Truth and Beauty

May 5, 2013 § 2 Comments

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”-Anais Nin

I’m writing to recall the atypical heat and sun of early May in San Francisco. To remember the bright flowers that reached for the rays, and the early blueberries forming.

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To see the arugula and red lettuce that self-seeded from last year and have pushed their way through the dirt again.

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To see skinny asparagus forests populate our vegetable bed when no one is around to cut and eat the young spears.

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While I miss California, having to be away for a month or more at a time has allowed me to find something new in the garden each time I return. Two and a half years ago, I wrote about artichokes. With our garden renovation and our move to NYC, I didn’t have time to plant artichokes until this past winter. But five months later, the plants have produced a fountain of silvery foliage. On this last trip west, a deep purple artichoke was emerging. And I realized in that moment of finding what “truth and beauty” means — that true beauty, the kind that delights, is often unexpectedly discovered.

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How to Make a Bulgur Chard Mash-up (RECIPE)

January 2, 2013 § 2 Comments

I can’t believe that I’m about to reference the movie Pitch Perfect while discussing cooking, but here goes. Last night, I watched this perfectly “popcorn for the brain” flick. The movie’s main character, Beca, likes to make electronic music, and she takes her penchant for mash-ups to a college acapella group that she’s somehow strong-armed into joining. She takes a bass line from one song, a melody from another, lyrics from another and puts them together in surprising but harmonious ways.

As I was figuring out what to do with the container of bulgur wheat that I accidentally cooked (rather than soaked) two days ago, the large bag of chard in my fridge, and not much else in the way of dinner ingredients, this idea of mash-ups came back to me.

So I did it to the bulgur and the chard.

I took the idea of Indian flavor pastes and  made a simple one out of minced cipollini onions and garlic, a generous squirt of tomato paste, cumin, cayenne and salt. I added collard greens, which I learned to slice into thin ribbons and saute in olive oil from a South American recipe, maintaining their fresh green flavor rather than cooking them to a pulp as you often see. I stirred in the cooked bulgur like I might when making fried rice (or rather, when my husband does, as that’s his specialty). And then I topped the whole lovely mess with toasted walnuts, which I got from a vegan cooking website.

And it was a heck of a lot tastier than I expected. A pleasant surprise for a Wednesday night dinner. Happy new year!

Bulgur chard mash-up

Bulgur chard mash-up

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BULGUR CHARD MASH-UP

Yields: 2 servings

Ingredients

2 cipollini onions, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 T tomato paste
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. salt
1 bunch chard leaves. Clean them, cut the leaves off either side of the stem, roll the leaf halves together tightly and slice into 1/8-inch ribbons
1/2 cup cooked bulgur wheat
1/4 cup toasted walnuts (you can toast them in the

Cooking Instructions

1 — Heat frying pan with high sides on medium heat. Toast the walnuts for a few minutes, then set aside.
2 — Add olive oil to the pan. Cook onions until softened, then add garlic and cook for a minute or two.
3 — Add tomato paste, cumin, cayenne and salt. Stir and cook into a flavorful paste.
4 — Add the chard leaves a handful at a time, stirring each batch to coat all leaves in the oil and cooking paste. Put all the leaves into the pan. Cook for a few minutes until the leaves are tender.
5 — Add the cooked bulgur, breaking up any lumps and mixing well so that the chard and bulgur come together. Cook until the flavors meld. Add salt to taste.
6 — Serve in a bowl topped with toasted walnuts.
7 — Feel virtuous because you’re eating a nutritious vegan meal that actually tastes good!

Thanksgiving Redux

November 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

Two years ago, we hosted Thanksgiving for nine of our family members, plus the two of us. I photo-logged our experience here — everything from having to clean the turkey in the bathroom sink to grilling leek bread pudding due to a lack of oven height. We experimented with a lot of recipes. I started five days in advance and cooked way too much food.

It was a good feast overall, and it was rewarding to host. But as it was my first time, I was kind of stressed, and some parts didn’t turn out so great (while the grill imparted a nice smoky flavor to the leek bread pudding, it also made the bottom and sides way too crunchy).

This year, we did a redux. And it was awesome.

Our harvest table.

It was awesome because our NYC apartment renovations were completed just in time, the day before. After a long 14 months of living in a temporary apartment, and even a few hotels, and eating out nearly all the time, it felt glorious to be HOME. To smell turkey roasting, to have a pie cooling on the counter, to drink wine while chatting with family and listening to jazz…all in our own place, candles lit and a fire burning.

One of our first purchases for the new apartment.

It was also awesome because while I haven’t cooked Thanksgiving dinner enough times to have experienced the magic of habit-forming, there was a flow to it. While I wrote out a menu and plan last time, this year, I just went with it. We also invited my brother Paul and his girlfriend Stephanie F to help. (Note to self: two different dressings are easier to make when you have helpers dicing all the onions and celery.)

Good dicers.

Stephanie F fortified us with a deliciously spicy salsa fresca.

Stephanie F’s salsa.

We made a cornbread, bacon and kale dressing…

Cornbread dressing makings…including bacon fried in butter.

…along with a traditional Thanksgiving dressing with challah from Amy’s Bread, fresh herbs, Cortland apples and chestnuts.

Matt’s favorite dressing.

After letting it rest for an hour, Matt carved the heritage turkey.

Look at those deft carving hands! They say the turkey’s done when the leg moves freely.

The 48-hour dry aging in the fridge under a salt crust, and the long rest, allowed the turkey to reabsorb its juices, making it one moist, tasty turkey.

Putting Matt’s family’s silver to work.

We filled our plates…

Matt, Paul and Stephanie in the new kitchen.

…and sat down to eat.

Thanksgiving plate.

Then we ate some more.

Stephanie F’s pumpkin bread — with freshly roasted pumpkin.

Walnut pie: an oldie but goodie.

And this is how we felt.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Joy Returns on a NYC Rooftop

August 19, 2012 § 7 Comments

A little over a year ago, my husband and I left San Francisco — our renovated garden, the eucalyptus-scented air, the freezing summers — to create a second home in NYC.

During the winter in NYC, we worked on our plans to renovate our apartment, overcoming the various hurdles required when you change anything in a landmarked building. We escaped the chilled concrete to tromp through snow at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

Tractor in snow, Blue Hill at Stone Barns

I missed San Francisco, deeply. I got to visit my garden in San Francisco a few times. Beyond the herbs, like this bushy sage, the edibles mostly fed the chirping birds or ran wild and spindly in a chilly, windy spring.

Sage

But the ornamentals thrived.

Camellia blossom

Shadow and light, spring garden

And as sunshine, longer days and warm weather emerged on the east coast, I began to experiment, growing a garden in pots on our tar-paper roof atop our apartment-in-renovation. In anticipation for The Farm that we’ll build eight stories up in the sky, I wanted to see what I could cultivate.

It turns out, a heck of a lot more than in our San Francisco garden. While I always knew this in my head, seeing the evidence of heat and sun has made me feel a joy I wasn’t sure I’d feel living in NYC.

Tomatoes and cityscape

Tomatoes actually grow. Despite erratic watering and life amidst a construction zone, my plants produced juicy, sweet, delicious tomatoes…nothing like the sad, moldy cherry tomato plants I struggled to keep alive in San Francisco. More on the zen I learned from that experience here.

I’d always read that growing basil near tomatoes would keep insects away and make the tomatoes tastier. Perhaps this thriving basil is, indeed, doing its job. It makes a delicious basil lemonade (recipe here). And it delights visitors to the roof with its scent.

Basil and sunlight

The half a dozen shallots I planted from this past spring’s harvest — just to see what would happen — have grown faster in two months than they did in four in San Francisco.

A mop head of shallot greens

Of great delight is the eggplant experiment. We picked up a couple of seedlings at a nursery en route from Maryland to NYC one weekend. The beautiful, fuzzy plants thrived on the roof, surviving even a violent thunderstorm that bested our apartment pipes but left the plants with just a few leaf holes.

Eggplant injuries

And this week — the first few fruits have emerged from the lavender, parasol-shaped flowers with yellow centers. Tiny, purple. Perfect.

Emergent eggplant

The Dream Continued

April 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Nearly two years ago, we happened upon Freeman’s winery. We listened to a dream that became real life, enthralled while drinking pretty pinot noir in a dim, humid wine cave carved out of a eucalyptus-crowned hill in the heat of August.

Today, we’re back. At an open house with a crowd of friends and Freeman wine lovers, lying in the grass listening to crickets while drinking more pretty pinot, simply…enjoying ourselves. Loving the warmth, the sun, the wine and life.

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And it all makes me realize: there are dreams that we may one day make true. But in the meantime, there is living the dream of this moment — being with people you love, enraptured by the present.

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Blackberry Farm in Pictures

June 19, 2011 § 12 Comments

I’m spending this summer in Nashville, Tennessee, helping the new Commissioner of Education to create a three-year strategic plan to improve educational outcomes for all K-12 students in the state. Although the work will be intense and I’m away from my San Francisco garden, I’m soaking up what I can of the food culture here in the Volunteer State.

First up: Blackberry Farm near Knoxville, a celebration of locally-produced food, where the hubby, our friends, Jim and Katie, and I ate an enormous amount of Benton’s bacon, gorgeous tomatoes and other fresh produce grown on-site, and as you likely guessed, the best BLT I’ve ever sunk my teeth into. For you, our time in pictures…

The barn, where we indulged in many dinners and bourbons

The garden where the produce begins

What's the chicken thinkin'? Will my eggs be breakfast or will I be brunch?

Beautiful beans

John, Master Gardener, picking chard for our next meal

Volunteer sunflowers in the Volunteer State

Oregano and bachelor's buttons, whose petals will be tweezed for garnish

Serious tools for serious meals

Charming, unique and lovely

Life Lessons From Food Blogger Camp 2011

January 14, 2011 § 54 Comments

Guacamole makings

I’ve been reflecting a lot on the Food Blogger Camp I attended at the lovely Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico last week. I’ve been connecting with the new friends I made and remembering the generously candid stories everyone told. And then I realized that the biggest lessons I learned from Food Blogger Camp (aside from the fact that I still really like tequila) weren’t about blogging.

Well, of course, they all apply to blogging. And, I do have pages and pages of notes on the technical and strategic aspects of blogging and food photography. But, to be honest with you, the three biggest things I took away from Food Blogger Camp apply just as well to any other vocation or avocation.

Beautiful Mayan light

LESSON 1: KNOW, AT YOUR CORE, WHO YOU ARE.

I was intrigued by how many people had come seeking direction for their blogs (myself included). And I was equally struck by those who had figured it out; they exuded a sense of conviction about the path they’d chosen. They know that they’re meeting a need that they, uniquely, can fill. For instance, some know they want to be useful or entertaining to their readers; some know they want to delight viewers with their food images; still others know they want to publish cookbooks and were using their blogs as platforms.

In other words, these folks are operating with a sense of purpose derived from knowing, at their core, who they are and what they stand for.

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.” — Lao Tzu

Diane of White on Rice Couple teaching

LESSON 2: DO WHAT BRINGS YOU JOY.

My grandpa always told me to do what I loved and the rest would follow. Sometimes, that sounds easier said than done. But it seemed true at Food Blogger Camp. A number of people had found joy in writing about or photographing food and, as a result, had truly changed their lives. They halted the stress of working in kitchens or in tech to build blogs that became their businesses; they discovered new passions and worked (and are working) their butts off to build those passions into careers; they overcame seemingly insurmountable health problems through better food and are fired up to teach others how to do the same.

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal; instead pursue the things you love doing. Then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” – Maya Angelou

Elise Bauer & David Lebovitz. And me, drinking tequila*

LESSON 3: BE A GOOD CITIZEN.

I was humbled by how openly my fellow bloggers taught, shared and inspired; in short, they modeled what it is to be good citizens and build community. Diane Cu of White On Rice Couple patiently taught me, shot by shot, how to adjust my shutter speed and aperture to capture this image just the way I wanted it…

The cherry shot

…and then came up to me at lunch afterward to offer more help. Her partner, Todd Porter, geeked out with me about citrus trees and growing our own food. Carrie Vitt of Deliciously Organic schooled me on how to replace white flour and sugar with more wholesome alternatives without making it feel like a lesson (being on the beach didn’t hurt!). Robin Cherry, Elana Horwich, Diana Johnson and Susan Salzman encouraged me to combine my passions for sustainable food and education, and Nancy Singleton Hachisu — after inspiring me with her life stories — is helping me do just that. Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes somehow read me in an instant, offering this motivation:

“The only limit to what you can do is your own creativity.”

David Lebovitz shooting Elise Bauer

Thank you to Kerrygold Butter for sponsoring, and to the session leaders (Matt ArmendarizElise Bauer, Diane Cu, Jaden Hair, David LebovitzAdam Pearson and Todd Porter) and the other participants for a life-changing experience!

Salsas!

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*Thanks to Carrie Vitt of Deliciously Organic for this photo. I’m glad somebody snapped me with one of my favorite drinks in hand!

Here’s a round-up of other participants’ posts:

Session leaders’ posts / blogs:

Food Blogger Camp photos:

Organizer and P.R. contact:

 

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