Thursday, May 31, 2007

Clotilde at Cody's

Add to my long list of not-being-able-to-blog-right-now promises an account of My Evening with Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini. I had a chance to hear her speak last week at Cody's bookstore in Berkeley and got to introduce myself and discuss her book a bit.

Here's a quick pix of her at the book signing.

More later, including a bit on what she had to say, news about her second book, my impressions of her new cookbook and a photo and info on a recipe I made from her book.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Slow Food Makes the News with Ferry Plaza Snub

The Future Pastry Chef and I headed over to San Francisco's famed Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market on Saturday. It's always an enjoyable jaunt and I was excited because we had timed our visit to hear the founder of the slow food movement, Carlo Petrini, talk about his new book, Slow Food Nation.

The day was sunny and clear and the air was beginning to warm up but little did we know that the most heated thing about the day would be what was characterized to us as a "dispute" between Petrini and market organizers. We had poked around eating a breakfast at Lulu's Petit (the brioche filled with marscapone to be specific) and were looking for some sign of the event when we eventually found our way to the CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) table and were told of the cancellation.

I thought I had a news scoop, but really was more focused on enjoying our morning at the Farmers' Market.

Today's San Francisco Chronicle had a report of the dust up. Evidently, Petrini, or at perhaps the translator of his book according to his book tour translator, had slammed the Ferry Plaza market for being elitist and pricey. (Although the comments quoted in the article are so specific I don't see how anything getting lost in translation would have softened them.)

Now, I grant you there are a lot of artisanal foods at the market and specialty produce that can be pricey but there are also lots of other alternatives. Much of the produce is grown for flavor and taste not economy of price so the complaint to me seems like a sucker punch to the gut of the very people who are trying to take the Slow Food Movement to heart and keep alive traditions of the family farms, heirloom produce varieties and bringing eaters in contact with growers.

Here's a link to the Chronicle piece on its SF Gate website.

Since I haven't read the Slow Food book (I planned to buy it at the event that wasn't) I can't really judge if the CUESA reaction was justified, but as presented I can certainly say it is unfortunate that two factions that should be working together are now estranged.

I have a few more random thoughts about the food movement and the farmer's market.

If you, like me, are only an occasional shopper at the vast Ferry Plaza market, it can be very intimidating. Search out the CUESA booth (in front of the Ferry Building) and pick up a map to the day's booths. It will help you plan out your shopping.

I am a big supporter of the Slow Food Movement as well as the drive to focus on locally produced foods, however I am also concerned that these two trends can be seen as only possible for those with lots of leisure time to cook and assemble meals and/or lots of money to pay the premium for non-processed, non-factory farmed food. I also worry about the loss of income and opportunity to fair trade and other agricultural workers overseas. I try to practice practical moderation and mindfulness in my choice. That attempt at balance is my compromise. I'd love to hear about how others support their local food economy, or how they have created or handle their own compromises.

For more information about the Ferry Plaza Farmer's market, please check out the CUESA site.
For more information about the Slow Food Movement, click here.
To read more about eating local, the Chronicle had an excellent series of articles a few weeks ago, which you can read here. I also recommend the wonderful blog Becks and Posh. Sam really puts her food where her mouth is.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Birthday Meal for Mr. Blog Appetit -- Indian Cauliflower with Tamarind Sauce

My husband had a birthday last week and of course I whipped him up a special meal to celebrate.

I grilled some lamb tenderloins (a cut I've never seen before until I spotted it a few months ago at Trader Joe's but one which my whole family loves) tandoori style, made some basamati rice and whipped out my supply of chutney and Indian relishes from the fridge. But what really made the meal special was the cauliflower. Now that sentence and sentiment are unusual, I know. Cauliflower doesn't inspire poetry, rapture or foodie odes like fava beans, artichokes or a slender spear of asparagus, but when fresh and cooked properly it provides a tender-crisp blank canvas to all manner of preparations and it adds its own earthy goodness to any dish.

My friend Mona, who is Indian and a wonderful cook, gave me the basic outline for a cauliflower dish known as "Gobi" which I then adapted to what I had in the house and to our taste, which for this recipe would be spicy, hot and sour. Her version would use dried mango powder or lemon juice. The tamarind sauce was my idea since tamarind is one of my husband's favorites. Here are some basic instructions. Feel free to put you own spin on your version.

Indian Cauliflower with Tamarind Sauce

Vegetable oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon or to taste red pepper flakes
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate mixed with 1/4 cup hot water
Chopped cilantro for garnish, optional

Heat vegetable oil in large fry pan or wok. Add garlic, saute until just golden, add ginger and red pepper flakes, sauteing to release aroma. Add potato chunks and stir often. Cook until potatoes are starting to brown. Add cauliflower and salt, cumin, coriander and turmeric. Continue to saute or stir fry until cauliflower florets are beginning to blister and brown and are beginning to soften. Add tamarind mixture and continue to cook until cauliflower is desired softness. (Note: covering pan will speed this process but result in a softer-textured dish if done too early. Mona recommends only covering the pan toward the end.) If the pan becomes too dry, add water as needed. Serve garnished with cilantro if desired.

I also served garlic naan (bread) and we had individual chocolate lava cakes for dessert. There were no chocolate cakes or lamb left over, but the cauliflower made a fine lunch over leftover rice and with reheated naan.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Mother's Day Tribute

My mother was funny, warm, attractive, an adventurous cook and skilled gardener who grew many of her own herbs and vegetables, an interested listener, a fine conversationalist and a caring person who set a good example for my sisters and me as a volunteer in our schools and later with mentally disabled youngsters. She was an artist who made sure we all had a visual vocabulary and understood the importance of art not only as decoration and expression but as a way to communicate and process the world. She was a young widow left with three children to raise and she went back to school and got not only a bachelor's degree but also a master's degree so she could support us.

She died in 2001 much too young after a decade-long decline due to Parkinson's Disease. The disease slowly robbed her of her mobility, her clarity and eventually even the ability to enjoy a good piece of apple pie or a whipped cream eclair, but it never robbed her of her dignity, her delight in her grandchildren's visits or her attempts to tease or bedevil my middle sister. There was no estate to speak of, but my mother left my sisters and I rich in other ways. I don't assume her legacy is the same for all three of us, but I do know how it has enriched me and I hope I can pass these treasures on to my two sons. So on this mother's day with an ache in my throat from missing her that is undiminished by time, I hope to pass on her joy of life to others.

As the disease progressed and the ability to do much of what she loved was cruelly taken away from her, she still found a way to find things to look forward to and enjoy. The visits of my young niece, a smuggled-in Italian pastry, the kindness of a health aide, these all helped made life worth living for her. I personally never heard her complain. Sometimes I wished she would fight harder or do things differently, but she had her own way about it all and it suited her. It was hard to be a continent away, but I am blessed with two sisters who lived near her and were able to facilitate her little enjoyments.

I can't really remember spending a mother's day with her once I was grown and out of the house. I'm sure I sent cards and gave presents, but I never gave her what she had given me for all the years we had together, sometimes gifts I didn't appreciate at the time.

I remember being 30ish and on line for tea at Harrod's in London and embarrassed by my mother striking conversations up with the strangers beside us. On the train ride to the channel that same trip she got the British railroad conductor to open up on his views of American politics. Now I am embarrassed of my reaction back then and wish I could would have joined in instead of looking at the floor and turning away red-faced.

Mom was always proud of me and my accomplishments. I just wish I had the insight and ability to tell her how proud I was of her and hers. Maybe her final gift to me was loving me even though I didn't get it and trusting that someday I would. If so, it's one of the best gifts I've ever received and its a gift I hope I can give to someone in return.


About the photo: Mom in Convent Garden in London in 1985

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Having a Heat Wave

It's never hot in the Bay area, or so the general wisdom goes. One quote attributed to Mark Twain but said to be apocryphal contends the coldest summer he ever spent was in San Francisco. But let me tell you that when our veil of fog fails us, the temperature here can really cook and some of us just can't cope.

Part of that is our housing and many public spaces are just not air conditioned. (After all, we have the fog, right?) Many of us more boho types don't have any clothes that aren't black and/ or are not comfortable showing our pale limbs in scanty summer clothes even if we have them left over from some previous residence elsewhere in the country or some tropical vacation.

All of these factors made me appreciate last night's book club dinner hosted by my friend Ruth. Feeling it was too hot to heat up the kitchen or the cook, she served an assortment of cheeses, spreads, vegetable salads, fruits, smoked salmon and artisan breads. One highlight was the rose wine from her family vineyard -- Rominger West. Served chilled it was better (well, almost better) than air conditioning. The meal was light but filling and cool in more ways than one.