Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dinner on the lawn

Eastside Road, July 30, 2014—
NO PHOTO TONIGHT; sorry. We were having too much fun talking — specifically, hearing about the Montana vacation our downhill neighbors had just returned from. Well, the Montana vacation, and the adventure in Elko on the way back. Impossible to recount in a quick blogpost.

Eric grilled sausages; there were sliced tomatoes and panfried three syllable padrones and almonds and cheese and green salad and ice cream and blackberries. You can't ask for anything better than summer supper al fresco en famille.
Pinot grigio; Petite syrah; Zinfandel (this is California, after all…)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fair fare

Eastside Road, July 29, 2014—
TO THE COUNTY FAIR today: I always look forward to it, and am always disappointed. There are still a few fresh-faced young 4-H and FFA kids showing their improbably beautiful cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, even chickens; and there are still a few shop-class assignments — wooden toolboxes, welding projects, exercises in canning and jam-making. I still enjoy the hucksters and the barkers. But the dross-to-authenticity ratio worsens every year, and I don't know if I'll go back.

What to eat? Lindsey decided early on she'd go to the Lagunitas Brewery "gastropub," where a charming German-born guest worker recommended the barbecued pork slider with its spicy fries and, barely seen top center, little plastic tub of cole slaw. It was okay. Later tonight, leftover potato salad, half a hamburger, raw carrots, and blackberries for dessert. Man muss essen.
Lagunitas "Pils"

Easy summer eating

Eastside Road, July 28, 2014—
TOO MANY OTHER things to do these delightful summer days to work every day at dining. Yesterday, for example, we contented ourselves with grilled sandwiches: bacon, lettuce, and tomato on good levain bread. The classic BLT is one of the Hundred Plates, but while relatively easy to assemble it's vulnerable and highly seasonal. You need good bacon, to begin with, and Franco Dunn helps out here. Then you need the right tomato, and around here that's only available from early July on, far as I'm concerned.

On the side, though it's hardly a summertime vegetable, kale, and a couple of cornichons…

Rosé, La Ferme Julien

THEN TODAY, a grandson visiting for the night, I grilled hamburgers outside over fruitwood coals, a little charcoal added for flavor. Alas we had no hamburger buns, only hot dog buns, so had to form the patties in the shape of hot dogs. This does not make it easier to cook the meat to exactly the right degree, but then that's not something I'm good at under the best of conditions…

hamburger.jpgWell, good enough. We have the classic hamburger sandwich: the meat (which I'd flavored with a few thyme leaves while cooking), mustard, mayonnaise, raw thin-sliced onion, lettuce, tomato, a thin slice of dill pickle. What the heck: let's elevate the hamburger to the Hundred Plates too.

Green salad afterward, and then vanilla ice cream with fresh wild blackberries and a few of our mulberries.
Mourvèdre, Preston of Dry Creek, 2011: perfectly delicious

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dinner al fresco

salmon dinner.jpg
Eastside Road, July 26, 2014—
HOTTER'N BLAZES today, hot enough to eat on the patio in the twilight, watching a marvelous sunset whose colors went well with broiled salmon, a lemon wedge, sliced heirloom tomatoes, and Nancy Skall's impeccable lima beans. Life is good.
Dinner al fresco.jpg
Rosé, La Ferme Julien (Var), 2012


Walnut Creek, July 25, 2014—
LONG HOT DAY today, driving from Ojai to Fresno, then home. We knew we'd hit traffic if we didn't stop en route and kill a little time, and remembered an Italian spot we'd heard about somewhere, so we stopped off in this town for supper.

I started with an okay Martini and a nice big arugula salad, with shaved fennel, a few slices of roasted pear, some walnuts, and crumbled soft goat cheese, dressed with a walnut oil vinaigrette — quite refreshing.

On, then, to the primo, and why not try the pasta carbonara? But when it arrived it was not spaghetti but these penne, and it featured not only peas but basil… still, though not very authentic, it was a pleasant dish. There's more to life than authenticity.
Pinot grigio, Estancia, 2012
• Massimo Ristorante, 1604 Locust St, Walnut Creek, California; (925) 932-1474

Eating away

Los Angeles, July 24, 2014—
YES: IT'S PIZZA, and pretty good, considering the site. In fact we've eaten here before and found it perfectly acceptable, and Praxiteles knows convenient enough, when you're bent on another look at a fabulous show of sculpture by Alexander Calder.

This was a "Roman" pizza, innocent of cheese, nothing but the dough, San Marzano tomatoes, Taggiasche olives (whatever they are), garlic and caper flavored olive oil, and oregano — reminding me of how much I do like oregano: why don't we use it more often? There's a huge plant out the kitchen door…
Beer: Hop Rod Rye, Healdsburg
•Ray's at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles; 323 857-6000

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Ojai, July 23, 2014—

NOT MANY VEGETABLES do I prefer to these peppers, which I insist, pedantic that I am, on calling padrones, three syllables, not puhDRONES, two..(The word is Spanish, after all.)

We're crashing with friends here tonight. We start with delicious local organic pistachios with a fine local gin, go on to a perfect St. Andre, and then begin to think about dinner. I fried up the peppers in oil and salt, then sweated some onion rings in the same pan. Jim grilled hamburgers, using great ground beef from a local butcher. Llisa made a nice salad. 

What more could we want? Oh — a popsicle made of nothing but tangerine juice. Local, of course.  


Monday, July 21, 2014

Salmon and broad beans

salmon and beans.jpg
Eastside Road, July 21, 2014—
SALMON TONIGHT — as long as Dave is willing to go to sea for it, we're willing to buy it from him. Tonight Cook simply broiled it with salt and pepper and we ate it with a squeeze of lemon. And those delicious broad beans, from Nancy Skall's garden, cooked in a bit of butter, not too long!

Green salad afterward, and some fine Brie, and a peach and a plum…

Chardonay-Viognier blend, Panilonco (Colchagua Valley, Chile), 2013 "Reserva": light, good varietals, a nice blend

Sunday, July 20, 2014

From the grill

Eastside Road, July 20, 2014—
ANOTHER DINNER with no photo: sorry. It was such a fine dinner. A granddaughter and her man to share it with us: eight of Franco's fine sausages, cooked over grapevine cuttings, along with a few zucchini; a tasty cabbage-lime-habanera-onion-carrot salad; beautiful ripe fresh sliced tomatoes. And dessert: Cobbler with peaches from our trees. You can't do a lot better than this…

Cheap Pinot grigio; Rosé, La ferme Julien, 2013

Saturday, July 19, 2014

New restaurant in town

Eastside Road, July 19, 2014—
LUNCH IN THE CITY today, well, the local city, not San Francisco, which we old-timers still refer to as The City. Lunch isn't really a very good test of a restaurant, perhaps, but on the basis of this lunch, and of the interesting wine list, I'm sure we'll be back before too long. For dinner.

I had a hamburger — two thick patties of ground beef, a little on the lean side, with delicious bacon, with the obligatory (to me) tomato, onion, and lettuce; aïoli; a fine dill pickle on the side; and quite professional shoestring french fries. And then dessert: Apricot tart with Bavarian cream (a dish I love: it always makes me think of Berlioz's Evenings in the Orchestra).
Bohigas Xarello (Catalunya), 2011: crisp, easy but serious, very pleasant; Ribeira Sacra, Adega Vella Mencia, 2011: sober, fruity, earthy, nicely made
Pullman, 205 Fifth Street, Santa Rosa, California; 707-545-4300SO ALL WE NEEDED for dinner was a big green salad (with Alta's delicious quince vinegar in the dressing), sliced tomatoes, and some very good Brie.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Eastside Road, July 18, 2014—
THERE ARE NOT MANY finer vegetables, I think, than chard. "Swiss chard," it was always called, when I was a child, and perhaps one reason for my fondness goes back to my childish curiosity about the name — why "Swiss"? (It was, alas, all too often charred, when Mom cooked it, with her usual technique when it came to cooking vegetables: chop them into small bits; cover them in a pot with at least two inches of water; boil rapidly until it is burned and sticking to the pot.)

But I do Mom's memory injustice. In fact I have fond memories of even the taste, let alone the name, of chard. I do not like beets, or turnips, or swedes, whose bitter aluminum taste lies unpleasant on my tongue. Chard has something of that taste, but I don't dislike it. It's not mineral, so much, as oxalic. Is chard related to rhubarb? I wouldn't be surprised.

And then chard always reminds me of Bob, Cook's father, born into a paisano family in the Italian Alps west of Torino, a man always fond of his vegetables and his orto, his vegetable garden. He lived well into his nineties, and from May until November he'd ask, when we visited, You want chard? And would go to the border of the garden and bend over with his knife and cut the broad white ribbed stems, always on the diagonal, and send us away with a big bouquet of broad-leafed green chard, with perhaps a perforation or two here and there as his orto was innocent of insecticide.

When I cook chard I cut the leaves from the stems, chop the stems and cook them in a little water with salt of course, then slice the leaves into thin strips and throw them on top, with another sprinkling of salt.

Tonight's chard was much better than that: Cook chopped it all, and added crushed garlic to the stewing vegetables, and finished them with a squeeze of lemon juice.

After the chard, the rest of the leftover fusilli con pesto, and I must say the pesto has held up beautifully, those pine nuts of ours deepening its flavor since Sunday. And then applesauce, since we'll have a big new harvest of apples before we know it, with ice cream.

Cheap Pinot grigio

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What a week.

Eastside Road, July 16, 2014—
OKAY, LET'S TRY a new format, one so shameful it'll encourage me to be more attentive here.

•July 8: fast.

•July 9: Fusilli con pesto. That's the making of pesto you see here, but today when I looked into the freezer what should I find but… What? No pine nuts? Impossible to make pesto without pine nuts. Nor were there any walnuts to be found. Truly I have been slacking off…

I made today's pesto without pine nuts; just garlic, salt, basil, olive oil. Even more shameful, I rinsed the basil, then after attempting to dry it I chopped it with a knife. The resulting pesto was not handsome, but good enough for yet another dinner in front of the TV, watching a World Cup game…

fusilli 7:9.jpg
•July 10:Yes, Fusilli con pesto again, and the pesto hasn't improved any…


•July 11: Ah: now this is more like it. Supper in Berkeley today, beginning with this delicious plate of arugula, dressed with hazelnuts, Parmesan, and very good olive oil. On, then, to roast lamb, roasted in the pizza oven, with tapenade, and green and yellow pole beans on the side, and a roasted tomato… truly delicious… why can't I cook like this at home…

• Café Chez Panisse, address; tel. salmon12.jpg
•July 12: I finally got around to cooking the little potatoes I bought (from Lou Preston) a week and more ago, rolling them around in olive oil in the hot black iron skillet, with a couple of garlic cloves, rosemary, and salt. What a delicious dish that is: one of the Hundred Plates.

Lindsey broiled the salmon and cooked some green beans in butter and sliced the tomato. Truth is, she's The Cook. I'm the Lucky Guy.

Oh: And I picked pine nuts today: but that'll be the subject of another blog.

•July 13: Big dinner party tonight, with my brother and his family — three generations here. Sausages on the grill; pasta con pesto; grilled eggplant and zucchini; big green salad; fruit and cookies.

You may have noticed by now that I haven't said anything on this post about wine. I'm not going to start now, beyond noting White; Rosé; Red.

•July 14, Bastille Day: leftovers: sausage; Fusilli con pesto

•July 15: Friends over to dinner. I made guacamole — that's the setup, above: salt, Tequila, avocados, limes, cilantro; the shallots and toasted Habanera pepper already chopped up. After that, chicken from the grill, and green beans dressed with sautéed shallot, and potatoes with rosemary and salt; and nectarine crisp for dessert…

Making pesto

Eastside Road, July 16, 2014—
THIS IS HOW I make pesto:

First I get the pine nuts. This is a laborious process. The nuts are ready right now, mid-July, and the first thing to do is to get the pine cones, from the three Italian stone pines up the hill.

Then you assemble your tools: needle-nose pliers; slipjoint pliers, a bucket, a bowl, a dish.

Then you make sure you have a couple of free hours, you arrange a comfortable place in the shade but with good light, you put on work clothes.

Then, using the needle-nose pliers, you pull the nuts out from under the scales of the pine cones. There's a pair of nuts under each scale, and they want to stay there. I usually shove the pliers in under the scale, pry up with them, then deftly or not extract the nuts, usually one at a time.

The nuts are covered with black sooty stuff, and before long your left hand is covered with pitch from the cones. Toss the emptied cone into a bucket; they're great for starting fires in the winter. Toss the sooty nuts in a bowl. Five cones gave me a couple of hundred nuts.

When you're done extracting them, rub the nuts between the palms of your hands, a few at a time, to get off as much soot as possible. The photo shows the result.

Now it's time for the slipjoint pliers. Careful: don't pinch your hand more than necessary! Carefully put a nut on edge between the jaws of the pliers and squeeze to crack the shell. The kernel is inside, wearing a brown paper jacket which it sometimes seems reluctant to give up. Don't worry about that; just toss the kernel into a little dish — you won't need a big one!. Continue cracking the pine nuts. Some will be disappointingly empty. Look out for bugs and spiders.

When you've finished cracking the nuts it's time to clean up. The cracked shells make nice barbecue fuel, along with any pine-cone scales that have scattered. Take the nuts into the kitchen. Wash the pitch off your left hand with Goo-Gone or orange oil. Change your clothes and put on an apron.
Now sort through the nuts, tossing them into the air and blowing on them to get rid of dust and such. Some of the kernels will be suspect — perhaps munched by something; perhaps dry and blasted, a little, by some kind of blight. Reject them.

On Friday, down in Berkeley, I bought two little packages of pine nuts, for $9.99 apiece. They were from Spain, and they look delicious. The cheaper pine nuts you get in various places look quite different, shorter and fatter; they come from China, and I think from a different kind of pine tree. The Italian and Spanish pine nuts are very expensive but much better.

I haven't opened those packages of Spanish nuts yet: on the right, you see the ones I picked yesterday. I toasted these nuts slightly by putting them in a hot oven after Cook had broiled salmon, leaving them in only five minutes or so.

But I've been distracted by these damn nuts. Here's how I make the pesto:

The setup: Cheese, pine nuts, basil, garlicIMG_3938.jpg
Mash the garlic with salt.
Then add the pine nuts and pound into a heavy paste.
Carefully slice, do not chop, the basil.
Don't bruise it!
Pound the sliced basil into the garlic and pine nuts.IMG_3944.jpg
Both Parmesan and Pecorino…
…grated (more Parmesan than Pecorino)
Pound in the cheese.IMG_3947.jpg
When pounded to the desired texture,
smooth it out with a spatula…
…and cover it with olive oil.
When ready to use, stir in the olive oil, add more if necessary, taste to see if it needs salt, and enjoy it!

Monday, July 7, 2014


salmon redux.jpg
Eastside Road, July 7, 2014—
…AND JUST AS GOOD tonight as yesterday: a cool summer supper of cold salmon, potato-fava salad, cucumber salad, and sliced tomatoes; with green salad afterward, and then Nancy Skall's magical strawberries.
Cheap Pinot grigio; rosé, La Ferme Julien

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sunday salmon

ice cream and peaches.jpg
Eastside Road, July 6, 2014—
JUNE WAS THE MONTH of apricots, my favorite fruit. Well, figs. Mulberries. Nectarines. But truly I do believe apricots are my favorite fruit, and that probably dates back to the summer of 1943, when I was eight years old, just learning about the intellectual aspects of the pleasures of the flesh, and we had a big apricot tree in the back yard. Maybe not. Maybe I'm romanticizing.

Anyhow, apricots. What you see here is a bowl of chopped and slightly warmed peaches, but the ice cream at the center is noyau ice cream, which Lindsey made in her little freezer, and flavored with the pits of the apricots we've had in the last couple of weeks — many or most of them Royal Blenheims bought at the Healdsburg farm market, but eight or ten of them from our own tree, which gave its first harvest this year.

If apricots are my favorite fruit, then their kernels may be my favorite part of them. The flavor is floral, stone-fruity, but goes beyond those dimensions into further recesses. There's something chthonic about them. Perhaps it's only in my mind; only because I know there's danger lurking in them — strychnine or arsenic, I never really remember which.

In any case it was a marvelous dessert, capping a really fine summer dinner. Lindsey made her cucumber salad, and cooked potatoes and fava beans, and sliced tomatoes, and prepped the salmon Nancy Hachisu's way, dotting it with butter, laying scallions on top of the flesh, and wrapping the fish carefully in aluminum foil.

I joked that I did the cooking, she did the prep. But as usual it was the prep that constituted everything, from the conception of the total menu to the gruntwork of cleaning, chopping, measuring (by eye, not tool!), timing (so important, and utterly eluding all my attempts). All I did was make a fire and slice the eggplant and grill it

It was a splendid dinner. We were happy to share it, and the conversation, and a few bottles, with a couple of friends. I wish we could do this twice a week. Cook might object. Oh well: I'll post this, and then get back to the dishes…
Roussane, Preston of Dry Creek, 2012; Rosé, La Ferme Julien; rosé, "Whispering Angel", Caves Désclans (Côtes de Provence), 2012 (thanks, Burt and Mary)


Sebastopol, July 5, 2014—
CONTINUING THE INDEPENDENT theme, we ate sorta French tonight, the French having been our allies in overthrowing the divine right of kings and establishing representative democracy in the world (for however short an era it turns out to be). The local bistro isn't completely authentic, but it'll do, particularly in its recently enlarged, more comfortable setting, with a welcome full bar.

(Saturday just isn't Saturday without its Martini.)

I opened with the house-pickled sardine you see here, on a slice of baguette, with celery-radish salad and agrodolce onions, positively awash in "evoo"— a culinary term I absolutely detest, standing of course for "extra-virgin olive oil," another term etymologically meaningless but commercially significant. Though you can't imagine any decent restaurant serving an oil of a grade inferior to ex-virg.

The sardine was delicious; ditto the salad: the oil was, I thought, a little overwhelming. And I hadn't ordered wisely, as I went on to this sole meunière, a dish I dearly love, but rather a delicate one: how would it hold up after that agrodolce?

sole.jpgNot badly, as it turned out: but there were other problems. The fish was underdone, for one thing: I think sole meunière should be crisp around the edges, fried in butter and finished with beurre noire, butter cooked until caramelized; and should be sprinkled with chopped parsley. This was in a thick butter sauce, a little sweet, and instead of nice little steamed-and-parsleyed potatoes it came with the french fries you see here. Oh well: the fish was nice, and we left feeling good about our healthful diet…
Chablis, La Chantemerle, vintage?
K&L Bistro, 119 South Main Street, Sebastopol; (707) 823-6614

Hot dog

hot dog.jpg
Eastside Road, July 4, 2014—
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY! We celebrate it on the couch, watching the World Cup games — Cook sees to it that they're recorded, and we watch them delayed. That isn't easy: it means we have to stay off all social media and even incoming phone calls and any Internet connection, lest someone spill the beans. We don't want to know the outcome in advance!

And what do we eat on this important day marking our independence from the overweening English? Why, typical American: Hot dog on a bun, mustard from our ally France, pickle relish, Lou Preston's remarkable sauerkraut, a sliced raw onion, and the first tomatoes of the season.
Sierra Nevada pale ale

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Eastside Road, July 3, 2014—
NOTHING LIKE a nice meaty chicken, and this was really meaty — dense, full of flavor, serious. It made me think of capon, which is something I haven't tasted in years. We got it at the Healdsburg farmers market; it came from Barrett Farms, and it was good.

It didn't suffer from Cook's treatment, either. She dredged it in flour and fried it in butter, as suits a royal bird. With it, broccoli, and the last of that delicious rice salad; afterward, a green salad. And now maybe I'll have a little piece of chocolate, because I worked hard today…

Cheap Pinot grigio

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


San Francisco, July 1, 2014—
I HATE EATING in a hurry, but sometimes you just don't have an option. We were in the Mission with less than forty-five minutes to spare. Fortunately, a restaurant we'd been wanting to try was just around the corner.

I ordered two items, a bit recklessly: this bowl of delicious thick hot spicy soljanka — tomato-cabbage soup with salami, bacon, and pickles — and matjes herring in sour cream with apples, onions, and more pickles. Both came with delicious pumpernickel bread. I nearly burned my mouth on the soup, so quickly did I down it — disgracefully drinking from the bowl; spooning was too slow — and I confess I wasn't able to finish all the herring salad.

Both were delicious. I spoke to the chef on our way out, and we agreed about the benefits of eating herring raw, with only a few chopped onions and maybe a glass of genever. But I commended him on his treatment: this herring was delicious, like the soup, and we'll be back for more one of these days. With more time.
Weltenburger Helles on draft
Walzwerk, 381 South Van Ness Ave, San Francisco; (415) 551-7181

Well, every week!

on the grill.jpg
Eastside Road, July 1, 2014—
TWO HIGHLIGHTS this past week, which I'll describe in reverse chronological order, ending with a little apology.

First, this splendid locally raised grass-fed beef tri=tip, which I simply salted on getting it home, left to stand a day, then grilled over charcoal and grape-vine cuttings, seasoning it further only with a few sprigs of myrtle. Those are zucchini and summer squash you see scattered around it, and a few of Fraco Dunn's incomparable Provençal sausages.

We'd started with guacamole and padrones, then sat down to the beef with Lindsey's fine rice salad, which involves celery and onions — I'm sure we'll have it again this summer; when we do, I'll try to remember to post the recipe here.

And for dessert Lindsey made her noyau ice cream, served with sliced peaches. What a fine Sunday supper!

Cider, Devoto Orchards (Sonoma County): Gravenstein (clean, very dry, a little austere); "1976" blend (very similar but a little more forthcoming): both of these are fine alternatives to a dry white wine (thanks, Jeff and Ina)
Riesling, von Hövel (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer), 2005: graceful, generous, soft
Syrah, Château Voiture (grapes from Unti Vineyard), 2004: Mature, deep, beautifully balanced (thanks, John!)
Petite Sirah, Preston of Dry Creek, 2011: not quite ready, fruity, promising

lamb chez panisse.jpgTHE OTHER HIGHLIGHT had been dinner last week in Berkeley. Lunch wasn't bad, either, come to think of it: we had a salad, then a plate of charcuterie in Oakland, and even splurged on dessert because, well, there was a peach Pavlova on the menu, a delicious affair on a nicely made meringue.

• Wood Tavern, 6317 College Avenue, Oakland; 510-654-6607

But it was dinner that stood out, downstairs at Chez Panisse. We began with poached local salmon served with sautéed squid in a warm corn relish lightly flavored with ginger, a wonderful blend of Japanese and California cuisines, and went on to grilled lamb, and finished up with a delicious apricot tart with cardamom ice cream that recalled the ginger of the first course perfectly — I do love these taste-bracketed menus.

Incrocio Manzoni (Riesling-Pinot Bianco cross), Istituto Agrario San Michele all'Adige, 2011: absolutely charming, soft, full of flavor;
"Ko" (Touraine), vintage?, fruity, ample
dessert chez panisse.jpg• Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525