Bowled Over…Again

Peter’s and my recent trip to the West Coast to visit Rachel and the Divine Miss M was filled with wonderful moments galore: Maxine’s giggles, a visit to Tilden Park’s Little Farm (one of the few rainless moments), family dinners, Bananagrams — the list goes on.

But one of the highlights for sure was Berkeley Bowl, which we visited multiple times and felt like oohing tourists every time. For an East Coast resident, this supermarket is a fresh produce Mecca requiring multiple visits for us to pray before the fresh food gods. I remember being awestruck the last time we visited, but this time was — hard to imagine — more special. Maybe it had to do with having left behind the worst winter in recent memory — we did not see one inch of our yard from early December until early March — but I could not get enough of this place. I felt rejuvenated by the absolute possibility of all this wonderful, fresh — much of it local — food. It was breathtaking.

Peter, always positive, proclaimed Berkeley Bowl the FAO Schwartz of Supermarkets. I, clearly a glass half-empty kind of gal, noted that it made me feel as if every other supermarket I regularly shopped in seem — and I will include a fav of mine, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods — like a corner convenience store (and we all know what the fresh options are there!).

I took a few notes. (East Coast reader warning: This is going to depress you.)

* 18 kinds of apples … IN MARCH!
* carrots: sure, the obvious long orange ones you can get just about anywhere, but also round carrots, white carrots, maroon carrots, mini carrots, yellow carrots and red carrots. Who knew?
* obvious yellow bananas AND burro bananas, red bananas, plantains and nino bananas.
* regular old cucumbers AND English cucumbers, Persian cucumbers, Japanese cucumbers, and pickling cucumbers
* REAL tomatoes, i.e. not the plastic things passing for tomatoes 9 months of the year everywhere else in America, as well as orange tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, and some kind of brown tomato I had never seen before

And this was NOT even the organic section, which is almost bigger than the produce section I regularly shop in weekly.

If you still have a stomach for this, here are some photos to further prove the point. While we desperately hope Rachel, John and Miss M move East this summer, I now know I’m up against more than just a California is Cool mindset. Berkeley Bowl is a formidable opponent.


Dear Karen DeMasco,

We’ve got beef. Not the kind you cook and devour, but the metaphoric kind.

See, a while back I bought your cookbook The Craft of Baking on a lark. I rarely do things on a lark and, while I know this isn’t your fault, it makes my desire for my larks to work out all the greater. It’s my issue, I know, but with the delicious looking cover and the frivolity of a cookbook dedicated to just desserts … well, your cookbook called out to me from the throngs of cookbooks as delectably indulgent.

And it is! It is. It has beautiful pictures, you write in an accessible fashion and the morsels you offer up run a fabulous gamut of the sugar-infused spectrum.

There’s a problem, though. Only one of the recipes I’ve made has ever worked out just the way you describe it.

Your graham crackers are perfection. It’s just, you know, every other recipe (and I’ve made several at this point!) that disappoints.

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I pulled out your book this weekend to make John’s birthday cake. Your recipe for burnt orange cheesecake seemed appropriately festive and so I began the long process of making it. Over the course of two days, I made graham crackers (fabulous as always!), macerated oranges over night, chilled and baked crust, drained cheese…the list goes on. Following your recipe to a “t”, I ended up with far too many graham crackers, made a crust that’s sticky and soft instead of crisp, generated (laboriously!) too much burnt orange sauce that fell into the cake instead of resting on top of it as you describe, and baked my cheesecake for 2 1/2 hours instead of the 50 minutes you told me it would roughly take. While, in the end, the cheesecake part of the cake was delicious, I felt so misguided by your recipe that I checked the back of your book. I figured there was no way there would be any positive reviews. Not only are there, though, but they’re from famous chefs! Interestingly, however, they all seem to suggest they’re excited to try your book, not that they’ve tried it. After so many foiled baking expeditions (and they really do feel like expeditions under your tutelage…John and I started calling your recipes “princess recipes” yesterday, so preciously and precisely rendered are they), I’m beginning to think you made some delicious food and then tried to remember how when it came down to writing your book. For recipes that are intensely precise, the accuracy of the end product is horribly remiss … admittedly delicious (even when ugly, sugary stuff tastes good), but only ever right when it comes to graham crackers.

I’ve come back time and again to your book, hoping I was having an off-day during my last encounter. No more, though, Karen. We’re through. I’m making your graham crackers forever and often, but the rest of the pages are going to be un-smudged by buttery fingers. I tried, Karen, I really did, and I don’t like writing an unfavorable review. But I’m off to different cookbooks … you know, the kind where the recipes reliably work.


Book Giveaway Times Two

We’re so happy to have a second copy of Melissa Clark’s fabulous new cookbook, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, to give away to one lucky reader. We did a full review of the book here, but if you want a brief recap here’s what you need to know: You want this book.

Clark is a wonderful writer (New York Times columnist of A Good Appetite, award-winning book author, for starters) who introduces her terrific recipes with short vignettes from her past. Sometimes they’re about family memories; sometimes they’re about how she created this particular recipe — whatever they’re about, they’re funny and down to earth. This is a cookbook for real people in real kitchens.

Our favorite part? She doesn’t obsess about every little detail. If she’s missing a certain ingredient, she wings it — with obvious great success.

Winning couldn’t be easier. Just leave a comment below and we’ll pick one lucky winner to receive a free copy of the book. Winner will be chosen at random on Thursday and announced on Friday.

Good luck!

—Janet and Rachel

Things I Feed (All of The Time–Ebenezer and Olyphant)

Food for Thought: It’s Been A While

A week or so ago John and I spent a stupid amount of the late afternoon/early evening arguing. I say stupid because merely a week later I can’t even remember what we argued about and because we managed to drag the disagreement out for hours, settling into quiet or other conversation for periods only to revive the spat repeatedly. We just needed to argue, I think, as people who live together and make major life decisions together and see each other day in and day out inevitably need to do from time to time. When all was said and done and M was in bed, we walked into the kitchen together and, for the first time in a loooooooong time, cooked together. We didn’t make anything fancy, but what we ate we made side by side, coming together on a plate after a day of disparateness.

It reminded me of the days before M. Pregnant for the better part of the last school year, every Saturday John and I ventured into the kitchen together. With “This American Life” on the radio, we silently spent an hour shuffling about the kitchen, chopping and sauteing and kneading and slicing. Sometimes we prepared something to structure the coming week’s meals around. Sometimes we made ourselves something laborious and decadent for dinner that night. Every week, though, we spent Saturdays in the kitchen together. Having met in a restaurant, cooking together was a sort of post to build around, a space to talk in or to silently occupy together. It was familiar and it was ours.

It is familiar. It is ours. And as the dust continues to settle around our foray into parenthood, I hope we find ourselves, stepping around each other and sliding ingredients from one’s cutting board into the other’s pot, more and more often.

Oh Mr. Postman….

Since I’m a magazine editor, I subscribe to a ridiculous number of magazines. I’m not going to even tell you how many because that would mean counting them myself and openly admitting I just might have a little magazine problem. (Click here if you missed the post on my food magazines alone.) Besides it’s for work; I need to see what’s going on in the business. (That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.)

I fold down pages of ideas of ideas I like, rip out recipe pages (see above revealing post), and bring magazines to my office to show my designers ideas that I love. It’s like Christmas every month when they begin to arrive in my mailbox in a flurry of paper wonderfulness.

A particular favorite is the Food Network Magazine, which Rachel also gets and then we talk about what we’re going to make and why. So, here’s the point of this post: Rachel, I’m putting you on notice. I expect to have this sandwich sometime this week after your dad and I arrive TONIGHT!!!! in California!!!! to squeeze the Divine 9-month-old Miss M, who we have not squeezed since she was 6 months old … oh yes and hug you as well. Get the ingredients (turkey bacon of course) and get ready. We are coming.

Meatless Monday: Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Janet here: I believe I have discovered the secret to great soup: roast your vegetables first. Seriously, I may never make soup without doing this again. While I’m sure this butternut squash soup would have been lovely without roasting the squash and red onions first, roasting them brought out the flavor so much more fully.

I also love how carefree roasting is. Just cut whatever veggies you’re roasting, add a few tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and toss. Throw it in a 425-degree oven and forget about it for 30 minutes or so. Can it get any easier?

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Try this and you won’t be disappointed. Add a little bread and a salad and you are good to go. Enjoy!

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
serves 4-6

1 medium red onion, cut into large pieces, maybe 1/8ths
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into large pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
4 or so cups of vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon or so curry powder

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the onion, squash and olive oil in a large rectangular pan. Add salt and pepper; toss well until the veggies are well oiled. Put in oven. Roast for about 30 minutes or until the veggies are just tender and lightly browned.

Add the veggie mix to a blender in batches along with some of the stock each time. Puree and then place into a large pot. Do this until it’s all pureed. Then add stock as needed, depending on how thin you like your soup. I like mine fairly thick but so it goes. Add the curry powder to taste and warm the soup. That’s it!

Happy Spring

In a week of horror and concern about Japan and the havoc there that will/is being felt around the world, it’s hard to know what to say in general. And then a small moment at Trader Joe’s on the East Coast when I walked in and saw strawberries that actually looked ripe and for just one moment, the world was filled with hope, with possibility, with tomorrow. Sometimes it really is the little things. Happy Spring!
–Janet and Rachel

Birthday Memories

Janet here:

We’re doing a joint post today in honor of S’s 19th birthday. S was home last week for spring break from college, so there were plenty of food requests on his part. “Will you make that dank macaroni and cheese with blue cheese and bacon you made Dad and G?” he asked. “And will you make my birthday cake?”

The answer, of course, was yes. My days of making our children’s birthday cakes (or ice cream pies in our case) and special meals are dwindling. And it makes me just a little sad. The last 26 years of my life have circled around our children, seeing to their needs, helping them grow, watching them take flight and sometimes fall. They have been the earth to my moon, steady in their place as I revolved around them. Read the rest of this entry »

A Happy Meatless St. Patty’s Day to You All!

Janet here: I grew up in a house where St. Patty’s Day was a big deal. My mother’s father, Michael Aloysius Martin, emigrated from Ireland to the States as a young man so she took the day seriously, requiring that we all wear something green. I also remember her drawing green freckles on my nose and that I actually went to school that way. Needless to say I not one of the cool kids.

Not surprisingly, we always had corned beef and cabbage on St. Patty’s Day. I remember liking it, although as I look back on it I wonder why. Everything was boiled for God’s sake.

As a vegetarian, I no longer think corned beef on St. Patty’s Day. I do, however, love cabbage, especially served in this tasty, meatless meal inspired by one of my go-to early vegetarian cookbooks, The Moosewood Cookbook. The sauteed cabbage with onions and caraway seeds adds a wonderful zip to the comforting mashed potatoes. Enjoy and Erin Ga Bragh!

Cabbage Casserole
4 medium potatoes, cut into pieces, skin on
2 tablespoons butter (this is not a time for olive oil my friends)
1 plus cups diced onion
about 3 cups of sliced cabbage
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
3/4 teaspoon dill
salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups low fat cottage cheese
1 cup sour cream.
2 teaspoons sunflower seeds
paprika to taste

After cutting the potatoes into boiling pieces, add to water and boil until just done. Drain and put into a bowl with the cottage cheese, sour cream, dill and salt and pepper. Mash up into mashed potatoes.

While the potatoes are cooking, saute the onions for a couple of minutes. Add the caraway seeds and cabbage and saute until the cabbage and onions are just done. Add to the bowl of mashed potatoes with the cider vinegar. Mix well.

Place into a casserole. Sprinkle sunflower seeds and paprika to taste on top. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until hot.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 32 other followers