Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wait For It

Last week, I had to have one of those, "What is it that you want out of life?" talks with a student. He told me he wanted a nice house that he didn't have to share with the rest of his family. He's a good kid, a charmer with an infrequent but beautiful smile and impeccable manners, and I want good things for him, but what I want most is for him to understand that if he wants that nice house, or anything else material or otherwise, he's the one who is going to have to make it happen. The bad stuff happens to everyone and often unexpectedly; the good stuff we have to make happen ourselves.

He wants to neither wait nor work. He wants the good stuff now, without doing anything for it. I asked him for input, for his opinion, but he shrugged his shoulders. His face perfected passivity as I talked earnestly. "I know, I know," he said. He doesn't.

Complex, coconutty, and just the right amount of salty, these are a grown up version of chocolate chip cookies. These cookies aren't for my student—for the cookies to taste best, one must wait a day or two to eat them. Delayed gratification in the form of a cookie: work on them today to eat them tomorrow.

Cococcino Mochanut Cookies

You will need:
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup butter
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour (if eggs are medium) 2 1/2 cups flour (if eggs are large)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup large shred coconut
1/2 lb dark chocolate

To make the cookies:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spread the coconut shreds in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Place the sheet in the heating oven and let the coconut toast just for 3-5 minutes, or until the edges are beginning to brown. Keep your eye on the oven so that you don't end up with burned shredded nuts. Ha! Remove the coconut from the oven and let it cool while you put together the rest of the dough.

Chop the chocolate coarsely. Don't worry if every piece is not as large as you like—the small shreds melt into the dough and flavor it beautifully.

In a large bowl with a beater, cream together the sugars and the butter until fluffy. Add the coffee granules and beat until well mixed. Crack the eggs into the butter mixture, and beat until the mixture is homogeneously fluffy.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture and stir just until combined. Pour in the vanilla, coconut, and chopped chocolate. Stir the mixture together until the ingredients are evenly mixed.

Using a large spoon, drop clumps of dough on a parchment lined or silicon lined cookie sheet, leaving at least two inches of space between each. Place the sheet in the oven, and cook for ten minutes, or until the edges and peaks are beginning to brown. Remove the pan from the oven, and use a spatula to place the cookies on a rack to cool.

Once cool, place the cookies in large container with a sealing lid. The lid helps keep the cookies' balance of crunch and chew. Wait a day or three before eating. Then, enjoy the payoff.

That gratification sure is sweet.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Starting Summer in January

Sunday, despite my horrible cold, I dragged myself to the monthly COFEA swap. Along with my cough and buckets of snot, this is what I brought.

Lemon Verbena

Mixed Mild Mustard Greens

Salad Burnet

Redbor and Lacinato Kale

Oriole and Five Color Silverbeet Chard


Here is a handful of the many goodies I brought back.


I'm mostly following the wintersowing method this year, starting my solanaceae family in makeshift greenhouses, but the eggplants and peppers are also on heat mats on the patio just until they sprout. Then they'll go out and face the elements to join the tomatoes, hopefully growing into some fecund buggers. The winners in the race to sprout are Linnie's Oxheart, Guernsey Island Pink Blush, and Not Wes.

Not only am I dreaming of a head-cold-less life in which I can once again regain all of my five senses, I'm beginning to dream of summer tomatoes. I imagine how they'll feel, still sun warmed and heavy, in my hands as I harvest. Though my nose is on the fritz, I can almost smell the sharp green scent of tomato plants, staining my skin as I brush against them in the summer garden. I can see many colored tight tomato skins filling the produce drawers in my kitchen. And the salsa, the bruschetta, the salads, the soups, all of it I can almost taste.

Oh tomato, it is you, you irresistable seductress, that turns so many a food lover into a gardener. Our stories may not be original, but they're no less true. And now, through the winter, I'm enjoying and sharing the citrus and greens, but a whole chunk of me is just biding my time.

Tomato, I'm waiting for you.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Soi 7

Someday, I used to think to myself, I'll be friends with someone who owns a restaurant. Maybe there, I'd imagine, I'd finally feel comfortable enough to send directions to the chef, "Make me whatever you feel like making tonight."

Someday is now.

I've known James Doell since we were both twelve. Actually, I knew him, then didn't know him for a while, then thanks to the Internet, I know him again. As we were reaquainting a couple years ago, he told me that he had just sold his business and was opening a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. This fall, Soi 7 opened, and after a couple months of me trying to get there, last week I finally visited. Almost immediately upon entering, even before tasting the food, I had to tell James how proud I was of him. The place is beautiful: a blood red glass chandelier hangs over the back hallway, Thai wood carvings dress the walls, in a giant urn flocked leafless magnolia branches surprisingly begin to unfurl pink undergarments. It's funky and warm and has just the right amount of offbeat beauty to feel sexy and comfortable at the same time. James collected every piece and put the atmosphere together himself. He is owner, designer, host extraordinaire.

Here is my friendly fellow taster.

Our waiter, the charming Takashi, greeted us warmly, made sure we had what we wanted to drink, answered all of our questions, and made us feel as welcome and happy as if we were in our own home. We had a starter, calamari, and watched lovely dishes go by. We read the menu and talked about our options, but for me, there was really only one option.

Years of anticipation funneling through my tongue, I asked Takashi to tell the chef that we wanted what he felt like making for us.

And what he made us was beautiful, simple, and perfectly executed: glass noodles with snap peas and carrots that were so fresh, they could have come from my back yard, shrimp, pork, cabbage, and scallions. All the produce organic, some of it is even local. The food the chef put together did not show off; instead, on a rainy, cold day, it hugged us. It was the food he not only wanted to make that night, but also what he wanted to eat.

Lucky, lucky me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mandarin Mania

At 8:30 Monday morning, I ventured out in the rain and across Altadena to my friendly acquaintance Martin's house to learn about his collection of mandarins. He had volunteered to share fruit and information with me about what he was growing, and there is no one I've ever met who is as excited and informed about mandarins as he is. Rain or no rain, I couldn't turn the opportunity down. Though he has quite a few more in his collection, four were ripe and ready to taste today.

Four Mandarins Side by Side
1) Dancy Mandarin

This fruit's a beaut. It is a dark, true orange color with fine pores in its thin skin. Martin held the fruit up to me and said, "Smell its skin." Oh baby, it smells wonderful, exactly what one thinks of when one hears the word tangerine. It is a little harder to peel than others, and there is almost no white pith in the skin. Medium sweet with a nice acid balance, it is not complicated flavored, but clean. The segments are easy to separate with individual cells that cling tightly together. The tree from which this fruit came was small, so it was hard for me to determine what it will look like as it matures.

2) Owari Satsuma

This is the type of mandarin that I have in my yard, planted upon Martin's recommendation last year. He has two mature trees of this variety, and they have a distinct, almost weeping growing habit with wide, very dark green leaves. It is the prettiest plant of his mandarin collection. The fruit is mid-orange with a gold tinge, marked by large pores, and a loose, easy-to-peel character. Since the skin is so loose on this variety, it is a poor keeper; on a wet day, moisture can enter the fruit and immediately set rot in motion. The loose skin is what makes the season on Owaris so short. The peel on this variety is sharply scented, but not as complex in scent as the Dancy. Its flesh, however, is superior. It is melting and remarkably sweet, but balanced perfectly with an acidic bite. Of the fruit I tasted today, this is my favorite.

A Dancy on the left and an Owari on the right—notice how much thicker and easier to peel the skin is on the Owari.

3) Shirokolistvennyi

Martin tells me that this is a Russian mandarin and that it is the most cold-hardy of his collection. "It can take a hard frost and not slow down," he said. He purchased the tree from the University of California, Riverside's test orchard, and he knows of only two other people who grow it. This fruit is light orange with a peel that smells similar to Owari. The fruit is similar in texture and sweetness to Owari, but it is less acid and has a floral aftertaste. Unlike its peers, it is substantially more sweet than tart. Its skin was loose, but not as loose as Owari's. Rounded and spreading, the tree had a more typical citrus growth habit than drooping Owari.

4) Gold Nugget

Gold Nugget, a UCR introduction, is just not as pretty as its peers: the color is less rich, and though larger, it has a bumpy, irregular surface. However, the thick peel, when torn, has an aromatic intensity to it, and the flesh itself is lovely. The segments are larger and firmer than today's other fruit. Martin told me that they weren't quite ripe yet, but he wanted me to taste them anyway, so I can see what they'll be like. They're already quite sweet and offer an interesting spicy flavor that none of the other fruit today had. I enjoyed this fruit, even not-quite-ripe very much, and I rate it my second favorite of the day. A rounded, heavy-producing tree, the leaves on this are much narrower than Owari's and the fruit mature later in the season, holding well on the tree. I think this would be a great addition to my yard, extending the mandarin season well into spring.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Me and Chevy Chase

I planned to spend all today and tomorrow, a day off, outside working, but the weather told me I wasn't allowed. The rain said I had to stay inside and relax. The clouds demanded a vacation.

This type of weather dictates that one sits on one's ass to read and watch television. For the reading, I've been sipping Desert Queen, the history of Gertrude Bell and her role in forming the modern political boundaries of the Middle East. For the viewing, I've been gobbling up Season 1 of Saturday Night Live.

My parents tell me that, one night when I was a baby, the three of us fell asleep in front of the television while trying to stay awake to watch Saturday Night Live. They woke to me screaming. I had woken up and seen the stunt baby skit. Do you remember that skit? The premise was that the troupe had a baby who did all her own stunts, but though most of the skit starred a real child, for the actual stunt a doll replaced the child. I was too young to understand the joke or the baby swap, so when I saw the baby get hurt, I was terrified.

As the anecdote illustrates, I've been watching Saturday Night Live since I was pooping in my tiny pants. The show began the year I was born, and though we didn't watch a lot of the cartoons or other shows that people from my generation remember in our household, we did regularly watch SNL. While the show and its ebbs and flows have been a regular part of my life, I'm not the type of fan that watches the "Best of" episodes or one who idolizes her favorite past cast members. For the most part, I don't watch reruns, nor do I catch every episode. While I never would have added done it myself, ECG, who is younger than I am and has never seen most of the early seasons, had added it to our instant view Netflix list, and I am glad that he did.

Watching Season 1 has been a fascinating exercise. The comedy was sweeter than what we see in current episodes. In one show, the "home movie" piece was simply a montage set to Simon and Garfunkle's "Homeward Bound" of many people meeting their loved ones at the airport. Chevy Chase started each episode with a slapstick trip and fall. Yes, there were sex and drug jokes, but even they seem milder. And to see these comedians young and healthy makes me happy. John Belushi is clear-eyed and funny; Chevy Chase is skinny, tongue-tied, and cute as a bug's ear; Gilda Radner is cheerfulness-incarnate and cancer-free; at least, this is how all of these people look to me as I watch them. It's unrealistic, but it is an unrealistic nostalgia I allow myself. I choose it. How could I not? Saturday Night Live and I grew up together, and with friends this old, one must love the best parts and let the rest go.


My Mama's Lemon Sour Cream Pie
This falls into the category Ann calls Creamy Evil. It is delicious and unhealthy and impossible to stop eating. Like Saturday Night Live, it has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. Comforting and cheerful, to eat it makes me happy. I apologize for the lack of picture. This is the type of pie that when placed in front of others disappears immediately.

You will need:

1 homemade (preferably all-butter) prebaked pie crust

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

3 egg yolks, beaten

1 cup milk

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 generous tablespoon of fine grated lemon zest

1 cup sour cream

plenty of barely sweetened, vanilla-spiked whipped cream

To make the pie:

Mix the sugar and cornstarch together in a saucepan. Add the egg yolks, milk, butter, lemon juice, and peel. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is thick. As soon as the mixture thickens, remove it from heat, scoop it into another container, and refrigerate it for at least two hours.

Once the mixture is cool, stir in the sour cream until completely combined. Pour the mixture into the pie shell and chill the entire pie until ready to serve. Just before serving, spread a generous layer of whipped cream over the surface of the filling.

Serve the pie to those friends you love, both new and old.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When in Flagstaff

Eat like the locals, the very well-fed locals.

This pizza rivals the wonderful pizzas we enjoyed in Italy: the crust is infused with wood smoke and balances crunch with chew, and the toppings are fresh and locally sourced. The restaurant even makes its own mozzarella on the premises.

Mismatched plates and a simple dining room don't take away from the joy of eating at New Jersey Pizza Company. In fact, the only real problem with the place is its poor ability to advertise itself. Though once the restaurant had a lit sign, it fell down a while ago and hasn't been replaced, so it takes a keen eye to find the place in the dark. Even the menu, though listing a correct address, provides an incorrect website.

ECG and I fell in love with New Jersey Pizza Company on our quick overnight in Flagstaff a few weeks ago. We think you'll love it too.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Vacant Kitchen

We've been busy.

The Big Project, aka The-Shed-That-Took-Me-Forever-To-Paint, is now mostly complete. We hired Russell Wightman, the force behind LA Farm Hands to design and build the basic structure of our garden shed on a pre-existent foundation on the property. ECG finished the doors and shelves, and I painted.

Eventually, we'll install a sink in the longer counter and we'll tile all of the counters. Someday I'll also have a pottery wheel here. In this building, we'll keep all of our garden and chicken tools and supplies. In this building, I'll start seeds, hang-dry garlic and shallots, make art, and find shade in the heat of the summers. Grapes will climb its front arbors and blackberries will weave up the side trellis. It is a sweet, happy place.

And, as if to celebrate Harvest Monday, the citrus are beginning to come into full swing. The only mature tree we have on the property is a Meyer lemon, and there is a bounty of the golden fruit. The other young trees are giving us the few fruit they have. Here, a Meyer lemon sits like a zeppelin above a Meiwa kumquat.

A few things I'm dreaming of making in the next few weeks with the Meyer lemons:
  • homemade margarita mix
  • my mama's lemon sour cream pie
  • something with scallops and Meyer lemon—I can taste it in my mind, but I haven't figured out how to put it together yet
  • a lemon sorbet that is even twenty times better than this one

I set the bowl of arugula and citrus down on the coop the other day so I could give the birds one of their favorite treats: caterpillars. Damn cabbage moths who nibble at my cabbage. Nibble on my cabbage, I'll have someone nibble you. Die suckers.

Our Five Color Silver Beet (rainbow chard) is now reaching harvestable size. Though I haven't been very creative with it, I have been enjoying it sauteed with garlic.

The truth is, I haven't been creative with much in the kitchen lately. I just haven't had time or energy for it. A boon to my kitchen came in the form of a large tupperware container of homemade tomatillo chili that my friend gave me the other day. I didn't make it, but boy, I enjoyed it. With it, we put together some killer cheese enchiladas.

Hopefully, the next few weeks will afford me the time to make the deliciousnesses I've been dreaming up to share with you. Even in sunny, warm Southern California, the January lack-of-daylight is getting me down, and ECG and I could use all the deliciousnesses we can get.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Monday-After-Vacation Blues

Folks who don't teach think it sounds ridiculous when a teacher says they dread going back to work after a break. After all, don't teachers get large amounts of time off? Every federal holiday, winter, summer break: these are large quantities of time that teachers have outside of the classroom. (This time is not all free, however; the first four hours of Sunday morning I graded essays on the couch. Stircrazy, I had to stop to go do other parts of my life. But I returned to that couch for three more hours in the evening.) I know I am lucky. I know once the kids come in and start their laughing and jibing, I'll be happy. I'll be happy when I get the kid who turns in a paper he's spent break revising, and it shows real writing growth. I know this.

But, darn it, I really don't want to go back to work today. 6am wakeups. So little daylight to myself and my garden. Driving there. Driving back. Grading papers. Grading papers. Grading papers. It feels like it never ends. At heart, I'm a very selfish person, and I just want to spend time doing only what I want to do. Which brings us to the truth about going to work today: thank God I have 200 kids waiting for me at school to remind me there is life outside my own head.


I'm horrible at staying on top of online projects in which I involve myself, but this one may be different. With luck, I'll be able keep on this one, Harvest Mondays, hosted by Daphne's Dandelions. Each Monday, I'll post pics of what I've harvested in the week.

A salad spinner of arugula.

This past week, I've harvested plenty o' arugula for salads. As well, the Owari satsumas have finally sweetened up. Most of what I've eaten so far, I've eaten right next to the tree, tossing the peels on the ground.

An Owari satsuma segment. Say that three times quickly.

Two Owari satsumas and one Meyer lemon.

And the Meyer lemons are good and plenty. This week, I've made lemon curd and these lemon cookies (thanks for the suggestion, Ann), with and without poppy seed. I've made this salad dressing, and today, I'll be infusing some olive oil with Meyer lemon peel. As well, I need to make another big batch of preserved lemons since I'm beginning to run low and I can't have a preserved lemon free refrigerator. With many more to come, I can continue to dream of ways to use them.

That is, when I'm not grading papers.