Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Farmer’s Market

Today I walked down the Sonoma bike path from my little home to the Friday Farmer’s Market. There was no shortage of friendly people out walking and biking the path, and it was a beautiful morning, though getting hot already. The Market is a pleasant blend of very local produce and fruit, some other local food items such as artisan honey and cheese, some items from a bit farther afield (but still California) such as flavored olive oils (yum!) and olive blends, and finally, craft items such as bags, clothing, etc.

As is my habit, I browsed through all the items before selecting some beautiful chard from one small grower, and some Early Girl tomatoes and lovely orange sweet peppers (I failed to note the variety!) and pablano peppers from another grower.

I also stopped and chatted with the folks representing Organizing for America, with a booth supporting healthcare reform. This is an issue that’s very personal to me, as without the passage of a reform bill, I’m worried about finding affordable health insurance now that I’m self-employed!

On a tomato note, since I arrived I’ve been getting such delicious tomatoes both at the local farmers markets and at the supermarket. Yesterday I used one in a lunch of sweet onion, yellow split peas, vegetable broth, bulgar wheat, some spices (fennel seed, cumin seed, coriander seed) and some spinach. Very satisfying!

I can’t wait to use those peppers! I’ll keep you posted on my menus!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Weekly Winery Adventure

Now that I live in the lovely wine region of Sonoma County, I decided I’d like to visit a winery a week. My goals are to explore what my amazing new home region has to offer, meet wine industry folks, and above all, “shop local” (which is big around here, I find).

So today I set off to visit Schug Carneros Winery tasting room. I selected it in part because the website says it has no tasting fee (about which, more in a moment), and let’s face it, I’m trying to spend as little money as possible given the fledgling state of my business. However, although I had looked at the map and the directions on line, I failed to take the map with me in the car, and took a couple of wrong turns and an extra 20 minutes or so to get there. "Geeeze!" #1. However, I persevered and managed to find the tasting room.

Of course, as may have been expected because there are practically no (i.e., virtually zero) free tasting rooms any more, there was a tasting fee of $5, which would be no big deal except that (and here is “Geeeze!” #2) I had no cash and no debit card on me because yesterday, when I walked the Sonoma bike path (lovely walk btw!) I had put them in my pocket so as not to carry a purse and of course failed to take them out of my pocket and return them to my wallet. AND since I hated to put a mere $5 on my Visa (at least, this was my rationale), when the tasting was done I just had to buy a bottle of their actually quite lovely 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir! Which is "Geeeze!" #3! But shuckie-darn, it’s really a quite lovely Pinot, just enough complexity to stand up to, say, a really nice pork dish, which I intend to try pairing it with sometime very soon. I’ll let you know how it goes!

And that was my first Weekly Winery Adventure!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cooking by the seat of my pants

When and why do I modify recipes? Because I lack one or more ingredients. Because I think an ingredient will clash with another dish I’m serving. Because I’m in the mood!

Sometimes a recipe serves more as a description of a technique for preparing a particular ingredient, and then I modify the ingredient list to suit my needs. The Quinoa pilaf I made for the dinner party (see previous post) is an example.

The original recipe (Food and Wine Jan. 2003) calls for 12 ingredients, creating a wonderful blend of strong flavors. I followed it exactly the first time I made it, and I loved it! But this time I just needed a refresher on making a pilaf with quinoa – how long to cook it, the proportion of grain to liquid (although I modified that as well!). I planned to serve this pilaf with a braised chicken sort of stew with an assortment of root vegetables, seasoned with paprika and herbs, and I wanted more of a savory accompaniment, less of a bold statement. I didn’t have the zucchini or fresh tomato on hand, plus I felt that the more summertime feel of tomato and zucchini wasn’t appropriate for the meal. I also thought the mint might clash with the other flavors I was serving. While I like the flavor of the chili powder the recipe calls for, I wanted a rich rather than tangy flavor, so I used Ancho chili powder instead. I kept the turmeric, which created a lovely color, and kept the sautéed onions but also added scallions (the whole thing, white and green parts) for color and added sweetness. I garnished with parsley, and the result was a savory but subtle, nicely textured accompaniment to my chicken dish.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


My favorite thing about entertaining is not showing off the fabulous new recipe. Rather, it’s creating a setting for a fabulous mix of friends to enjoy each other’s company. I love dinner parties. I love every element. I love the menu planning, the shopping, selecting the wines. I love choosing music to suit the mood I want to set. I love decorating the rooms with candles and table runners, I love selecting the place settings and setting the table. I don’t even mind the cleaning! And when guests arrive and comment on these things (“oh feels so mellow here!” or “what a lovely place setting”), then I know I’ve succeeded!

A not-so-long-ago memorable small gathering was no exception. It was a bit impromptu – I had only invited my guests the day before, and I was quite relaxed with the menu – I selected well-worn dishes I have made before. I was focused on cooking a pleasant meal and enjoying old and new friends, not on trying out the fascinating new recipe. (This time, anyway ;-)

So out came my beloved braised chicken and vegetables which I’ve made so many times (it came from Cooking Light originally, but I’ve modified it over the years), a quinoa pilaf for my non-meat eating guest (a Food and Wine recipe, again modified to suit the meal), and a spinach blood orange salad with walnuts & parmesan with a lovely citrus oil and balsamic vinaigrette. Tasty, satisfying, and well received! But the joy of the evening for me was the lively and interesting conversation which accompanied the meal.

By the way, we drank a beautifully balanced 2006 Stags’ Leap Chardonnay with cheese before dinner (contributed by one of my guests), and Epiphany’s rich and complex 2004 Gypsy Red blend with dinner.

Sunday, August 9, 2009