Sunday, September 25, 2005

Surprise! French Fries are bad for you

The New York Times reported some hard-hitting news last Wednesday. French Fries are bad for you, and the State of California thinks you should know. Turns out fried potatoes have high levels of acrylamide, which has been shown to cause cancer in lab rats and mice. The attorney general of California is now recommending that french fries and potato chips carry warning labels, like those found on cigarette packages and solvents.

But prune juice also has high levels of acrylamide, and black olives and wheat bread. Fortunately, black olives, prunes and wheat toast haven't quite caught on in the same way that fries and chips have. But what ever happened to personal responsibility? Do we really need warnings to remind us not to gorge ourselves at McDonald's?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Mom's House II

I'm one of those lucky people who has a mom that is a great cook. We grew up eating what we kids considered exotica--baked ziti and lamb curry. Over the years my mother's enthusiasm and skill has grown exponentially, and in recent years she's worked in a professional kitchen in Vermont.

It might dismay her, then, to know that while I have good memories of many of the meals that we have eaten together, the recipes I'm looking for are for all for the things she hasn't made in years, maybe decades. I talked to my brother about this. He, too, remembers the cocktail meatballs, in the their curious sauce of brown sugar, ketchup and cranberry sauce (jellied, from a can) that my mother served over white rice, though he doesn't remember the apple cake, a moist spiced cake studded with chunks of local apples, which mom would make after we went apple picking each fall.

I imagine making the popcorn balls that mom used to make at Halloween for our trick-or-treaters this year, but urban suspicions prefer individually packaged mars bars to hand-wrapped homemade caramel corn.

And then there were the haystacks. These weren't really something mom cooked, just assembled. The recipe was off the box of Total cereal, and involved coconut, peanut butter and a "no-bake" approach to cooking. A few years ago I tried to get the recipe from the good people at Total. When they finally sent the recipe, or what they thought was the recipe, I filed it away without trying to make them. I was afraid that my memory of those haystacks was probably better than they ever were.

But now, the apple cake? I think that would hold up to close scrutiny.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mom's House

It's started to get a little chilly here in San Francisco. Since I have no idea what the weather patterns are supposed to be this time of year, it feels perfectly OK, kind of like early fall days in New England. It seems only natural to take eating cues from climactic change, and this week my thoughts are on French onion soup, lentils with sausage, braised things and sauteed greens.

Last night we went to Chez Maman, a sweet, tiny restaurant on 18th Street in Potrero Hill. It's not a sleeper or a well-kept secret, so I'm sure I'm not telling many people something that they don't already know. Run by the same folks behind Chez Papa, the larger, fancier restaurant two doors down, Chez Maman serves a small menu of French bistro-y items, from croque monsieurs (or madame's) on sweet bread that reminds me of Cuban sandwiches, to a merguez sausage panini, to great salads--particularly the endive salad, which combines chopped endive with cubed pears, candied walnuts and roquefort and the frisee salad, that Parisian classic of frisee topped with bacon and a poached egg.

The restaurant has two tiny tables in the window and a long bar that faces the open kitchen. Small wine and dessert lists round out the dinner offerings, which also include, oddly, quesadillas, and crepes. I must also mention their superior shoestring fries, served with a bright and garlicky aioli. These little potato toothpicks rival the fries at Universal Cafe (Universal mayb have a slight lead) and are quite addictive.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Burgers, Bakeries, Cheese and Huckleberries

There's a great deal to catch up on. For information on burgers, check out my friend Amy's blog at She provides some well-deserved publicity for my new favorite burger spot in our 'hood.

In other news, it was back to the East again, this time for a wedding ( like the birthday I attended back East some weeks back, it too involved a big feast and a cake). It was my first trip through Boston since I moved, and I set about trying to eat all of the things that I loved in the city and visiting all of the friends, too. I remembered how much I adored the double chocolate chip cookies that they sold at Whole Foods, so I bought some of those for the flight back. Though they have Whole Foods out here in abundance, for some reason the magic mystery of the cookie hasn't been explained to their cadre of West Coast bakers. They don't make 'em out here. I suspect it's because they don't actually meet the Whole Foods standards. They are too good to be made with sucanat and whole wheat flour. Somewhere, in a Whole Foods commissary, a clever and brave baker is lacing the double chocolates with the requisite crisco, white sugar and real chocolate.

I also remembered how I often enjoyed the palmiers at Bread & Butter bakery, in Jamaica Plain. They boast a kind of chewy, caramely goodness and a rich butter flavor and the requisite flakiness. After having spent many a morning on line at Tartine bakery in San Francisco I can now confidently say that the rest of B&B's offerings are only suitable. The palmiers, however, are worth the trip.

Then there were the cheeses from Formaggio Kitchen. In the interest of full disclosure I must reveal that I worked at Formaggio for many, many years, so my analysis is hardly unbiased. But given my high-level of cheese expertise, I can say that there are few places like it in the country (maybe Murray's in NYC, Zingerman's in Ann Arbor...) and that visiting there felt just like going home, if home had a cheese wall featuring 3o0 cheeses from around the globe, cut to order. Robert, the GM of FK, told me that recent wheeling and dealing with the FDA (who ban the raw-milk cheeses aged under 60 days, boo!) has resulted in more great cheeses, especially goat cheeses, making it through the gauntlet. The time to mobilize is now, my friends.

Finally, in a moment of shameless self-promotion--the new CHOW magazine is out. Find it on newsstands and read my hard-hitting treatises on quince and America's cheese shops.

Oh, and one more thing: I think huckleberries are the new pomegranates. I'm imagining it now--here comes the Huckatini. Don't say I never told you.