Inhaling India

Ordinarily, I don’t shy away easily from ethnic home cooking, but there is something about a long list of Indian spices, the need for a special spice grinder, exotic ingredient procurement and preparation – inevitably involving a trip to Vik’s Market in Berkeley – that stops me in my tracks when pondering a home-cooked Indian feast.

Enter Simran and Stacey of A Little Yumminess fame – both friends, fellow bloggers, passionate home chefs, and kindred spirits.

On Sunday afternoon, I participated in their Flavors of India class at one of my favorite destinations in San Francisco for breaking bread with community, 18 Reasons. My hope was that these gals would demystify Indian home cooking for me. They took on no small task in teaching this class. The lengthy list of recipes included: Channa Dhal, Homemade Madras Curry Powder, Shrimp “Curry in a Hurry,” Indian-Spiced Creamed Spinach, Spiced-Roasted Cauliflower, Turkey Chappali Kebabs, Carrot Raita, Coriander Chutney, Parantha, and Chai Masala.

In close quarters with fellow enthusiasts from all walks of life, we were walked through each recipe with patience, passion, and humor. Simran described each spice that we would soon be cooking with, then passed fragrant jars around for inspection. I stood there inhaling India.

The class soon divided into smaller groups and in the adjacent kitchen, we began to cook. With Stacey and Simran at our side, assisting and tasting with their trained palates, we swiftly and successfully prepared a lavish Indian feast. Before long the veil of mystery had been lifted.

I can envision recreating many of these dishes at home with Caleb and Sadie, the most memorable included the Carrot Raita, Turkey Chappali (in place of lamb for availability) simmered in a spicy cream sauce, and the Shrimp “Curry in a Hurry.” Truth to tell, every recipe was outstanding and tasted better than most dishes I’ve ordered at Indian restaurants. Demystification accomplished.

Part I: What Happens in Paris…

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…gets blogged about the moment I return!

Just home from three days in Dublin, followed by a week in Paris with my family, I am basking in the glow of every moment spent exploring together. We’ll call it ‘the taste of two cities’ or ‘the Soltero walking and eating (and eating and eating) tour’.

The Food in Paris

Both Caleb and Sadie were amazing, hiking for miles around the city, day after day with little to no kvetching. The trick? Promises of flaky croissants and warm chocolate chaud….and some French cheese for good measure.

When we were on to a good lead, the food in Paris was phenomenal: from a buttery croissant just out of the oven, to an ice cream cone enjoyed on Île Saint-Louis, to onion soup – gooey melted cheese atop a slice of bread soaking up the soup beneath, slow cooked lamb stew, buttery, flaky mille-feuille, poached egg spilling over a batch of white asparagus, escargot with parsley pesto, perfectly ripened unpasteurized goat cheese shmeared on a baguette de tradition…I could go on and on.

Experiencing Paris through Caleb and Sadie’s eyes (and taste-buds) was a rare treat and I was impressed by their utter sense of adventure, especially when experiencing new cuisine. Paris is certainly the city to fall or be in love…and in love I was with my amazing family.

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A Cheese Making Class for Kids? Moooo!

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One point has been established repeatedly on this blog…I love cheese…I’m a cheese luva…I frequently obsess about the next piece of cheese to savor. If I’m going to be considered any kind of enabler in this lifetime, I’m down with ‘cheese pusher’ and my children are easy prey as they love almost any variety of cheese I put in their path. I don’t think you need any further convincing.

Last weekend, I brought Caleb and Sadie into the City for a workshop called Cheesemaking for Kids at 18 Reasons in the Mission District. I have participated in many cheese making classes, but this is the first one I had seen that was geared toward children. I wasted no time and registered both kiddos and I volunteered to photograph the class, simply to get a contact high off the experience.

DSC_0339Louella Hill, known as the Milk Maid and owner of her eponymous business, teaches adults and children how to make a variety of cheese, including fresh chevre, burrata, mozzarella, ricotta to name a few. The class, which was made up of a very diverse group of pint-sized city dwellers, started out with a rather sophisticated cheese tasting. Caleb especially did not shy away from even the most pungent of offerings. I kvelled a little. Before long, Louella was instructing the students on how to make crème fraiche, basic cheese, and mozzarella.

All of the children, including several parents who hung around, asked great questions and were genuinely excited to learn about the science of cheese making. Louella, a skilled instructor, did a fabulous job packing a ton of great lessons in a short period of time adding an equal dose of levity and fun for good measure. Caleb and Sadie came away with a few samples of cheese they had actually made in class and they were proud of their accomplishments. I am just thrilled that they both seem equally primed to follow in my cheese-addicted footsteps. There are worse fates to wish upon your children.

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18 Reasons

Images of Autumn

imageA happy accident landed me in Calistoga for the weekend. A Saturday morning stroll led me to the Calistoga Farmers Market. Markers of my most beloved season abound.

Nuns hawking baked goods, rustic bread, artisanal sausage, gorgeous seasonal produce. Locals greeting one another with warm embraces and the latest news. Just-made exotic food scents wafting down the aisles. A live bluegrass  soundtrack. This is something special. This is autumn…
 
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Dear French Laundry

cookingwithcaleb:

In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, one of my favorite posts…

Originally posted on Cooking with Caleb (and Sadie!):

It began with a good-natured letter to the French Laundry restaurant in Yountville.

Mateo and I had just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary and we made every attempt to honor our special occasion by dining at the French Laundry. Despite following the reservation protocol of booking two months in advance (only to get on the waitlist for several days), calling almost daily, even showing up on the day of with my hand-written sign hoping that we would come off the wait-list, we were unsuccessful in getting in.

We still had a fabulous and memorable anniversary celebration in the wine country. Once home, I sent a letter to the restaurant with a clip from my last blog-posting. Some expected that I would receive a call back from the renowned ‘temple of all things delicious’, but I wasn’t sure. Several days after putting my letter in the mail, however, I received…

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A Delicious Beta Test

Cheese boardBy now, you have likely noticed that I’ve almost completely hijacked what was to be a charming blog about cooking with my children and turned it into a big old flaming cheese themed me-fest! Well, hang in there…Caleb and Sadie will soon return. In the meantime, allow me to tell you about a delicious experiment.

Several weeks ago, I held a small event in my home and called it an Artisan Cheese Pop-In. I invited a handful of cheese-loving guinea pigs to help beta test an idea I’ve been incubating for far too long. For years, I have dreamed about starting a small business that offers food-themed workshops (not specific to cheese), both hands-on and informational, creating an inviting and inclusive environment around a family table of sorts.

Intimidated by business plans, loans, and lease agreements (not to mention big, scary leaps of faith and potential bankruptcy), I’ve kept my idea safely on the back-burner, until recently when I decided to just hold a gathering and launch the concept in the comfort of my home. What the heck.

So, I asked my guests to ‘bring to the table’ a selection of artisan cheese that they could tell us about, and a story or two about food memories from childhood. Culture Magazine was kind enough to donate a stack of recent issues and I had some of my favorite cheese books on display for good measure. Jesse Rogala, a talented local photographer and founder of Left Shore Photography, was onsite to capture the event. And capture it he did with just the right energy and mood.

My friends not only contributed a delicious and distinctive selection of cheese, but also came equipped with personal food stories that when told, brought us all a little closer. I supplied some of my favorites: Fourme d’ Ambert, Le Secret de Compostelle, and Epoisses, and accompaniments such as acacia honey, figs from our tree, olives, apricots, and plum preserves. Oh, and wine of course.

For me, this was not intended to be a cheese party – a two hour slot to eat cheese, sip wine, talk, then move onto the next event. It was an attempt at putting my ideas out there to see what it feels like and how they would be received. I feel successful and proud for having taken this first step, and I am grateful to those who took part. If you weren’t invited to this one, I am confident that there will be others!

Photographs by Left Shore Photography (Jesse Rogala)

Land O’ Cheese at Outside Lands

IMG_1832-1.JPG Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of sardine-packed concert venues, large crowds, contact highs, and Jumbotron-sized speakers blaring bands that I’ve never heard of. Schlep into San Francisco on a bone-chilling, foggy day only to be surrounded by thousands upon thousands of intoxicated young adults. Not so tempting. However, sweeten the deal with an opportunity to volunteer for Culture Magazine and be surrounded by an impressive selection of cheese for an entire day, not to mention be in the entertaining company of Lassa Skinner, the owner of Culture Magazine, and her merry band of cheese passionistas, and I could be swayed.

I’m grateful to Mateo for taking the kids around the city, while I spent the day volunteering at Cheese Lands, pretending I was a cheesemonger for the day – slicing and prepping cheese, then assembling enticing cheese plates for the masses of surprisingly sophisticated palates wandering Outside Lands. As long as I was within the confines of the cheese booth, surrounded by great people and copious amounts of amazing cheese, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. IMG_1833-1.JPG IMG_1830-2.JPG IMG_1835-0.JPG

Gorilla in the Mist

Caleb at Gorilla

Last weekend, with a day wide open for adventure, our family spontaneously made for the coast to the often fog-cloaked town of Pacifica. I’ve been hearing much buzz about Gorilla Barbeque, a small operation housed in an abandoned freight container. Clearly a local favorite, we joined the long line of shivering, yet loyal masses – those willing to brave the fog and crisp coastal breeze for a plate of ribs (and other barbecued meats such as brisket and pulled pork) and sides that warm you from the inside out.

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Caleb was so excited to order his helping of ribs that he spent our time in line rehearsing his order and bouncing it off me for feedback “I’ll have the kid’s special of pork ribs with a side of corn-on-the-cob! Does that sound right Mama?” Confident that he could deliver his lines without incident, I set him loose on the young, unsuspecting woman behind the counter. Before long, we were exiting the freight container, down the stairs and headed to a grove above the parking lot, bathed in…wait for it…fog.

Hungry and expectant, we sat down at a funky, rag-tag table and hurriedly opened our individual orders. In record time, we were making lip-smacking sounds and licking our fingers, while devouring perfectly seasoned pork ribs, slathered in award-winning barbeque sauce.

It’s rare that Mateo and Caleb get as excited about food as I do, but something about expertly made warm ribs devoured on a chilly day, made for their idea of a perfect culinary experience.

We will most definitely return.

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