Saturday, October 27, 2007

Splendid Spuds

Nearly a year ago I wrote a grant proposal for some funding that would allow me to work on my pet project, a look into the food culture in Northern Maine (if this sounds funny to you, you're not alone--every time I tell someone about this I get a weird look). My idea was to head to the Northernmost region of the state, where I'd set about tracking down farmers and cheesemakers and maple sugarers and potato people and get them to talk to me about what they are doing. I'd long suspected that Maine was the place to find interesting folks doing interesting food things, and it felt like time to put the hunch to work.

So in mid-September I headed up to Aroostook County. As a writer, it's hard to avoid the disappointment that comes when you envision a story in your head and then can't, no matter how hard you try, make it be so. It's better to go in expecting nothing and then being pleasantly surprised. So I tried not to expect anything specific, just let the region tell me the story it wanted me to hear. I can't lie--some of the journey was incredibly disappointing. There I was, in one of the richest agricultural regions in the country, sitting down at a restaurant and discovering that, rather than serving green beans from their neighbors down the street, they're buying them frozen, from Sysco. But some of the journey was exciting and encouraging, and I met some farmers who I believe will lead the area in the right direction.

One of those farmers, Jim Gerritsen, spent the better part of three hours with me one morning, just before potato picking was to begin. At his organic farm, Wood Prarie, they harvest the potatoes by hand, a practice almost no one does anymore, since most farmers are farming 700 acres, not the 15 that the Gerritsen's plant (Wood Prarie is a total of 500 acres, but most is given over to forest, with frequent and elaborate crop rotation that protects the soil). It's more time consuming, of course, but the Gerritsen's have chosen to grow heirloom varieties of potatoes that simply cannot be picked by massive harvesters. The local kids get two weeks off of school to help with harvest, says Jim, "They learn more in two weeks here then they do at school."

I was reluctant to leave the farm, but another interview was calling. Before I left, though, Jim's wife Megan thrust two large bags of their early-harvest Yukon Golds at me, her favorite variety. At the airport, my suitcase made weight by a half-pound, and I had a moment where I thought that toting potatoes from Maine to San Francisco was, let's face it, a bit crazy. But last night I had a big bowlful of Jim and Megan's potatoes, mashed with butter, cream, salt and pepper, and thought that I would have been crazy to leave them behind.

Here's the best part--you don't have to make a field trip to Maine to taste these potatoes. The Gerritsen's are incredibly savvy marketers, with a beautiful color catalog and a potato-of-the-month club. As far as I can tell, this is likely the best, most unusual gift for a food lover you'll find this holiday season, and buying a bag (or two, since you'll want one for yourself) of these potatoes is such a good way to say that you support the small farmer. Visit for all the info.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hey, you hungry? Let me fix you something.

There is just no excuse, but I hope you’ll forgive me just the same. That’s what friends do, right? Friends forgive you for being absent, busy, distracted. They forgive you for forgetting to invite them over for dinner as often as you’d like to, and they know—they just know—that when you make their favorite brownies or carrot soup or iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese dressing that they are at the back of your mind, waiting patiently for some attention.

At least, that’s what I’m hoping, since I know I’ve let some of you down. I haven’t given you the recipe for rib-eye steaks with a shallot and red wine sauce, served over watercress that gets all wilted, that I made for friends last Monday. I haven’t told you about the weird How-To video/commercial I starred in last week, where I wrestled a turkey wearing a full face of make-up (and then some! Television personalities, it turns out, where a lot of make-up). I haven’t even told you about a magical trip to Maine that I took in September, where I interviewed potato farmers and restaurateurs and home cooks, the beginning of a project I hope will turn into something bigger.

In short, I haven’t told you much of anything. But I hope to make it up to you. I took a four month holiday, but I’m back. And boy, do I have some stories to tell!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Summer Sweet

The Perfect Summer Lunch.
I know that it's not right to complain about the weather in San Francisco. But, but--here we are, mid-June, and nary a sultry day in sight. No reason for popsicles, for ice cold beer, wedges of watermelon, long evenings by the grill (Well, you could spend a long evening by the grill, but you'd need to wear a jacket, and maybe a hat.) Though I hate to admit it, I really miss summer.
If you head inland a bit, remove yourself from the bay breezes and rolling waves of fog, it's deep, hot, steamy summer. In the Central Valley, in Sacramento--scorching. That means that all of the foods that I've come to associate with the season, like peaches, apricots, pluots, baseball bat-sized zucchinis and, best of all, corn, are still coming from a local source.

Growing up, we'd have big piles of corn on the cob for supper, our sticks of butter bearing the trademark pattern of the ears, which we'd roll to coat. (This is an important question--did your family do the roll to coat method, or were you of the slice-a-pat-and-rub-it-on-the-ear school?). A dozen farm-fresh ears was hardly enough for our family of five. Our all-corn dinner was followed by a big bowl of strawberry shortcake: Sweet nubby biscuits split and filled with softly whipped cream and hulled local berries. Tell me, please--can you imagine a summer supper better than this?

In honor of the season, we had corn for lunch today. Just corn, boiled, buttered, salted and dusted with black pepper. Sarah and I looked at one other, mmming and crunching. For a minute there, it almost felt like summer.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Simple Sunday

Somehow, despite all the hub-bub and build-up, we forgot today was the annual Bay to Breakers foot race, a very San Francisco-style free for all that mixes "real" runners with passionate amateurs and more than a few folks who trail along, running or walking, in costumes or buck-naked save for running shoes, many towing kegs behind. I know, how could you forget something like that?

In any case, after driving around the city for an hour trying to get to the Golden Gate Bridge (ha! double ha!) we ended up taking the Bay Bridge to Richmond, then the Richmond Bridge over to San Rafael. It just so happens that Sunday is farmers' market day at the Civic Center in San Rafael, so we stopped in. First, the bad: so many strollers, so many parents cooing over children running amok through stalls, sticking their half-eaten strawberries back into unclaimed baskets of to-be-purchased berries, so much Marin humanity, so many fancy S.U.V's crowding the lots. How can such a beautiful place be filled with...well, let's just say they aren't all as "in touch" as we might hope. Then, the good: strawberries, apricots, fava beans and little gem lettuces; Brickmaiden bread, the kind with a little whole wheat flour mixed in so it has just enough chew to it, chickens turning on spits and some--from Marin Sun Farms--ready for roasting, feet still attached. Good stuff!

We're having a kind of lazy Sunday meal--a roasted chicken, a piece of cheese, maybe some fava bean puree on toast. A couscous salad, with Armenian cukes from the market. But that's all just wholesome build-up to the real deal--possessed by some sort of dessert demon (a not infrequent occurrence chez nous) I made fresh mint ice cream with shavings of dark chocolate stirred in and then I tried making cones, too. The cones are tasty but totally ugly--they will not be holding the ice cream (due to giant holes at the bottom) so much as accenting the ice cream, like a crunchy little top hat. And who do I have to blame for all this? Ex-Chez Panisse pastry chef David Lebovitz, author of the newly released "The Perfect Scoop," a guide to fool-proof and goddamn that's good ice cream making. He also has a terrific eponymous blog, Check it out!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I'll admit it. I've been two-timing all of you. Remember a couple of posts ago, when I told you that I had taken a new job? Turns out this job has a blogging requirement to it, so I've been writing up a storm over there. Take a look.

You'll all be happy to know that all that blogging, eating out and general food-world immersion has done nothing to quell my boundless appetite. In my precious spare time, I've been testing some recipes for All You magazine (Creepy Coffin Canapes, anyone?), throwing my first ever "Out like a lamb" party (yes, it was a lamb-themed party for 40 in our backyard. Merguez sausage, kofte, free-flowing wine, lamb shaped chocolates), and on the merit of said party, scoring a coveted invitation to our a new friend's annual Crab-Crackin' Bonanza. (The invitation read, "starts promptly at 7 with the crack of a claw.") Lest you thought I'd been eating Ryvita crisp toasts and bubbly water, rest assured I've been getting my full calorie requirements each day.

I'll post photos of the festivities soon, but in the meantime, go check out that other blog of mine. Or, even better, pick up the May issue of 7x7. You'll see a certain someone on the contributors page.....

Saturday, March 10, 2007

In praise of a perfect day

This is a post in praise of the perfect day. Today, I awoke to a bright blue sky (well, actually, I awoke to somebody--a wrong phone number somebody--calling my cell phone at 8am on a Saturday, but I digress) and a day almost completely without plans. I've been intentionally low-key lately, trying to recover from my tuberculin cough and my first week at a new job, so it was a great thrill to have the entire day free.

In the morning, I paid a visit to the humble, lovely Alemany Farmers' Market, which happily seems to have more vendors this spring than ever before. I bought pencil-thin asparagus and a chocolate croissant, had my knives sharpened (finally!), and got a hot tip about the best farm fresh eggs, sold by the olive oil vendor. He doesn't advertise them--he just has a basket in the back and sells them to those in the know. The best part is how he packs them up for you--tenderly tucking them into a brown paper sack lined with hay. Charming! I can't wait until breakfast tomorrow.

Then I had a long, leisurely lunch with a good friend, the kind of lunch that stretches through the afternoon--the kind of lunch that you daydream about when life is hectic. A lunch with a glass of white wine, a glorious abundance of fresh salads, cured meats, and good conversation, followed by an excellent ice cream cone. If there was some way to stop time, I would have stopped it for a couple of hours today.

It's spring here, now, no doubt about it. Tomorrow we'll turn our clocks forward, revel in the warm weather and extra sunshine and look forward to the happiest days of summer.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Grey skies are gonna clear up....

Well, it's been kind of a whirlwind, to say the least. You know when you're wishing and hoping for things to happen, crossing your fingers, throwing salt over your shoulder, blowing out birthday candles, hoping? It seems like that's when things DO NOT happen. It's like an emotional watched pot--the more you hope, the less that comes your way.

But when you get too busy for hoping, too busy for planning--that's when things seem to unfold in front of you, glorious and bright. Friends, I've been riding high these last weeks. After a few years of freelancing, followed by a 6 month gig at Sunset Magazine (great, but underpaid), I've finally gone off and gotten myself a "real job" as assistant food editor at 7x7 magazine, the San Francisco city magazine. What does this mean? Well, I'm not sure yet--my first day is tomorrow--but it's the beginning of a new chapter, and a new, deep familiarity with the city dining scene. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

On Crispy

I've finally decided. My favorite flavor is crispy. I love browned bits, burnt ends, toasty toast, blistered pizza crust...well, you get the picture. So Saturday night, looking for something to serve with boudin blanc and a lovely little Frenchy salad of mache and endive, I resurrected an old favorite recipe that takes crispy to its most glorious extreme: Kate's crispy potatoes.

Kate Rowe and I worked together at La Varenne cooking school in Burgundy, France, about 5 years ago. It was a long summer, filled with endless meals, long days, elaborate cooking techniques and scarce personal time. One night, when another group of unexpected guests was invited to stay for dinner, Kate and I quickly whipped together a meal. Salad with cheese, probably, maybe a couple roast chickens, some artichokes with big bowls of melted butter--who knows. What I do remember, though, was the debut of Kate's Crispies. Halfway between home fries and frites, these potatoes are rich, deliciously brown, and very simple to prepare. I'll caution you now--2 pounds of russet potatoes is enough for 4 people. While you're eating them, you'll probably wish you had more, but trust me--just TRUST me--you shouldn't eat more than a half-pound.

To make Kate's Crispies:
Peel 2 pounds of russet potatoes and cut them into 1-in. cubes. Put them into a cast-iron skillet (10-12 inch) or a small roasting pan and add 3/4 cup of sunflower oil and 1/4 cup olive oil (or all olive oil, if you prefer). Start the pan on the top of the stove over medium-high heat. You want the oil to heat up quickly, so the potatoes start to gently fry. Once the oil and pan is nice and hot, transfer the pan to a 425 degree oven and bake (I probably should say "fry-bake"), stirring every 10-15 minutes, until they are very brown, and very crispy, about 1-1 1/2 hours. Remove potatoes from oil with a slotted spoon, sprinkle generously with salt and eat! Save the oil that remains in the pan for another frying or roasting project.

Try them tonight--and let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

5 Good Things

It's a little late, I know, to recount all of the best food things about 2006, now comfortably 16 days behind us. But I'm sure you'll still be happy to hear about 5 highlights of the table from this year gone by, and hopefully my recounting will lead to your own adventures--I look forward to hearing the news.

Last night, Sarah made us a peach cobbler (she's really perfected the recipe, and I'll post that one soon). I know you're probably thinking, "what would Alice (Waters, natch) say?" about serving peach cobbler in the depths of January? Well, you see, back in the heat of the summer there was this certain adopted tree, you might remember, and that tree yielded 6 cases of peaches. Once we had eaten our fill, I froze and canned the rest, to pull out when we were tired of oranges, chocolate, and gingerbread. So, best food thing 2006 #1? Those fresh peaches from Masumoto's farm. Good then, good now!

My brother is a good and enthusiastic cook, and his girlfriend's family has extraordinarily good taste: they bought him a fry-o-later for their apartment. I've given fry-o-laters as gifts, enjoyed many nights of tempura and wontons in the stinky kitchens of others, but have never broken down and bought one myself. So it's a real treat to go to his house, where the fry-o-later is extension corded out to their porch and perenially in service. Now, french fries are kind of our thing. My brother does the whole double-fry action so the fries are ultra-crisp on the outside and resemble mashed potatoes within, and it's the food we make to mark an occasion. We made them the night before we moved to California, and for our last supper of '06, making them good food thing #2: the homemade fry.

Does everyone already know about Vietnamese crepes? Is this old news? Well, I discovered them in 2006. These crispy little puppies are made with rice flour and coconut milk, fried just enough, then filled with bean sprouts, shrimp, and chicken. I squiggle Sriracha over the top and dig in. Recently, I looked up a recipe for the crepes (previously limited to take-out only) and think that 2007 could be the year I attempt this at home. Vietnamese Crepes? Good thing #3.

Wafuu curry, what my friend Sylvan calls the macaroni and cheese of Japan. Kind of like a stew, only with curry flavor. So savory! So succulent! Even when Sylvan confessed to using a pre-made curry base, as is typical in Japan, it only added to the appeal. Wafuu, I love you, you're #4.

In Belfast, Maine, there's this sweet little shop called Chase's Daily. It's owned by a farming family who have 500 acres out in Freedom, Maine, where they grow all sorts of great vegetables. This is worth a post of its own, but in the meantime I'll just say: walnut scones with apricot jam? Lucky #5. These not so sweet scones are loaded up with ground walnuts and formed into big rounds. Then, just before they are finished baking, they drop a couple of tablespoons of juicy, delicious apricot jam into the center. The end result is a bit like eating a piece of walnut toast with butter and jam. In other words, a great thing.