Lagniappe – The Sour and The Sweet

“Please, God,” wrote The Atlantic staff writer Olga Khazan on Twitter the other day, “someone do a sport so my boyfriend will stop talking about his sourdough starter.”

I can relate.

Admittedly, here in Glen Ellen, we’re looking at husbands, not boyfriends.  And Andy, the husband of this family, is not a sports fanatic; he’s a bit of a bicycling fanatic, and as long as the riders limit the numbers to a group of 3 or fewer (I love ya, Buck and Chris!) – bicycling is still allowed in Sonoma County.

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Travis’s Country Bread

But we’re still pretty restless around here, and, yes, the men in the family have taken up sour-dough bread baking with a lot of help from Chad Robertson and his Tartine Country Bread recipe.  Travis in Brooklyn has got it nailed, after approximately 20 loaves.  And with his help, Andy is beginning the – very long – process.  Here’s his starter, as it looked today:

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Andy’s sour dough starter – bubbling away (sort of)

Now it’s Andy, the bicyclist/baker writing here: While I am waiting for my starter to kick in so I can make bread, which I understand could take 4 or 5 more days of “feeding,” I have to continue my household breakfast-making obligation. Our mandatory shelter-at-home status has dramatically increased the pressure on me to come up with new and inspiring simple breakfast ideas.  I am pretty sure I am not suffering such anxieties alone. 

Hence, as a service to all breakfast makers during this purgatorial time I am offering a sweet, simple, and delicious suggestion to help reduce breakfast planning anxiety: Ginger Scones.  I’ve made them many times – which makes me the reigning expert on these guys in our household.  Though I’m best known for my biscuits – at least in the family – these scones are in a class of their own.

GINER SCONES WITH DATE SYRUP

Andy likes to add a drizzle of date syrup on his ginger scone; Ann likes hers with lots of butter, period.

Ginger Scones

  • Servings: makes about 18 scones
  • Print

Adapted from a Nancy Silverton recipe published in the NYTimes in 2000

  • 2 c flour – plus 1/4 c for processing the ginger
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest (about 1/2 lemon)
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) cold butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 1/2 oz candied ginger (about 2/3 c)
  • 3/4 c cream, plus extra for brushing the tops of the scones (half & half works too)

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 2 cups flour, sugar, and baking powder, and pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the lemon zest and butter, and pulse on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is pale yellow and the consistency of fine meal.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Chop the ginger into 1/4″ pieces and then mix the 1/4 c flour into it to keep the pieces from clinging to each other.  OR better yet – put the ginger with 1/4 c flour in the food processor and pulse until you get 1/4″ pieces.

Stir the ginger into the flour/butter mixture. Make a well in the center and pour in the cream. Using one hand, draw in the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Wash and dry your hands and dust them with flour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead a few times to gather it into a ball. Roll or pat the dough into a circle about 3/4 inch thick. Cut out the circles (I used a 2″ cutter), cutting as closely together as possible and keeping the trimmings intact.

Gather the scraps, pat and press the pieces back together, and cut out the remaining dough. Place the scones 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Brush the tops with the remaining cream.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through the time to insure they bake evenly.  They are ready when they are golden brown – you want a little crunch on the edges. 

Leftovers freeze nicely.  Reheat frozen scones wrapped in foil at 425 degrees for 25 minutes.   Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Forecast: Cloudy and Cold – Followed by Sun and Warmth

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The irony of her holding a “Health Insurance” card is not lost on us.  Maybe they should have stayed in Mexico?

Ahhh to be a bird in flight to somewhere else at this moment.  Except we’re not sure where that somewhere would be.  Definitely to a sunny, warm (healthy) spot!

March is always such a bittersweet month – and even more so this crazy March of 2020.  The Snowbirds who winter in Mexico will soon start flying north, at least if they’re allowed to cross the Mexican border!  Speaking of Mexico, our Brooklyn kids just returned from a week split between Mérida in the Yucatan and Campeche on the Gulf Coast.  They highly recommend both.  And, fortunately, their flights home were without issue – but very very empty.  Speaking of kids and warmth, our daughter, Sara, just posted a touching blog about how the warmth of one customer helped ease the pain, as their Tacolicious restaurants were forced to close.

And speaking of flights, this interactive website from The National Geographic about birds’ migratory patterns is both lovely and fascinating.  Western Tanagers should be heading our Northern California direction about now.

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The Western Tanager

Our non-flying pet dogs and cats – who are currently cuddled up on warm wool blankets by toasty fireplaces – will soon be sprawled out in the summer sun.  And Andy, who is happily spending copious amounts of time in our warm basement – see today’s Andy’s Corner – will soon be happily gardening and fixing our drip systems (if you believe that, I have another funny story).

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OnoMoore and ChocoLatte are hanging out near each other ONLY because there’s a fire in our wood stove.

But for now, there’s still time to put another log on the fire and curl up next to it…or, if you’re a dog, take a romp through the snow.  Hope that seeing Rosie – a Bernedoodle who happens to live in Boulder, CO, with our friends – enjoying her wintry life might bring a smile!  Be sure to watch the very short video.

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Rosie and friend in the hills outside Boulder, Colorado

Our chilly weather last week here in Northern California inspired us to enjoy a bowl of chili.  Being wild and crazy and adventurous (and largely stuck in our house), we tried out a pound of Beyond Beef – which we found in a cooler near the fresh vegetables at Whole Foods and also frozen at our local Sonoma/Nugget market.  The resulting chili, quite frankly, was delicious…probably better than the burgers which we fixed with Beyond Burgers.

That cold spell was quickly followed by a 75 degree day.

Even in Colorado – some days this March have reached the high 60’s.  That’s warm enough for asparagus to start growing.  What could be more symbolic of spring for us food fanatics.  Andy and I have vivid memories of “stalking the wild asparagus” back on the Colorado farm where we lived when our kids were born.

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Stalking the wild asparagus – in Colorado!

So whether it’s chilly where you are – or warming up, we’ve got you covered.  For those frigid days, try today’s Beyond Beef chili recipe or one of our other super-duper chili recipes: MountainWestBob’s, Lamb and White Bean, Vegetarian Black Bean, and Not Your Mother’s.

In addition to today’s d-lish chili recipe, we suggest you to make a quick, hand-sanitizer-activated run to your market and pick up a bunch or two of asparagus.  And, believe me, after years of steaming or boiling asparagus, I can assure you the best possible way to fix it is neither of those.  Instead do this!  And once you’ve got a double-batch cooked (we KNOW you’re hoarding a little), make this salad.  If you want something more substantial, try one of these pasta or noodle recipes, which make great use of spring’s asparagus. Continue reading

Keep Your Pecker Up

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I’ve told you before about my favorite pet I had as a youngster – a rooster whom I named Pecker.  My mother tried to discourage that name but didn’t go into any details as to why.

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Pecker and me

Pecker’s involvement in this blog is a bit convoluted, but here goes:  as we all experience the impact of the spread of the coronavirus, Andy and I wanted to send out an extra blog – just hoping to offer something upbeat during this unsettling time.  We both thought of the expression – “Keep a stiff upper lip.” And then we both wondered how that expression came to be.

Lo and behold, the first thing that came up in a google search was this from a UK site: If you try to hold your upper lip stiff your facial expression will appear aloof and unsmiling, betraying little of any feeling you might be experiencing. That demeanour is the source of ‘keep a stiff upper lip’. The phrase is similar to ‘bite the bullet‘, ‘keep your chin up‘, and (to the amusement of many Americans) ‘keep your pecker up‘. 

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Our photograph of Queen Anne – in St. Paul’s Churchyard, London.  Anne ruled England from 1702-1714.  Andy says, “she managed to keep her pecker up through some rough times.”

This brings me to Janet, our English friend who lives in London.  Janet and I were emailing about the virus and checking in to see how everyone was holding up.   So it was easy for me to verify with her that even today in England – especially from us older folks – “Keep your pecker up!” might be offered as a bit of encouragement.  No blushing or giggling here; it’s just that “pecker” is the English slang expression for your chin  – or mouth or even nose.

So there you are – and that’s what Andy and I hope y’all can do.  Keep your pecker up.  And we hope thoughts about Pecker (RIP) will make you smile.   Out of respect for Pecker, we will avoid mentioning all of our good chicken recipes, but we will remind you of our appropriately-named Longevity Noodle recipe (which happens to have chicken in it – but also has shiitake mushrooms, which are supposedly helpful in fortifying your immune system).

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We ventured out long enough to replenish our stock of immune-helpful food items – including shiitake mushrooms.

And, in case you need another smile, be sure to read today’s Andy’s Corner.  He too is having a bit a snicker, remembering a canal trip we took in England a number of years ago.  And he’s the recipe-provider today!

Do your minds sink into the gutter when looking for humor in our lives  – and when stuck in the house 24/7?

Now carry on.

 

 

Go Here, Not There: Counter Culture

“Counter Culture” is neither “here nor there” for the two of us.  Andy’s Corner today ties our last dinner party into one kind of counter culture.  For me it’s all about where we like to eat out.

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The French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley

Andy and I are not into fine dining.  We’ve never been to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Napa (where Valentine Day dinners were priced at $650/person). Nor have we tried the $298/person tasting menu at Quince in SF or the $330/person menu at Single Thread Farm Restaurant in Healdsburg.

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Offering from Single Thread Farm Restaurant in Healdsburg

When we do go out – which is usually for lunch – you’re most likely to find us enjoying a meal at a super-casual little locally-owned spot, often where you order at the counter (Get it?  Counter culture!); it’s likely a place that’s always busy and cozy and bright – as in lots of windows – and with a friendly staff.  Oh, yes, the food should be good and it should be something I wouldn’t want to cook at home.

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“FAR OUT!”  Actually, from Glen Ellen to the coast and back, isn’t that far.  And along the way you can pick from amazing sweet rolls, enchiladas, burgers, bread pudding – then end with fish ‘n chips!  ALL counter orders.  It’s the Counter Culture!

The local owners of special little eating places need and appreciate your support (especially now!).  So if you’re in Sonoma – or visiting Sonoma – try out our recommendations below.  If you happen to be in Fort Collins, CO, you’ll love the Little Bird Bakeshop.  In Crown Heights Brooklyn, go to Peppa’s Jerk Chicken,  AND if you’re in San Francisco’s Financial District during the weekday anytime soon, try out the newest counter order spot: Tacolicious Chico!  Think Tacos de Guisados.  Think Chicken Tinga Tacos or Greens ‘n’ Beans Tacos. Think yum.  Think local.

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Now – what do we not cook well – and often – at home?  Surprisingly enough, I’d say we haven’t mastered the perfect all-beef hamburger. For that, we go to The Picazo Cafe on Arnold Dr in Sonoma…and order a Picazo Burger with extra order of spicy Picazo sauce to go along with it and the fries.  Damned if we can figure out the sauce ingredients – and they’re not about to tell us.  However, there may be hints of sour cream, chipotles, and mushrooms 🙂

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Picazo Burger with extra Picazo spicy sauce

I am crazy about deep-fried Baja-style fish tacos and fish ‘n chips but I don’t deep-fry at home.  So for that we’re off to Fisherman’s Cove in Bodega Bay (where we might also have some raw oysters before we move on to our fish dish).

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Fisherman’s Cove, Bodega Bay

Friends and family visiting us recently can’t say enough good things about El Molino Central on the north edge of Sonoma in Boyes Hot Springs.  We agree that homemade tortillas and chicken enchiladas suiza are not something we’d try at home – and are absolutely d-lish here.  Plus, if I could replicate their refried black beans, I’d be in culinary heaven; apparently lard is a secret ingredient.

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There’s a nice amount of light while we wait for our Chicken Enchiladas Suiza at fun little El Molina Central.

Yeast-y sweet breads are another item I don’t do often at home (though I occasionally get into the bread-making mode).  We’ve got our own little French bakery right here in Glen Ellen – Les Pascals.  Andy’s bicycling group stops there regularly – and small as it is – they manage to accommodate 20+ bicyclists.  Our favorite pastry there?  Kuniaman!

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Kuniaman – from Les Pascals.  SO good!

How can you not love the Water Street Bistro in Petaluma.  We’ve been enjoying their friendly staff, casual vibe – and pastries and bread pudding (served in hot cinnamon-y milk!) – with maybe some quiche and salad on the side 🙂 – for years.

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The friendly counter service at Water Street Bistro in Petaluma

To be honest, we’re not crazy about our homemade hamburgers; but we have two new burger recipes to share – both of which are great.  And we want to remind you to try our Zucchini Turkey Burgers from Yotam Ottolenghi, which are a hit whenever we make them and a hit with our friends who have tried them at their homes.

And as for meatless burgers such as Beyond Meat….I’m not ready to commit yet; I can’t quite embrace their mix of odd ingredients, but I’ll keep reading and experimenting as they evolve (update: an upcoming blog will reveal the unexpected result of my experimentation with meatless meat!).

Finally FYI: I was an English major but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the word “demonym” before doing this blog.   In researching why we use the word “hamburger” for something which has no ham in it, I found this from Wikipedia: Hamburger in German is the demonym of Hamburg, similar to frankfurter and wiener, names for other meat-based foods and demonyms of the cities of Frankfurt and Vienna (in German Wien) respectively. Continue reading

Guest Blog – On Repeat

I should probably point out as today’s guest blogger, my connection to BigLittleMeals is not only as a very big fan of the blog and its creators, but that I also happen to be dating and living with their son, Travis, in Brooklyn, NY.  Just a small coincidence.

This weekend we were lucky enough to catch the unbelievable work of Liza Lou at the Whitney Museum, titled Kitchen.  This life-sized 168 square-foot kitchen covered entirely in millions of tiny glass beads, each placed with a tweezer, took her five years to create. She describes this as a “monument to women’s work, to the labor that is uncelebrated, to the mothers and grandmothers who baked pies, and cooked and sowed [sic] but yet are never thanked, the labor that is endless” (Artnet).

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Liza Lou’s beaded, life-sized “Kitchen”, completed in 1996 – at the Whitney Museum in NYC.  A quote from the Whitney’s website: “Kitchen might also be read as a commentary on American life—even the American dream—with its ubiquitous products (Tide and Cap’N Crunch), aspirations (glittery surfaces and suburban assimilation), and realities (dishes in the sink and other kitchen drudgery).”

Speaking of uncelebrated labor, it occurred to me recently when I was thinking about what to make for dinner for the umpteenth time, that whoever came up with the phrase “Variety is the spice of life” was not working a full-time job in Retail and trying to eat a somewhat healthy meal before 9 pm.  According to the origins of this phrase, William Cowper’s poem, “The Task” written in 1785, that assumption is definitely true. Admittedly, Cowper was not referring to his dinner routine, but more so breaking through the mundanity of life.

I’m sure there’s someone out there who gleefully loves planning dinner night after night, but when I saw this meme it made me feel a little less alone in the world: “Who knew the most taxing part of being an adult is trying to figure out what to have for dinner every goddamn night until you die.”  It’s truly comforting knowing there is someone else out there complaining the good complaint.

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Yes, we can all agree that choosing what to eat for dinner is not the most taxing part of being an adult (sarcasm people), but I think the sentiment perfectly illustrates the mental bandwidth available after a long day, in our case after a(n) (often) (delayed) commute to/from Brooklyn, to feel the urge to cook something fresh, good for you, and that maybe even tastes good. It’s a lot riding on one meal!

Living in a major metropolitan city has its culinary perks, like finding oat milk or matcha on every menu (how dare they not!) or in the likely event of dinner dysfunction, having anything you want to eat at the click of a button.  Yet somehow living in the land of convenience can lose its luster. It’s definitely not the most sustainable approach, both economically or environmentally, or even always the most convenient (delayed deliveries and cold food) but it creates the allusion that you should always have something exciting and new.

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I decided to do some market research, so I asked one food obsessed friend how he decides what to cook every night. To summarize, he doesn’t fuss over dinner, simple is best. Maybe my data pool is a little small but he makes a good point. When I really think about our best dinners, they are not the most complicated or critic-worthy or require the most thought.  A version of pasta, tacos, soup, or stir fry – these are the ones we have on repeat.

A good friend once gave me some advice worth heeding, “set the bar low,” she said. I’m pretty sure she was talking about planning dinner.  Figuring out what to eat is as complicated as you make it and sometimes it can even be, fun?

Well, I think we’ve come full circle, and hopefully I’ve calmed my current dinner anxiety.  Is variety really the spice of life?  No, it’s cumin.

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Cumin-Spiced Mostly-Veggie Stir-Fried Rice

Cumin-Spiced Mostly-Veggie Stir-Fried Rice

Lots of pre-chopping and slicing helps this come together quickly. The omission of eggs makes this a fully plant-based dish.

  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 1 1/2 c chopped mixed vegetables of choice
  • 1 jalapeno or Fresno pepper, minced
  • 1 c dark leafy greens, preferably kale or swiss chard
  • 1 1/2 c day-old rice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T rice wine vinegar
  • 2 shakes coconut aminos (optional)
  • 2 tsp sesame oil, preferably hot
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 eggs whisked (optional)
  • 2 T avocado oil (or vegetable oil)
  • salt/pepper, to taste

Pre-chop scallion and vegetables of choice, slice shallot and set aside together in a bowl. I used what I had on hand – broccoli, celery, and bell pepper for crunch.

Remove dark leafy greens from stems, rinse, and cut into strips, set aside. In a small bowl, stir together minced garlic, rice wine vinegar, coconut aminos, sesame oil, soy sauce and cumin.  If using, whisk two eggs and set aside in a small bowl.

Warm avocado oil over high heat in a wok or skillet, once sizzling, add your bowl of scallions, shallot, and mixed vegetables. Cook about 4-5 minutes until softened, stir frequently. Lower heat to medium-high, add in minced pepper and garlic, cook for 1-2 minutes more. At this point I season with a little salt and pepper.

Add in kale or swiss chard and cook until softened, then mix in day old rice. When rice is warmed, about 3-4 minutes, add in sauce and stir frequently until evenly coated. If using eggs, make a well in the middle of the rice and pour in the mixture, grind some fresh pepper on top, and keep stirring into a scramble. Once egg is mostly cooked mix together with rice and serve.

Recipe brought to you by Hannah in Brooklyn and BigLittleMeals.com.

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