Monday, December 26, 2011


Breakfast. Deep sigh, then another deep sigh. As I reached hungrily for the baguette and Humbolt Fog cheese, I stopped, placed my hands palms up on the table and closed my eyes and took several more deep breathes, in, and out, in, and out. From inside my dominant feeling of being rushed and tired, I suddenly fell head long into gratitude. It surprised me, it usually feels like being grateful, taking that moment to say thank you at a meal is something you do and then you feel. This moment came from another direction, it was as if the gratitude was circling around the room and demanded that I pay attention, pushing my hands to stop, my attention to go to my breathing. It felt like a gift, this cosmic invitation to that warmest, most meaningful of feelings: to be present in the moment.
My breakfast was a perfect meal. Canned peaches from the summer, a cheese that tastes of my California roots, a salad of bitter chicory, bread and water.
Through the meal, the sole moment I was likely to find in the day, the presence of gratitude was enveloping. Beauty and gratitude often travel together. It was in part my determination to have a simple but truly beautiful picnic breakfast that invited such a moment of gratitude. Slapping all the ingredients together into a sandwich and eating while I drove was one option for the morning. It would have been delicious, all the same ingredients, and I would have loved it. But I could not have been in the moment, driving, eating, listening to the radio, going over my to do list in my head. Sitting at the table, making the effort to find a functional, contemplative moment proved more nourishing than I could have anticipated.
Later in the week when Coral got pneumonia and Colby needed to go to the hospital for a strong virus that severely dehydrated her, I kept coming back to that still moment, that surprising day I had gratitude for breakfast.

The Gratitude Breakfast is a reminder to savor the quiet moments, to calm and still where and when you can. It provided me a fond and immediate memory to call on when my stress and concern for my children were mounting. Calm and gratitude are there for us, any moment we remembered, and feel.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


How much of life do we learn at the table? How to eat and chew and swallow solid food. How to use a fork, chopsticks, our fingers, bread and spoon. How to recognize social nuance, the changes in tone, how to elevate and support gaiety and conviviality. How to give thanks, appreciate and be appreciated. We learn how to take our seat, claim our space, walk the balance between being independent, self sufficient and yet part of the collective, the whole.

There is a phase of early toddler hood where the child wants to do everything themselves, even though they can't quite do it yet. And that is why they want to, they must try in order to learn. To master drinking from a glass each human must spill many, many glasses. Part of being a parent is tolerating the time and the mess, the frustration and the exalted satisfaction of learning.

Colby has just entered this phase. I wasn't sure what was happening at first. We sat down to dinner as we always do, the bowl between us, the fork more to my side than hers. We held hands and said thank you and then, her favorite part, our raucous cheers.

I went to feed her the first forkful and she pursed her lips and moved her head away, leaning back in her chair. She is often time consuming to feed, she is never in a hurry, which I enjoy, it keeps us all at the table rather than rushing through a meal. She likes things in a certain order, but you never know what the order will be. She only recently started reaching for her glass when she wants water and that was a huge hallelujah moment, not having to guess, having her tell you what she wants.

I took a forkful of something else and she pursed her lips. Over and over. I was done with my meal by now. Coral then finished. Finally, Colby reached onto her plate, picked up a piece of meat with her whole palm and put it in her mouth. She turned to me with a triumphant gaze and I saw in a lightening bolt of recognition: she wanted to feed herself. She is six and a half. We have never had this moment.

Sometimes she will feed herself but it is more of a "I really want that raisin so I'll pick it up and get it myself" direction of the will. This dinner was the first time she would not eat until she was in control. She had reached a major developmental milestone. Had she been two it would have been immediately recognizable, the turning away, the pursed lips, the refusal until in control.

A very tall child with braids to her waist and missing front teeth, it took quite a while for me to make the connection. My body rushed with adrenaline, my heart filled with pride and the disbelief all parents feel when you actually see your child change before your very eyes.

I put several pieces of food in a row on the table in front of her. She ate quickly, decisively, smiling with her cheeks full of food. She was extremely pleased. Pleased with her ability and I feel like too with her ability to communicate her desire.

That is one of the challenges with a child who is developing outside the time line of a pediatric checklist of milestones. You never know when you are going to see the emergence of a skill, or if you ever will.

At the table I learned something. I learned to always keep my mind open. I learned to look each day at these growing children and say, "Who are you today?" What do you need? What do you want? How do I support you in your path of learning, around this table, in this life we share together? I learned again the beautiful relief in independence, of knowing the child you are raising can in part, or in full, know what they want, and get it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Aprons and My Beautiful Zene

photo, Coral wearing an apron from Zene

I wear an apron every day. I have about twenty. And all but two were given to me by The Crazy Apron Lady, aka Zene, my best friend. Our friendship started on an oppressively hot day in kindergarten. The playground was a kidney shaped sandbox with a concrete path around the periphery, a track for riding tricycles. There was a bridge over one section of the track, and under that, the sole rectangle of shade. The mornings were cold and all the kids wore knee socks with their Buster Browns. By mid-morning recess, it was scalding. The sand and concrete and sky all a blinding white. I would take refuge under the bridge where the foggy night and morning dew were still trapped in the sand.

Eventually, Zene and I both claimed the rectangle of shade under the bridge. Our mothers were friends and forced us together, and in what may have been our first parallel rebellion, we insisted on not liking each other. Then one scalding mid-morning recess, Zene and I locked eyes and wordlessly, surreptitiously unbuckled our shoes, peeled off our clam-y socks, and sunk our feet into the cool sand.

It was ecstasy. Childhood is composed of so many sensory memories, perhaps because children can be in the moment to a degree that is so hard for us as adults. Or maybe because childhood is full of first times. I remember my first giant, spiral lollipop, at a market in Mexico, it was larger than my face: the feeling of a burning wish fulfilled. Or the first time riding a bike, the first nightmare, the first fancy dress, the first time you write your name in cursive.

Our ecstasy was extremely short lived. The teachers spotted us in moments and we were in trouble. It was strictly forbidden to take your shoes off in the sandbox, probably for a good reason, like broken glass. We duly bowed our heads as we received our punishment: the rest of recess inside the classroom, playing with Lincoln Logs. But we were smiling. The moment of cool, of exquisite relief, Lincoln Logs were a small price for joy.

And that has been our friendship: the pursuit of beauty, exquisite moments, joy. Even if it meant breaking the rules. In high school, while other girls were ditching class to go home and drink Kahlua and watch soap operas, we ditched on the days that were too beautiful to sit inside all day. We were in Carmel, CA. The beauty on a clear, warm day was almost laughable, absurdly, impossibly gorgeous. To the south, rolling green hills dotted with Oak trees, to the west, the glittering, sapphire blue Pacific Ocean. It was impossible for us not to go be in the day, just as impossible as keeping our socks on in kindergarten.

So we ditched. And we buried our feet in the sand again, and felt the sun relaxing every muscle, browning Zene and freckling me. We studied the horizons of our childhood. How the rocks at Point Lobos looked like a dragon laying his chin in the water. How the Pebble Beach Golf Course buildings, sand traps and trees composed to look like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. We walked and collected shells. We took long deep breaths and savored the beauty, we loved life. We took a break from the anxiety and horror of adolescence and high school and were free, like the kids we still in part were.

Now, Zene and I are thousands of miles apart. We no longer ditch to go to the beach, though if we were still there I am sure we would. We no longer dance together after school in the ballet studio for hours and hours a day. We no longer know every thing the other is thinking all day every day. We are still best friends. Every time we are together my heart fills with my oldest, longest sense of complicity, joy, mischievousness, connection, love, hope and beauty. With her I feel impervious to heart break. I feel safe.

Even at this distance, Zene fills every day with beauty, in memories of course, but in the physical as well, through the exquisite collection of aprons she has given me and my girls over the years. Every day I put one on and I think of her. Everyday she makes the moment more lovely and fun. Every day our friendship protects me: the humble apron, the full heart.

Crabby Pasta, Happy Bellies

photo, crab stencil graffiti found in Ithaca, NY

Craig has been traveling for work for several weeks at a time. He is doing awesome work and we are fairing well at home, but it is hard some of the time. Long nights, lots of chores, two kids, holidays: I miss my partner. I miss laughing together, holding hands, sharing the chores, and taking turns getting up in the night. And his cooking, I miss that too. Though when he is gone is practically the only time I get to practice my own dinners, to see what I have learned from all the time observing, freshen up my latent skills, try things.

I also like seeing what the girls need of me in Craig's absence.

Coral is as moody as anyone, but as with most children, her mood can be lifted in an instant. When she is crabby she asks Craig to "shake her crabs out." He lifts her and holds her upside down and shakes, as if she were a bushel of apples being emptied, and exclaims "look at all those crabs shaking out!" He makes the sound of hundreds of little crab legs scuttling across the floor and shouts out where they are going, "down the heater vent, out the front door, hiding under the chairs!" Soon, Coral's crabs and scowls are gone and we are all laughing. When Craig is gone and I ask her if she is feeling crabby, she shoots me a scowl-y smile and I do my best to hoist her up and shake the crabs out.

One night, when I was crabby, Craig shook my crabs out with this pasta. And in his absence, I managed to pull it off myself on a night that was grey, freezing cold and me and the girls were all feeling a little worn out and crabby. It is joyously good, the essence of sea in the economical amount of crab, the land in the pasta, and the sunshine in the scallions. Enjoy!

Crabby Pasta

As we live in Central New York state, it's a luxury to get frozen crab meat from a small company in Maine. No crabs in the lake here! If this dish was being made in California I'd substitute fresh, live Dungeness!

You will need:
A container of crab meat (look for a company harvesting crab sensibly ie, not trawling)

As many scallions as you like. Green part slivered, white parts quartered length-wise, then finely diced

1 garlic clove, smashed and chopped

3 anchovy filets. Rinse if using oil packed. Rinse and filet if using salt packed (better!)

An avocado quartered and sliced into 1/2" chunks

Fresh mint leaves (a light handful) slivered

Some parsley leaves

A lemon

Penne or other Italian dried pasta you love

To make:
Start a large pot of salted water to boil.

Pour a few glugs of olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, toss in the anchovies and mash with a fork until they've melted into the oil. Add a few grinds of black pepper. Remove pan from heat and turn the heat down to medium. Put the white parts of the scallions and the garlic clove into the anchovy oil and cook until just softened. Add the crab meat and stir to incorporate the other ingredients. Remove the skillet from heat.

By now the water should be boiling, add the pasta to the water and cook until just al dente. Using a spider, transfer the pasta to the pan with the crab/scallion mix. Add a couple ladles of the hot pasta water and mix with wooden spoons over medium-high heat until the liquid is almost all gone. Toss in the scallion greens, the avocado (save a few pieces to put on top) and the mint. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice and toss the pasta some more. Add the parsley leaves on to for a visual element and serve hot from the pan!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wood Roasted Chicken

We are having a manic depressive fall. One day is freezing with mean little pellets of ice flinging down from the sky. The next, it is sixty degrees and the confused insects, lethargic and sleepy, are droning through open doors. It provokes global warming conversation at every turn. And, the grill has still not fully gone into hibernation. The days however are short, so this is a mighty tasty, decadent but simple lunch for a late fall day. Put on your coat and break a baguette into chunks and sop this up outdoors, one more al dente (fresco) meal.

Remove and reserve the back bone from a whole chicken. Cut through breast cartilage to make two halves. Salt generously and put in fridge for a few hours (or overnight). light some hardwood charcoal in a grill. Douse chicken halves with olive oil, salt and pepper and rub into the skin. Roughly chop some garlic. In the pan, under each half of bird place some garlic along with some sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme and savory. Put a whole head of garlic in the pan. Squeeze juice from a couple of lemons over and pour about 1/2 cup of white wine, or water, in the pan. When the coals are ready, put the pan on the grill and close the top of the grill. The temperature should be around 350-400. Roast, basting continually, till the chicken is nicely browned and the juices run clear, about an hour or so. Cut into pieces and serve! For the back, rub it with olive oil, salt and pepper. Put it directly on the grill while the rest of the chicken is cooking in the pan. Keep turning til it's crispy...chefs' treat! Or, if that is not your idea of a treat, save it for stock.

Having It All

photo by Coral
The idea of having it all infects our hopes and dreams, our doubts and fears, our books and movies and songs. Is it possible? "Of course!" we say on a good day. "Of course not!" we say on a hard day. This morning I was thinking about my friends who work, who have kids and homes and dishes and laundry, and still get out of the house every day and earn a living. The best I can approximate a work life is to write on the heavenly mornings both girls are in school. I consider it a major act of self care if I sit down to write instead of clean the house.
I saw a friend at the coffee shop the other morning getting her latte before work. Me, seeing her looking sharp and professional for work, she looked like she had it all. Her, seeing me, writing, she looked at me and thought I had it all. Within a minute she said she hungered for an unscheduled moment to walk, breathe, write. I said in the following minute I craved the structure and sense of accomplishment that comes from meaningful work, outside the home. And then we just cracked up. We are struggling to balance the range of our dreams, goals, expectations. Our children, our marriages, our waistlines. And the feeling of always having something that is not getting done, something important that is being left out, is persistent. This morning I left the dishes undone, packed my computer and headed back to the coffee shop after dropping everyone off at school. Leaving the dishes in the sink is as profound a symbol as I know for putting myself first. And that got me thinking, maybe having it all is about putting your self first often enough.
Maybe having it all is not the clean house, the brushed hair, the book deal, the kids with no boogers on their faces, the great job, the thriving marriage. Maybe having it all is having enough of any one of those things, one at a time. In the spirit of "be here now" how many things can be perfect all at once anyway?
Leaving the dishes in the sink is hard for me. I do not suffer from OCD, I swear. But what that says to me is, I think my time, me, is less important than a clean house. What if I say, no, I am more important than a clean house? That sounds fairly obvious, so why is it hard to remember, why is that hard to feel?
Here is my radical redefinition of having it all, as of today: putting myself first often enough, in ways and places that mean the most to me. That will be work, but I know one thing for sure, it will be rewarding, is rewarding, and that sink full of dishes can wait.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chanterelle Moment

The post man knocked today and handed over a large but very light box, marked Albion, CA. A box from Grandma Lola! The girls and I opened it and instead of sparkly bracelets and fabulous socks, there were bags and bags of gorgeous, golden Chanterelles! Now, that is a present. The best kind of present in the world is something you cannot provide for yourself. And this one, an epic, earthy and unexpected surprise. Sent from the forest floor in California, arriving in our cozy living room, the two or three pounds of Chanterelles made me feel suddenly rich. Wild harvested mushrooms are a distinct wealth; they are rare, they require knowledge, and they are fleeting. Plans for the day were scrapped as I set out to preserve the bounty. I adapted a recipe for Duxelle from Well Preserved by Eugenia Bone. And we saved a bowlful for supper. Coral was a quick study in mushroom chopping, being as she is at the age of always wanting a job.
Grandma Lola sent this recipe:
"I saute them in olive oil. Slice, saute until golden, add garlic, saute all until toasty. Put aside. You have boiled several potatoes for a few minutes, then chunk or slice and brown the potatoes. Combine when the potatoes are as brown as you like...get ready for delicious! Marvelous with any meat, we love buffalo."
I served it with Bison Meatloaf and the girls ate voraciously. I told them it was fairy food from the forest floor foraged by Grandma Lola, and that might have piqued their enthusiasm. The best part of that explanation? It was true! And it was indeed, delicious.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Raw Tomato Sauce

I am a cook who likes ease, Craig likes challenge. My imagination tends to stop at the point where I think I have a well balanced meal, a pleasing combination of flavors, textures and colors. Craig is always questing, always digger deeper into his experience to improve and invent. Pasta is a success to me if I have the noodles just the right texture and it is not too salty. Pasta is a success to Craig if he knocks your socks off and elevates his fellow diners to speechless bliss. For example, last night was squid ink pasta with crab meat, lobster mushrooms, bottarga and chives. His cooking is about respecting the ingredients but boldly combining so that each takes on a dimension, a presence it would not have on its own. I am more about letting each ingredient fully be itself. Like the tomato and blue cheese salad from around this time last year, that combination is about the tomato really shining.
There is one pasta where our cooking styles meet, and that is in Raw Tomato Sauce. This is a sauce for now, right this minute. I feel a striking of relief when Craig makes this pasta. It is relieving to have a few things to learn from him that I can easily do, not so much because they are easy but because they relate to my cooking style.
Also, it is relaxing to eat a meal that is simple because there is little demand to appreciate the labor that went into it. Sometimes it is good to let a tomato be a tomato, to let dinner just be dinner. And, there is often a big clean up with an ambitious meal. This meal has a simple clean up, leaving more time to enjoy the falling golden light of these early evenings.

Take freshest possible raw tomatoes. Either paste tomatoes or giant, watery heirlooms. Aroma and texture are key.
Slice them in half and squeeze the seeds out.
Grate on a box grater into a big bowl. Discard skins.
If you are using tomatoes with a lot of water, grate into a bowl and then strain some of the water off. (The tomato water is very yummy as a beverage. We added a little salt, pepper, chiso and shochu for a cocktail.)
Mince or paste garlic to taste. Careful not to overpower the tomato.
Sea salt and pepper to taste.
Your very best olive oil to taste. I had wished for a super fresh extra virgin olive oil, the kind that is so peppery as to be spicy.
Let that sit while you cook your pasta.
Toss and sprinkle with minced basil or other herb and Parmesan.
Variations we've added so far include anchovies and lemon zest.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 10, 2001

Dear Friends,
On this evening, incomprehensibly 10 years since September 11th, I wrote this essay of my own experience, and wanted to share it.
With love,

On September 10, 2001, I rushed home to watch the lightening storm that was collecting in the sky as the evening turned to night. My apartment at 100 Beekman Street was shared by a friend who inherited the very, very rent stabilized two bedroom from his great aunt. It was an awful yet wonderful, musty apartment with terrible furniture and truly great art. And, it had a tiny balcony, barely larger than a yoga mat, with a very high fence around it, which was appropriate given that we were eighteen floors up. Eighteen floors. The fact that it was on the eighteenth floor had given me a feeling of destiny when through a friend I reconnected with an old friend and sublet the apartment, eighteen had always, since early childhood baseball jerseys, been a favorite number.

Leaving work just after five on September 10, I could feel that it was going to be one of the marvelous nights of an electrical storm with lots of lightening. This was a high point of the apartment: our tiny balcony looked out over the World Trade Center buildings, and in electrical storms, when the sky filled with lightening, it was a miracle, a wondrous beauty like the pyramids or the Grand Canyon, to watch all the lightening in the sky collect and travel in unison towards the lightening rod in the South Tower.

I knew exactly the timing, watching the sky go grey and slowly acquire the pregnant green of a real rain storm, I had about 45 minutes from when I stepped of the train til when the lightening storm would start. I ran home. Giant golden and red heirloom tomatoes from the Saturday Union Square Market sat in a bowl. Also, a half bottle of the most expensive wine I had ever to that point bought myself. It was not the very cute, persuasive young man at Battali’s Italian Wine Merchant that had sold me, but the finely detailed lithograph of a bird on a branch. I thought I might save it for fifteen years, but as I bustled to get my pasta cooked and tossed it with basil, Parmesan and the tomatoes, I looked at that bottle and had a full feeling of carpe diem and decided to open it for the show tonight, the storm.

That is my first inkling of some deep and wide intuition about the night, the day we were to face the next morning by nine a.m. That sort of spontaneity and indulgence is unusual in me, I am a more fraught and doubtful personality. To open, on what seemed like a whim, this bottle, made sense only in retrospect. My one fine wine glass, my favorite bowl, my own self, alone, set up dinner on the balcony and in thirty seconds from sitting, a warm wind blew up and signaled the start of the storm. Moments later, the first currents of blue-white lightening cracked the sky and met, in a handshake of sorts, the long spire of the South Tower's lightening rod.

I twirled my pasta and sipped this majestic wine. The taste was so thorough, so elegant and demanding it made me sit up straighter in my chair, it narrowed and focused my thoughts, it punctuated my sense of gratitude and beauty for this moment. A moment at once ordinary: a storm in a city; and yet utterly extraordinary: a storm in a city, watched from an 18th floor balcony, watching the lightening collect in the giant, elegant structures of the World Trade Center.

Craig had long ago started calling Serena, my sister, and I the Twin Towers. Two tall, slender girls always downtown, always side by side, always walking along, heading south, the buildings just over our shoulders, guiding us and orienting us to South as we learned the city together. As we learned the city, but more, as we fell in love with the city. And I do. I love New York City. I love it as I love my very best friends I have grown up with. I know what neighborhoods to go to for comfort the way I know what friend to call when I need to cry and be listened to. I know where to go when I need challenge and exalted inspiration. I know what streets to avoid on garbage night in the summer. I know New York City, and I love it.

September 10th would have been a night I looked back on even if September 11th had never occurred. Even if the towers were still standing. Even if I had not seen, the very next morning, people jumping from so many floors up, taking some sense of emotional and physical control for the end of their lives. Even if my apartment had not filled wit h dust, if the smell of the burning towers for months afterward had not burned itself in my mind and memory forever, I would still hold September 10 dear to my heart. It was a perfect night. It was like the first kiss in a date with the man who becomes your husband, it was a moment crystallized because it was perfect, and provoked because of all that followed.

The lightening filled the sky on September 10th. My favorite part, the part I hoped for as I rushed home to watch storms in the four years I live on Beekman Street, was when the sky filled with lightening bolts and they all collected on the spire of the South Tower, like a scene in an ancient King Kong or Godzilla movie. And on this night, at several points, the lightening radiated into the spire like spines on a fan, coming from points so far that they arrived to the spire in a horizontal line, flat against the horizon.

The wind was warm and in the rough, chaotic clash of the city, the air was like a balm and the world felt like a gentle and sensuous place. The wine slid down my throat and radiated and bloomed in flavor and warmth, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. Content in my solitude. My simple end of summer meal tasting of earth and season. My strange, excellent home suspended in the sky. And nature, nature in the form of this storm, commingling with the nature of man’s need and ability to conquer the elements, to conquer, with sky scrapers, the sky itself.

The rain thundered down. The sound of tires on wet road filled the air with splashing white noise. The sky filled with fingers of light, all pointing to the Towers. The Towers speckled with lights on and lights off. I wondered who was there, working late, I peered into windows nearer, people eating, children playing, lots of flickering blue TV light.

Alone and in love with the city, the moment, and these beautiful towers I had come to regard as companions, I wondered who else was out there, watching them, enraptured by this beautiful storm, as I was so fully in that moment. I wondered then who else was filled with a beauty that verged on weeping and closed my eyes and sent out a silent kiss, a feeling of great love extended from my chest and emanated like wave, out into the unknown, to be received by anyone who was there in that moment, feeling awe, struck by the beauty.

I think of my unknown friends who watched that beautiful storm that night, watching the storm come and go, watching the bright stars pierce the sky as the thick and heaving rain clouds broke up and were swept by the warm wind out of the sky and on to their next stopping point.

In a way I think I stopped there, thinking of the buildings themselves, during that sensual, spectacular storm. To think of the people, the families, the extent of the individual loss, and the cultural loss of innocence in the violence of the fall of the Towers, that is a wretched heartbreak. These ten years I have contemplated every level of the loss, read essays, watched films, and contemplated and talked. But I always, as perhaps is human, come back to myself. My own ache, my own shock at seeing the buildings, the actual structures, fall, in real time, from my office windows, and think, those Twin Towers, those beautiful girls, they cannot be gone. They cannot be gone. I loved them too much for them to be gone. And yet, I watched them fall, with my own eyes. I watched them fall and realized that I had left my windows open that warm September morning. And I wondered. I wondered if my windows would still be in place, what was happening to all the surrounding buildings in the dense knot of downtown. I wondered what it would smell like, how hard would it be to clean, when I got home.

My wine glass was there, the tiny pool of liquid collected at the belly button over the stem, coated with dust. The memory of the night, I rushed to collect it, to maintain it, I sniffed the glass, the wine that was left and begged to be reminded of the perfect innocent evening, of the Towers standing, of the awesome storm, of the bright stars in the black sky beaming, revealed from behind the clouds as they swept away on the warm September wind.

I washed my glass. I placed it in the dish rack. I got out the vacuum cleaner. I surveyed the half inch of dust over everything: the awful yellow velour couch, the wooden frames on the paintings, the degrading linoleum floor. My mind went to the bright, beaming starts, piercing the sky twelve hours before. The people jumping from the towers, the crushed cars lining Beekman, Fulton, Gold and Pearl Streets. This was my home. I started cleaning up, but it was the stars, the lightening and the storm that I held in my hand with the comfort of a child’s hand in a parents. Ten years later that is still where my mind goes when I think of September 11. An ordinary night became a talisman for the beauty that sustains through the longest of griefs.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


All in a Day
Sunday, September 4th
Sliced, cold smoked, panko fried eggplant.
Hard toasted bread with basil pesto, home dried tomatoes, parmesean.
Later, cold smoked, green zebra tomatoes, grated raw into a sauce, and a beverage.
Pear tart with blueberries, pears from our tall, skinny wild pear tree growing between the White Pines.

And then after the tart was assembled, there was Hanger Steak, and a sautee of mushrooms from the forest floor.

Ham and Butter Sandwich

If you are looking for an ultimately satisfying sandwich, as quickly as possible, to grab one more picnic from the ever shortening and cooling days of summer into fall, grab for one of these.

Shown here, Wide Awake Bakery wood fired oven bread,
Sliced, smoked pork of almost any texture: finely sliced deli ham, prosciutto. Shown here, Piggery Deli Ham.
Fresh Cream Butter

Slather butter as you would mayonnaisse, kind of a lot. Believe me, it's good that way. Also, sliced cornichons or other crisp, not too damp a pickle.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sun Salad

This salad was part of the July Feast and is a wonderful example of spontaneity and creativity with food. The guests were due at 5:00 and we had a great menu already planned. The first guests were our farmer friends from Red Tail Farm. They came laden with stew chickens for the chest freezer, already thinking of winter, and Sungold tomatoes from their hoop houses.
By the time I came up from putting the stew chicks away, Craig had this gorgeous, glorious creation on the table. If I am honest I will confess that my astonishment had a tinge of irritation. Looking at this platter of golden and purple, my jaw gaped and I felt awe co-mingle with a feeling of "What? Are you kidding me? He just whips that up?" But my joy coursed over and around this irritated awe, and I was simply amazed, again, by beauty.
Absolute, true creativity: a response to the environment, what is around, in reach, catching your eye, making sense to your unspoken, intuitive senses. This level of spontaneous creativity is where, I believe, you can see the amount of sheer time and work, the discipline that comes before the beauty. The work that is in fact what enables the beauty to ever come to be.
Enabling beauty to come to be. That makes work and passion and discipline sound pretty important.
Sungold Salad. And the blueberries are the sun spots!
Frame a plate with zucchini blossoms torn into wide pieces along petals. Edible Marigold petals would also look nice and have a similarly sweet, fleshy presence.
Halve the sungolds and toss with:
olive oil, lemon, tiny bit of white wine (Chardonnay) vinegar, salt, pepper, all to taste. Not too much dressing, just a sheen.
Add blueberries and lightly toss.
Add very thinly sliced basil, just a bit, and toss.
Mound, in a sun like fashion, into the center of plate, within blossoms.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A July Feast

A July feast. To celebrate: blueberries, birthdays, new albums, losing baby teeth, friendships, family.

Green Salad

a green salad

a cucumber peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1/2 pint fresh peas, shelled
fresh mint leaves slivered
parsley leaves roughly chopped
a fresh shallot finely diced
a fennel bulb (or two depending on size) sliced thinly across the bulb. as well chop a bit of the fennel greens as well.
salt/pepper/lemon juice/red wine vinegar/olive oil
an avocado sliced

make a dressing by letting the shallots, lemon juice, red wine vinegar (i do roughly 1-2 lemon juice to vinegar…sometimes 1-1. depends on taste), salt and pepper in a bowl or cup. after the shallots have macerated for about 10 minutes add olive oil, stir to combine. adjust seasoning if needed.

in a mixing bowl combine all (except the avocado) the other ingredients and the dressing. gently mix with your hands. plate, arrange the avocado and serve.

Languid Rabbit

Languid Rabbit
About the only time a you will find a rabbit looking languid is when you are cooking one. Looking at this little wild creature on the grill I was surprised to notice how graceful the shape of the rabbit body was, what lovely lines to the arching back and tiny yet sumptuous, muscled legs. The famously frenetic animal suddenly looked so relaxed.
These bunnies are pretty wild. The couple that sells these rabbits at the market raises them in a fairly controlled yet natural bunny habitat: they forage for nearly all of their food. Of course we like the taste and idea of this production model, but it is was our older daughter who originally motivated us to eat more wild, or at least not completely un-wild, animal protein.
When Colby was about a year old and we were wide open to any ideas to help her intensely fragile, erratic neurology, I was talking with her acupuncturist. It was she who suggested wild animal protein, animals with real muscles who had roamed and foraged, on land or sea. It made intuitive sense to me when she said it, and then the evidence pored in when we gave Colby her first taste of red meat, very free range Bison. She was ravenous for it and slept solidly for the first time since her seizures started. She had more energy than ever the next day, despite the monster dose of anti-convulsants she was on.
We kept exploring: sardines, wild salmon, rabbit, duck, venison, anything we could find that was raised or grew in relative wildness. The question we asked in making choices was simple: does it, this animal, actually have muscles? And not just from standing. Has it had to run for its life, been rained on, felt the sunshine?
This lovely, languid bunny had certainly felt the sunshine. And in its honor we sat in the sunlight outside, on the grass, feeling half wild ourselves. Colby tore into the sinuous protein with gusto, and slept well that night.
To make:
Line the bottom of a skillet or roasting pan with pancetta (or smoky bacon) sliced about 1'16" thick. Rinse, pat dry a large rabbit (3-4lbs) and put in pan on top of pork. Massage the rabbit with olive oil. Salt liberally. Crack black pepper all over inside and out. Stuff fresh rosemary, thyme, savory and a sprig of oregano in the cavity. Roughly chop 5 cloves of garlic and toss around the rabbit and in the cavity. Throw in a handful or two of green, briny olives. Add some duck fat (if you like) and a generous splash of dry white wine. You may also put a whole head of garlic to roast at the same time, if you like.

Get a roaring wood fire (hardwood, hardwood charcoal or a combination) going in a grill with a top, like a Stoke or Weber. When the fire is about 400 degrees put the pan (open) on the grill and close the top. Periodically baste the beast. Turn it over in the pan every 20 minutes or so. Depending on the size of the rabbit, it should take an hour or so. Don't let it get overcooked. You can also take the rabbit out of the pan before it is too cooked and finish it directly on the grill for a variation.

Serve with green beans and potatoes (tossed in olive oil and lemon juice) with the pan juices and olives. Spread the soft, roasted garlic on country bread.

Fried Young Artichoke Hearts

Thanks to the curiosity and intelligence of a few local farmers, we have a brief season to tiny artichokes. These are not the huge dinosaur artichokes of my childhood, the ones my parents would surreptitiously pick from the fields along the coast between Moss Landing and Monterey. The prickly, ancient plant spread for as far as the eye could see, hearty in the cold fog and craggy, sandy soil, from the valley floor to the sand dune edge of the bay.
Those were the artichokes you could steam and sit down with, taking an hour to methodically peel and dip in dad's homemade aioli. All but the largest outside leaves had a tiny meaty bump of buttery flesh to scrape savoring-ly between your front teeth. As you got closer to the sacred heart, the meaty bumps got bigger, until finally the softest inner leaves you could eat all but the thorny tip.
Not so these Finger Lakes artichokes, annual output about 100 pounds. These leaves are scrappy and wooden, their sole job seeming to be protecting the tiny heart. Climate, leaves and size all being so different, it is astonishing and beautiful to find that the heart is exactly the same. Well it is also smaller, but the taste, that buttery, incomparable flavor that sits on your breath for several long minutes, is the same and transports me utterly to being a girl, around the table, with my artichoke, the ultimate finger food, lost in thoughts of dinosaurs and how they must have eaten artichokes too.
At the table as a child, we scraped away the choke, the furry part, with tiny silver spoons and then dipped our large disc of heart into the aioli. All these food memories played through my mind as I watched Craig clean, batter and fry our tiny artichoke hearts. He used egg, flour then Panko as the dredge. All else is your typical fry process. Those are a few fried sage leaves on the platter in the top picture, a very nice flavor combination, and another sensory reminder of life on the Central California Coast.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

On the Seventh Day, Tortillas

And on the seventh day of Grandma Vi's Festival of Feasts, Auntie Maria made tortillas. I would like to say it was inspiring to watch her make tortillas and that I learned so much, but the truth is I saw only that I have about one thousand hours of practice ahead of me. In a choice between practicing for Carnegie Hall and practicing for a beautiful tortilla, I will most likely choose the tortilla. Like all insanely skilled people, Maria made it look so easy, seriously deceptively easy. Her directions were literally this:
Put some flour in a bowl.
Add some lard
Put a small palm full of baking soda
And a little salt
Combine much, exactly? To which she said, "Oh you know, you can just tell. If you need flour, add flour. Fat, add fat." So off we went. She made this stack of 25 tortillas in 15 minutes. Start, to finish. And did you know tortillas have a top and a bottom? All my life, I never knew that. Good luck. I know I'll need it.

Entertaining Time Warp

It proves what loving and lovely readers and friends I have when a long, very long, pause in posts inspires concern about what might be going on with the family and are we all alright. We are. There was a rough patch of seizures during a serious heatwave that had Colby seizing for about two weeks solid. But then the heat lifted and she went back to school and camp and it has been fun ever since. So where has the time gone? To entertaining. I can count on one hand the number of nights it has just been the four of us around the table, since June. It has been one raucous, colossal love fest of family, family, and friends. We are so lucky, and so loved. And have had a lot of feasts (and dishes, and laundry) to show for it. Here comes the photographic evidence. Exhibit one, July 1st: Night One of Grandma Vi's Ten Night Feast, in honor of her 80th birthday. Glory be to our elders.

Eating Al Dente, I Mean Fresco

A fellow writer friend and I were talking about all the "mommy blogs" with their endless talk of being tired, brain dead, feeling fat, blah blah blah. We like to think we write about more interesting things than how tired we are, or how our clothes are always covered with other peoples food and snot. But, I fear, I am guilty on all fronts of dull complaining.
And we find, of course, each others' tales of sagging boobs and misspoken words absolutely, truly hilarious. Like this one: our first night eating outside (back in June), I give a deep exhale and announce, "How glorious it is to finally be eating al dente." Long pause...Craig and babysitter looking at me a little sideways...did that sound right? "I mean, al fresco."
I suppose the infinite supply of writing about all the ways our lives and ourselves change with motherhood speaks to the universality of the experience. Another universal: the sublime feeling of elegance in setting a table with a tablecloth, getting out some silver, and eating outside, under the trees.
So, to eating al dente, or what ever word comes to mind when you are deeply enjoying the moment.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Quesadilla Mom Dinner

When Craig is gone dinners with Mom are down and dirty. Quesadillas are a favorite because they are soul food for me, and because they are fast and creative. They are also very good vehicles for protein. Colby's neurology thrives on high quality, grass fed protein, and it has taught me to consider my own need for it, how my mood and energy are more stable when I get good quality proteins versus refined carbs. And now, in the glorious summer, we eat outside and let the melted cheese and creme freche melt down our chins and onto the grass.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Getting Stuck and Bread Crumb Pasta

I have been colossally stuck with writing, the deadly combination of feeling depressed and having very real, massive pressures on my time led to no writing, none, for nearly a month. It is a well worn story, the cumulative effect of not doing what you need to do and that compounding to make you feel worse and worse. Every day you don't go to the gym makes it easier to skip it the next day. I was moping and thinking about this and mentally kicking myself for not making the time, when Craig opened a package of rotten chicken. Finally, something more foul than my mood.
Craig went into an instantaneous brainstorm, what else to make? As I watched him I had a small, eventual epiphany on how having to get something done is often the only reason anything does get done. Opening a spoiled package of chicken at six p.m. on Saturday evening, two hungry kids licking at his ankles, zero takeout options, is dealt with immediately and creatively because it has to be. Kids need dinner, especially after the day they'd had: they had walked a full mile and a half hike on their own two feet. No strollers. No piggy backs or "uppy" carrying. They had done it, one foot in front of the other.
And, that morning at the market, Maryrose nicely but firmly nudged me for having slacked on writing the blog. Maryrose is someone I deeply admire. Her lamb, which I have written about frequently, and cheese, and sheepskins, are the fruits of very hard, intelligent work. And you should see her gorgeous biceps.
As I watched Craig whip up an anchovy and bread crumb pasta, I felt my mopey, myopic self loathing shift. I realized I had been focusing my admonishments on not writing anything to post, but my real problem was that I simply had not been writing. I had jumped ahead to feeling like a loser for not putting anything out there. But what had I given myself? What time had I given, what respect for my work had I given myself? The problem was not a gap in posting to the blog, the problem was the inattentiveness to myslef. It was like putting the kids to bed with no dinner. Sorry, the chicken was rotten, too bad, see you at breakfast! No, you have to give attention to what needs it. Even if the chicken is rotten you have to make dinner. Even if I don't have any ideas to post, I still have to write, because if I don't I am awful and cranky, like a toddler in need of dinner. Get it done because you have to. Get it done so your mood does not reek like rotten chicken. Get it done because someone actually wants to read it.
In fifteen minutes Craig had this meal ready. We sat around the table and slurped it up, greasy chins, our bodies slowly easing, nourished and loved.

Craig was buying pasta at Murray's, years ago now, when he ran into his friend Ignacio Mattos. They were talking about what they were up to, what they were cooking, new music they’d found, when Ignacio related his favorite fast pasta: pasta, bread crumbs, anchovies and chili flakes. It has been a staple ever since. Especially in emergency moments such as this rotten chicken evening.

Even if you think you don't like anchovies, try this out. When used in cooking, and not eaten directly, say off a pizza, they become a wonderful salty essence. Not "fishy," just a really nice saltiness. Chances are if you were once revolted by an anchovy it was oil packed, packed in not so great quality oil. Anchovies packed in salt or high quality olive oil are distinctly better tasting, and have a better texture.

what you will need:
spagetti or fettuchine
anchovies to taste. i prefer salted. a small can of olive oil packed filets will work.
some garlic, minced
the green part of 4 or 5 scallions slivered or some chives (and their flowers) finely diced.
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
bread crumbs

heat a large pot of water.

in a large skillet splash some olive oil and over low heat soften the garlic. add a some black pepper to taste. add the anchovies and smash with a fork until they dissolve into the oil. red pepper is nice, if you prefer a bit more kick. toss in the scallions or chives and remove from heat.

when the water is boiling, cook your pasta of choice until barely al dente (it should have a bit of a snap when you bit into it) then, using tongs, put the pasta in the skillet with anchovy oil mixture.
put the skillet back on medium-high heat. add about a ladle of the hot pasta water. toss the pasta and the sauce until the liquid is about gone. remove from heat and add bread crumbs. mix and serve!

variations…try adding the white part of the scallions along with the garlic. parsley if you like at the end.

for the bread crumbs:
save all your bit and pieces of bread in a paper bag. when you need bread crumbs, grab a hunk of the dried bread and grate on a box grater into a large bowl. add salt and pepper to taste and put in a cast iron skillet on low heat. stir periodically with a wooden spoon so the crumbs don't burn. when they are nice and toasty put in a bowl until you need 'em.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Double Stove In Action

Craig's "Can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need," double stove situation is working out. It is effective to have both gas and electric, depending on what you are cooking. The gas is much hotter and faster when you need that: stove top espresso maker, sauteing greens, boiling water. And the electric is good for slow and steady: stock, frying eggs, warming tortillas, certain meats. On simpler dinner days, or when when only the electric is needed, a huge wooden cutting board over the gas stove top adds much needed counter space.
This summer we might actually get to do a little work on the kitchen. It is rudimentary but effective now. It will never be slick cabinets and marble counters, it will always be open wine crates for cups and glasses, open shelves stuffed with baskets of spices, eggs, bread. But, it could look a little less like a make shift mess kitchen at camp. The ability to cook in any situation is one of the signs of a good, determined cook, like being able to cook a meal when it seems there is absolutely nothing in the house.
What we need to address are simple, affordable changes to reduce the frustration of a place lacking work flow. And I wouldn't mind at all if it was a little more rewarding to clean. Right now the flooring is a strange white underflooring that was under the ancient, decaying, gold flecked linoleum that Craig tore out one day when it just became to ugly to bear. No matter how much work goes into the white mystery material floor, it never looks clean. It is very unsatisfying to have so little gratification for labor.
So, little kitchen, this summer we want to give you some love and attention. We all want it, and need it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Duck Confit And Lettuce

If there is one truly instant dinner we make, it is anything involving duck confit. I want to say duck confit is fast food, but the truth is it is very slow food that can then be stored, and when you are ready to feast, it is instantly ready to satisfy. It is a cooked duck leg packed in its own rendered, pearl colored fat. Pre-refrigeration meat storage techniques.
When I was pregnant with Colby, Craig's food craving was duck. Mine was lemon gelato. He cooked duck, mostly duck confit, so often that our small apartment acquired a permanent, not altogether bad, crispy duck smell. At some point when I started to feel a little tired of it, Craig told me that duck fat was high in omegas, which I needed for my growing baby. This did not explain why he was craving it and I was not, but I went with it. Sure enough, when Colby was born she had the most luxuriant, thick black hair, and gorgeous, plump cheeks. Her first nick name was, "The Baby That Duck Fat Built." Kind of a long nick name, but what does a new parent have to do but whisper and coo terms of endearment?
So now we are the family that duck fat built. We love it. And used in moderation it does not break the bank, despite its fancy restaurant associations. It is a simple, delicious, good for you meat that has been a staple probably since our hairier ancestors discovered fire.
Some tips:
For this dinner, put the confit in a pan on a low heat. The fat slowly turns clear, glistening and sizzling. After a few minutes the confit will warm through and fall off the bone. Take this out of the pan and slice the meat completely off the bone and lay it over the lettuce. Dress with simple vinaigrette immediately before serving.
The lettuce pictured here is a sturdy selection of small greens the local grower calls "confetti." The name matches the feelings of those who eat it I think, the celebratory feeling of lettuce season arriving makes me want to have a confetti parade.
When you make this with a lettuce that has strength and structure, like a butter lettuce, escarole, or even a young chicory, you can pour some of the fat off the pan onto the lettuce to wilt it slightly, then splash a little vinegar and salt and pepper and eat immediately.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spring Pesto

How gorgeous is this. We had it on lamb chops the first evening. Mixed into scrambled eggs in the morning. Over pasta the second evening, pictured here. And slathered on fresh bread the next morning. Pesto is surprisingly good with a cup of black coffee for breakfast. But that might just mean it is always good, on everything, morning, noon and night. We need to make another batch.

chives (and their flowers) or young garlic greens finely slivered (you can add some minced young garlic bulb too!)
orange mint finely minced
orange thyme leaves
parsley finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
bit of lemon zest and a squeeze or two of lemon juice
a salted anchovy fillet chopped into paste, if you like
olive oil

the proportions are to taste. mix all with enough olive oil to make a good paste. eat it on everything!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fried Sardine Birthday Dinner

Sweet, sweet birthdays. Even if I am not always excited about the age I am turning, which happens sometimes, I am always excited to have a birthday party. I may love throwing birthdays for other people even more than having my own. Each of the girls' first birthdays had about as much planning as a royal wedding. No detail is too small to mull and consider.
My favorite parties are the ones I've thrown with my sister. We can obsess over everything with both seriousness and enthusiasm. What paper flower garlands to get from the forty or so choices lining the wall at Pearl River in Chinatown, we can discuss the merits and pros and cons of each for hours. There is fun in the details: for the party planner the party lasts days, weeks.
Serena is also really good at sorting out what kind of cake suits the birthday person, the season, the location. She can also figure out how to make anything, which continues to impress me. As the recipient of her thoughtful, beautifully decorated cakes, you feel the world stop for a moment, and smile upon you.
Then there are presents. Over time one of our favorite gifts to give and receive is a special meal. One of the last we shared with my mom and sister was Serena's birthday, she wanted fried chicken, and she got it. This year for Craig's birthday, he wanted sardines, fried sardines. He wanted to make them, so one of my quiet presents to him was to not complain, not one utterance, about the smell.
Craig wanted a quiet dinner this year, and respecting the wishes of the birthday person a critical point in being a good party participant. But, I did wish for more family at the table that night, mom and Serena among them. I wished there were a few more people to enjoy this fresh, rich, tiny fried fish. I wanted more people besides spoiled me and our spoiled girls to savor and celebrate the beauty Craig's life brings ours, everyday.

Mayo for fried sardines

Finely chop some fresh chives w/flowers. Finely chop about a tablespoon of rinsed, salt packed capers. Finely mince a tiny bit of fresh fennel fronds. Add all to a small bowl of mayonnaise. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and mix.

Fried Sardines

Clean and fillet some sardines. Lightly salt the fillets and let rest. Add a dash of salt, some ground black pepper and some finely minced fresh rosemary to a bowl of corn meal or flour. Mix, then dredge the sardines. Shake off excess. Fry in a mix of olive oil and grape seed oil until golden and the skin begins to blister. Sprinkle a tiny bit of sea salt on top. Serve with mayo and more lemon juice, if you like.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Srping Lamb and Fiddleheads

Rack of lamb inspires in me a feeling of gratitude. Maybe because it is usually a special occasion meal, or maybe it is the fact of the bones. The little bones curving up, evidence that this was an alive animal, with a tender rib cage. Either way, this particular spring feast was just because. Just because it was a beautiful day, because Grandma was coming over for dinner, because Donn and Maryrose of Northland Sheep Dairy have such exquisite lamb, and because there was another spring treat besides lamb: baby fiddlehead ferns.
Coral likes to hold her little bone and eat it like a lamb lolly pop. Before long, the girls have fat shining off their chins. Such a little bit of meat, each rib just a few mouth fulls, but it satisfies deeply. The layer of fat, the sweet aroma of grassfed animal protein, it is so nourishing that a little goes a long way. One rack is enough for the five of us.
Greasy fingered and smiling, the talk at the table is of summer. All our plans, our hopes, all the things we are looking forward to. We grip our wine glasses and toast again and again to all that we have recently accomplished. To Colby getting over pneumonia. To Coral learning to pump her legs on the swing. To Craig home from another trip. To Grandma soon to celebrate her 80th. To me, to me for not folding the clothes when I could write, and writing. And another toast, just because, we are so happy at this table together, and we are so grateful for the love and for the joy.

Rack of Lamb:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Take the lamb out of the fridge a few hours before cooking. French the bones (if not done already) and score fat with a sharp knife. Rub salt and pepper into the lamb.
Finely dice a few ramp bulbs (or garlic), a few fresh mint leaves and some rosemary. Put into a mortar, add a tiny bit of sea salt and grind into a paste. Add a few salt packed anchovies (rinsed and filleted), some olive oil and continue blending. When done, rub the paste into the lamb.
Put the lamb into a large cast iron skillet or a roasting pan fatty side up and cook until nicely browned and the lamb is rare. about 25 minutes or so.

Fiddlehead and Ramp saute:
Clean a pint of fiddleheads. Trim off tougher ends. Blanch for about a minute or two then plunge into ice water. Drain and reserve. Clean some (to taste) ramps. Finely dice the white part. Cut the leaves cross ways into very fine ribbons. A handful of chives finely chopped.
In olive oil and a over low heat, cook the ramp whites until softened. Add a tiny bit of sea salt and black pepper. Turn up heat to medium, add fiddleheads and saute until just tender. Toss in shredded ramp greens. Remove from heat and add chives. Serve immediately.