Monday, April 30, 2012

Mason Jar Chandelier

Walking around downtown Petaluma last weekend, I glimpsed in this antique store window and nearly kept on walking. Then, upon closer look ...

I saw a mason jar chandelier and my heart nearly stopped. And not only with mason jars, but blue mason jars!

I started looking around and found some more inspiration.

Here's a DIY version from Instructables. No wiring required.

What I really want are some tutorials from Boots N Gus on Etsy.

Come back when you're done window shopping, dear reader.

Friday, April 27, 2012

One Pig Dinner

Last week, I found myself in Healdsburg, at a Montessori school getting CPR and first-aid certified to be exact. "When in Rome," I thought afterwards, and went to Zin Restaurant, as the locals do. Having worked here just after college and again last year, this is like a second family. So yes, I'm biased.

Wednesday is One Pig Dinner Night featuring one of Tony's Local "Old Spot and Berkshire" Cross HogsAnd here I thought I was just getting an appetizer. But wait, the bread! I forgot how tangy their homemade super sourdough is. Don't mind if I do.

I went for the wine pairings, the lovely and local Sanglier Rose and Quivera Zin, both of Sonoma County. And then ate more bread.

The first course came and went- Hard Cider Braised Pork Cheek and Shank on Falls Mill Grits. It was so amazingly delicious that I couldn't bear to put my fork down to take a picture. But gee whiz, was it something else.

Second course was Smoked Shoulder and Spicy Grilled Loin, with white beans and Eastside Farm swiss chard. I cleaned my plate. 

The grand finale was maple pecan bread pudding with candied bacon. I am loving all the bacon in desserts these days! I had it stretched onto long skewers and dipped in chocolate, and then recently as a bacon cupcake. The fatty, salty, smokey flavors just beg for sugar to round them out.

Thanks for a terrific night, Zin!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Poetry for Your Wednesday

From "Diving Into the Wreck" by Adrienne Rich

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lessons Learned from Live Chats

I needed the better part of the weekend to recover from a live chat on Friday discussing the future of food writing. (Okay, so there were some parties, too.) But seriously, for the precious pearls of wisdom gained from seasoned writers dishing out free advice, there was an awful lot to sift through.

My initial response is I needed to do some research on chat guidelines to make sure I wasn't missing the mark. I found this great article at for a little reassurance that my "virtual whiplash" as one tweeted was not unfounded.

The author Lisa Barone wrote, "If you’re not familiar with them, a Twitter chat is a guided conversation where users interested in a particular topic hop onto the service to chat. The chat is given a hashtag, which makes it easy for anyone looking in to identify the chat and participate. It’s similar to a chat room in that it’s a topic-driven conversation happening in real time; it just happens to be housed on Twitter."

I couldn't have found a better way to say that. She also suggests researching the chat topics beforehand, participating, asking questions, and taking advantage of the chat as a networking tool. All great advice! 

Not sure if this chat was different, or just very busy from a lot of users. I found the re-tweeting got too heavy and created a lot of distance between answers to questions. In an active chat with an experienced panel, I would prefer to keep the little chit chat down so it is easier to follow. 

Favorite things said:

Monica Bhide: parting words: write because you love it. Do it consistently and do it persistently.. The rewards are priceless. :-)

Dianne Jacob: Writers are sensitive. Rejection can be difficult. The most important thing is to keep at it & believe in yourself.

Adam Roberts (Amateur Gourmet): My take on : you can work your way up through established channels or create your own channel. I suggest the latter.

The Foodie Bugle: If food writers don't focus on showcasing artisanal food producers they'll have very little to write about in the future.

Dan Lepard: You are better than today's writing, or tomorrows. Aim to be clearer, gritter every time.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Road Kill Menu

Last week in my writing class, I was feeling the grind of the semester and the drudge of homework. And not just any homework: writing, where there is no clear fill-in-the-black to an assignment per se, but endless possibilities, with a bit of the subjective thrown in.

For a perfectionist, this is hell. In that moment, I didn't even want to think of the drivel I would produce under a 10-minute prompt deadline.

Until ... a lovely assignment to write a "road kill" menu of at least four entrees, consisting of "stomach churning, disgustingly awful things one could ever imagine appearing on a dinner plate."

Here are some of the class results:

Bird Drop Soup
Kitten Pot Pie
North Country Steak smothered in Moose Saliva
Armadillo Cutlet
Fresh-Boiled Roadkill of the Day
Housemade Skunk Ravioli
Transmission Fluid on Ice
Day Old Coffee
... and those are just a few

A nice break from serious personal essay and character development.

What's the most disgusting thing you'd want to add to the menu?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Live Chat on the Future of Food Writing

If you're catching this early, tune into the live chat on Twitter for an international discussion of the future of food writing. The handle is #futurefoodwriting with Amanda Hesser of Food52 and countless food bloggers, writers and journalists.

Here's a great link with guidelines for asking questions and a list of panelists.

See you there at 11 am Pacific Time, or check in with the Rambling Epicure for a recap.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Props to Santos Anne

During my trip to New York last month, I had a spontaneous lunch with a friend in Williamsburg. We walked into Santos Anne, a new place on Union that popped up in the time I've been away. One of my favorite things about New York is that it's always changing and you can count on new things with each visit.

I was inspired by the Dia de los Muertos decor and their edgy lithograph logo. And in addition to fantastic sandwiches, cool music and friendly servers, my friend and I lingered for over two hours chatting without any hassle or hovering waitstaff. This may have been the best service I had in all my years in New York!

Little touches like chalkboard walls in the restrooms and fresh fries served in metal pails made everything about this place utterly charming. Can't wait to go back my next trip!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Save that Ham Bone!

Last weekend, a chef friend asked me if I would use a leftover leg bone from a roasted pig. Um, yes! This may look like garbage or dog food to some, but I assure you it's pure gold. With a world of southern recipes I have yet to make swimming around in my head and a bone with lots of meat left on it, I'd have been crazy to say no.

The first thing I did was make ham stock. It's not nearly as versatile as chicken or veggie because it is so much fattier, but is a great base for lots of southern recipes. Collard greens, here I come!

I had to gingerly rotate the bone because even the largest stock pot in the house wasn't big enough for it.
Gently boiling for a couple hours will eventually pull all the meat off the bone. Pork stock takes a lot of skimming with the high fat content. (And on a sidenote, I apologize that the meat does not look more appetizing with my bottom line camera skills. Lots of props to photographers who can make meat look good in pictures!)

When I couldn't handle the stinky ham smell anymore, I pulled the pot and strained. Then I picked through the meat, pulling off all the fat, which are good for flavor, but not good to chew on.

This stock is perfect for cooking down collard greens, mixed with some of the ham hock. I had so much extra, I also made bean soup with nettles and garlic. The perfect southern gravy I want to make will have to wait till next time.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's Fun to Be Fancy

I never imagined there was something better than champagne. There is. It's called champagne with a wild hibiscus flower.

For special nights with special people (and that can include just lovely old you), I highly recommend dropping one of these wild hibiscus flowers in a glass of bubbles. Don't worry, they're edible and come in a lovely syrup to add a blush of color and sweetness to your glass.

Your friends will be amazed and think you're real fancy. Don't worry. It's okay to be fancy sometimes.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

food52 Love

I am not sure what has taken me so long to join the food52 community. (For you, Pop, it's like Facebook for foodies.)

I've been following Amanda Hesser ever since she inspired me to write a book about staging. She was a fellow trainee in Burgundy only ten years earlier than I, then moved on to write a bestselling book and write for the New York Times (no big deal).

Then a couple days ago, she wrote this article that changed everything for me. It's called "Advice for Future Food Writers," but could apply to any writer, or really any person in any industry, because each business is challenging in its own way. Hesser gives a very honest but encouraging look at writing in a world where all I hear is wild praise, or doom and gloom criticism.

Maybe I lied, and the article didn't change anything for me, if I'm being honest. I wake up every day and want to write, not because I imagine I can ever count on it paying the bills, but because I have to do it. It sure does help to have support from someone who's been in the trenches and can look up and say, "it's a long road, just keep on going." I know this, but always need to hear it. It's a good reminder that we are meant to keep having experiences for material, and mainly to keep writing.

Which would mean keeping fun distractions like social forums down to moderate use.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Limoncello for Slackers

There are few ingredients that delight me as much as Meyer lemons. Their zest has a more pungent aroma, but the juice is less acidic. Their sweet, fragrant quality makes them versatile for recipes both on the hot and cold side- and let's not forget, the bar side.

Tasting limoncello was my first vivid experience with a grown-up drink. Perhaps my most. It was my first time in Italy. I was 16. At the end of an intimate dinner in Sorrento, our inn keeper hosts pulled out a long, thin bottle filled with a mysterious pale yellow liqueur. My friends and I were presented with stemmed shot glasses of the lemony drink as a gift. We saluted, clinked glasses while looking each other in the eye, and took a cautious sip as it is intended. All except for me. I threw the shot back so fast I barely tasted it until the piercing burn of alcohol slapped my throat. The others stared at me and kept sipping.

I give you a very easy way to thoroughly enjoy an excess of lemons.

Zest as many lemons as you have. It should take ten or twelve for a liter of alcohol, but this is the shortcut version. Then juice them. Pour zest and juice into a bottle of vodka (you may have to drink some of it first to make more room). Let the zest and juice marinate for 1-2 weeks. I tasted mine every few days to understand its journey. When ready, strain out the zest (it will start to make it bitter if it isn't strained). I don't add water or sugar because meyer lemons will make a sweeter limoncello, but it also works well as a mixer.

Best when sipped. You can save the shots for that bottle of Old Crow lying around.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dogs at the Beach

From a sunnier day at the coast, with curious puppies, spring coastal flora and ice plant like impressionist paintings.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

Looking for five minutes of fun? Dye Easter eggs! This was literally the fastest, most low key egg dyeing session I've ever participated in, from my week with my bestie in the Midwest.

It's been a while since I did the classic egg dye kit- but it sure is a heck of a lot easier than the glittery, tie-dyed, kaleidoscope variations.

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 6, 2012

An Afternoon at the Opera

When living in New York and constantly surrounded by people, I believe it's especially crucial to carve out time to do things reserved just for you. It might be going to a museum once a month or spending time in the morning doing a crossword at a neighborhood coffee shop. 

For me, that thing was always opera. I've tried taking family and close friends with me, but when I resented having to chit chat during intermission, or looking over to see my opera date falling asleep, I decided it was best to keep it to myself, since I love it so much I can't bear to be with anyone who loves it less.

I was thrilled, not only to have the time to squeeze one in this last trip, but to see one that rarely gets performed in the west. The piece was Khovanshchina, the unfinished masterpiece of Modest Mussorgsky, best known for Pictures at an Exhibition.

If I only get to go to the opera once this year, this was the one to see. Six acts and nearly five hours long, full of the usual Russian themes of political protest and bitter relationships, this was exactly what I was in the mood for to satisfy my opera fix. A melodramatic ending of the hundred plus chorus locking themselves in a church and setting it on fire was the icing on the cake. This piece was completed and revised in different versions by several composers, including Shostokovich, Ravel, Stravinsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. This was the Shostokovich version, who was not known for cheerful themes.

When I lived in Brooklyn, tickets in the nosebleed section of the Met were so affordable, they were a few dollars more than going to see a movie. They're still reasonable now, given that any performance is going to be the best in the world, at the most exquisite opera house. I even saw a few operas in Europe during several months of travel, and nothing was quite like the Met.

Correction, nothing is quite like the Met.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Vardo

With Maker Faire just around the corner, it seems like everyone's getting into the maker spirit around here.

And wouldn't you know, the master craftsmanship of Paleotool created this adorable, yet extremely funtional, gypsy caravan deemed "The Vardo"- complete with a bed, stove, and ample bookshelves for evenings hunkering down. Please make a point of checking out all the photos of the process. It's pretty amazing that so much attention to detail was flawless executed.

The Vardo, From Paleotool

Make Magazine shared this fantastic little gem in their blog. I hope to see it in person one day!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Scavenger Cooking

Read my first and second post in this foraging frenzy to catch up! It's time we took our bounty back to the kitchen to get some food in our bellies. On the menu- miner's lettuce salad, sauteed fiddlehead ferns, local oyster po' boy bruschetta, and potato nettle soup drizzled with cream.

I jumped right into the prep while I sipped some wine and shmoozed with my classmates. We carefully washed the nettles and lettuce, peeled potatoes and chopped onions and garlic for three large stock pots bubbling away on a portable stove.

Picture perfect salad garnish of nasturtiums and wild radish seed pods.

Don't forget your gloves when handling nettles! They keep stinging long after you pick 'em.

A kind soul from Marin Organic shucked oysters for our po' boys.

My personal handiwork. I never mind the stinky jobs. Just don't look too closely at my lazy knife skills!

The finished thistle, peeled at the root, boiled and chopped. Like a lovely, deeper, more mysterious celery.

The sauteed fiddleheads, as promised.


Our healthy helping of miner's lettuce, which I forgot to mention in the forage! Impressive how a handful from everyone can quickly add up. Also, the spritely weed on the bottom right is chickweed and usually grows alongside it.

Our finished salad. Notice the wine served in mason jars.

With one of our tour guides, Langdon Cook and some of the crew. Go to his post about the day here and look for yours truly modeling onions and garlic. And then check out our other teacher, Kevin's blog! And then buy both their books.

The dramatic baptism of the nettle to the soup pots. This gets added at the end when the potatoes are all cooked through.

The soup gets combined and then blended. Heating or blending takes the sting out of the nettle, so it can also be added to a raw green juice shake at breakfast. Great if you need ways to get extra protein and super vitamins.

The oysters were quicker to cook, just a little breading and fried in oil.

Technically we didn't personally forage these babies, but with aioli and crostini, they were my faaaavorite. I strategically stayed close to the stove.

Before the fiddleheads got sauteed, we cleaned off all those pesky little hairs for a prettier presentation.

But I still kept my eye on the oysters.

Our gorgeous labor of love, drizzled with cream and garnished with a fern.

And our foraged salad with vinaigrette, walnuts and crumbled blue cheese.

A meal and a food adventure I will never forget. Thanks, Kevin and Langdon!