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 Sadie and Caleb had been replaced by unruly wild things and it’s surprising we made it out alive with the ingredients for our meatball soup and triple chocolate cookies, not to mention good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

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.

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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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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Four Friends and a Fondue Pot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fondue recipe (we substitute flour for cornstarch)

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

An Unapologetic Cheese Plate

Anya's Cheese Plate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mommy Play Date

Two friendsLife is demanding. With full-time work, two kids, and a marriage that deserves time and attention, I find it challenging to nurture new friendships, especially with other mothers who are equally busy.

As much as I crave connection with my family at the end of a long week, there are times when what I most need is some bonding time with a close friend. Cecile and I are in the process of growing our friendship (one that I believe will follow us through the decades). We met when Caleb and her daughter Eva were in preschool together. In celebration of her birthday which just passed, we went out on Saturday for a ‘mom play date’ to Brushstrokes Studio in Berkeley.

Cecile had this fabulous idea to paint pottery for a few hours together and I jumped on board faster than green grass through a goose. Off we drove in her car to the studio and once we arrived, we picked out our pottery, and began creating. Well…

Brushstrokes, Berkeley

It was fascinating to learn more about each other through this process. Cecile (a self-described ‘control freak’…as if I’m not!) has to plan out every step of her creation: picking the right piece, standing over it for an extended period of time to envision what it could be transformed into, then thoughtfully planning out the color scheme. I was about half way through my Japanese-themed sushi plate before she even began painting. This is very much indicative of my jump right in and see how it plays out approach. Not as methodical, but I generally walk away pleased with the outcome.

At one point, when we were both standing over the selection of paints, carefully moving around each other trying to decide which one to choose, we suddenly got the urge to break out into dance. As others were hunkered down over their pottery, Cecile and I twirled each other around the studio for a few memorable moments, then dutifully returned to our respective projects. Breaking out in spontaneous dance with a close friend in a public space…priceless!

After a few hours of painting, our stomachs made it very clear that it was time for lunch. We finished up our pieces, took a few photos, and set off to Picante Cocina Mexicana just blocks away from the studio. The good conversation continued as we learned more about one another. We discussed everything from our childhoods, parenting, sex, and friendship. All the while feasting on delicious Mexican cuisine.

High on my list of what I most value in life, are my friendships. Taking time out of my frenzied schedule to talk and really listen to a friend, be creative together, laugh and commiserate, was deeply fulfilling. I’m already planning our next play date.

Our pottery