Thursday, August 29, 2013

Adventures with Ma Brennan

My mama was here this past weekend! She and my dad each visit about twice a year (for elder-dog-care reasons, they almost never come together), but it's been a while since her last trip, so I planned us a day in Napa. I usually gravitate toward more laidback Sonoma, but with the moms, why not fancy it up?
My mom showed up  in San Francisco with a huge suitcase full of produce from her garden: zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, an 8 pound cabbage (!), and, hallelujah, a re-up on my honey stash. Muchas gracias mama.
Her visit coincided nicely with an outing to Cal Shakes, a theater in the Berkeley hills where my friend coordinates group trips a few times a season. It was an Oscar Wilde play, Lady's Windermere's Fan, and was therefore delightful. I made us a kale and pasta salad and a plum almond tart to picnic on before the show.
Over the weekend we went north to wine country to seek non-Chardonnay whites, because oaky = gross. At Honig we made friends with their sauvignon blanc (though not so much with the rose pictured below) and a rich cab.
Caitlin scooted us over to Addendum in her Mini to pick up boxed lunches, which are the best and cheapest way to get your hands on Thomas Keller's fried chicken. We tolerated ten minutes in the car with the fried chicken aroma tickling our bellies before we scarfed it at our next stop. I love Casa Nuestra's laid back vibe - there are goats on the property, their tasting room is a slightly rundown old house, and they have folk music posters on the walls. We stocked up on a chenin blanc (not officially released yet, but ask and ye shall receive) and their tinto.
At St Supery we tried some super peachy and crisp sauvignon blancs that mom loved, as well as a sauvignon blanc-semillon blend. I don't know much about semillons, but I did brew a saison last year that used semillon grape juice, and it was one of my best beers. We ended the day at Domaine Chandon, which was overrun with dudes in tight shirts and bachelorette parties. The vibe was off, but it was nice to wrap up with a glass of bubbly, and Caitlin snapped a photo of me and my mom where we're both smiling, which is an absolute miracle.
Other Things That Happened:
Street art on Divis: $$$ won't love you back.
 A visit to Temescal Alley in Oakland brought us to Esqueleto, a beautiful jewelry shop.
 I finished off the plums we got at the farm via a plum crumb tart. Cooking the plums in a little bit of port first was a good off-the-cuff move.
 I also whipped a cake via The Yellow House. It has peaches, butter, cornmeal, fresh lavender (the first time I've clipped any from the plant in our backyard!), basically all the good things.
Speaking of the garden, I found three cucumbers ready to be picked! These suckers really know how to hide.
Or maybe we're just not so good at looking, since this zucchini managed to grow to over a foot long before I saw it. Holy moly. 
All this zucchini went into a vegetable paella, along with some of its vegetable brethren.
On a completely different note, Helene and I went to dinner and discovered this bizarre urinal in the women's room. Why is it there? Why is it filled with flowers? And why is it so high up? 
 We'll never know.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Oh my goodness, our friends' baby Pele is a wee little model for Pottery Barn Kids. She's on the right here...
And is a precious pumpkin here.
If you have ovaries, I apologize for setting them a-stirring.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gimme all your produce

Red Earth Farm is owned and run by our friends Katie and Larry in the Sierra foothills, and it is a magical place. Katie and Larry are not only two wonderful humans, but they grow food that is so delicious and nutritious that people clamor to buy it, all while raising two unimaginably delightful children. It boggles the mind.

Last week was Katie's birthday, so we headed out to the farm to celebrate. Now that I am 30, I get a sense of satisfaction every time a friend joins me in old age, because I am a really good friend. Welcome to 30, Katie! Mike and I packed the California Raisin (which will soon go to car heaven - more on that in a later post) full of homebrew and warm-weather clothes - see ya later, Fogust! - and drove east.
Nestled in a cooler alongside the bomber bottles of Chocolate Orange Porter and Semillon Saison was my contribution to Katie's potluck, a homely fig and almond cake. You know when something comes into your life and is just what you need at just the right moment, kismet? I had placed my first order with Good Eggs (thanks to a $25 off coupon), and when the delivery arrived, it turned out they were out of lemon verbena, but gave me a beautiful basket of ripe figs to make up for it. The figs were plump and squishy and perfect, and after gorging myself, I turned to this fig and almond cake recipe, which came together quickly and turned out beautifully. I didn't photograph it, alas, but it looked exactly like the one in the New York Times, sans the fancy lighting and charmingly rustic tablecloth.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pretzels redux

We came home from Montreal with a dozen bottles of mustard, courtesy of a friend of the newlyweds who made a bottle for each wedding place setting. As is inevitable, many people left theirs behind, and Mike scooped them up. They now have pride of place on our countertop, and I've been slathering mustard on everything I can - homemade bread, a dinner omelette (trust me!), and, appropriately, pretzels.
I've made pretzels before, so I was an old hand this time around, and they turned out beautifully, aside from one that inexplicably came apart into fluffy goo during the boiling process. I used this Food & Wine recipe, but replaced step 4, the dunking in lye, with a dunking in boiling water souped up with baking soda. Much less hassle that way.

Just to make you extra jealous, in addition to piling them with grainy mustard, I also dipped the pretzels in a jar of strawberry chevre that Katie made from her goats' milk and roasted strawberries from her garden. It was heavenly.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Belle Ville de Montréal

Sometimes, at the end of a trip, all you can think about is your own home and your own bed. And sometimes, instead, you want to stay, maybe forever, get a little apartment with exposed brick, and learn French. The latter is what summertime Montreal did to Mike and I.
We were in Montreal for an auspicious union, the wedding of our friends Ronak and Uchenna. First, though, we stopped in Boston (after a weird flight) and I worked from the Cambridge office. I caught up with some old friends, got my fix of lobster and ale, and had brunch at The Neighborhood. All the necessary things.
We headed out of Boston by car, driving up through New Hampshire and Vermont so that Mike could see the glory that is New England in the summer. Montpelier, by the way, is just precious. We arrived in Montreal at sunset, with hot air balloons and gliders suspended over the fields on the outskirts of the city as the sun fell behind Mont Royal. Well, hello.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

It frames our focus

A really well-written recipe is a delight. It brings a freshness to the ingredients, an elegance to the preparation, a feeling of accomplishment to the final product. It's inspiring. Tamar Adler and MFK Fisher are masters of food writing, but Food52 has been making a play for posterity lately as well.

Case in point: this rough recipe for green beans with garlic.
You throw raw green beans into a hot pan with butter and nothing else, and sear them over an irresponsibly high flame. 
When they start to get some brown splotches, cover the pan. Resist the temptation to add liquid. They'll stew in their own juices, and their flavor will be completely undiluted. 
Then, just when they're looking a little saggy and soft and they taste sweet (roughly 15 minutes later), you take them off the heat and add ingredients 3 and 4: salt and pulverized garlic. 
You could leave the garlic out, but its pushy sting will soften a little on the warmth of the beans. It frames our focus. 
Which, of course, is those green beans, sweet and singed and alive, with none of their goodness overwritten or left behind.
I want those beans. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On being the only chick in business class

Yesterday I got upgraded on my flight to Boston. It doesn't happen often, so usually I'm one of the horde shuffling to the back of the plane, eyeing the lucky ones with legroom and free booze. And usually, at least on business routes (I'm sure flights to Hawaii are different), there is at most one woman in business class. And she is almost always clearly part of a couple. Maybe there's a quota.

On yesterday's flight, I was the token business class lady. It felt odd. When the agent called the first boarding group, I was standing in the half-line, half-scrum around the gate. Two men pushed right by me like it hadn't even occurred to them that I could be part of their group. Maybe they were just dicks who would have done the same had they been in the last boarding group instead of the first, but my assumption is that they figured I was part of the hoi polloi.

When the flight attendant came around to take dinner orders (because that is a thing that happens in business class - also, ice cream sundaes!), she asked each guy individually what he'd like to eat. "And you, sir? And you, sir?" When she got to my row, she addressed me and the guy next to me together: "And what will you two be having?" Aside from the fact that I was sitting next to him, there was no sign that we were traveling together - we hadn't even spoken. It was awkward.

Finally, the kicker: three hours into the flight, I used the business class restroom, and the rolls were still completely new, their ends glued down. Because everyone else had penises.

None of these things was malicious, or even really upsetting - just discomfiting. Where my business class ladies at?