Meatballs and Chocolate to Tame the Wild Things

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Recently, I picked up soup and sandwiches from Rustic Bakery in Larkspur and delivered them to a friend in need. The soup I arrived with – spring minestrone with meatballs – wasn’t actually what I had ordered, but was unlike anything I’d had before. It tasted of spring and was nourishing, and full of flavor. I was inspired to make something similar at home.

Today, we had a break in the gorgeous weather and it actually felt like early spring with some light showers and slightly brisk temperatures — the perfect day for cooking with the kids.

Our trip to Monterey Market took its toll on me. Sadie and Caleb had been replaced by unruly wild things and it’s surprising we made it out alive with the ingredients for our meatball soup and triple chocolate cookies, not to mention good cheese, bread, and salad fixings.

By mid-afternoon, my children had returned on their boat from far across the world and in and out of a day. Caleb and I took on the triple chocolate cookie recipe together. He was so eager to help just had a great attitude with any task I threw at him. Could this have had anything to do with the fact that he was in close proximity to chocolate and plenty of utensils to lick? Most definitely.

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Later in the afternoon, I prepared the meatballs, then Sadie helped me to brown them in the pan. The soup came together rather quickly and before too long, we were sitting down to a gorgeous spring meal. The soup (which, of course, was still hot) was outstanding and we all fell quiet as we devoured it. The chocolate cookies were not too sweet, and were perfectly chewy and rich with flavor.

It felt good to be in the kitchen with my kiddos after a lengthy hiatus. We’ve just been too busy, and this was the perfect opportunity to slow our gears down a bit and bond over good things to eat.

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Spring Minestrone with Meatballs

ingredients

  • 6 ounces ground turkey (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan, divided, plus more for garnish
  • 4 garlic cloves, 2 minced, 2 thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 1 large egg, whisked to blend
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
  • 5 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup Israel couscous
  • 1 cup peeled and small diced carrots
  • 1 cup (packed) baby spinach or other greens
  • Chopped fresh herbs
  • Fresh Parmesan

preparation

Mix ground turkey, breadcrumbs, 3 tablespoons Parmesan, 2 minced garlic cloves, chives, egg, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Form into 1/2″-diameter meatballs (makes about 28).

Heat oil in a small pot over medium heat. Cook meatballs until golden all over, about 3 minutes (they will finish cooking in soup). Transfer to a plate; set aside.

Add leek to pot and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves; cook for 1 minute. Add broth and 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Stir in Israeli couscous and carrots; simmer until pasta is almost al dente, about 8 minutes. Add meatballs; simmer until pasta is al dente, carrots are tender, and meatballs are cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add spinach, kale, or favorite green and remaining 3 tablespoons Parmesan; stir until greens are wilted and Parmesan is melted. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with herbs of choice and Parmesan.


Triple Chocolate Cookies

ingredients

  • 10 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup chopped pecans (optional)
  • 6 ounces (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips

preparation

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Stir chopped chocolate in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth; remove from over water. Cool melted chocolate 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in another medium bowl until crumbly. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat until mixture is light, pale, and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add lukewarm melted chocolate and vanilla and beat just until blended. Fold in dry ingredients, then chocolate chips.

Drop chocolate cookie batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, 1 baking sheet at a time, until tops are evenly cracked but cookies are not yet firm to touch, about 12 minutes.

Hot On the Cheese Trail

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Mateo recently returned home from a work retreat with a map of the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail. This handy little map brought to you by the California Artisan Cheese Guild keeps making its way back into my hands, so on Saturday I decided to take it for a spin. Mid-morning, my family packed into the Camry and embarked on a cheese trail adventure.

Our three stops on the Marin driving tour were Marin French Cheese Company just outside of Novato, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company in the small town of Nicasio, and our family favorite – Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes.

Marin Cheese Trail

We arrived at Marin French just in time for lunch, along with a merry band of bikers. Inside the sizeable retail operation, we sampled their cow’s milk offerings. I’m not a big fan of this dairy, but some of the first ‘exotic’ cheeses I ever sampled in my youth, were their Rouge & Noir camembert and brie. I find their cheese to be too mild, lacking in distinguishing qualities, and most everything we tasted was young and not ripened enough to my liking.

Just as I was about to give up on flavor, I honed in on a style I hadn’t heard of, Schloss, a square wash-rind variety that makes up for all of their mild-mannered options with the flavor and pungency of an Austrian style aged cow’s milk cheese. We walked our stinky little Schloss out to a picnic area near the small, picturesque lake and enjoyed it with a hearty seeded baguette and salami. Sadie and Caleb shared a portion of our snack with the geese and ducks gathered near our table, while Mateo and I sat in the sunshine basking in a quiet moment.

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We then drove for about 10 minutes until we reached Nicasio Valley Cheese Company. There, we sampled a large variety of…wait for it…more mild-mannered cheeses. My taste buds were losing interest fast and I’m thinking bring on the stink bring on the funk! At last, I found a happy marriage of flavor and pungency in their Nicasio Reserve, a Swiss-Italian mountain cheese. We bought a square to later share with our friends at dinner, then on to Point Reyes Station!

Cowgirl Creamery never lets me down. I will wait in the longest of lines only to be rewarded with delectable, perfectly aged cheese that lacks not at all in flavor and personality. Caleb and I particularly enjoyed the Gouda-style Wagon Wheel and a very mature Red Hawk, which is made right where we stood and flourishes off the salt air cultures unique to that area. Finishing our cheese tour at Cowgirl Creamery was the perfect end note and with happy bellies filled with way too much cheese, we returned back to the East Bay. What a trip!

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Girly Girl Gorgonzola Fig Tart

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Sadie and I are home having a girly girl weekend, while ‘the guys’ are on their annual pilgrimage in Monterey. Staring out at our prolific fig tree this morning, while sitting with Sadie at the table, I suddenly felt bitten with inspiration by a Dash and Bella recipe I had recently salivated over for a fig and blue cheese tart.

I tucked my thoughts away for a while as Sadie entertained me during breakfast. I was reminded of how fun and tender she is. At one point, she picked up a photo of the two of us to show me and said with confidence “this is love!” At that exact moment, my heart turned to mush over a bowl of cottage cheese. Sadie went on to explain that our hearts are glued together. Indeed they are.

After breakfast, we prepared an easy tart dough recipe. She was clearly in her comfort zone, spending special time with me in the kitchen; not having to take back-seat to her big brother’s occasional bossiness.

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After returning from a lovely walk to the local farmer’s market with our friends, we headed back into the kitchen. We rolled out our now chilled dough, and then spread out the figs I had picked this morning, onto the  onto the rolled out pastry. I then sprinkled crumbled gorgonzola, shreds of prosciutto, and a light drizzle of honey and balsamic vinegar. When the tart looked like an art-piece, it was time for the oven.

While it baked, Sadie further entertained me with a “birthday song” she had made up on the piano (for no one in particular’s birthday). She commanded me to dance around in circles while she performed. I complied. When she finished, she handed me an imaginary piece of birthday cake, which I quickly gobbled up. I asked her if it was chocolate and she responded “yes, but with a little poop in it!” It was delicious…who knew poop was the new it ingredient!?

Once out of the oven, I wanted to throw myself at our fig tart – it looked and smelled divine. I eagerly sliced myself a corner and devoured it, appreciating the perfect marriage of sweet, salty, and savory. I love how the figs caramelized under the melted gorgonzola, and how good they tasted with salty prosciutto. What a great use of our figs, as well as our time together. Don’t tell Sadie, but it was a cut above chocolate cake with poop.

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Tutti a Tavola…a Mangiare!

I woke up in a cantankerous mood on Sunday—uncharacteristically crabby and something needed to be done about it pronto. Mateo agreed to take the kids out for a bit in the afternoon and I rolled up my sleeves and immediately got to cooking. Ah, food therapy does the trick every time.

We had pluots (plum/apricot hybrid) from that morning’s farmer’s market stroll and I had leftover homemade tart dough in the fridge, so I assembled an easy pluot galette with a recipe I adapted from the Zuni Café Cookbook.

Once that galette came out of the oven, I could feel the tension ease and my shoulders drop. It was gorgeous and its fruity aroma permeated the house. Next, I channeled my inner-Lidia Bastianich and drummed up a gourmet pizza recipe using ingredients we had in our house, including fresh dough from Trader Joe’s.

Caleb throwing dough in the air

After the family returned, I employed Caleb and Sadie, and together we made a sumptuous, summer-themed pizza, topped with mozzarella, gorgonzola, sliced farmer’s market perfectly ripe peaches, salty prosciutto, and parsley.

We sat down for a dinner of golden, bubbly, just-out-of-the-oven gourmet pizza with a simple arugula salad on the side. For dessert, we enjoyed the pluot galette. Honestly, sometimes you really have to toot our own horn—TOOT TOOT—this meal was frickin’ delicious!

My pleasant mood had returned and I sat there at the family table feeling calm again, not to mention extremely grateful for the seasonal ingredients, the delicious food we had just devoured at record speed, and the company of my loving familia.DSC_0001

Faking French

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The end of summer is fast approaching. I reflect on this season and take pride in the two vacations my family enjoyed; first to New York for our family reunion, then to Shasta Lake for a week of water play. This is all well and fine, but to know me is to know that I have a Grand Canyon-sized travel bug, especially in the summer and sadly it feels unfulfilled.

I’ve suffered through friend’s Facebook updates from France, Croatia, Hawaii, & Mexico and I have felt a palpable ache inside to be somewhere more romantic, more exotic – especially France.

That daily fantasy of gallivanting off to France, frolicking through the countryside, apprenticing at a goat cheese dairy, sampling every cheese in every fromager in Paris, sipping an artful café au lait at an outdoor café watching the sharply dressed world go by, has to remain just that for now – a fantasy. Here is my life in the Bay Area demanding my attention: school, childcare, full-time employment, a mortgage, and all of the other pressures piled high on my plate.

So what to do with this can’t-fly-off-to-Paris angst? Cook French food! Yesterday afternoon, after arranging a culinary play-date with my close friend Cecile – who just returned from three weeks in her native France – I planned a menu that included coq au vin, a savory roasted early-girl tomato tart, just-picked arugula tossed in a homemade vinaigrette, and bittersweet chocolate pot de crème for dessert. Not to mention the stinky French brie for an appetizer.

With a close girlfriend at my side and a glass of chilled white wine in my hand, we effortlessly fell into sync assembling the coq au vin. I had a cookbook open, but I followed my friend’s lead and observed her make a roux like this was everyday-business. Cecile had never made coq a vin, but she naturally took the lead and helped me to produce what smelled and tasted authentic and mouth-watering.  

Caleb and Sadie had helped make the chocolate pot de crèmes earlier in the day, which were cooling in the fridge. After preparing the tart dough in the morning, I quickly assembled the savory, custardy, tomato and anchovy-filled tart alongside Cecile and placed it in the oven. Finally, we assembled the arugula with vinaigrette, set the table, poured the Bordeaux, and we were off to France!

While not the same as an airplane ticket in hand, or a baguette jutting out of my bicycle basket while peddling through the streets of Paris, this meal was fulfilling on many levels. Truly delicious and very satisfying, every bite held promise that one day – perhaps not too far off from now – I could be enjoying this meal in France.

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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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The Muffins That Sadie Baked

Zesting a lemon

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.

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.

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8 Simple Steps to Fabulous Homemade Sushi

Sadie Preparing Sushi RiceMixing sushi rice

If you have been paying any attention to my ramblings, you may have gathered by now that I delight in cooking with Caleb and Sadie! Sharing my passion for food likely stems from the fact that my parents were foodies before it was cool to be called one.

Back in the mid-eighties, my father and I strengthened our already close bond over a hands-on sushi making class at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. Key takeaways: a) have all of your ingredients at the ready when you’re ready to roll, b) it’s much cheaper to make sushi at home, and c) don’t prepare sushi on an empty stomach!

Family assembling sushi togetherTa-da!!

Caleb and Sadie have eaten plenty of sushi in their short collective lifetime. We have even made Korean sushi (kimbap) before, but we have never made traditional Japanese sushi together. To prepare for our sushi-making adventure, I shopped at the local Ranch 99 for the ingredients we needed. On Saturday morning I prepared the sushi rice with Sadie’s help, then set it aside. Mid-day, we chopped the ingredients, and then put everything into small bowls for small hands.

Toward dinner time, the family gathered around the dining table to begin making sushi. Our ingredients included sushi rice, sashimi grade salmon and tuna, masago (fish row), cucumbers, avocado, wasabi, and of course the nori (seaweed). Our neighbor Mindy, lent us an ingenious wooden sushi-making contraption called Maki Sushi Ki. This made assembling our rolls a little easier for the kiddos. It might even be considered cheating!

Little sushi chefsHandsome husband

In full disclosure, making sushi with the kiddos was a little exasperating at first. With sticky rice hands flying everywhere and fish eggs (among other ingredients) falling on the floor, I had to take a deep breath and remind myself to be a patient teacher -and- to enjoy myself in the process. This helped. Before long, we were all feeling excited and accomplished as our rolls piled up on cutting board.

It was time to slice up our sushi rolls (maki) and arrange them on the platters. Mateo had a lovely idea to bring everything out to the patio, since it was still sunny and mostly warm outside. He poured me some warm saki and a glass of wine for himself. Caleb wanted to play the role of ‘waiter’, so we applauded and cheered as he carefully walked each platter out to the patio table. I created a Japanese-themed station on Pandora, then we got Caleb and Sadie settled at the table.

Our homemade sushi rolls were fresh tasting and delicious. We even assembled a sashimi platter from the extra fish. This was such a delightful and memorable cooking project. Caleb even remarked that this was “the best night ever!” I felt the same.

Recipe for sushi rice

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My Childhood | Your Childhood

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 Vivid mental Polaroid’s from my childhood have been paying me a visit lately. Growing up in San Francisco in the 70’s and 80’s makes for some colorful memories.

Sisters sunbathing topless on the back deck of our Richmond District home. Floating around in our home-made redwood hot tub with a life-jacket on that my dad required me to wear when he wasn’t ‘on deck’. Parents taking me, their youngest by 13 years, off to Europe to live in a small Mercedes milk delivery truck, which we traversed through numerous countries in over the course of one year. Its interior decorated with my three-year-old art work, a mattress in the back for my parents, a hammock over the front seat at night for me, and a wall with a hole in it separating the two, which I could barely crawl through.

Growing up at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center where my mom worked throughout much of my childhood – the smells of chlorine and baked chicken take me right back to the original building. Tap dance classes in the auditorium with Carol Butler.

Peace marches, folk concerts, and demonstrations. Delicious home-cooked meals by my mom that were my first exposure to really good food. Walking hand-in-hand with my dad to a local dim sum bakery where barely peeking over the counter, I’d pick out a steamed pork bun, and gobble it down on our way back home together.
Even as I’m writing this, more memories are flooding in and I can’t help but compare and contrast the childhood I had, to the childhood Caleb and Sadie are having. As they are growing up just across the Bay from where I was raised, I observe similar themes: close-knit loving family, delicious meals, Jewish community, arts and culture, and parents who want to expose them to as much good in the world as they can. I can’t say I’ve taken the kiddos to a peace march, but have brought them to many an AIDS Walk – a cause that is deeply important to me. I think my “Make Dinner Not War” bumper sticker is a left over from that time and it really reflects my desire to live in a peaceful world, where life revolves around the family table, and a difference is made, one well-cooked meal at a time.

Caleb and Sadie live in a big town, where I lived in a small city. They frequent farmer’s markets and block parties, soccer practice in the park and story time at the library, they go to Purim festivals at the North Berkeley JCC, and they are spoiled on some of the finest food, which is so readily accessible to them. They have a loving Jewish earth momma who blogs about their every delicious bite and food adventure. A doting father who runs them into Tilden Park at every opportunity to be at one with nature, a steam train, a carousel  and a steep grassy hill to roll down. They are surround by wonderful family members who respect who they are and what they have to say, and want to expose them to everything from Jewish holidays, to life on a Sonoma farm and pulling eggs from a hen house, to the correct way of ordering a burrito at a Mission District taqueria.

Where am I going with all this? Not sure! I have a stinky head cold and everything feels very circuitous to me at the moment. This is just a rich life they’re exposed to. I would never trade in my childhood memories – they are unique, eccentric, and reflective of the era in which I was raised – but, I rather envy Caleb and Sadie’s.

I’m Just Not That Into Sports

spicy wingsLet’s put it this way, when you’re talking sports at me, pick the sport, my mind transports me to a virtual cookbook, a stinky cheese I’d like to slather on baguette, or a hip pair of shoes I could purchase from Zappos. I might be making eye contact, nodding my head at all the right pauses, but you lost me at NFLblah, blah, blah.

Here’s where I contradict myself…as a San Francisco native, if you put my team in the World Series or the Super Bowl, suddenly I’m paying attention. At the very least, I’m offering to cook something thematic for the game viewing. In the case of Sunday’s big game, San Francisco 49ers vs. the Baltimore Ravens, I was locked and loaded – ready to cook something amazing!

Days ago, I began fantasizing about the perfect potluck offering to bring to my sister’s Super Bowl party; a recipe the kids could easily tackle (pun intended). Flipping through Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook, I came across an enticing photo of Buffalo chicken wings and the corresponding recipe. I have literally never tasted Buffalo chicken wings, only avant-garde riffs on the flavor combination, but suddenly I was salivating at the thought of warm, spicy chicken dipped in cool, creamy, blue cheese-laden dip.

After Caleb and Sadie grew tired of their morning-long-bunk-bed-fort-building adventures, we tuned into Lady Gaga and danced around the kitchen while preparing to make our spicy wings. In no time, the chicken was under the broiler, and we were whirling the dip in the food processor. Everything was looking very edible. We jumped into the car with our wings n’ dip and hit the road.

At the party, everyone had been huddled (I’m getting good at this!) around the television set for a while. It felt like time to break out the Buffalo chicken wings. I wish I had snapped a succession of photos of the serving platter over the course the few minutes it took for the chicken to completely vanish. The wings received rave reviews and everyone loved the blue cheese dip. Despite the 49ers defeat, I felt a little victorious.

Buffalo Chicken Wings

Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten

For the wings

16 chicken wings (about 3 pounds)

¼ pound (1stick) unsalted butter

1 tsp cayenne pepper

4 tsp Frank’s Hot Sauce or 1tsp Tabasco (we used TJ’s Chili Pepper Sauce)

1tsp kosher salt

For the dip

1 ½ cups crumbled gorgonzola or other blue cheese

1 cup good mayonnaise

¾ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons milk

¾ tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 ½ tsp kosher salt

¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Celery sticks, for serving

Preheat the broiler. Cut the chicken wings in thirds, cutting between the bones. Discard the wing tips. Melt the butter and add the cayenne, hot sauce, and salt. Put the wings on a sheet pan and brush them with the melted butter. Broil them about 3 inches below the heat for 8 minutes. Turn the wings, brush them again with butter, and broil for 4 more minutes, or until cooked.

For the dip, place the blue cheese, mayo, sour cream, milk, Worcestershire, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steer blade. Process until almost smooth.

Serve the chicken wings hot or at room temperature with the blue cheese dip and celery sticks.

A Mountain of Blintzes

Mountain of BlintzesStone soup is overrated and recipes from children’s books seldom appeal to me. Several months ago, however, our family received a wonderful book from the PJ Library

We sat down to read A Mountain of Blintzes, which is about a poor Jewish family living in the Catskills in the late 1920′s. This loving family wanted to make blintzes for Shavout, a Spring holiday. Recognizing that they couldn’t afford the ingredients, each family member took on an extra job without telling the other. The story culminates in the making of a mountain of blintzes, which the family spread jam on, then feasted on around a festive holiday table.

For months, Caleb and Sadie have been begging to make the recipe from Mountain of Blintzes. This weekend, with all of the ingredients in our pantry, we finally did.

On Sunday morning, the kids took turns pouring, mixing, and assembling the ingredients and before we knew it, we were gently placing our neatly folded blintzes into a pan of sizzling butter. When each side had turned golden brown, we put the blintzes in the oven. Next, we prepared a simple berry sauce on the stove top. In about 45 minutes, we had our own ‘mountain of blintzes’. Well, not really. They were gorgeous looking, but a little too delicate to pile on top of each other.

I placed a spoonful of warm berry sauce atop each golden blintz and passed the plates around the table. The blintzes were sensational and elicited rave reviews from each family member. This may not be Spring, but there was nothing unseasonable about this recipe. Spirits bloomed, our family came closer together, and our bellies were well-rewarded for our hard work. We were even treated to an impromptu performance from Mateo who is teaching himself guitar on the weekends.

Later in the day, when we were walking with the kids, Sadie volunteered, “I liked the blintzes, but I don’t think we made a mountain!” We laughed and I thought, but like in the book, the family came together and did everything it took to make and enjoy blintzes. I was grateful too for the inspiration to make food from our roots.

Mountain of Blintzes1

A Recipe for Your Own Mountain of Blintzes

Adapted from the book by Barbara Diamond Goldin

Batter

3 large eggs, well beaten

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup water

¾ cup flour

Filling (mixed together in separate bowl)

1 pound dry cottage cheese or drained regular cottage cheese

¾ tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¾ teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

Dash of salt

Berry Sauce

1 bag frozen mixed berries from TJ’s

4-6 tablespoons sugar (to taste)

½ lemon squeezed

1 tablespoon flour

Butter for frying; sour cream, jam, and cinnamon for topping.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine eggs, salt, and water, and beat well. Gradually stir flour in until batter is smooth, with a syrupy consistency.

Grease a six-inch frying or crepe pan (we used a pancake griddle). Spoon enough batter to make a thin pancake. Tip the pan from side to side to spread the batter. Cook both sides of the pancake over medium to high heat, until lightly browned all over. Turn the pancake out onto a clean plate.

To fill the pancake, spoon a generous tablespoon of the cheese mixture onto the center. Fold in the sides and the ends to make an ‘envelope’ around the filling. Set aside. Continue making pancakes until all the batter and the filling have been used.

To make the sauce, add the frozen berries to a small saucepan, along with sugar and lemon juice. Cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat until berries have softened, then add flour to thicken (whisk, until flour has dissolved into sauce).

To serve, stack the blintzes to look like a mountain on a serving plate (ours were a little too delicate for this). You can also sprinkle cinnamon, and serve with sour cream, jam, or my quick berry sauce.

8 Nights of Chanukah (A Carol)

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Chanukah has ended and the long-abandoned treadmill is calling my name. My muffin top has been upgraded to a fallen soufflé. Latkes were inhaled and precious time was spent with friends and family as we lit the menorah, spun dreidels, and sang Chanukah songs. Good food was enjoyed, gifts were exchanged, and lifetime memories were made. In the spirit of Chanukah, I adapted this song for Jews and non-Jews alike.

Please sing along…

To the tune of ’12 Days of Christmas’ because why should goys have all the fun!?

On the first night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the second night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the third night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Three dreidel tops,
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the fourth night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Four calling cards (“To call your mother who’s worried sick about you!”),
Three dreidel tops,
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the fifth night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Five golden latkes,
Four calling cards,
Three dreidel tops,
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the sixth night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Six relatives a-kvetching,
Five golden latkes,
Four calling cards,
Three dreidel tops,
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the seventh night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Seven alka seltzers,
Six relatives a-kvetching,
Five golden latkes,
Four calling cards,
Three dreidel tops,
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

On the eighth night of Chanukah,
my true love gave to me
Eight candles glowing

Seven alka seltzers,
Six relatives a-kvetching,
Five golden latkes,
Four calling cards,
Three dreidel tops,
Two guilt trips,
And corn rye stuffed with hot pastrami

Sending you light and love, peace and good health this holiday season. From our family to yours.

A Korean Feast Like No Other

Chapchae DinnerThere are a multitude of reasons for why I love living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Being able to travel the world through ethnic cuisine is on my short list. Having long been a fan of Korean food, I was particularly thrilled when our neighbor Soonoak invited my family and one other over for a chapchae cooking lesson. I didn’t just jump at the chance, I did a pirouette, a back flip, and threw in a few break dance moves to underscore my enthusiasm!

Late Sunday afternoon, my family showed up on Glenn and Soonoak’s doorstep. Upon crossing the threshold, I could immediately smell deliciousness. Glancing over at the counter, I was excited to see sliced kimbap rolls. I had definitely come to the right place! The other family soon arrived and within minutes, rice wine and soju (Korean vodka) were being poured into small sake cups, more food was being placed on the counter, and conversation was flowing. One of the greatest pleasures of the evening was getting to know my neighbors better. Learning about their interesting careers, their families, and what brought them to El Cerrito.

A Korean custom we were taught was that the drinker never pours their own drink. It is not uncommon to clear your throat as a sign of needing a fill-up. Jokingly, we all got into the swing of clearing our throats throughout the night and sure enough, the drinks did not stop flowing. I found it particularly amusing that our gracious hostess, who had initially declined the opportunity to be photographed for my blog, warmed up to the camera after a few shots, posing with great animation.

Chapchae Dinner

After grazing on kimbap, chive omelets, kimchee pot stickers, rice cakes with soy bean powder, and spicy seasoned cucumbers, we finally sat down to feast on our chapchae. We gave the kids an amuse bouche of brown rice balls, sprinkled with fish roe, seaweed, and sesame oil (that I mixed by hand with traditional plastic cooking gloves under Soonoak’s guidance. Remind me to invent a version that doesn’t burn your fingers when handling rice just out of the cooker!) The rice balls were a clear hit with Caleb.

The star of the show, our chapchae, was outrageously good. The perfect meal to warm your belly on a crisp autumn evening, it consisted of warm cellophane noodles (made from sweet potato), tossed with sautéed onions, carrots, spinach, bell pepper, mung bean sprouts, marinated beef, sesame oil, and other seasonings. The chapchae, as well as the other Korean delicacies we prepared, including a refreshing dessert of sliced Korean pears and apples, was far better than what I’ve tasted in restaurants. I am so proud of our collective effort and am grateful to Soonoak and Glenn for opening up their home and treating us to a fabulous Korean cooking lesson amongst neighbors, who I can now call “friends.”

I have already begun dreaming up the cooking demonstration I would host. I’m thinking a cheese, wine, and food pairing. Not exactly the Eastern European cuisine of my people, but an invitation I would bust another one of my break dance moves for any day.