Things I’m thinking about cooking & eating:

Tomato sauce: Anticipating our freezers in winter, Plastic Lam & I split a 20 pound crate of dry-farmed Early Girls. I made my sauce using Pim’s brilliant concept & it kicked ass! Now I’m thinking I shoulda got a whole crate for my own greedy self.

Salade Niçoise: Something got me thinking about Niçoise lately, I’m not sure what. Then I had a lunch date with Cooking Show & we went wandering down College Av. looking at menus, until we saw that Somerset had a lovely back patio & Niçoise on the menu. Perfect! ...we thought. The patio was wonderful, but the salad? I’m sorry, but I could do so much better. Sugary-sweet salad dressing? GONG! No green beans, when we are at the height of green bean season? GONG! The conspicuous absence of green beans was made more glaring by the presence of asparagus—where did it come from at this time of year?! The hard-boiled eggs had their yolks whipped (think deviled eggs), which felt like trying too hard. Seared fresh ahi, too, seemed like a nice idea on paper but on the plate also felt like trying too hard. Gimme a can! Cooking Show loved the fries that came with her steak sandwich, though. We agreed we would go back there just to eat fries on that nice patio. Meanwhile, I am determined to make my own Niçoise, one that’ll show Somerset’s salad what’s what.

Chocolate coconut tapioca pudding: I should probably spell this out more clearly. Tapioca pudding, made with coconut milk. Then color it chocolate. First encountered at Good Earth in Fairfax, with the following ingredients: coconut milk, chocolate, tapioca, maple syrup, vanilla, salt. Seems like it should be easy enough, right?

Apple pie: I think I mentioned this before. I even bought the apples last week in the midst of that oddly autumnal moment we had. Then the weather snapped back to the September that I know & love: scorching, brilliant blue skies—in short, weather for…


Or, a scoop of Earl Grey & a scoop of saffron orange blossom from Ici, floral & refreshing. Happy late summer, Bay Area!

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I’ve been so distracted—by various foods, effin Republicans, & little sewing projects—that I almost forgot to mention the Road Trip show at San Jose Museum of Art, on view now through 25 January 09. I’m tickled & humbled to have my Chinese restaurants included alongside some really great artists’ work. If you’re a museum member, maybe I’ll see you at the reception later in October.

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I dunno bout you, but I just don’t believe in the whole meal-planning concept where you set off to the grocery store to buy a half cup of peas, 3 medium-size bananas, 2 white onions & whatever else will fit exactly into the recipes you have painstakingly plotted out for exactly a week’s worth of meals. What about inspiration? What about improvisation? What about cooking according to what the produce gods & goddesses (I mean, the farmers) send you this week?

Broccoli, for instance, is something you can always get, pretty much anywhere in America, & for that I am eternally grateful (especially when I’m in Wyoming). But really exceptional organic broccoli—gorgeously green, so fresh it seems immortal, & bug-free—is a precious gift that only comes once in a while. I think it’s the bug-free part that makes it so rare. I don’t know why it’s so hard to grow unbuggy organic broc, but when the broccoli stars align, I pounce.

Here is Cruciferous Pasta, for just such an occasion, when you have broccoli to make you sing, & equally good, snowy, downy cauliflower.

(Sorry bout the unglamorous picture. I was hungry! That’s the edge of my pasta claw up there in the corner. The thing gets so much use, I should probably trade up for one that’s not plastic.)

a few young broccoli crowns
small to medium size head of cauliflower
very large shallot (or 3-4 small ones), chopped
small yellow onion, chopped
handful capers, chopped
handful pine nuts
small head of treviso, sliced crosswise into approx. half-inch strips
lots o’ olive oil & a little bit o’ butter
garnish: small dry-farmed early girl tomatoes, quartered & sliced, 1 per serving
lemon fettucine

Put the pasta water on to boil. Cut the broccoli crosswise (quarter-inch or thinner slices), starting at the bottom of the stalk & continuing up until the florets separate & fall into a heap. Break the cauliflower apart into trees or lollipops (pick your metaphor), then cut them into spears unless they are already fairly slim.

Heat olive oil & butter in a large pan, & add ingredients in the following order: onion & shallot, (pause), broccoli, (pause), cauliflower, (long pause), capers & treviso, (pause), pine nuts.

My pauses usually accommodate chopping the next ingredient, & I’m a fairly slow chopper. YMMV. All the while you are adding olive oil in generous amounts as needed & turning things so they cook evenly, like a very slow stirfry. Cook a good while, until treviso is dark, limp & nearly unrecognizable, broccoli begins to fall apart a bit, cauliflower turns translucent & shows browning on some of its flat surfaces, & the whole thing takes on a certain cohesive quality, having passed the stage of each ingredient remaining independent & discrete. At a late stage of this game you’ll drop your fresh pasta in the boiling water.

When pasta & stuff are both ready, add the pasta to the pan & mix it all together. Serve with tomatoes on top, & microplaned pecorino &/or toasted breadcrumbs.

But don’t go putting “broccoli” on your shopping list & thinking it means you’ll get this!

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Seduced by September…

I think I smell an apple pie in my near future. Could be as soon as next week.

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One of these things is not like the others, but sometimes I just gotta brag about my fabulous bro—how I love this little skirt!

Now back to our regular programming.

Blackberry nectarine plum pie, made with wild blackberries from the Eel River…

...& piecrust cookies, because I always have leftover pie dough (but of course, never enough to make a whole nother pie).

Spotted in Willits en route to the river:

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When is it a good idea to overdress your salad?

Answer: almost never. (If you want to skip the rant & cut to the exception, scroll down to the last paragraph.) Friends know that my already-opinionated tendencies get cranked up to 11 when it comes to the topic of dressing salad. To me, excess salad dressing speaks of an underlying contempt for the vegetables in the salad… & for all vegetables as a class. I’m not saying that every individual saladmaker who overdresses his salad holds vegetables in contempt; ignorance, inexperience or lack of attention are probably more often the true culprits. But even the most hapless newbie cook guessing wildly at how to dress a salad for the first time bases her guess on something, & this is where pernicious cultural tendencies come in to play.

I think we can agree that there is a strong meat & potatoes streak running through this country we call America, & many an American has been heard saying that they’d really rather not eat any veggies at all if they could help it. If they must, well, it’s better if they’re as un-veggie-like as possible: remember ketchup? (Okay, perhaps not the fairest example.) Add fat! Add protein! Add anything to mask, to distract from, to overwhelm the veggie nature of the veggies! How many times out there on the road have I ordered “salad” & ended up with a woeful handful of iceberg crushed under the weight of almost-solid dollops of thick dressing?


A good salad should be all about the vegetables. If you don’t like greens, go eat them fried in bacon fat or something; veggies shrink when they’re cooked, so you can get more of those annoyingly necessary vitamins in fewer bites. Also, a veggie that is not quite fresh enough to become (good) salad may often be very acceptable for (good) cooking; so then you should go ahead & cook the dang thing! (Don’t come crying to me that lettuce can’t be cooked. I’m Chinese.) All of this being the case, then, isn’t salad nothing more or less than a perfect opportunity to eat many, many wonderful mouthfuls of fresh raw veggies, thus prolonging & indulging the ecstatic enjoyment of same?

If so, why would you drown this good stuff in too much dressing? In a perfectly-dressed salad, the dressing should merely lubricate the lettuce. Visually it should appear not so much as a salad ingredient itself, but mainly as a shine on the surfaces of all the other ingredients. When you put lotion on your hands, do you leave drops & clumps of white opaque stuff visible all over your skin? I hope not. Use a small enough amount of dressing so that it barely films the leaves.

In order to accomplish this, you must be willing to toss your salad. I cannot emphasize this enough. Use a large bowl so that you have room to turn your salad over without dropping half of it outside the bowl. Put all your lettuce & stuff in this large bowl, then take a wee tiny bit of dressing & pour it over the top. It will look like it can’t possibly be enough. Have faith! Start lifting up big batches of salad from the sides of the bowl, dropping them in the middle. Pull salad from the bottom & put it on top. Move more-dressed stuff into contact with undressed stuff. The more lightly you want to dress your salad, the more tossing you have to do. It will be worth it. When the dressing is no longer discernable as a separate thing, & all parts of the salad are subtly glistening, you’re done.

Eat your salad!

If you get to the bottom of the salad bowl & there is a puddle of dressing there, you used too much dressing.

Except. There is always an exception, right?

Except when it’s high tomato season & there are dry-farmed Early Girls from Dirty Girl. Then, then you make yourself a salad that is mostly tomatoes (hold each tomato over the bowl as you cut it into chunks, so as to catch every drop of juice), a little bit o’ lettuce, a little bit o’ basil, & you pour on just a little too much dressing (olive oil, balsamic, salt & pepper). Why? Because as you eat your salad, the tomatoes will juice themselves all into the bottom of the bowl, & when you get down there, you will find the most divine puddle of tomato juice, seasoned with that bit of extra dressing, & you can plop a piece of sourdough toast in it & go swooning off to heaven. That’s why.

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