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.

Marin Cheese Trail1

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!

Marin Cheese Trail2

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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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

Mars landing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking the plunge

Eating New York

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It’s not hard to love New York.

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

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

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

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

NYC

The Diner at the Corner of ‘Hip and Hick’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fremont Diner – 2698 Fremont Drive in Sonoma 

The Muffins That Sadie Baked

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.

An Unapologetic Cheese Plate

Anya's Cheese Plate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking It All In

Cherry Blossom Fest

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

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

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

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

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

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To San Francisco with Pop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Cut the Cheese?

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

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

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

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

Artisan Cheese Fest DSC_0130Capricious and others

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

Caleb inhales sushiDinner

Face Slapping Natural and Other Adventures

Caleb & MateoChrissy FieldMy dumplingsNow that the title grabbed your attention, you’ll have to read the entire post to understand its meaning (unless you’re impatient and must scroll down, which technically is cheating)!

On Sunday morning, Mateo and I knew that we needed to get our collective butts out of Dodge and find a worthy destination. We headed over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco and decided on a whim to spend the day, which was uncharacteristically sunny in early March, at Crissy Field in the Presidio.

On the way to the Presidio, we passed my favorite cheese store in the city, Cheese Plus. Screech, I pulled the car over and found parking in front of the store. After sampling several transcendent cheeses, we ordered delicious warm sandwiches filled with the highest quality meats and artisan cheese, and ate them outside at one of the cafe tables in the sun. A little cookie treat for dessert, then we headed off to Crissy Field.

Why we haven’t brought the kids to Crissy Field sooner, is beyond me. There are paths to walk, run, skate, bike, and scooter down, and plenty of beach access. It’s the breathtaking back drop that makes it especially worthwhile. The Golden Gate Bridge looms over the bay and was visible in almost every photo we captured.

It was getting late in the afternoon and rather than just head back to the East Bay, Mateo and I decided to keep the fun going and head out to the Pacific Café in the outer Richmond for dinner. I worked there almost 20 years ago and several of my old co-workers are still there. We were ushered in with the first seating and ate a satisfying seafood meal. The food there is so consistent – no fancy mumbo-jumbo…just fresh fish cooked to perfection. I love how unchanged the restaurant is, with its wood paneling, warm lighting, and most important – the free wine you get standing outside in line, befriending perfect strangers.

Pacific CafeAnya & SadieFollowing dinner, we drove down Clement St. and to our great surprise, found parking right in front of Toy Boat Dessert Café. Thank you oh benevolent parking gods and goddesses. Technically, there was no room left in our stomachs, but that didn’t stop us from sharing an ice cream sundae.

With bellies painfully full, we returned to the car and started to head back to the East Bay. While driving down Geary Boulevard, a storefront caught my eye and I pulled a sudden and startling U-turn, to see if my eyes had deceived me. Indeed they had not. There was actually a business titled Face Slapping Natural at Geary and Park Presidio. In the window (click on the photo below) was a difficult to decipher manifesto and photos of the owner. We passed on getting our faces slapped and headed back to our home.

This beautiful spring day ended on a most amusing note, and was filled with delicious family time, good parking karma, excellent food, and breathtaking San Francisco scenery. It was a day well spent.

Toy BoatSadie @ Toy BoatFace Slapping Natural StoreFace Slapping Natural 2

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.

An In-N-Outing

In & Outing

Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to kick off the New Year than with a family hike on a crisp winter’s day to Tennessee Valley in the Marin Headlands, followed by a well-earned round of double doubles at In-N-Out!

It has literally been seven years since Mateo and I entered an In-N-Out and after all of the smack-talk we give fast-food to our kiddos, we thought it was about time we chill out and introduce them to our happy medium. To feel like we could justify a 1,000,000 calorie meal, we first set out on a long hike on the Tennessee Valley trail.

I loved how Caleb and Sadie ran up ahead finding walking sticks to drag through the puddles and potential poison oak disasters to stumble into. The fog very soon burned off and the warm sun cut through the biting air. The lunch bell finally rang in the form of grumbling bellies and we headed back to the car and on to our final destination, In-N-Out in Mill Valley.

We ordered, sat down, and waited in great anticipation for our warm cheesy burgers of double double goodness, a chocolate milk shake, and fries (my order, of course, was topped with melted American cheese). When our lunch arrived, we each pounced and gobbled our food down in record time.

Now, I won’t say I did not feel lethargic afterward, but Mateo and I had fun sharing the In-N-Out experience with Caleb and Sadie. A good time was had.

Truth to tell, I needed some fun this weekend. Just this past week, I found out that a childhood friend had passed away. I’m attending his memorial tomorrow and perhaps the hike and the heavy meal was exactly what I needed to ground and brace myself for the emotional ride to come (or rather, to continue). If nothing else, my friend’s passing is crucial reminder of the need for a seize-the-day approach to life. A wake up call to be deeply grateful for the beauty and love in our lives.

Tennessee Valley Outing