a snob. Recently here I’ve eaten at a bowling alley, a fast-food hamburger joint, and Chez Panisse. About the only restaurants I rule out are those offering Chinese cuisine; I won’t go into my reasons for that here.

All this to approach the matter of your last paragraph: “To be taken seriously as a gourmet blogger, I would think you'd be obliged to compare Chez Panisse with other restaurants at the same level of aspiration. Otherwise, it's likely to be seen as promotion. “

I won’t pretend I don’t like being taken seriously. I don’t like to think of myself as a “gourmet blogger,” though. I think I see what you mean; I’m certainly a blogger, and uncomfortable as I am with the description I suppose I’m a gourmet. What I resist, of course, is the notion of obligation. I blog what I damn well please. No one pays me to write; hardly anyone even reads what I write. And one of the things keeping me from considering “other restaurants at the same level of aspiration” as Chez Panisse is: that I can’t really know what their aspirations are. (I can’t think of any other, by the way, that is committed to a changing table d'hôte dinner — not a “tasting menu” — every day.)

My wife and I have been involved with Chez Panisse since the beginning, in 1971, she on the kitchen side, myself as diner and in some measure in management. This has given us an inside view of the restaurant and a fairly personal view of the staff — less so since her retirement, in 1996, and our subsequent move away from Berkeley; but I continue to serve on the board of directors and am thereby privy to a certain amount of management and business decision.

One of the differences between Chez Panisse and other restaurants in its price category is our policy of providing all staff with vacation, sick pay, and medical benefits, and offering 401(k) plans to longtime employees. We’ve done this for many years now, and we pay for this by putting a 17% supplemental charge on the menu prices: “service compris.” It’s interesting to see that now, in a national climate finally addressing problems of economic disparity and minimum wages below poverty thresholds, other restaurants in our extended community — the San Francisco Bay Area — are trying to devise similar strategies. I myself feel it’s time to get rid of all the supplementary apparatus, simply to pay well and charge enough to support the costs of business. I believe the curve is in that direction, but much of the public resists it, content with a tipping system which I believe is basically feudal, a remnant of the class system.

I have no direct evidence, but i believe that most restaurants in the Chez Panisse category, whatever that is, are profit motivated. Not exclusively: I’m sure they’re concerned with quality, with all the values I started out by discussing here. But they began with capital, and are obliged to make returns to investors.

This has never been a major, not even a substantial, part of the motivation at Chez Panisse. Apart from such categories as utilities, taxes, and insurance, virtually every dollar that comes into the restaurant goes to an employee, a farmer, a fish market, a mushroom forager, occasionally to a merchant of dry goods: salt, spices, flour and the like; a wine importer; a cheesemonger.

In short, in my opinion, and in my experience, what brings me back so frequently to Chez Panisse is ethics and artistry. I think I could make comparisons between Chez Panisse and other restaurants in terms of artistry, though it would be appropriate for anyone to question my motivation in doing so. I don’t know how I could possibly compare them in terms of the ethics of their pursuit of the other values I hold important.

I will be eighty years old in a few months; I now have three great-grandchildren; I know something about the process of the generations and the return on investments of not money but instruction, example, and guidance. One of the great achievements of Chez Panisse has been the number of restaurants (and other food-related businesses) that have been created by staffers who have “trained” there, in the kitchen, in the office, and on the dining floor. We have created a lot of jobs! And many, probably most, of these businesses, are quite as committed to the values I’ve mentioned. This gives me great hope for the future, at least in our area, in spite of the disastrous influence in our country of ignorance, cynicism, greed, compromise, and opportunism.

All this, all these things, are at the back of my mind as I admire the food on my table — at Chez Panisse; at a bowling alley; at home. If I could distill all this into a mission statement I’d gladly set it at the head of each blog post. Alas I haven’t come up with the shorthand. So, yes, I’ll continue to promote — not Chez Panisse, I hope, but the values behind it. They mean everything to me.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Leftover Thanksgiving

Eastside Road, November 30, 2014—

AFTER LAST NIGHT'S feast, tonight's dinner seemed quiet and subdued — but familiar. Leftovers, of course, and the mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy were better if anything, and succotash supplanted the green beans and Brussels sprouts. No pie, alas: but a couple of See's chocolates served nicely.

Cheap Pinot grigio, softened with a bit of flat Prosecco from yesterday — a very nice blend, as it turns out.

Oh: and lunch was — you'd never believe it — an In-N-Out hamburger with fries. We virtually never go to fast food places. I've been to one McDonalds, and that was on the Champs Elysées. I've been to one Dairy Queen, and that was in the wilds of Oregon, in an emergency, with no alternative. Of Burger King, Jack in the Box, and the rest, of those I am innocent.

But this is my third trip to an In-N-Out. I trust them for some reason — perhaps because they say they peel their own potatoes. The burger was okay.

• In-N-Out Burger, 2131 County Center Drive, Santa Rosa, California; 1-800-788-1000


Thanksgiving dinner.jpg
Eastside Road, November 29, 2014—
SIXTEEN OF US at dinner today, Thanksgiving Day two days after the fact. Four generations. What a great gathering!

And what a fine dinner: roast turkey, FraMano ham, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, Brussels sprouts, dinner rolls of course. No green salad!

But look at the dessert…

Prosecco, cheap Pinot grigio, Viognier, Preston of Dry Creek, 2013;
Zinfandel, Preston, 2009; Zinfandel, Winemakers' Barrel Auction: Martinelli, Jackass Vineyard, 1993*; Cabernet Sauvignon, Hambrecht Vineyards, 1991; Semillon, late harvest, Preston, 2000

Except for the Prosecco and the Pinot grigio, which were Italian, all these wines were from within twenty miles. What a pleasure to drink mature wines! The Barrel Auction Zinfandel was a fascinating bottle: it had two labels, one from Martinelli as noted above, the other crediting Kenwood's Jack London vineyard (okay, a little beyond twenty miles, but still in our county) — I suppose it was a blend of the two. In any case it was delicious, and we thank Gaye and John for the gift of it, on my birthday nineteen years ago.