HOMECOMING BEAN AND KALE SOUP

We are back from our long visit to Lodi, California. We had a great time and returned with a trunk filled with bottles of wine that we found at some of the more than 80 wineries in the Lodi area. We plowed through two days of rain and snow with tense times on the passes in Tehachapi, California and Flagstaff, Arizona.

When we got home, the cupboard was bare – or nearly so – requiring a little innovation on my part to come up with something to eat. I fell back on a post that I had just read a few days before. Diane Darrow writes an interesting blog, Another Year in Recipes. She lives in New York City but has spent much time in Italy and has authored two Italian cookbooks. She wrote of making a bean soup from one of her cookbooks when she was snowed in during the recent NYC blizzard. You should definitely check out her blog.

This is not Diane’s recipe, but it is certainly inspired by hers. I confess that I had run out of ditali and had to turn to elbow macaroni. I also had to run to the market for a bunch of kale, but otherwise everything else was in the pantry or in the little cooler we always carry in our car. The next day I went back to the store for a marathon journey through the aisles.

image

 RECIPE

Bean and Kale Soup

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup dry black-eyed peas
  • 2/3 cup dry black beans
  • 2/3 cup dry red beans
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • ½ cup celery chopped
  • ½ cup carrots, grated
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 8 ounces canned tomato sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 ounces white mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning blend
  • 1 tablespoon rubbed sage
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 bunch kale
  • ½cup elbow macaroni
  • 2/3 cup Parmesan, freshly grated
  • extra virgin olive oil (your best)

Method

  1. Pick over the beans, removing any stones, and place in a large, lidded, heavy pot. Cover with at least 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, for two minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and set aside until the pot has cooled. Drain the beans and set aside.
  2. Rinse and dry the pot. Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sweat, covered, for about 5 minutes. Do not brown. Stir in the celery, carrots, reserved beans, beef stock, and tomato sauce. Bring to the boil and then simmer covered for about 1 hour.
  3. Add the garlic, mushrooms, seasoning blend, sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to simmer, covered. Add water if needed.
  4. Meanwhile, wash the kale. Remove the stems and center ribs, soaking the leaves in cold water for an hour. Cut the kale into 3 x 3 inch pieces and add to the soup pot. Cover and continue to cook for another hour, stirring occasionally. About 15 minutes before you are ready to serve, stir in the macaroni.
  5. When the beans are soft, and the kale has cooked down, correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle into serving bowls, top with grated Parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.

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SEARCHING FOR THE MOTHER LODE

Our month-long visit to Lodi, California, has provided us an excellent base to explore the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and the area that was the center of the feverish gold rush that began in 1849. We have visited Sacramento, now the capital of California, but at one time a center for transportation during the gold rush as well as serving as the western terminus (San Francisco notwithstanding) of the great race between the Central and Union Pacific Railroads to meet up to create the first transcontinental railroad. We have also visited some of the historic towns in the foot hills and taken back roads into the mountains and the areas of devastation from the “Butte Fire” of last summer. All of it has been a learning experience.

Sacramento is much like any big city. It has around a half million residents and traffic to match. The capital building is a replica (smaller of course) of the national Capitol in Washington DC and it has its own beautiful mall. The riverfront has been restored into “Old Sacramento” which, like most “Old [fill in the blank]” is filled with Victorian-era buildings, bars, restaurants, and gift shops.

But one place in Old Sacramento that shouldn’t be missed is the Railroad Museum. The place has accumulated engines and rail cars that capture the entire history of California railroading. The rolling stock has all been carefully restored. The museum goer can walk through many of the exhibits. Some of the restored cars even replicate the rocking motion of a speeding train. We spent several hours in the museum and then decided that we didn’t need to see any more of Sacramento.

We explored several mining towns and soon learned that you have to get off of the main highway. The main drags are universally lined with the usual  gas stations, McDonald’s, hardware stores and Dollar Generals. The old town Main Streets are the places to experience the real feel of the communities.

One of our first visits was to Murphy’s. The main landmark of the street is “Murphy’s Historic Hotel” which advertises itself as having served the town since 1850. That claim does not make it clear whether the current building is the original, but that doesn’t really matter. The building is old enough and run down enough that you can picture it as the background of a gun fight during gold rush days. There is a bar in the front of the building where locals hang out. In the back, the dining room has been fixed up to capture Victorian styles. It looks like a good place to enjoy a leisurely lunch or a fancier dinner. There are white linen tablecloths and comfortable chairs. Lots of good California wine choices. The food turned out to be “ok” with a badly over-cooked hamburger supposedly topped with blue cheese crumbles that turned out to be a grayish unpleasant-tasting blob that could only be salvaged by scraping it off. Perhaps the “chef” (who had just started work that day according to the slightly deaf server) put the blue cheese on the burger too early in the cooking process. The bacon-wrapped shrimp po’boy special turned out to be a better choice.

Another stop was Sonora. The guidebook informed us that the town had been named by homesick Mexicans for their home state in Mexico. They had apparently come to California during the gold rush to make their fortunes. Our food discovery in that quaint little town was Talulah’s Restaurant, named by the woman owner just because she thought the name sounded cute. The Victorian storefront was painted in bright chartreuse, and the inside also had touches of chartreuse. Not a big place, it had a surprisingly large menu with, of course, a good selection of California wines.  The mushroom soup was so flavorful and aromatic that I started to eat it before I remembered to make an image. The complementary garlic bread turned out to be picture perfect and delicious to boot. The marinara on the spaghetti was not my recipe, but it was flavorful and tasted of fennel and just a hint of cinnamon and cloves. (I know what you’re thinking – no, it was not Cincinnati five-way chili. It was really quite tasty.) The grand finish was a delicate lemon cake filled with a light-as-a-feather lemon mousse and topped with a warm lemon sauce.

We drove through Angel’s Camp, named after Mr. Angel, not the celestial variety. Angel’s Camp is home to Mark Twain’s “Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, so everything was named, “Frog”, including the high school mascot.

My favorite place was Sheep Ranch (the name of the town, population 32) located on Sheep Ranch Road and former headquarters for the Sheep Ranch Mine. There was a large, still well-preserved but unoccupied white hotel nestled in the pines at the end of the main street. There were no restaurants in town, but the abandoned general store still advertised gasoline at 18 cents a gallon. Unfortunately there was none for sale.

Sheep Ranch

Sheep Ranch

Up Swiss Ranch Road, after the pavement had turned to gravel, we discovered an ornate iron gate that looked as though it was the entrance to a great English country house. Its story remains a mystery to us, but I am certain it would be very interesting.

The saddest part of our trip was to see the devastation caused by the “Butte Fire” of October, 2015. Miles of forest were burned and over 500 homes were destroyed. Most of the ruined buildings had nothing above the foundation, and they were surrounded by the shells of burned-out cars and trucks. It will be years before the forests and hazardous materials are cleared, decades – if ever – before the forests come back, and probably never for families to put their lives back together.

 

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DEVILED EGGS

Deviled eggs seem to be enjoying a renaissance. They are on many menus these days. Sarah often makes them for catered dinners as well as for family occasions. Sometimes she stuffs them with smoked trout or other delicious fillings.

Sarah piping deviled eggs

Sarah piping deviled eggs

But in their simplest form, how difficult can deviled eggs be to make? Hard boiled eggs cut in half; yolk mashed with a little mayonnaise, mustard, lemon, salt and pepper; yolk mixture spooned or piped into the egg white halves; maybe a little garnish of paprika, snipped chives, or crumbled bacon. Simple is not always easy.

During this visit to California, deviled eggs have been on many menus. I have eaten many of them because I like them when they are good.

The best ones so far were served at the School Street Bistro in Lodi. My very minor quibbles were that the yolk filling was too runny (Too much mayonnaise?) and had too much mustard. Otherwise they were delicious, and their garnish of house-made French-fried potato straws was outstanding  I could have eaten a plate of the potato straws by themselves.

Sunday deviled eggs with potato straws at the School Street Bistro, Lodi, CA

Sunday deviled eggs with potato straws at the School Street Bistro, Lodi, CA

Some of the eggs have had a rubbery texture undoubtedly from the eggs being boiled too hard and/or too long.

The ones I liked the least were the ones that were supposed to be the fanciest. The word, “truffles”, seems to make something more luxe. Visions of pigs rooting up fungi at the base of a French hazelnut tree come into play, or a liveried waiter shaving little shards with his special knife onto a perfect French omelet. That’s not the same as truffle oil. This condiment has been banned from many a high-end kitchen. The well-known San Francisco chef and writer, Daniel Patterson, has written a great piece in the New York Times about why truffle oil does not find favor with professional chefs.

The main reason is that almost no commercial truffle oil contains actual truffles. The fragrance and taste of real truffles come from a complex array of compounds. The most prominent appears to be a chemical, 2,4-dithiapentane, that can be synthesized in a laboratory or factory. And that is the chemical that is added to truffle oil to give it flavor. Small wonder that foods which incorporate commercial truffle oil take on a chemical flavor; some would even say petroleum-like.

Deviled eggs with truffle oil

Deviled eggs with truffle oil

Here is a basic recipe for deviled eggs, perhaps of the Southern variety. If you don’t like it, experiment by adjusting the amounts of the basic ingredients and add any extras that sound appealing to you. Just – please – don’t add truffle oil.

RECIPE

Basic Deviled Eggs

Ingredients

  • eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon mayonnaise for each egg
  • 1/8 teaspoon dry mustard for each egg
  • few drops fresh lemon juice for each egg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • paprika

Method

  1. Pierce the large end of each egg with an egg piercer and place in a single layer in a saucepan with enough water to cover the eggs by at least an inch. Bring to the boil over high heat, just until large bubbles begin to appear around the eggs. Cover, remove from the heat, and let stand, undisturbed, for 10 to 18 minutes, depending on the size of the eggs and the altitude.* You should work out the time beforehand. Transfer the eggs to a large bowl filled with ice and water. Chill for the same amount of time as you used for the cooking.
  2. Peel the eggs by cracking them all over and, starting at the big end, peeling them under a small stream of running water. The longer the eggs sit in the refrigerator before peeling them, the harder it will be to peel them and the more likely you are to get the dreaded green ring around the yolks, so it is best to prepare them immediately.
  3. Slice the cooled eggs in half lengthwise and gently remove the cooked yolk. Press the yolk through a fine-mesh sieve or strainer into a medium bowl. Stir in the mayonnaise, mustard, and lemon juice. If the mixture is too stiff, very slowly stir in more mayonnaise by half teaspoonfuls until the consistency suits you.  Adjust the mustard and lemon juice to please you. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. Spoon or pipe the yolk mixture into the empty halves of cooked egg white. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika and serve.

* At 7000 feet, a jumbo egg takes 18 minutes to cook; a large egg takes 16 minutes. Probably at sea level you should deduct about 2 minutes for each cooking time, but it is best to work out specific times for your cooking conditions.

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LODI

I have been a little quiet in the blogosphere for awhile. We are in Lodi, California, where we will be staying for the month of January. Some time ago I wrote about Lodi when we attended the California State Chili Cookoff Championship http://fromthefamilytable.com/2014/10/26/california-chili-cook-off-championship-2014/ . That’s not the reason we are here this time.

Why, you might legitimately wonder, does one choose to spend January in Lodi? For us, the answer is a bit complex. First, our children have been encouraging us to find a place that could be used as a family retreat. The Sierras are not far away, and that is where two of the families ski and escape the city. Second, we have always wanted to explore this part of California, as we don’t know much about it, and it has a rich history. Finally, we might be able to find a relocation home; we certainly can’t afford LA or the Bay Area.

Lodi is an interesting little town of about 70,000 a half hour away from Sacramento and two hours from San Francisco. It is really all about wine.

As you know, California is responsible for much of the USA’s wine production, and some of it will compete with the finest wines in the world. There are four large wine growing areas in the state: North Coast, Central Coast, South Coast, and Central Valley. These areas are divided into over 130 smaller regions, called AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) according to weather, temperatures, soil, and other growing characteristics. At the same time, some wine fanciers often count only eleven regions where they think high quality wines are produced. These include Los Carneros, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Livermore in the North Coast; the Sierra Foothills; Paso Robles and Monterey in the Central Coast; Santa Barbara and Santa Inez in the South Coast; and Lodi in the Central Valley. Lodi is the only Central Valley place to be included even though wine production in the Central Valley is enormous.

That’s where Gallo is located – headquartered in Modesto – along with Bronco Winery headquartered in Ceres. Gallo produces many labels including those old college favorites, Boone’s Farm and Carlos Rossi along with the label you can only read if you peel off the brown paper sack – Thunderbird. Bronco Winery is operated by a newer generation of the extended Gallo family. They, too, produce many brands, but probably their most famous is Charles Shaw, Trader Joe’s signature “Two Buck Chuck”. The grapes come from ever-expanding plantings throughout the Central Valley.

In all fairness, Lodi has a giant production facility, too.  Constellation Brands, headquartered in New York and the largest wine producer in the world, several years ago paid over $1 billion in cash to buy out Robert Mondavi. Their Robert Mondavi Woodbridge winery sits at the edge of town. (That’s where the chili cookoff is held each year.) But the essence of the local wine-making mystique is set in the 80 or so family-owned wineries that produce only a few hundred or thousand cases of wine each year.

It is impressive how many different varietals are grown in the nearby area, but the main grape is Zinfandel, and Lodi seems determined to make it a competitor with the varietals popular in Sonoma and Napa. This is not the cloying white Zinfandel of a couple of decades ago. I haven’t seen a bottle of that since we’ve been here. These are stylish, well-made wines that can sometimes run over $100 a bottle.

Here are a few you might look for in your local wine store: Klinker Brick, McCay Cellars, Harney Lane Wines, Michael David Winery.

Unfortunately, the food to go along with the wine is a little disappointing. Places we have enjoyed are the School Street Bistro, The Dancing Fox Winery and Bakery (The food not the wine.), and a small little bistro away from the downtown, Zin Bistro. The latter is a tiny store-front in a strip mall run by husband/wife chefs and owners; it is a great discovery. The night we were there, their rockfish was cooked perfectly – moist and flaky – and their braised lamb shank was delicious with a gremolata and mashed potatoes. So far we think they make the best food in town, although we have a couple of white-tablecloth places still to check out.

We’ve already visited Sacramento and been on one side trip to Yosemite to babysit while Sarah and Evan did a demonstration at the Ahwahnee Hotel’s annual Chefs’ Holiday. More travels and food to report later.

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BRISKET AND LATKES

We are in the midst of our final family visit for the holiday season. Our son, his wife, and their two daughters are visiting from Silicon Valley. We had a couple of days of quiet, and now there is once again pandemonium. We enjoy it.

The family arrived the day after Christmas. We had old fashioned New Mexico posole, as we weren’t sure when they would arrive with all of the bad weather in this part of the country.

The next night, we celebrated our son’s new position with champagne, blinis, sour cream, and salmon roe. Then Christmas crackers for the girls. Finally, brisket that had been cooking all day and served with potato latkes along with green beans and mushrooms. It was a festive evening, indeed.

The recipe for brisket is Susan’s. She got it from a friend many years ago when we lived in Houston. Since then, it has been a big family hit. Sarah took the recipe with her to New York City where she often made it for family meal in the restaurants where she worked. She says that whenever it was served, cheers went up from all of the cooks and servers. The secret to success is long, slow, braising with flavorful seasonings. Plan on at least 10 hours of cooking after an overnight marinade.

My daughter-in-law makes wonderful latkes, so I faced that challenge with a little trepidation. There are lots of recipes out there for latkes, and most folks are convinced that their mother’s are the best. I have modified the recipe in Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cook Book (W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2010). The book is an outstanding modern replacement for Craig Claiborne’s classic, The New York Times Cook Book. The latkes got my daughter-in-law’s approval, so I guess they were alright.

RECIPES

Brisket

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons liquid smoke
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion salt
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • salt and pepper
  • 4-6 pound brisket, trimmed

Method

  1. Combine the liquid smoke, Worcestershire sauce, and seasonings in a flat roasting pan
  2. Marinate the brisket in the marinade, covered, overnight in the refrigerator. Turn occasionally, and pierce the meat with a fork to make sure the meat absorbs the marinade
  3. Place the pan, covered, in the middle of an oven set at 200°F. Cook at least 10 hours, turning frequently. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. When well done, remove from the oven, slice on the diagonal thinly, and serve immediately. Should serve 4 to 6.

Potato Latkes

Ingredients

  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled
  • ½ large yellow onion
  • 2 jumbo eggs, separated
  • 1 tablespoon potato flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • peanut oil for frying

Method

  1. Grate the potatoes and onion. Purists will insist on a grater. A food processor fitted with the grater blade is the fast way.
  2. With your hands, squeeze as much of the liquid from the grated potato-onion mixture as you can. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
  3. Stir the egg yolks, potato flour, salt, and pepper into the mixture, using your hands to make sure the ingredients are evenly combined.
  4. Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold into the potato mixture.
  5. In a large cast iron skillet, heat about ¾ inch of peanut oil until it casts a sheen. In handfuls, drop the potato mixture into the hot oil being careful not to burn your hands. Fry until the bottoms of the pancakes are golden brown. Turn carefully and fry the other side until it is golden. Remove from the oil. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately while still warm. Makes about 8 large latkes.

 

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ViVO GALLERY – ART AND POETRY

For the last several years, ViVO Contemporary Gallery on Santa Fe’s famous Canyon Road has staged an interesting show in which local poets (of which there are many!) compose and read a poem related to works of one of the nine artists who are members of the coöperative that owns the gallery. I have been fortunate to have been asked to participate in the project for several years.

Two years ago, I worked with Joy Campbell who fashions sculptures from old books. She folds the pages of the books into intricate shapes that merge into beautiful and amazing constructions.

 

Here is the poem that I contributed to give a verbal link to Joy’s lovely work:

Old Books

Folded.
Folded again and again
until words disappear
and letters turn to lacy ribbons
hiding the work of
poets and professors who
had filled glacier-white pages
with thoughts and ideas
they hoped would last forever.
Black lines trapped their musings,
held for all to see,
bound together, edged in gold,
scented with sweet musk of leather.

Pages yellow, words fade,
and the book becomes a tattered relic
on a high shelf – the words forgotten.
Just when the trash heap seems certain
there is new life.
Pages, words are folded on themselves,
lost from sight and touch.
In their place are
phantasmagorias, towers of Babel
that transcend language,
visions not communicated
by words alone.
The creator knows what I can only guess.

My memories are inky letters on a page,
engraved upon
the convolutions of my brain and buried
deep within the fissures.
Those memories grow more difficult
to see and hear.
At times they disappear,
hidden by ribbons woven
of spider webs and mold.
Still, they are not ready to be discarded,,
and ask to be transformed, renewed,
if that is possible.

The Creator knows what I can only guess.

This year I am working with Vincent Faust, a sculptor whose media are hunks of steel, metal pipes, cables, and steel rods. His tools include welding torches and foundry equipment. He finishes his pieces with an industrial process that uses powdered pigments. The results are incredibly complex pieces in vibrant colors.

I don’t know yet what my poem will be. I only hope it grabs the ear as strongly as Vince’s sculptures grab the eye.

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CHOCOLATE BIRDS’ NESTS

Whenever grandchildren visit, we try to find something that they can help cook. They enjoy being in the kitchen, and it is fun to watch them having a good time. For 18-month- and four-year-olds, the recipes need to be fast and simple. Attention spans aren’t long at those ages. The recipes should also be mess-less, but that is usually not possible.

We have made these candies for years, going back to when our own children were little. Simple they are; mess-less they are not. I guess that licking fingers is part of the fun. The candies are always a big hit and disappear quickly after they have set up. The recipe should make about 30 candies,, more if you can make them smaller. You can add nuts or use other flavors of baking chips, but at least with our kids, nuts are not a big seller and they can be dangerous for very little ones.

RECIPE

Chocolate Birds’ Nests

Ingredients

  • 2 12-ounce packages chocolate chips
  • 2 5-ounce cans chow mein noodles
  • miniature marshmallows (optional)

Method

  1. Melt the chocolate chips over very low heat in a saucepan large enough to hold added chow mein noodles, stirring frequently to prevent scorching of the chocolate.
  2. When the chocolate is completely melted, remove from the heat, add the chow mein noodles, and stir until the noodles are completely coated with the chocolate. Stir in some miniature marshmallows if desired.
  3. By tablespoonfuls, drop the mixture into piles on sheets of wax paper. Cool for at least 2 hours or until the chocolate has become firm.
  4. Eat. If there are any left over, store in an air-tight container.

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