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 Sadie and Caleb had been replaced by unruly wild things and it’s surprising we made it out alive with the ingredients for our meatball soup and triple chocolate cookies, not to mention good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.

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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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An Unforgettable Visit to the North Pole

Toward the end of November, my family drove to Sacramento for a long-awaited, magical journey to the North Pole on the Polar Express.

This annual Christmas season offering from the California State Railroad Museum is what memories are made of and the tickets sell out in a hot second. This year, after taking out a membership to the museum, Mateo was savvy enough to jump on-line at just the right time to secure four tickets for our family.

We arrived at the Sacramento train station in the early afternoon and after retrieving our tickets from will-call, all we had to do was look for families with pajama-clad children walking toward a classic steam train waiting expectantly on the tracks. We purchased a pair of Polar Express PJ’s for Sadie (Caleb was apparently way too cool to put on a pair), then we eagerly waited in line. Volunteers in classic railroad costume greeted and welcomed us, truly setting the tone for the fantasy journey ahead. Caleb and Sadie were all smiles and just over-the-moon when the time had come to board the train.

We quickly found our seats and then the train exited the station. On our way to the North Pole, we were greeted by a conductor who stamped our tickets, and then entertained by a hobo and a cast of other actors who reenacted scenes from the movie. Dancing up and down the aisle with hot chocolate and cookies, we eventually were offered our own individual Polar Express branded mugs with piping hot (and perfectly mediocre) hot chocolate, along with soft, fresh-baked cookies. The train rode along side the Sacramento river, making a gorgeous backdrop to this unforgettable excursion. The kiddos were in heaven and Mateo and I were feeling triumphant as parents who aim to make lasting, positive memories.

Eventually, our train arrived at its destination: the North Pole. Santa and his elves (several hot chicks in costume) were at the station outside the train, waiving at us, while packing and arranging Christmas gifts for the children of the world. Most of the kids on the train ran to the window to wave back at Santa and his crew. Once the train moved on, a very special visitor came on board and greeted each of the children – Santa himself. I was tickled by all of the thought they put into this exceptional train experience, which was bound to make perfect lifelong memories for our children.

The efforts by the volunteers dressed up in period costume, the crazy hobo who kept running up and down our car, the hot chocolate and fresh cookies, having the book read to us by a grandfatherly voice over the speaker system – all of this was just extraordinary. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I’m so glad we made this a part of our holiday plans this year – a wonderful way to end the year.

Happy Holidays from the Soltero Family!

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How Not to Feed Your Children to Wild Dingoes

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Last year, around this time, my family enjoyed a lovely day-trip to Point Reyes. It was a memorable day, which is why I documented it and named the post Ten Steps to Enlightenment.

This weekend, we returned to Point Reyes and the experience left much to be desired. Quite frankly, Caleb was acting premenstrual, bringing kvetching to a whole new level. Mateo and I returned home exhausted, ready to sell our children on the black market. In the spirit of that last trip to Point Reyes; a new top-ten list:

How Not to Feed Your Children to Wild Dingoes

  1. Don’t hop in the car on a gorgeous Saturday morning with promises of a fun road trip to be had. I don’t want to go on adventure. I want to stay home! Why do we always have to go on adventures?
  2. Don’t neglect to feed your children enough food prior to hitting the road. You never let me eat food. Do you want me to starve?
  3. Don’t drive to Point Reyes with promises of delicious cheese to be had at Cowgirl Creamery. I don’t want to eat outside, there are too many bees. What, do you want to get stung to death?
  4. Don’t buy your children gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. This doesn’t taste like grilled cheese and why does Sadie get all of the macaroni? No fair!
  5. Don’t drive to a beautiful coastal town with hopes of taking a family walk along the cliffs overlooking the sea. I’ve been walking all week. My legs hurt and I don’t want to move any more.
  6. Don’t get caught in a 20 minute traffic jam in the middle of a gorgeous state park surrounded by redwoods. Why can’t I listen to my station? Can you turn the music louder? When are we going?
  7. Don’t suggest a rain-check for something you said “no” to on the drive home. You always give out rain-checks. When are we going to drive to San Francisco and ride around on MUNI like you promised, it’s been two years!
  8. Don’t offer to let your child pick out a movie at the rental store on the way home. I’d rather go into San Francisco and ride around on MUNI.
  9. Don’t offer to buy Gordos burritos for dinner following your road-trip. Why do we always have to eat food from restaurants? Why can’t we cook at home? We never cook real food at home!
  10. Don’t offer to give your child a kiss goodnight while he’s tucking himself under the covers on the top bunk. I don’t want to give you a kiss. You’re taking away from my reading time. Can’t I just read my book in peace?

I’ll take a martini, thank you and a gold medal for braving a full-day trapped in a metal kvetching booth. Momma told me there’d be days like this.

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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Birth Announcement

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IT’S A CHEESE BLOG!!!

For those of you who have witnessed the hijacking of my beloved blog—dedicated to raising my children to become global citizens through cooking and eating good food—with personal adventures (and misadventures) in cheese, I am pleased to inform you that my cheese ramblings now have a home of their own…

Announcing my new blog: Turophile

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a connoisseur of cheese : a cheese fancier

Please visit Turophile and if you like what you see, I would invite you to follow. You can also ‘like’ the new Turophile Facebook page. The only changes to Cooking with Caleb (and Sadie!) will be more Caleb and Sadie!

Tell a friend!

What Fondue Will Do


French onion fondue

Call me a relic, but I miss the days of dialing up my friends on my old rotary phone to chat for hours about nothing in particular. In my low-tech opinion, modern-technology threatens to disconnect us from those things that intrinsically tie us to our youth, our personal history, and our network of close friends. Of course, other commitments pull at us like work, family, and various responsibilities, but with the prevalence of Facebook, texting, and email, I feel increasingly disconnected from my friends and family. I have to work harder to experience them in 3-D.

When I learned of the Harvest Fondue class scheduled to take place at the Cheese School of San Francisco, I immediately reached out to (yes, emailed…sigh) my three oldest friends, Sarah, Virginia, and Deborah – The Fondette’s. For nearly thirty years, we have gathered regularly to perfect our fondue recipe; a tradition we three deeply value. Virg, who I’ve known since first-grade and Sarah, who became my “best-friend” in second were both free to join me and last Friday night, we met up in San Francisco and embarked on a fondue-making adventure that was just pure pleasure!

After an unrelenting week of working and parenting, it was a treat to meet up with two of my oldest girlfriends. It was especially comforting to set eyes on Virg and Sarah, and have a glass of champagne thrusted into my hand upon arrival, after having just survived Friday full-moon rush hour traffic and a near accident which left me shaky.

The classroom was filled with fondue fanatics and there were several fondue stations throughout the room. Each pot had a different recipe and the group of people seated around that pot were responsible for assembling a unique fondue. The high-point of the class, was taking a tour of the stations and with fondue fork in hand, sampling each recipe. The tour of fondue recipes forced this group of strangers to mingle, converse, and delight in food together. We laughed, shared tips, and decided on our winners for the best recipe of the evening.

My winner and the recipe that my friends and I assembled, was the French Onion Fondue: Comté cheese, sherry, fresh thyme, and caramelized onions. This pot of warm cheesy goodness was profoundly delicious. I will be sure to make it again at home.

I enjoyed the class immensely – the sensation of a week’s worth of stress melting away in a pot of cheese – and most important, time spent with close girlfriends. I am inspired to invite a group of friends and family over on a cold, rainy evening in winter to come out of isolation and gather around a welcoming pot (or two, or three) of fondue. Keep an eye out for your invitation!

French Onion Fondue

By Lenny Rice, Author of Fondue (our fabulous and ebullient instructor)

1 pound Comté or Gruyère, grated
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, cut in half and thinly sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
1¼ dry sherry

Toss the cheese with the flour in a bowl and set aside. In a fondue pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown and very soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Add the sherry and increase the heat to medium-high, stirring constantly. When the liquid just begins to boil, decrease the heat to medium-low and add the cheese mixture, ½ cup at a time, stirring until melted after each addition. Serve immediately.
Makes 3 cups

Classic fondue pots

Creamy, Dreamy, Oozy, and Luscious

Finished product

I am, of course, referring to heavenly burrata cheese; fresh, soft mozzarella filled with rich cream and stracciatella, small hand-torn pieces of cheese. What’s not to love!

If you haven’t tasted burrata – and I would define this as the worst culinary crime – you can likely purchase it at your local cheese counter, Whole Foods, or at a contemporary Italian restaurant. Cutting into freshly made burrata, topped with a drizzle of bright olive oil causes the sumptuous innards to spill forth, forcing you to quickly slather the oozy goodness atop a warm slice of garlic-infused crostini. The experience, if you can’t already imagine, can border on transcendent. Combining burrata with slices of late-summer heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil – mind blowing!

Why do I have burrata on the brain? I recently participated in a hands-on cheese making class at the Cheeseboard Collective in Berkeley. Taught by the Milk Maid (aka Louella), this cozy class made up of burrata enthusiasts, taught the art of making fresh mozzarella and burrata cheese. A friend joined me and together, we paid close attention and followed each step of the cheese-making process.

With the right instructor and the proper ingredients, making fresh mozzarella and burrata isn’t as difficult as I expected. You really get your hands into the ingredients, making it a fun, tactile experience. The best part was returning home with handmade examples of both cheeses, and then sharing them with my very appreciative (and lucky!) family.

Click here for a great step-by-step burrata recipe and demonstration brought to you by a fabulous blog called Sunday Suppers. If you haven’t already developed a love-affair with burrata, go in search of some. Let me know what you think!

Pulling apart the cheese

Stretching the mozzarella

My burrata

Oh When the Plates Come Crashing Down

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I often don’t realize how many plates I have spinning on numerous poles until I reach a breaking point and some or all come crashing down. Recently, everything got to be too much and the breaking point – because there inevitably is one – came when attempting to decide what color to choose for an exterior paint job we have planned. Mateo came home from work one afternoon; I just crawled onto his lap and began to cry. Although, I consider this to be somewhat of a yuppie crisis, for me it happened to be the plate that sent it all crashing down.

To know me is to understand that I probably have too many plates spinning at any given time. I work full-time in a job that isn’t where my passions lay; I have two young children with tons of energy for my 44-year-old self, a mortgage to pay off, a marriage to nurture, and a constant itch to do something creative and fulfilling.

When I reached my breaking point last week, I realized that it was time to restore balance in a number of forms. First, I promptly employed a professional color consultant at the behest of a friend and in 90-minutes, we had the paint colors locked in. Whoo, what a load off! Then, there was the full-length massage given by a practitioner of Tibetan medicine. As I lay exhausted, overly stressed, and depressed on her table, she healed through her trained hands, as well as these Tibetan bells, which she placed along the chakra channel. Feeling the chiming reverberation through my body was simultaneously electrifying and deeply restorative. I came away feeling as if my re-set button had been pushed.

Next, I lined up a free day with a close girlfriend and together, we left our families and drove off to wine country where we imbibed and consumed gorgeously plated food whose taste was as divine as its appearance, at one of my favorite Yountville restaurants, Redd.

After lunch, we found some gelato and sat on a pristine lawn in the shade, where we continued to talk, laugh, and relate.

We then walked over to the French Laundry so I could pay my respects to the ‘Temple of Delicious’ and take some photos with Cecile. We crossed the road to the restaurant’s sizeable organic garden and brushed our fingers over the vast array of herbs they use in the kitchen. Then, I did something forbidden; I plucked a ripe tomato off the vine and quickly popped half into my mouth, then shared the other half with Cecile. I was willing to go to jail for this criminal act, but luckily the garden cops didn’t witness my misdeed.

The day was healing and it became apparent that I need more days like this; shared with family, friends, and on my own. With both arms, I need to push back the stresses of life, just a little more often and find a way to get more out of the present moment – whether it’s through cooking, laughing with a good friend, going out on a date with my husband, or partaking in a pillow fight with Caleb and Sadie. I need to question how many plates I have spinning at any given time, and then give myself full permission to lighten my load for sanity’s sake. It can just get to be too much.

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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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Taking the Plunge

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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…

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