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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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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Here are the Japan food photos I promised!

It was ume season & we saw this little ume giveaway on the street. Note the perfectly knotted plastic bags so thoughtfully provided:

It was also hydrangea season. Cherry blossoms get all the press, but I thought the hydrangea enthusiasm was pretty dang intense too:

More pretty sweets:

King of Nosh took us to a cute French-Italian place that was tucked away on a quiet lane in Shibuya. When it was time for dessert they brought us this adorable little corkboard:

He also showed me a very good okonomiyaki time in Shimokitazawa. I don’t understand why okonomiyaki isn’t everywhere, all over the world, especially in breakfast places in the USA. Pancakes, homefries, eggs, okonomiyaki… why not?

Four variations on the matcha donut theme:

They like their bread tall:

I always thought I didn’t like eggplant, but apparently when you slather it with miso & grill (broil?) it to perfection, I fuckin love it.

I also fuckin love ice cream, but that’s not exactly news. Gelato from the very-mobbed Pariya in the Foodshow basement of Tokyu Dept. Store, also in Shibuya: lychee, plum, jasmine chocolate cake(!), & coconut banana maple. Then we went back & had green tea tiramisu, apricot, & cherry.

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Welcome to Cooking With Weeds!

Weed Recipe #1: Allium Love

The wild onions love one corner of the yard & every year appear more numerous there. We are trying not to be alarmed.

Time this so you have fresh buckwheat fettucine just cooked when you want it. I think I dropped it in the water a couple minutes before the capers went in the sauce.

Chop all these on the fine side & cook em up in a large pan with olive oil & butter:
2 shallots
a bunch of wild onions
1 bulb of fresh green garlic
[Edited: oops, I forgot about the pine nuts. A small handful.]
about a tablespoonful of capers
Italian (aka flat-leaf) parsley

You start with all the alliums (sorry if I’m butchering the Latin language; I never learned any of it). [Edit, cont’d: put the pine nuts in after the alliums.] When they’re about done you add the capers, & a minute or two later sprinkle on the parsley, turn off the heat & throw the pasta in. Mix it all together with a little more olive oil, & serve with Pecorino & some onion flowers on top.

We served this with salad of spinach, strawberries, & caramelized onion, the essence of which I have already blogged.

For dessert, Weed Recipe #2: Meyer Lemon Mint Garden Granita, a hybrid between two of the granita recipes (Lemon & Mojito) from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop.

If nobody has ever told you this before, take heed: DO NOT EVER PLANT CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT in the ground. Always keep it in a pot far away from the actual dirt of your garden, because “invasive” does not even begin to describe the voracious habit of the insatiable mint. We will go to our graves regretting the day we innocently stuck the tiny little mint plant in the ground. That shit is everywhere now. If you lift up a corner of the cardboard sheet mulch, sprawling seeking reaching mint roots are waiting there to send up a zillion shoots of everlasting, unstoppable mint.

Of course, this means we are never lacking in mint. The garden is also kind enough to give us lemons. So all I had to add for this was sugar, water, & a functioning freezer.

Put in a pan:
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
About 2 lemons’ worth of zest, microplaned directly into the pan

Boil that until the sugar is all dissolved, then take it off the heat, dump in a cup of mint leaves & cover the pan for a few minutes. Then remove the leaves, squeezing them out a bit to release more minty goodness.

2 cups water
1 cup Meyer lemon juice
a few fresh mint leaves, chopped fine

Stir it all together, pour into a wide casserole-type container (I use a very deep pie dish), & freeze for about an hour. Then you take it out & fork the frozen bits from the edge toward the middle, chopping & mashing with the fork. Put it back in the freezer, & repeat the fork action every 15 minutes or so until you end up with a nice pile of fluffy ice crystals. (Lebovitz has much more detailed instructions.) Garnish with yet more mint leaves (after all, there is an infinite supply) & a strawberry slice, if you like.

Totally unrelated to weeds, I have been seriously on the matzo brei. It was the first thing I was able to cook last year after the terrible pelvis fracture, so it claims an even fonder nook of my heart than it did before, which is pretty fucking fond. I basically follow Ruth’s recipe, but my dirty little secret is this: you really don’t need remotely that much butter. I probably use 1/3 of what she calls for. Salt too, a little less. What can I say, I’m a Californian.

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I appear to be some kind of magnet for Bakesale Betty gossip. I was on the phone with Cooking Show, discussing hot water bottles & amaryllis bulbs, when she gave me the dish she got from Mr. Betty himself: soft serve ice cream is coming to Bakesale Betty’s! How fabulous is that? I love that it’s soft serve; that is just so Betty. Apparently they did their research down at Sketch, which boggles my mind because I didn’t even know that Sketch had soft serve, & I call myself knowing about ice cream around here? For shame. Hopefully my timely reporting of this here rumor will redeem me as a reliable info source on Berkeley/Oakland ice cream procurement.

But wait, there’s more: there will be a second Bakesale location opening in Oakland (in the neighborhood I refuse to call Uptown—don’t even get me started), with more baking space, which means an improved flow of the necessary pies in both new location & old. This is a damn good thing because the last two times I tried to get my hands on a chicken pot pie, they’ve been out of them, thus driving me mad with desire & longing, &c.

Let us pray that this expansion will not damage the goods—or the spirit—as has befallen other, once-lovable enterprises.

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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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Please indulge me as I jump on the Thanksgiving bandwagon… people are giving me some very nice things. Plastic Lam dropped off a quart of lusciously custardy ginger ice cream she’d made with honey instead of sugar. Then the Astrological Yodeling Gardener said she had a couple pairs of ostrich cowboy boots to give me if they fit. So she came by—arriving early & compulsively weeding in front of our house while waiting for me to come home—& I fed her a dessert I composed out of Plastic Lam’s ice cream & Fuyu persimmon shavings sprinkled with Maldon sea salt & walnuts. (In case you can’t tell, I’m pretty pleased with myself for coming up with this one, & with Plastic Lam & her ice cream for inspiring it.)

Then Astrological Yodeling Gardener pulled out the boots, which turned out to be twin pairs except one had a beautiful wine-colored foot & the other was butterscotch. The identical brown tops sported a magnificent 8 rows of stitching. I tried on the wine ones & they fit like a good old-skool cowboy boot should: surprisingly comfy. (Why am I always surprised?) As for the butterscotch, I’ve never been much for wearing that color, & AYG said she wore those more anyway, so I said she should keep them & then we could be boot twins. Giggling over this idea, we sat at the kitchen table each wearing a pair & admiring them while she told how a friend had given them to her many years ago, & they were custom-made but her friend had back problems & couldn’t wear them anymore.

I asked who had made them, but AYG said she didn’t know. I pulled off a boot to look inside, & nearly fell over: Paul Bond! Dang, that shit is the real deal! I still can’t believe that I just got a pair of vintage ostrich Paul fucking Bonds handed to me, & they fit! That was yesterday & I’m still in shock. Thank you, Astrological Yodeling Gardener! I’m honored to be a Bond Girl with you! I sent her home with some of my granny’s famous sticky rice Chinese tamales (thanks Granny!), but I think we know who got the better end of the deal.

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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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Ici is open & it rocks. First of all, it’s an environmentalist ice cream eater’s dream: metal tasting spoons, & then your ice cream comes in a paper cup, with one of those funny starch-based biodegradable faux-plastic spoons. Can I just say what a relief all that is? I hate the plastic angst that accompanies my trips to most other ice cream shops. Ici gives you guilt-free ice cream. (If you’re one of those people who feels guilty about eating ice cream itself, I can’t help you.) The ice cream does live up to all that advance hype. Catalan hits the tongue first with rich cream, then subtle lemon, cinnamon & anise aftertones. Coffee chocolate chip has an almost cakey, dense texture. Interesting & yummy! My spoonful of Donna’s lime sorbet went pow with a burst of citrusy goodness in my mouth. We’ll be back soon to try more flavors!



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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Ah, summertime! Peaches, heat waves, ...& canvassers. A while back (before the heat wave, actually) the doorbell rang. Through the window I saw a pimply-faced white boy. Opening the door, I demanded, “Are you a canvasser?”

He sort of stumbled, “Uh, I don’t know what that word means, ma’am…” & then began to explain that he was part of some program to the general effect of keeping kids in school.

“Sorry, we never give money at the door…” I interrupted, & then pointing at him, added, “& canvassing is what you’re doing.”

He seemed mortified at this & mumbled assorted apologies as he turned to leave.

Think maybe I have it in me to become one of those terrifying old schoolmarms?

I can be sweet when I want to, though. Pondering what to bring to a sweltering yard party on one of those triple-digit days, I flashed: popsicles! We filled a cooler with fudgesicles, orange creamsicles, & all-fruit bars, & everyone loved it! I get to feel smug about this one, okay? Considering it was my only sign of any brain function at all during an entire week of skull-melting temperatures. You gotta take what you can get sometimes.



The ice cream scene here in Berkeley is getting kinda intense. Here is the situation in which we find ourselves:

It’s been a few years since we graduated from Fenton’s, which just wasn’t the same after the fire. I fondly remember it as the most satisfying place to watch young Asian American dudes from Cal putting away mass quantities of ice cream. (Don’t ask me about this weird fetish of mine. I promise it’s not a Mrs. Robinson thing, more of a latent Chinese mom thing.)

Mostly we’ve been going to Naia, where I usually end up with a “fruit salad” of different flavors from the sorbetto section. In wintertime it’s fun to narrow the theme down even further to a citrus salad of grapefruit, blood orange, lemon & tangerine.

Sketch is great, with a handful of lovingly selected flavors every day & a truly sweet vibe, but its hours are incompatible with late-night ice cream habits, & during the day you have to be willing to put up with Fourth Street madness.

We are breathlessly waiting for the much-hyped, Chez Panisse-pedigreed Ici to open on College; a tantalizingly vague “early August” opening is posted with luscious foodporn pictures on the papered-over windows.

In this state of heightened ice cream awareness, Donna & I were driving through downtown Berkeley this afternoon when I spotted Gelato Milano looking very minimalist & serious about itself. I hollered “Hey, Gelato Milano! Wait!” & Donna executed one of her famous instant-reflex U-turns.

Come to find out, it’s been there for seven months already! Where have we been? Not paying attention, I guess. At first glance it appears to be a pared-down version of Naia, the mere suggestion of which will surely piss the owner off, so don’t mention it unless you want an earful of bitter grievances. He used to be part of the Naia crew back when it was Mondo Gelato, & the parting of ways doesn’t sound pretty. He didn’t come right out & say “I spit upon Naia!” but we got the picture loud & clear that he considers his product to be the real deal, & theirs is “just ice cream”.

We were a bit taken aback by all this negativity, but the gelato more than made up for it. This stuff is rrrrich! The mango tasted like real mangoes & the chocolate did that indescribable good-chocolate thing in your mouth. All the flavors we tasted were way yummy. Gelatowise, he’s leaving Naia in the dust.

Atmospherewise, well, this brings me to something that I have thought lots about in the Chinese restaurant context. (Hey, I bet you were wondering when I’d ever bring that up again.) The beauty of the truly independent small business is that each business becomes an extension of its owner’s personality, & so each Chinese restaurant is unique, even if they are all serving the same fucking rangoons from Sysco.

Grumpy owners tend to do worse than cheerful owners because customers prefer a cheerful vibe, but this is not a hard & fast rule. I for one would choose a moody mom & pop place over some creepy franchise where everyone has gone through a corporate customer service training & wears the same fake smile like it’s part of their same fake uniform. As a grumpy old curmudgeon myself, I appreciate someone being real, & real tends not to be unwaveringly cheerful.

I still think the Milano guy could benefit from toning down his gelato dogma a bit, but the bottom line is, the gelato walks his talk & we’re gonna be back there soon.



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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Hmm… if Indigo’s hands are getting better, why isn’t she blogging?

1. Other computer activities (that would be Photoshop, Photoshop & more Photoshop) are claiming my still-scanty keyboard & mouse quotas.

2. More cooking! Salads galore! Strawberry ice cream! Strawberry everything!

3. Much pondering about writing. It would seem: the more pondering about writing, the more writing. This has been quite assertively not true lately.

With all this, we enter a new, even more stepped down phase of the blog. I realize it’s been quite thin already for the past year or more, but it’s gonna get downright onionskin for the next little while. I’m not gonna kill it dead though, because I might stage a mighty comeback sometime, & besides, the archives are still getting plenty of traffic. (I can’t figure out why people are googling “fat thumb” so often, but hey, whatever works.)

The rest of the website remains frozen in time, circa mid-2004. Someday when my hands are really fiesty & tough, all shall be updated. Until then, my advice is to get off the dang computer & go cook something divine, preferably involving basil. Or peaches.

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