Taking the Plunge

Mars landing

There is no better way to get closer to your family than by holing up in a cozy cottage down a dirt road, surrounded by pine and oak trees, bears, deer, squirrels, and a rattlesnake which we had the privilege of crossing paths with (thankfully, to no one’s dire consequence).

We just returned from our Shasta Lake vacation — our ‘last hurrah’ summer getaway.

During the day, we drove into Redding and in search of respite from the hot sun, we explored the local water park or the community pool, which cost bubkes to get in and was far more fun. The people-watching up in Redding was priceless! Still a hick town, if I may say so, I noticed one swimsuit-clad mom with a tattoo of a life-sized gun slipped into a garter belt on her leg. If only I could get away with that look!

One evening, we dined at a Benihana-style restaurant in town. Our young chef amazed and dazzled us with his knife juggling skills. Broccoli flying through the air for our mouths to receive, an onion volcano erupting on the large Japanese griddle before us, and the occasional burst of flames, which sent Sadie dropping to the floor beneath the counter top for protection. At dinner’s end, both kiddos waddled over to the waiting area and flopped down face forward on the benches, their bellies bursting at the seams.

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On our last full day in Shasta, we spontaneously rented a patio boat from one of the harbors off Highway 5. We actually had no intention of doing this when we left the house that morning, but on the drive into town, Sadie started complaining of feeling nauseous. Fearing an accident in the car, we quickly pulled off to the side of the road, just at the harbor. When all seemed well with Sadie, we proceeded down the road and found ourselves renting a boat for the half-day. This was truly the highlight of our vacation.

With Mateo and Caleb as co-captains, we motored around the lake for several hours. Caleb steered the boat for much of that time, taking great pride in his ability to keep us from crashing into large rocks or other boats. I was really proud of him. At one point, we cut the engine and I spontaneously grabbed Mateo to take a look at the majestic view from the back of the boat. On the spot, we renewed our wedding vows in the middle of Shasta Lake with Caleb and Sadie as our witnesses.

Before heading back to the harbor, I did something I’ve needed to do all my life. I was the first to fearlessly jump in to the middle of this huge lake. My family, inspired by my lunacy, quickly followed me in with life vests on. All with smiles from ear-to-ear. This plunge held real symbolic meaning for me; the time has come to get my ass off the sidelines and begin a new chapter in my life entitled “Follow Your Bliss and Do What You Love!”

This was a great escape; one that inspired a palpable internal tectonic shift and provided my family with the connection time we needed before the school year begins, and life starts pulling again from every angle.

Taking the plunge

A Midsummer Night’s Buckle

Occasionally, with a sudden surplus of extra energy which magically appears out of the ether, I’ve been known to whip up a mid-week home baked dessert with Caleb and Sadie. On Monday night, after taking the day for myself, I had some of that hard-to-come-by reserve and with it we made blueberry and nectarine buckle.

This dessert is quintessentially summertime. Served warm out of the oven with vanilla bean ice cream à la mode, it’s that old-fashioned, this is what your grandma used to bake anecdote to the mid-week rut we all get stuck in. The buckle was also easy to assemble as most of the ingredients were already in my pantry.

The results are summery and sublime, warm and nurturing, and extremely gratifying. Caleb and Sadie literally licked their bowls clean and we had enough leftovers to supply us with warm dessert for three more evenings. If my assistant pastry chefs could help me get this in the oven just as we were starting our dinner preparations, then you can do it too.

DSC_0017Blueberry & Nectarine Buckle

Gourmet Cookbook

For the topping:

  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the batter:

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups blueberries, picked over and rinsed (we added raspberries)
  • 2 nectarines, pitted and cut into 1-inch wedges (you can substitute peaches)
  • whipped cream or ice cream as an accompaniment

Preparation

Make the topping: In a small bowl blend together the butter, the sugar, the flour, the cinnamon, and the nutmeg until the mixture resembles coarse meal and chill the topping while making the batter.

Make the batter: In a small bowl with an electric mixer cream together the butter and the sugar and beat in the vanilla. In a small bowl stir together the baking powder, the flour, and the salt, beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture alternately with the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and fold in the blueberries and the nectarines.

Spread the batter in a well-buttered 10-by 2-inch round cake pan or 2-quart baking pan, sprinkle the topping evenly over it and bake the buckle in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean and the topping is crisp and golden. Serve the buckle with whipped cream.

Worry, Pain, and Pancakes

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From the moment you learn you’re pregnant, you start worrying. It doesn’t stop. You worry about the health of the fetus, the sex, the potential genetic disasters that may crop up – you just worry. Then, when you find out the sex of your baby and that he or she is perfectly healthy, you think you stop worrying then? Now, you ruminate about horrific birthmarks, nine fingers and eleven toes, and what to name this child so as not to burden it with a lifetime of teasing, stigma, or corrections (i.e., “Anya, not Anaya, not Amy, not Onion!”)

This child is now seven and on Friday night, he began writhing around in pain, moaning, and doubling over in agony. My ability to worry reached an all-time peak. After speaking with an advice nurse, I rushed Caleb over to the emergency room at Kaiser at 11pm at night. This was our first visit to the ER and I was beside myself with concern for my little guy, who doesn’t tend to over-dramatize pain. I took this episode very seriously. Mateo stayed home with Sadie, and Caleb and I sat around in a brightly lit waiting area, until they called his name.

I began to breathe again, once they placed us in a private room and the doctor came in to assess Caleb’s situation. She ordered an X-ray and gave him some pain medicine. Before long, Caleb and I were laughing about something we had heard earlier in the day (thank you, Auntie Deb for the image of the man running down Haight Street with nothing but a gold lamé sock on his twinkie), then the doctor came in to report that what Caleb was experiencing was an extreme case of constipation. Oye veh, hurray, and a $50 co-pay!

My sweet boy was back in bed by 1am and as soon as I awoke that morning, I ran out to the market to get him a bouquet of flowers and pancake fixings. We celebrated his recovery and our collective relief with Mateo’s signature buttermilk pancakes, and good cheer.

Now, I wouldn’t be a gen-u-whine Jewish mother if I didn’t have something meaty to worry about at a moment’s notice, but I’m glad that this little episode has passed (yes, pun intended)! I know there will be many anxiety filled days and nights to come, especially with two active, curious, and adventurous kids, but I feel great relief knowing that we got through this with only clogged pipes and a good story to tell.

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Eating New York

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It’s not hard to love New York.

Our family just returned from a week-long family reunion trip, which took us to New York City, then to the Catskills. Did I love the 100 degree humid weather, clothing sticking to my skin? Navigating the disgustingly hot subway system with two little ones asking “when are we going to get there?” Getting eaten alive by every flying insect within the city limits? Not so much. What I loved about my time in New York was the food, the energy, the people watching, and the New Yorkers!

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When I was six, my dad took me on a trip to New York, to retrace the footsteps of his youth, to meet my grandfather who was still living out in Brooklyn, and eat our way around town. There is a classic photo of me, still hanging in my dad’s house, where I’m holding a slice of New York pizza in one hand and a Nathan’s hot dog in the other, while simultaneously sipping on a soda. This was the beginning of a life-long love affair (obsession) with food, kicked off in one of the best cities for the food-obsessed.

On this latest trip, we were only in town for two full days, but we tasted a good sampling of what this world-class eating city has to offer. Dinner at Carmine’s on the Upper West Side, where we dined on outrageous chicken parmesan and handmade ricotta ravioli for the kiddos, Tal Bagels for just baked biales and bagels, breakfast in Greenwich Village (where, to quote our double decker bus tour-guide with a thick New York accent “there is a large homosexual population, where boy meets boy and girl meets girl!”), to Shake Shack for a top-notch hot dog smothered in cheese sauce and crispy fried onions, Katz’ Deli for a warm potato knish, matzo ball soup, dill pickles, and a kick-ass hot pastrami (not to mention the cream soda and cheesecake chasers), and finally to Excellent Dumpling House for handmade dim sum fresh from the steamer. As you can imagine, I truly could go on.

I have plenty more to say about our time in N.Y.  and haven’t yet touched on the family reunion, but wanted to share a few images and memories with you. More to come…

NYC

New Kids on the Block (Farm)

Saturday was gorgeous. Warm, sunny, blue skies – the perfect day for a food adventure! We woke up in the morning with a ‘let’s hit the road’ attitude and off we went down the coast to Harley Farms in Pescadero to meet baby goats (kids) and taste some gorgeous fresh chevre.

I was so excited to take Mateo and the kiddos to this goat cheese dairy, after having been there once before on a cheese tour. My only disappointment yesterday was that we were too late to take part in the tour, which gives you access to the goats, the milking parlor, and the cheese kitchen. Instead, we walked around, pet goats through the fences, and took in the rustic, old farm feel of this wonderful dairy. I was still able to introduce Caleb and Sadie to the cheese making process, albeit from afar.

Our favorite part was tasting the fresh goat cheese samples in the store. We could barely pull the kiddos out of there. At least by buying a tub of goat fromage blanc, I was able to entice Caleb to move on to our next adventure – lunch!

We drove back to the town of Pescadero, which feels set back in time and attracts lots of city folk on the weekend in search of a small town experience. We had heard about the artichoke, garlic, herb bread at Arcangeli’s Bakery in town and my foodie curiosity was piqued. While Mateo found a picnic table in close proximity to a live band playing classic rock tunes, I ran into the bakery and purchased a still-hot loaf. I then ran back to the table with the bread and a few other picnic ingredients, including our fromage blanc. We dove into a lunch time frenzy.

This may have been some of the best bread I’ve ever devoured. Still hot from the oven, the loaf was filled with large chunks of marinated artichokes, diced garlic, and fresh herbs. We excitedly shmeared the goat cheese on the warm pieces of pulled bread, then devoured three-quarters of our huge loaf. We ended the meal with an It’s-It ice cream sandwich, which the kids had never tried. The perfect Pescadero feast.

After a most satisfying meal, we headed back up the coast to a beach near Half Moon Bay, where we made a noble attempt at building sand castles. We then drove into San Francisco where our eating adventure continued. You find that shocking do you?

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Cheese

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As we all learn one way or another, this life we were gifted with is extraordinarily precious. Time spent with those we love is fleeting, even though it’s hard to admit. I treasure perfect moments, which are the essence of life. Last night, an adventure into the city with my sister Niki, was filled with many of these perfect moments.

I recently asked Niki – big sister, second mother, and close confidant – if she wanted to join me for a cheese class in San Francisco. Apparently, I had her at cheese because recruiting her took no great coaxing.

Last night, we met just after work and immediately tripped over to North Beach to begin our cheese adventure. First, we enjoyed a simple Italian meal at L ‘Osteria Del Forno on Columbus Avenue in the heart of one of my favorite neighborhoods in San Francisco. Our Italian waitress hailed from the Piedmont region of Italy. I engaged her in a conversation about outstanding cheeses from her region, which is known for some exceptional ones.

Niki and I caught up over a lovely dish of burrata cheese laid out on a nest of arugula, beneath a drizzle of vinaigrette. I enjoyed a platter of thinly sliced prosciutto, white beans, shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese, and a drizzling of olive oil, salt and pepper. Talking with my sister over a rustic, Italian meal and a good glass of white wine (with North Beach buzzing just outside the window), was cheap therapy. I felt prepared to take on part two of our evening of cheese – our class at the Cheese School of San Francisco, Cheeses of the Loire Valley.

Our fabulous instructor, Colette Hatch, walked us through a spectacular plate of cheeses from the Loire region. Mostly goat. All delicious. We sampled: Couronne Lochoise, Pyramides de Touraine (one of my favorites; an ash covered, pyramid-shaped, well-aged goat wonder), Bucherondin, Le Chevrot, Tomme de Rabelais (transcendent; elegant, smoky, nutty, and rich – how I hope to be described in my later years), Tomme de Fontenay, Vandéen Bichonné, and Bleu du Bocage (the perfect example of a goat blue, which are hard to come by). The majority of the cheeses were made by the grand masters of affinage, Rodolphe Le Meunier and Pascal Beillevaire.

Having my sister join me for this class was a treat beyond words. I love that she so easily participated in a subject that I’m passionate about. This was an opportunity to share my pure enthusiasm for ‘all things cheese’ as she sat there alongside me, enjoying herself just as much.

The class wrapped up and Niki and I stepped back onto the city streets at dusk. As we walked to the car, then for the ride home, we talked excitedly about how much we enjoyed the class, eating a selection of phenomenal cheeses, and just how lovely it was to spend quality time together.

I went to bed with cheese on my mind and sumptuous memories of a succession of perfect moments spent with someone whom I love immensely. Did I mention the cheese?

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Guest Post from England: Adventures with Blueberries

 

Dawn and I met when she spent a year at my workplace, the Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy in Oakland. She was a health care policy fellow participating in the Commonwealth Fund’s prestigious Harkness Fellowship Program. We quickly bonded over food, parenting, and 80′s music, and we continue to stay in touch after her return to England to work as a professor at the University of Leeds. I love that she reads our blog from across the pond, and that she sent this post about baking with her son, Iddy. Enjoy!

One of the things I miss most from our year in Berkeley is our Saturday mornings having brunch at Cafe M on Fourth Street. Iddy and I would order a full stack of blueberry pancakes to share. There was nothing better than sitting in the sunshine enjoying the delights of pancakes and Berkeley life.

On Friday I was in our local store (in York, England) buying some food for the weekend – blueberries were on a special deal and the thought of pancakes for breakfast (and maybe some muffins inspired by Anya’s blog the weekend before), I bought the ingredients we needed.

The next morning Iddy and I made pancakes, using the recipe from my Bubby’s brunch book (a treasured memento of my time in California along with my measuring cups). We carefully measured out the dry ingredients into a bowl, then Iddy whisked the eggs, buttermilk and melted butter for me in the mixer. We carefully mixed in the dry ingredients and the begun to cook our pancakes. Having made a stack, we smothered them with syrup, and for a moment I was transported back to Berkeley, eating pancakes with my family.

After a day spent cycling we returned home and I felt it was time to try out Anya’s recipe for blueberry muffins. Iddy by now was tired after his bike ride, and I appreciated the time in the kitchen listening to KFOG (the wonders of the Internet), following the recipe carefully. I had some buttermilk left over from the morning’s pancakes which I mixed with natural yogurt, as a slight amendment to the original recipe. They went into the oven and as the delicious smell started to permeate the house, both John (my husband) and Iddy began to hang around the kitchen.

They were delicious and a great ending to a day of blueberries!

The Diner at the Corner of ‘Hip and Hick’

On Saturday afternoon, on the heels of a day-long set of activities in Sonoma, we followed the recommendation of my city- turned country-mouse sister Niki and showed up at the Fremont Diner. Located at the corner of ‘hip’ and ‘hick’, this restaurant serves up an unpretentious farm-to-table menu, which varies depending on the time and day you arrive.

With both indoor and outdoor seating, we chose on this warm evening at dusk to sit outside at a picnic table, surrounded by others in what was an old fenced off farm field. Adorned with canning jars, several bottles of hot sauce, silverware wrapped in dish towels, and other funky accouterments, I slid right into the retro-country atmosphere at our shabby chic outdoor dining table.

After settling in, we started to feel that ‘you’re in the country now, so relax already’ vibe. Mateo and I examined the menu and after being told that we were limited to the BBQ offerings, the decision making was made easy. We ordered a platter of dry-rubbed ribs, two sides of Vella mac n’ cheese, a kale salad with slivered almonds, dried cherries, and sharp cheddar chunks, and fresh hulled English peas bathed in butter. Soon after ordering, our canning jars of pinot arrived.

My eyes took inventory of the old kitsch signs scattered around the outside of the restaurant. Beyond the fence, we were surrounded by barns and farm animals. Caleb and Sadie lit up when their mac n’ cheese arrived, then fell silent as they busily gobbled it up. I tried it. It was flipping delicious!

Our platter of ribs arrived, laid out on two slices of white bread, and topped with slices of home-cured pickles. Although the ribs were a little dry, they were infused with layers of flavor: mustard seed, coffee grounds, cayenne, and other rib loving spices. There is nothing better than eating something in its perfect environment. I expected a little pig to go trotting by with a cute squeal as we devoured its sister Lulu [insert sick sense of humor here].

The sun was fast disappearing and the goose bumps were coming out. Our perfect ending to a memorable day, had come to an end. I hope you get a chance to visit the Fremont Diner, where city hipsters and country locals sit shoulder to shoulder enjoying home grown food that epitomizes ‘taste of place’.

Fremont Diner – 2698 Fremont Drive in Sonoma 

The Muffins That Sadie Baked

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Going into the oven

Cooking with my kids anchors me in the present moment, reminding me of what’s most important in life – spending quality time with family, especially when making good quality food that can soon be enjoyed around the family table.

Lately, I’ve been writing more about my personal adventures in food, namely cheese. A recent cheese experiment—attempting my first batch of homemade aged goat cheese—resulted in two gallons of very expensive goat’s milk going down the drain. Literally.

After a tiring week and an expensive cheese mishap, I was in need of an easy, happy experience in the kitchen. On Sunday morning, Sadie woke up before everyone else. While I attempted to scrape myself off the mattress, Sadie quietly entertained herself with toys in the living room. In appreciation of her sensitivity, and because Caleb was still asleep (Mateo is camping this weekend), I invited her to join me in the kitchen for a blueberry muffin baking session.

I love a quiet house on a weekend morning. I especially enjoy filling it up with the aroma of warm, sweet baked delights. Sadie and I carefully followed each step of the blueberry muffin recipe, until we had blueberry-laden batter ready to spoon into the muffin tins. Our time together was relaxed, not rushed, and I felt unusually patient in Sadie’s presence as she paid close attention to my instructions and did a wonderful job as assistant pastry chef. Caleb has always enjoyed helping me in the kitchen, but Sadie is especially patient and curious, and is clearly soaking up every lesson. I look forward to seeing what they both do with this kitchen training.

As the muffins were going into the oven, I could hear the heavier patter of footsteps coming down the stairs, followed by a sleepy “good morning.” With Caleb now awake and the scent of baking blueberry muffins dancing in the air, it was time to get the breakfast show on the road.

Once the gobbling commenced, happy sounds filled the air. The meal ended with Caleb’s butt poised up in the air on his chair as he examined the contents on the dining room floor, as Sadie sang a happy song which she had just made up. I just sat there admiring my treasures.

My children are happy, healthy, whimsical, curious, and creative. I am anchored in a loving relationship and surrounded by the best quality human beings for friends and family. I live in a beautiful and bountiful part of the world, surrounded by good food, nature, mixed cultures, and countless activities and opportunities.

All combined, it makes an unsuccessful first attempt at cheese making much easier to put into perspective.

 

Blueberry Muffins

From a Baker’s Kitchen by Gail Sher

Ingredients

1C fresh blueberries

1tb all-purpose flour

2C all-purpose flour

1tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

½ C sugar

1 C yogurt

1 egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp grated lemon rind

Wash the fresh berries, drain them on a towel, and place them in a strainer. Holding the strainer over a plate, sprinkle the berries with flour and tap the strainer so that the excess flour falls through. This will help suspend the berries in the batter and prevent them from bleeding.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. In a separate smaller bowl, mix the yogurt, egg, melted butter, and lemon rind. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry, stirring only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Gently stir in the blueberries. Spoon the batter into well-buttered or paper-lined muffin cups and bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Four Friends and a Fondue Pot

SisterhoodMore than 25 years ago, my friends Sarah, Deborah, Virginia, and I began a tradition of gathering for cheese fondue, laughter, and close friendship. We call ourselves “The Fondettes” and we’re working on our soon-to-be solid-gold hit: My waistline’s huge and I’m gonna need some Lactaid…ay la, ay la, my waistline’s huge!”

I have known “Virg” since first-grade, “Sar” since second, and “Deb” since our Lowell High School days in San Francisco (I, of course am “An”). We began our semi-annual fondue gatherings toward the end of our senior year. Most of our mothers had a fondue pot laying around, long-neglected since the 1970’s and we quickly learned how to put them to good use.

With income earned from our first jobs, we would purchase bulk Swiss cheese from Safeway, cheap white wine (forget about adding the traditional kirschwasser – cherry liqueur), and a loaf of sourdough for our fondue feast. Sarah, who had worked at a Swiss-German restaurant in high school, introduced us to a nifty side dish, which we have since incorporated into our meal. The perfect fondue accompaniment consists of sliced kielbasa sautéed in orange marmalade until well-glazed. You can’t understand how good this is until you stab the caramelized kielbasa with a fondue fork and dip it into the cheesy fondue, along with a chunk of crusty bread…pure food alchemy! Sarah also started a tradition of being the first to grab the golden chunk of cheesy crust at the bottom of the fondue pot. We just leave it for her now!

Early on, we discussed our latest crushes, the challenges of living with difficult parents, and what classes we were loving or loathing. Today, bulk Swiss has been replaced with Gruyère, Comté, or Ementhaller; cheap Sebastiani with a lovely bottle of dry white wine; sourdough with an artisan batard; and yes kirschwasser! Emails go out, babysitting is arranged, and we sit around discussing love and marriage, the roller-coaster ride that is parenthood, and the careers we are loving or loathing. We laugh, occasionally cry, and rib each other like only old friends can do. I am convinced that the fondue is greatly enriched by a few tears and the presence of mirthful laughter!

We have each come to depend on these regular gatherings, which sometimes occur just for the sake of consuming fondue, and at other times to celebrate a birthday, an important milestone, or because we needed the comfort of good food and friendship to buoy us through many losses and life challenges. Last night, after making our busy-life arrangements, we gathered at Virg’s house in S.F. for our latest fondue feast. On this occasion, one of us had just lost a mother and we were all reeling from the loss of two high school friends.

Virg, who recently introduced us to the healing power of karaoke, busted out the karaoke machine after dinner. A smile is still plastered across my face as I think about this group of close friends now in our mid-forties, all of us mothers, wailing “Oh, no, not I, I will survive. Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive. I’ve got all my life to live, I’ve got all my love to give. And I’ll survive, I will survive, hey, hey!

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Fondue recipe (we substitute flour for cornstarch)

Kielbasa with marmalade: using one or two packages of kielbasa, depending on how many mouths you’re feeding, slice up the sausage into thin coins and sauté with several generous spoonfuls of orange marmalade, until well glazed. Place in bowl and set out on the table along with chunks of bread, and the fondue pot.

An Unapologetic Cheese Plate

Anya's Cheese Plate

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the (wo)man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

For show-stopping cheese and some well deserved time to myself, I would walk 5 miles at the very least, for fromage that makes my taste buds do a pirouette. Today, with my family out of town on a camping trip and the desire to recharge my batteries, I set off on foot to the Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley (exactly 5 miles, round-trip).

All the way, The Proclaimers song I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) was running a loop in my head. The theme being, with time to myself and my pick of activities, I would walk however long it takes to fall down at the door of a good cheese-monger in pursuit of cheese transcendence.

Today was my day to personalize a cheese plate that pairs music (in this case The Proclaimers), a good pale ale, multi-seed crackers, and nectarine chutney with three ‘big personality’ cheeses: Saint Agur – a double crème blue cheese, Old Quebec Vintage Cheddar, and Bierekase – a Wisconsin made Limburger-style cheese.

Now, Caleb and Sadie love most cheeses I place in their mouths, but these three might scare off even the most open-minded adult. Saint Agur is a creamy cow’s milk blue cheese from France with a sexy mouth-feel (that’s right, I just worked “sexy mouth-feel” into a sentence!) and a pleasing taste and aroma that lingers for a while. The Old Quebec is the perfect example of a sharp white cheddar that leaves a lasting impression on your palate and makes you want to savor it beneath the shade of a prolific fruit tree.

The Narsai’s Nectarine Chutney that I purchased for this cheese plate was the perfect match for the cheddar, but complimented the other cheeses. The pungent Bierekase was an ass-kicker of a cheese. I went to the cheese counter hoping to find an example of a Tilset (which they did not have in stock) and came away with a new favorite, strong enough to scare off a bad date!

This exercise of creating my very own, unapologetic cheese pairing, walking several miles to get the goods, and taking the weekend off to really savor it comes at a time when it is clear I have been running on fewer cylinders than is necessary to function as the best version of myself. This was my much-needed time for introspection; for taking up as much space in the Universe as I need; for figuring out how to integrate my passions more fully into my life. A time to blast dorky music of my choosing, and to consume really stinky cheese.

Da da lat da (Da da lat da)
Da da lat da (Da da lat da)

Taking It All In

Cherry Blossom Fest

Saturday was a full day in San Francisco. Our mission – to eat as much food and take in as much fun as possible!

We drove in to go to my favorite eating event, the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival. There, we watched Taiko Dojo drumming (I love the deep, tribal sounds that reverberate deep within), ate delicious sushi, sweet and salty mochi on a skewer, devoured warm, savory pork buns, and tapioca drinks (Japanese? I think not).

After taking in the street theater and plenty of good eats, we drove over to Alamo Square Park to visit the Painted Ladies and take advantage of the playground with one of the most gorgeous views of the city. Despite the high winds, we had a blast (ha!) pushing each other on the swings, playing chase, blowing on dandelions, and rolling down the grassy hills. My favorite moment was locking arms and legs with Caleb and rolling down the steep hill facing the world-famous Victorians, stopping just before a large pile of dog-patties.

Back in the car, we headed toward the Richmond District where we visited Chuck and Yvonne Cannon, who are old friends of my parents, and loving extended family. This past week, I experienced two big losses from my childhood in San Francisco: a mother of one of my oldest and closest friends (someone who I was very fond of and admired immensely) and an old friend from high school who I also admired. Visiting the Cannons, then heading over to Clement Street where we dined at Giorgio’s Pizzeria, then received our sugar-fix at Toy Boat, was good for me. Nothing like old friends and familiar stomping grounds to help heal from recent loss.

At the end of our long day, I asked Caleb to name his favorite part and he responded, “Spending time with my family!” I loved the good food eating, Taiko performance, hand holding, people watching, running around the playground, rolling down the hill together, laughing, and visiting, but as Caleb said, it truly was the ‘being together’ that felt so good.

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Grilled Cheese? Yes, Please!

What the world needs now is more cheese martyrs. A selfless crew of individuals like myself, willing to sacrifice their time and taste buds to bring attention to the plight of neglected cheeses. I can’t think of a tougher hardship than being trapped in a room full of curd-nerds, forced to eat freshly made, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, a plate full of artisan cheeses, and a selection of wines that paired beautifully with each cheese.

Last night, for the greater good, I participated in an outstanding class at the Cheese School of San Francisco, called “Grilled Cheese, Please!” Led by the inimitable, surprisingly funny, and most fabulous Laura Werlin. Laura, who is a consummate cheese professional, led us through an informative and entertaining two-hour session of cheese and wine tasting. Although I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to the subject of cheese, there was much to learn. I couldn’t have fathomed all of the sublime flavor combinations that can be had between two slices of quality bread.

The cheese selection included Redwood Hill Farm’s Goat Feta, Marieke Gouda from Holland’s Family Farm in Wisconsin, Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Co., two types of fromage blanc (goat and cow), Pt. Reyes Farmstead’s Toma (crazy about!!), Hook’s 5-year Cheddar, and Cabot Creamery’s Clothbound Cheddar (love!!).

We were offered four examples of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, each made with the cheeses I mentioned, as well as other surprising ingredients like sautéed leeks, sour cherries, spinach, basil, kalamata olives, bacon, avocado, and maple syrup. Go figure!

My favorite grilled cheese by far was ‘The Greek’, a riff on spanikopita. Buttery, golden-grilled multi-grain sourdough filled with sautéed leeks, spinach, garlic, and a meltingly good combination of the Redwood Hill Farm Goat Feta and the Marieke Gouda. Although the sandwich paired well with the Scharffenberger sparkling wine we were served, it was impressive on its own.

Caleb and Sadie will be thrilled when we start experimenting with the cheese-packed sandwich recipes I came away with. I also look forward to testing out my own grilled cheese concoctions, with a combination of cheeses and ingredients that compliment them. I think I could get used to being a ‘cheese martyr’. Somebody’s got to do it!

To San Francisco with Pop

Today is my dad’s 83rd birthday. To celebrate, I am re-posting one of my favorites about one special day spent together in San Francisco. I am so fortunate to have a close friend with a generous soul and a wonderful sense of humor, all wrapped up into one amazing father. I will always cherish walking hand-in-hand to Baskin-Robbins or to dim sum with my dad, playing with words along the way (Pious Lee), and the heart connection we have always had. Happy Birthday, MannyB! The world is a better place with you in it! 

Caleb and Sadie’s grandpa or “Zadie” as we call him (Zadie is Yiddish for grandfather) was born and raised in New York. I was born and raised in San Francisco.

When I was six, my dad took me on a special father-daughter trip to New York City to visit family and retrace the footsteps of his childhood. This was also the first opportunity he had to introduce me to my paternal grandfather, who was very firmly rooted in New York and had never come out to California for a visit.

I know that this may come as no surprise, given that Anya is writing this, but we also went on an eating tour of the city. My fondest memories of this trip were spending extra time with my pop, who I have always been very close to, and of eating everything he introduced me to. We still have a photo of me at six on this trip. In one hand I am holding a slice of pizza, in the other a Nathan’s hotdog, and I am simultaneously sipping on a soft drink (there was likely a knish hiding behind my back). My dad and I recall this photo often, as it truly captured my excitement early on for all things ‘food’. Little has changed.

Perhaps, today was my chance to return the favor to my dad. I set aside this day to have a daughter-father excursion into San Francisco. I picked him up in the morning and we drove to Jack London Square where we parked and hopped on the ferry to The City. The ferry ride was beautiful and I truly enjoyed sitting next to my pop outside on the top deck. We talked about past and present as the fog breezed past us. Our boat passed the Oakland docks, then under the Bay Bridge on its way into our fair city.

From the boat, we walked over to the San Francisco Ferry Building just before lunch time. I was excited to share some of my favorite food things with my dad. I grabbed his arm and pulled him over to a salumi stall called Boccalone and ordered my favorite; a Muffuletta sandwich made hot to order, which we shared. I was pleased to see just how much my pop was enjoying it. Good taste runs in the family!

We brought more food outside to a bench in the sun. We heckled seagulls and laughed, while we watched the ferry boats coming and going.

Before long, we were on the ferry heading back to Oakland (much sunnier on this leg of our journey). I drove my dad home and we gave each other a hug and a kiss goodbye. Our sweet day had come to an end.

I will keep this memory close forever. Some time carved out of my busy full-time working, mother-of-two life, just to be with my dad. This was a rare opportunity to share my city and my food with him, as he had with me so many years ago.

Who Cut the Cheese?

She did it!Who cut the cheese? Not I. However, dozens of artisan cheese producers came out to the annual California’s Artisan Cheese Festival last weekend and man were they cutting some serious cheese!

Abandoning my family in the early morning, I drove up to Petaluma on Sunday where I volunteered all day at the festival. You could find me walking around – practically floating on a cloud – pinching myself and asking “Is this what heaven looks like?” They even provided me with a “Curd Nerd” apron to wear as I welcomed festival guests into the large white tent (one of two) for the afternoon market event.

There was live bluegrass music, local wine and ale being poured for all carrying a wine glass, delectable prepared foods, even a portable wood-burning oven churning out gorgeous pizzas, but stop the presses there was a sea of tables topped with some of the best cheese I have ever tasted. Let me clearly state the gravity of the situation…I, Anya Soltero, lover of all things ‘cheese’ was surrounded by tons and tons of amazing fresh and aged cheeses, all produced locally! Can you dig it!? Artisan cheese makers included Cypress Grove Chevre, Cowgirl Creamery, Pugs Leap, Point Reyes Farmstead, and dozens of others (full list).

It was such a treat for me to sample a host of new cheeses from dairies that I hadn’t yet heard of and a rare opportunity to talk with representatives from dairies that I am already a devotee of. My day at the festival was fun, educational, heaven for my taste-buds, and the perfect volunteer opportunity. I’m already chomping at the bit to return next year to sample some newcomers and savor some of my favorite cheeses.

Artisan Cheese Fest DSC_0130Capricious and others