Happy Year of the Tiger!


I got shut out of this show for dragging my feet on the buying of tickets, but that’s ok cause a week later they played for free(!), outside(!) at Cal & I didn’t have to cross any big water for that.

Eating: brown rice, pinto beans (from a can, even), the first Hass avocado, Bariani olive oil, Maldon salt. Feels like cheating: you aren’t really cooking but it tastes so good, you can’t imagine eating anything better. Unless you’re steaming Dungeness, which also doesn’t feel like cooking. Ditto the first artichokes (boiled) & the first asparagus (roasted). I like this theme.

Rearranging: furniture. (Lest you think I’ve gone all lazy, with those non-cooking meals & all.)

Smelling: plum blossoms!

Gazing in wonder: the tulip magnolias are stunning right now. No picture can do justice. Go out & look, if you haven’t already.

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Thinking & writing: about how that last decade kicked my fucking ass, but I did some kicking right back too

Eating: Taco Grill’s pozole de pollo (thank you, Peggy)

Re-reading after many years: Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, Mitchell translation (thank you, Shahara)

Drinking: sencha (thank you, Birgit)

Knitting: wristwarmers that match the sencha

Listening: Furthur (thank you, Bobby & Phil)

Swimming: as always

Trying: not to get sick

Happy New Year, blog readers!

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Decadently preparing for winter. The salad spinner is finally getting less use than the Le Creuset baking dish & Dutch oven. No, this is not an ad for Le Creuset, but I’m really not sure what I would be doing if mom-in-law hadn’t handed these two crucial items down to us, years ago.

First there was tomato sauce:

I got 3 batches out of a 20 lb. crate of dry-farmed Early Girls. YTMV. (Your tomatoes may vary.) Hint: unless you want to have All Tomatoes All the Time for 2 days, spring for the grade A instead of the grade B tomatoes, which have bright red voices made especially for screaming, “WE’RE GONNA SPOIL & ROT & MOLD ANY SECOND SO YOU BETTER DO SOMETHING NOW!” I’ve learned my lesson & next year I’ll be listening to the cheerful voices of the A tomatoes murmuring “no problem, take your time, we’ll be fine all week.”

So. Wash, trim & halve those loud, loud tomatoes. Put them cut side up in the aforementioned Le Creuset 9×12 baking dish. Layer them on top of each other until the baking dish is almost full, with a bit of room at the top for bubbling liquid.

Sprinkle on top: minced garlic & capers, salt, pepper, & a generous back & forth of olive oil.

Roast in 325-350 degree oven for at least an hour. Say an hour & 15 minutes. When you take it out of the oven, there will be tons of liquid in there. Take a big spoon & press the tomatoes down so that relatively clear liquid spills into the spoon, & transfer as much liquid as you can into the aforementioned Dutch oven (or other wide, heavy-bottomed pot). Put that on the stove to simmer. Stir the tomatoes around in the baking dish, turning things so the garlic & capers get mixed in, & stick it back in the oven for another half hour or so.

“Forget” about the simmering liquid on the stove. “Remember” suddenly that you might be burning the pot! In a panic, race to the stove just in time to see that you have the most delicious sludgey tomato syrup, which is just starting to brown. If you had “remembered” just a few minutes later, you would have burned it. Heave a sigh of relief & thank the tomato gods for your sauce-making 6th sense & the awesome pot that can handle such treatment. (Really, I promise Le Creuset never heard of me!) Take the tomatoes from the oven (or probably you already did, it doesn’t actually matter that much) & stir them into the syrup/sludge.

Here’s what it looked like after I already took a big spoonful & put it on spaghetti for my dinner. Much reduced, totally concentrated tomato goodness:

Honestly, if I hadn’t been totally absorbed in a phone conversation with the Triathlete, I don’t think I would have had the patience to let the liquid simmer down that far. Yay for happy kitchen accidents!

But wait, there’s more! You get two blog posts in one!

About the same time, Donna had parallel desires for lasagna & roast chicken. She brought home fresh sheets of pasta & 8 thighs. It would have made sense to make one thing one night & the other thing another night, but sometimes the week just gets away from you. Such as when you get in over your head with a giant box of screaming tomatoes.

Seeing as how we only have one baking dish (you know the one) suitable for lasagna &/or roasting chicken, & seeing as how both the fresh pasta & the raw chicken were starting to grow some slightly-urgent little voices themselves, I said, hey, what if we do them both at once?

CHICKEN LASAGNA STROGANOFF SMASHUP (ever so vaguely based on a mushroom lasagna recipe by Deborah Madison)

8 chicken thighs, bone & skin on, not the really big ones
at least 3 fresh rectangles of pasta to fit your baking dish
bag o’ large brown button mushrooms
bag o’ baby spinach
1 yellow onion
dried porcini mushrooms (I had half a tiny bag. A whole bag would be better.)
1 stick butter
1/2 cup flour
1 box mushroom broth
few cloves garlic
bunch of fresh marjoram
olive oil
salt & pepper

Note: You really need two people to make this. Lasagna is 3 or 4 dishes pretending to be one dish. On the other hand, if your ass hasn’t already been kicked by a bunch of tomatoes, maybe you could do it alone. I wouldn’t.

First, put the porcini mushrooms to soak in a bit of hot water.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Then, make mushroom gravy: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, & whisk in the flour. When the roux smells insanely good, pour in the mushroom broth. I think it’s best if you heat the broth first. I kinda arrived at this gravy in a, um, less than straightforward fashion. You could, unlike me, consult a real recipe & then actually follow it. Anyway: whisk whisk whisk, bring just barely to a boil so that it thickens, then turn down to super-low simmer & keep whisking.

Meanwhile, rinse off the thighs, trim excess fat, pat dry, & then mix them around in a bowl with salt & pepper.

Wash your mushrooms & spinach. Slice the mushrooms. Chop a few cloves of garlic & an onion.

Are the porcinis good & soft? Whisk the liquid (minus any grit) into the gravy & chop the porcinis. In a large pan, brown the onions with garlic & olive oil, then add the porcinis & the sliced mushrooms. They should give off some liquid & get a nice color to them. We did this in two batches (so as to saute rather than steam). Move all of that into a bowl & then wilt the spinach in the pan to remove most of the liquid.

Wash your marjoram & strip the leaves into the chicken bowl. Toss & rub around.

Now assemble the lasagna as follows:
Butter the pan.
Just a thin layer of gravy.
Sheet of pasta.
Gravy, thicker this time.
Onions & mushrooms.
Onions & mushrooms.
Chicken! Arrange the chicken to cover the lasagna evenly, skin side up.

Like so:

Heft that thing into the oven & let it go for 40 minutes, then check to see if the chicken is done & continue roasting (or not) accordingly. The lasagna will be done before the chicken.

When it was done, Donna looked at it & exclaimed, “Sick!” (She’s been hanging out with kids.)

I did warn you it was decadent. Yes, you are ingesting extra chicken fat with every bite of tender lasagna. Yes, you can rationalize it all you want by saying “well we didn’t use any cheese, & the gravy is made with mushroom broth instead of milk….” Yes, it’s not the prettiest piece of chicken you ever did see (& this isn’t the prettiest picture either), but it’s damn delicious.

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Gillian Welch & David Rawlings at the Fillmore: More than worth the backache from standing all night long. That hallowed room is really not for creaky old bodies, but 10 feet from the stage with the flawless crystal sound, Gil & Dave working their magic, breathing & creating as one organism, it’s so good, it feels like love.

Warren pears: Almost not of this world—but they are of this world, they come from the ground, they grow on trees & aren’t we lucky beyond belief? It seems like insanity to eat any other fruit right now. (I am insane, though, & cannot refuse the last of the melons & stone fruits.)

Gourmet magazine: A different kind of love, more material & mundane perhaps, but no less real. I grew up ogling those centerfolds every month, year after yummy year. I refuse to say RIP! Will someone come in & rescue it somehow? Am I in denial?

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Did I throw you for a loop with that last post? Just testing your flexibility….

First today, a big thank you to Valerie Soe for a fabulous write-up on my menu installation in the Present Tense show.

Then, some artichokes for your viewing pleasure:

I would show you cherries & apricots too, but I’ve been eating them up too fast. Happy summer!

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When you hear “carrots, onions, cabbage…”, do you yawn? Does your mind wander off to more interesting things like profiteroles, or clementine bitters, or hand-knitted socks?

If that’s the case, I do sympathize. I think we’ve all encountered quite enough rubbery frozen carrot chunks, flavorless generic onions & overcooked mushy cabbage in our various travels.

But please don’t let yourself be burned out, disenchanted or depressed about these fine vegetables.

It’s just not necessary to suffer so.

Don’t let them be ruined for you!

You could be missing something.

I’m just sayin.

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What to eat during a scorching November heatwave:

Arugula, the first satsumas, fresh new walnuts, pomegranate, sherry vinaigrette.

Don’t forget to drink plenty of water.

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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 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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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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Hey, it’s summer for another couple of months, but foggy evenings do lend themselves to roast chicken. I have been working on this recipe for a couple of weeks now, sort of blundering around in an experimental mode, & when it finally hit the mark, I realized that I was applying salad-making principles to roast chicken! No wonder it worked. If there’s one thing in the world I’m confident of, it’s my salad-making principles.

Key salad concepts as applied to sage roasted chicken:

1) Seasonal flexibility: you have your main ingredients that define the recipe—in this case, chicken legs, sage leaves, olive oil, shallots, & tiny taters—& then infinitely swappable supporting ingredients, depending on what comes home from the farmers market. I have used various kinds of summer squash, radishes (the little skinny long ones that are half pink & half white), treviso, carrots, flat-leaf parsley, & now am thinking about adding some kind of fruit. Perhaps figs.

2) One-dish meal: no need for pesky, distracting side dishes to round out your nutritional needs. There’s plenty of veggies in the pan. You can steam some brown rice to go with this (it soaks up the sauce deliciously), but the taters provide more than enough starch if you’re feeling extra-lazy (or extra-purist).

3) Good ingredients tossed in good dressing. If you get quality ingredients, your dressing is sound & your tossing thorough, you will have a good meal. No muss, no fuss.

So. The blow-by-blow for Sage Roasted Chicken:

Main ingredients:
6 chicken legs (here too, you can substitute your preferred chicken part, or a whole bird), rinsed & patted dry
Bunch of sage leaves (don’t be shy! Use a whole bunch!)
Tiny taters, no bigger than an inch. Most recently I used a mixture of German Butterballs & 2 different kinds of fingerlings.
Shallots, the more the better, but at the very least 2 large ones. Peel & cut in 2 or 3 pieces lengthwise.
Olive oil, butter, salt & pepper

Rotating cast of other ingredients:
Small summer squashes, preferably tiny sized, but if you get bigger ones you can halve or quarter them.
Treviso, quartered lengthwise
Small carrots
Any other veggie that roasts well
Any other herbs that play well with sage

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Warm a generous quantity of olive oil in a pan on the stove. Melt some butter in it too, & fry up the sage leaves. Don’t crowd the leaves too much; you can do them in batches if your pan is small. As the leaves get done, transfer them to your baking pan.

Add all your washed & cut veggies & chicken to the baking dish. Pour the sagey oil & butter all over everything, add salt & pepper, & toss like a salad! When everything is nicely coated, arrange things so the veggies form a single layer (it can be a crowded, jumbled single layer) on the bottom, & put the chicken on top. Take care to cover treviso & any cut sides of squash with the chicken.

Stick it in the oven. Then, every 15 minutes, take the dish out & turn the veggies &/or spoon the pan juices over the top. Pay attention to how the chicken is progressing; at one of these turnings, you will note that another 15 minutes would be too much. Then adjust your timer accordingly—or turn up the sensitivity on your Chicken Sense (equal parts smell & intuition, I think) & just know when it’s done.

There you have it. Very much like a salad. This recipe just adds a lot of heat, that’s all.

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Seems to be the Summer of the Clafoutis. I’ve been having quite a love affair with all eggy things, now that the Riverdog pastured eggs have transformed my entire egg reality. It’s an egg renaissance around here for sure.

Here, then, is fig clafoutis, prompted by my mother’s food-oriented (of course: I ask food questions, she gives me food answers) report on her trip to Provence.

Using a very well-seasoned cast iron pan, you follow procedure for my easy fig thing, except instead of taking the figs out of the pan, you flip em over so the inside, cut half is facing up. Then drizzle honey all over, making sure a lot of the honey ends up on the bottom of the pan. I wasn’t measuring but I guess it was about 1/4 cup of honey. Pour your batter over, then slide the whole thing into the oven. For the batter, I pretty much followed Orangette’s recipe, except instead of sugar, I squirted a bit (hm, maybe a tablespoon) of agave syrup into the batter, & figured the honey would take care of the rest.

It did. Yum!

& just because I haven’t posted a salad in a while, don’t you think I haven’t been eating any…

Does August not rock harder than any other month? Go on & try to convince me there’s a sweeter time of year.

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A couple weeks ago I scrawled on kitchen scrap paper this little list of things to make & eat! It floated along the kitchen currents from chair to floor to counter, & every once in a while I’d catch it & check things off. I’m happy to say I’ve done everything on the list. Some of em I did more than once! This kind of to-do list is great for summertime food, & also this approach to it: first dream some simple dreams… & then just kinda let them happen. July is not the time to get all uptight & structured about getting things done.

corn with cilantro & lime: on or off the cob, yellow or white, with olive oil or butter… I buy my corn from Avalos whenever possible, or Catalan. (Not to get all essentialist, but there’s something so satisfying about the fact that Chicano-owned farms are growing the best organic corn. I feel downright smug on their behalf.)

stonefruit clafoutis: I already showed you a photo of this one. No specific recipe. You break some eggs, whisk in some milk & flour, a bit of agave syrup.

BLT: need I say more?

melon & prosciutto: a classic, of course, but I tend to forget about it for years at a time, probably because I was vegetarian for so long.

white peach ice cream: this was originally gonna be lychee ice cream, but then Cooking Show & I were walking by Mr. PVC’s garden eden & spied his little peach tree heavy with fruit; the irrigation guy who was there said he’d been instructed to “eat as many peaches as possible” & invited us to help. Well twist my arm! I loaded up the hood of my sweatshirt, topped it off with a few apricots, & then had to do something with them pretty much right away because they were that ripe.

blackberry pie: this has become somewhat of a birthday week ritual for me. All seems right with the world when you’re making a blackberry pie.

pesto: the first of many batches!

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Once upon a time, I was invited to a posh art colony, where I learned many things about my artmaking process, about the New York art scene, & about oatmeal. The process stuff was very important (& still is), & the art scene stuff was informative, but the oatmeal was a fucking revelation.

I thought that I didn’t like oatmeal. It was always too gooey & gloppy & reminded me too much of, I dunno… like, barf. Or something. To think that I nearly missed this oatmeal just because I was in the habit of sleeping through the breakfast service! The dinners were always very good though, so one fine morning I made a point of waking up in time to check out breakfast.

I don’t remember what else there was, but the oatmeal was unlike any I had ever seen before. Each individual oat was fluffy & plump & discrete from every other oat. They clumped together like grains of rice or couscous instead of being glued together in a viscous gummy mush. Intrigued, I plopped a small spoonful in my bowl, melted some butter on top, & took a cautious mouthful. As you must guess by now: angels sang, synapses fired, I was a born-again oatmeal-eatin person.

Somehow I neglected to ask for the recipe. Having zero experience cooking oatmeal, I probably thought: how hard could it be? & to tell the truth, after much experimentation at home, I found that it really was as easy & simple as it should be.

Here is Meditation Oatmeal for one (or for two, in parentheses):

In a small pot with a lid, boil 1 (1-3/4) cup water with a pinch of salt.

When the water is boiling, turn off the flame & quickly pour in 1/2 (1) cup of rolled oats, stir once only if necessary to get all the oats wet, & put the lid on. Raisins or currants or other additions are optional; add them to the oats before you pour everything in. You don’t want to lose a lot of heat or steam, & you don’t want to break the oat flakes.

Leave the heat off & the lid on. Go meditate for 30 minutes.

Come back & you have your oatmeal! Serve with butter, brown sugar or maple syrup, whatever floats your boat. You can even pretend you’re at an exclooosive art colony!

Ahem. Is there something wrong with the weather that I must blog about oatmeal in May? I have been so, so cold. Imagine my surprise, then, when I took $60 to the farmers’ market yesterday & came home with this:

Here we have
ze famous Riverdog pastured eggs
ze famous Swanton strawberries
a yellow onion
purple asparagus
assortment of the first summer squashes
little carrots & big carrots
ze lovely lettuces from Blue Heron
2 kinds of fingerlings (French & Russian, I think)
broccoli raab
spring onions & fresh garlic
velvety, lovely fava beans
$5.70 (my no-fuss method of keeping track of how much I spend at the farmers’ market: I count in 20s & keep the change in my pocket)

When I saw the cherries, I thought I was gonna fall over in sheer surprise. When I saw the summer squash, I lost my mind. When I saw the peaches, my freezing little heart just melted.

Go forth & shop! The good stuff is all out there right now.

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I had a great weekend. We went to the beach, where there were all these teeny little jellies that looked like perfect glass marbles. They were all washed up along the surf line & dusted with a fine layer of sand that made them hard to see until the lip of a wave washed them clean. Then they would roll optimistically down the beach toward the water until the wind covered them with another layer of sand, which stopped them from rolling. The ocean reclaimed them a few at a time, in a slow process of lapping & washing, waiting & rolling.

Then, of course, there was salad (isn’t there always salad?): little gems (from Blue Heron), artichoke hearts (from Riverdog), & I don’t remember what kind of tangerines (from the Bowl), with chevre & sherry vinaigrette.

Unfortunately, the same wind that blew sand onto the jellies also blew something in my eye, which got all puffy & goopy with a pesky eye infection. Disgusting!

This is not coffee, it’s powdered eyebright in a coffee filter. Apparently, the whole herb is no longer allowed in the state because it’s an invasive weed, so you can only get it in powdered form.

I am now doing Everything With Eyebright. After pouring boiling water over a spoonful of the powder in the coffee filter, I drape a dishtowel over my head & steam my eyeball over the whole assemblage while the infusion drips. Once it’s all gone through the filter, I pour some on a face towel & hold it over my eye as a compress. Then I drink a cup of it. Finally, when it’s cool enough, I dip a cotton ball in it & squeeze it into my eye. Is there any application method I haven’t thought of? Anyway, it seems to be helping. I’m trying not to fall into any stupid narratives about paying for a good time. Instead, rolling around in my head the enjoyable idea of how those jellyfish were so eyeball-like.

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I think I have finally nailed the latkes. It’s not that I remember having problems with my latkes in the past, but this time, baby, this time we ate some killer latkes! The latke aroma permeated the house, wafting memories of Hanukahs past. As our latke co-conspirator Cooking Show pointed out, the measure of our success was the way her clothes smelled the day after. Not only the clothes she wore in our kitchen, but even other clothes took on the delightful latkeness. All of this might seem like a bit too much latke funk for some of you, but maybe that’s because you aren’t eating the right latkes, hmm?

I started with some really good taters, about 5 fist-sized Yukon Golds from the Temescal Farmers Market (which is not my usual farmers market, so please forgive my forgetting the farm’s name) & then 2 enormous Russets (from, er, Whole Paycheck) that were about a pound each—the very picture of robust, hearty tater health. I peeled em all, grated em in the Cuisinart, & dumped em straight into a cold water bath. After a few minutes I pulled them out & set them to drain in a colander. After the first big puddle of water drained off I salted the taters, mixed them around & then let them keep draining for a good 2 or 3 hours.

Then I made applesauce, adding a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Cookbook recipe. I washed some salad chicories; you need something crunchy & a little bitter to balance the latke grease. Sliced satsumas in the salad help too. You can’t see em in this photo but they’re in there.

I grated a huge yellow onion (from Catalan Farm, growers of amazing onions) & left it in the Cuisinart bowl. When the time came, I threw the onions (minus the juice in the bottom of the bowl) in with the taters, squeezed everything gently to get more liquid out, then poured the shredded stuff into a big bowl with 4 beaten eggs, salt & pepper. Then I began to debate with myself, flour or no flour? Cooking Show arrived & I asked her opinion, but she put on her tough-love act & insisted that I must arrive at my own cooking decisions. I decided to try a couple without, & then add flour if necessary. Turned out there was no need.

Rule #1 about frying latkes: DO NOT FEAR THE OIL. It is all about the oil! As I was repeating this like a mantra, Donna & I agreed that both of our mothers would fail miserably at latkes because they fear the oil. (Cooking Show’s mother never had this problem.) You have to just bloop it into the pan unstintingly. All told, we ended up using about 1/3 of a bottle of safflower oil. Cooking Show got involved despite herself (she isn’t called Cooking Show for nothing) & pointed out that it’s best to add oil & let it heat up properly between batches of latkes, as opposed to introducing cold oil when they are in the midst of frying. So you must be bold & add the right amount of oil (that would be “a lot”) all at once between batches.

Rule #2 is that the first few latkes are just warm-up, & they improve significantly after that. Donna took over the frying duties & the latkes got very very good. She raised the temperature a hair & figured out some tricks to correct for the unevenness of the flame, rotating the latkes strategically for perfect browning. Latke perfection sent us into a frenzy of greedy latke-eating! We were barely able to restrain ourselves & save enough for Plastic Lam, who was arriving late because she was busy whipping up yet another batch of her famous ice cream. By the time she got here, I felt that I myself could keep a temple lit for months.

We ate teeny tiny spoonfuls of rich roquefort ice cream.

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You might still be able to catch the last of the Flavorella plumcots at this week’s farmers markets, but then again, their season is so blindingly fleeting… they may be gone. How about a really good consolation prize? Taste test between apricot ice creams from Ici & Sketch: Ici’s has a pleasing bit of tang to it. Sketch’s couldn’t be further from tang, instead giving you a subtle perfume of apricot. Your choice. Personally, I need both in my life. (That’s burnt caramel cuddling up with the apricot.)

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Where have I been? Busy consuming persimmons at an astonishing rate. & if you’re wondering how to cook that dinosaury Romanesco, just steam it whole, pour olive oil over it & sprinkle on your fancy salt of choice. Fractal goodness!

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See, I told you I was gonna be scarce for a while. I still am, but I thought I’d give you a little Hand Update. It’s easy to forget when I’m in a fit of premenstrual, pre-election crankiness, but overall I’m pretty dang cheerful these days, because I recently realized that my hand is no longer the defining limitation of my daily life. This is truly amazing. I can actually do a lot of things without thinking too hard about how, exactly, to do them. I ironed some clothes the other day! I cut an Asian pear in half! (Those cores are very dense & hard, much tougher than most things I have occasion to cut through.) I schlepped that Asian pear & its brothers & sisters home from the farmer’s market all by myself (along with sweet peppers, eggs, apples, lettuces, pasta & ROMANO BEANS oh my gawd romano beans!!! & dry-farmed tomatoes & so forth).

Part of this blissful freedom from microscopic hand awareness & “oh well I can’t do that”-ness is due to great improvement of actual hand ability. Part of it is because I have been living with this problem for long enough now that a lot of those initially-annoying adaptations have become habit, so I don’t have to concentrate so hard on every little thing. I have learned how to open jars (there actually is a process & a technique to it) & I have also learned how to assess very quickly whether a particular jar is un-openable, in which case I just move right along to asking somebody else to open it.

There are still plenty of things that trip me up. Vacuuming is my Challenge Of The Moment: can I vacuum more than one and a half rooms (including crown molding & odd little corners & crevices) without my hand getting all tuckered out & anxious? Driving to Montana is still out of the question. Getting a job, ha Other things too just have to wait a little longer.

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Ici update: At the farmers market yesterday, I saw a woman wearing a pink-sleeved baseball shirt emblazoned with the instantly recognizable Ici logo. I was so surprised that I cried out “How can there be a T-shirt when they’re not even open yet?!” She turned to me with a smile and said “we’re opening next week.” So there you have it, from the horse’s mouth, or at least one of the horses, apparently. Surely they realize how tortured our anticipation has become, especially since it’s not “early August” anymore. The paper is falling off of their windows in a sympathetically impatient way; a peek inside the open door a couple days ago revealed counters & fixtures mostly in place, but still plenty of construction dust.

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There’s no better time to blog than right after you said you weren’t going to.

Just some tips for early-summer enjoyment:

1. Little gems have re-appeared at the farmer’s markets! I just cut them in quarters, artfully arrange slices of avocado & mango or peach amongst the lettuce, drizzle on dressing (olive oil, sherry vinegar & dab o’ dijon) & sprinkle with sea salt. Effortless! You can also include on the plate: a couple of oil-cured olives, a young carrot sliced in half lengthwise, some paper-thin radish circles, manchego shavings… whatever you’ve got. Maybe a hardboiled egg?

2. So it’s a nice hot day & you’re bewildered by the vast array of choices facing you at the Sweetheart Cafe. Fear not, because my standard there is standard for a reason: shave ice with lychees & coconut jelly is a refreshing, soothing, white-on-white festival of textures & sweetness that can’t be beat. If you want to avoid styrofoam by bringing your own bowl, I recommend a white bowl, just to stay with the theme.

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