Friday, April 29, 2011

Giveaway Winner!

I know I said I would post this after midnight Friday but... I have to get up early tomorrow to volunteer at a community clean up so I'm gonna do it a little early.

So, without further ado, the winner of my Sacramento Specialties is the wonderful Chez Danisse! Thanks to everyone who participated. E-mail me at with your shipping address of choice, Danise!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Visit to the UC Davis Arboretum

A week from Friday, May 6th, is National Public Garden Day. Last weekend, we went out to explore the lovely arboretum at UC Davis campus. We began with a picnic to fortify us in our explorations:

The wonderful UC Davis gardens showcase a variety of themed landscaping based on water conserving plant varieties. The garden collections include Native California, California Foothills, Mediterranean, Australian, South African, East Asian, Southwest/Mexican, and North Coast. Each landscape was unique and beautiful in its own way, and we loved learning about the many diverse kinds of plants, trees and flowers:

We were also able to see some of the wildlife that has made a home at the gardens:

But one of my favorite spots was behind the Food Science buildings, where there was an edible garden picture perfect enough to make my mouth drool. Check out the artichokes reaching for the sky and the bright red stalks of chard:
The perfect rows of carrots, radishes and lettuce:

Who knew that cauliflower heads could pop up out of the earth like bright roses? A well-kept garden is a pleasure to behold. I read that this one is called the Good Life Garden and is periodically open to students to come and harvest! All of these gardens are free, so if you live nearby, be sure to stop by UC Davis and walk the grounds. If not, find a public garden near you and savor the sight of spring.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

2011 Best Reads (So Far)

I can’t believe that it is almost May. Realizing how far into the year we are made me reflect on all of the books I have read this year so far. Some were amazing and absorbed all of my attention for a time. Others were overrated and mediocre- but you won't find them here. Here are some of my favorites of 2011 so far, with a short snippet about each. Coming soon: Summer reading list!

New Must Read

Room/ Emma Donogue: Riveting novel about a mother and son in living in captivity and the world they create for themselves in the single room they occupy. Told from the perspective of 5-year old Jack, this one is making a big splash for being in turns horrifying and inspiring.


Atlas Shrugged / Ayn Rand: I’m still making my way through this one, just in time for the movie release as it turns out (although I admit this was not planned). As influential as this work has been, it is one probably one that everyone should read. While I kinda hate the philosophy of objectivism, I admire Ayn Rand’s skill as a writer and her ability to force me to see the world through new eyes.

The Enchanted April / Elizabeth Von Armin: Four Englishwomen, near strangers, are brought together by a shared desire to stay for a month in a castle on the Italian coast one April. I could practically see the flowering wisteria, smell the acacia, feel the sea breeze in my hair. Timeless escapism at its best.


I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman / Nora Ephron. A love song to living in New York City along with humorous thoughts on aging, from the writer of “You’ve Got Mail” and “When Harry Met Sally”.

Social Conscience

Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America/ Barbara Ehrenreich. What one educated woman learns when she goes undercover to investigate the lives of the working lower class. She travels all over the US and works as a maid, a waitress at a Denny’s, and a Walmart employee, seeing what it really takes to make ends meet without relying on welfare.


Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours/ Kim Boyce. This book, written by a pastry chef who knows her stuff, introduced me to the wonders of all new whole grain flours: oat, buckwheat, spelt flours and more. The Peach Ginger Muffins and Oat Molasses Bread were top notch!

Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry/Liana Krissof. A quirky take on canning with unique, updated recipes (Chinese Plum Sauce, North Indian Carrot Pickle, Raspberry Jam with Mint and Lavender, etc.) including both preserved foods, and delicious dishes in which to use them later. If you have a flourishing garden, this would be an excellent resource for preserving your bumper crops in creative new ways.

Historical Fiction


These Is My Words / Nancy Turner: I dove into this coming of age tale of a strong woman settlor in the late-1800's Arizona Territories. Fantastic love story and interesting historical information. Truly enjoyable reading, and everyone who reads it seems to love it as much as I did.

Snow Falling on Cedars / David Guterson: A who-done-it mystery written with unusual beauty, and set against the backdrop of anti-Japanese prejudice on a small island in the Puget Sound in the pre- and post-WWII era.

Food Writing

How to Cook a Wolf / M.F.K Fisher. You have to love M.F.K. Fisher, the voice of a past era that reminds me of my grandma - in a good way. She combines frugality and practicality with joie de vivre and her love of everything that a good meal can bring to humanity.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table/ Molly Wizenburg. A fine example of a successful blog-to-book memoir, laced with tempting recipes and finely written anecdotes from the author’s life.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Apple Cinnamon Whole Grain Waffles

Remember back in the 90's when mom's freezer was always stocked with frozen Eggo waffles? Maybe that was just me, but anyway- I liked the apple cinnamon kind the best. I've been experimenting with a couple of different whole grain waffle recipes and adding in fresh grated apple and spices. The whole grain flours make these much more substantial and filling than the lightweight Eggo waffles that never filled me up for long. Also, I found that when I froze a big batch of these guys and heated them later in the toaster oven, they made a great healthy stand in for the Eggo's of my childhood. In this fashion, I was finally able to Leggo my Eggo.

Whole Grain Apple Cinnamon Waffles
In a large bowl, mix together:

2 c. whole wheat
½ c. buckwheat flour
½ c. oat flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Mix all of the dry ingredients together. In a separate smaller bowl, mix together:

3 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoons vanilla
¼ c. olive oil

Next, stir this wet mixture plus 1 grated apple into the large bowl with the dry mixture. Stir until just combined and let sit for 5 minutes while your heat your waffle iron. Pour desired amount of batter into waffle iron and cook until brown and crisp on the outside. Serve with real maple syrup. Makes about 16 waffles.

If freezing waffles for weekday breakfasts, place hot waffles on a rack to cool. When cool, stack in a ziplock bag and freeze. To use, place frozen waffles in toaster oven or toaster until heated through and crispy on the outside.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring Giveaway: Sacramento Specialties

Sometimes blogging is a bit anonymous, but today I am proud to pay tribute to Sacramento, the city where I was raised and where I still reside. As you can see above, it's a beautiful place to live. Nicknamed "the city of trees", we have a great river and these gorgeous puffy clouds that always seem to appear on calm blue-sky days.

In the past, our city has sometimes been ignored in favor of the ever trendy LA to the south, or our iconic Bay area neighbor city of San Francisco. I feel, however, like Sacramentans can hold their heads high, because we have so much to offer, including a rich agricultural tradition and plenty of local artisans who excel at what they produce.

So today, I want to announce my first blogging giveaway: Sacramento Specialties. I want to highlight three outstanding local food companies and some of their best products. Your local Sacramento package will include:

A 500 ml bottle of Bariani olive oil. I've been olive oil tasting and tried a number of brands, but I'm telling you - this stuff is GOOD. Martha Stewart happens to be a huge fan of Bariani olive oil as well. It is produced by a local Sacramento family who originally emigrated from Northern Italy and has gained fans worldwide.

Earth & Vine is located in Loomis, northeast of Sacramento. Their website boasts that they offer "more than 60 jams, sauces, beverage elixirs and dressings, some of which are International award winners". I am featuring their Meyer Lemon Pear Marmalade. Suggested uses? "Mix with yogurt and fill tart shells. Blend with cream cheese to frost cakes. Glaze baked chicken or grilled fish. Toss into cooked bow tie pasta, chopped chicken, apples and grapes." Yum!
Finally, there's the Lundberg family, who have been growing rice in the town of Richvale (north of Sacramento) since the 1930's. Their commitment to ecologically sound farming and high quality products have earned them wide praise and a place on the menus of some of the most prestigious restaurants. I'm proud to offer a 1 lb. package of their Wild Rice blend: "Colorful to the eye, delightful texture and full-bodied flavor and aroma all come together in this blend of long grain brown rice, sweet brown rice, Wehani®, Black Japonica™ and select wild rice pieces."

Whoever wins the giveaway will win the package and I will ship these wonderful items to them. To enter, just leave a comment below before the giveaway ends next Friday, April 29th at midnight. I will choose a winner using and announce the winner the following day. The winner will have 48 hours to e-mail me and claim their prize or I will choose another winner. One entry per person per day please. Thanks for participating everyone! And remember, Sacramento is not just a cow town!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lemon-Ginger Scones with Oat Flour

One year when I was in college, a roommate and native Utahn announced that some of her friends were coming over that night for a scone-making party. Apparently this was a long-standing tradition for them, and I was elated at this information. Why, this party sounded like something straight out of "Pride and Prejudice"! How British! How proper! I was all ready to bring the tradition of afternoon tea back to America with this little band of apparent Anglophiles.
When the friends showed up, they appeared to be congregating around a pot of boiling oil, much to my confusion. Later, when my roommate came and offered me a piece of fried dough sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, I was confused and disappointed. It was then that I learned that in some places like Utah and Idaho, the term "scone" is applied to what is called fry bread, fried dough, or elephant ears in other places, and looks like this:

It was a tasty snack, don't get me wrong, but don't expect me to ever apply the term "scone" to anything other than true British teatime scones. I'm a staunch traditionalist in this respect.

One of my favorite scone flavor combinations is lemon with crystallized ginger. Ever since I began cooking from Kim Boyce's "Good to the Grain" cookbook and realized how delicious whole grain flours can be, I find it hard to justify using all white flour in any recipe. So I tweaked a recipe for scones to include oat flour.

As you can see below, the scones are delicate; crunchy on the outside and soft inside, dotted with chunks of warm crystallized ginger and sprinkled with coarse sugar. Enjoy with with a cup of lemon ginger herbal tea and you'll be feeling British by breakfast.

Lemon and Ginger Scones

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup oat flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
7 T. unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, chopped into small pieces
Zest of 1 large lemon
2/3 cup buttermilk (I substituted almond milk plus 1 tsp. lemon juice)
Coarse sugar to sprinkling on top

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) and place rack in middle of oven. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Stir in the chopped crystallized ginger and lemon zest. Add the buttermilk to the flour mixture and stir just until the dough comes together. Do not over mix the dough.
3. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead dough gently four or five times and then pat the dough into a circle that is about 7 inches (18 cm) round and about 11/2 inches (3.75 cm) thick. Cut this circle in half, then cut each half into 3 or 4 pie-shaped wedges (triangles). Place the scones on the baking sheet. Sprinkle tops with coarse sugar.
4. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Oatmeal Pancakes

Don’t you love it when you discover you really do like a food you thought you hated - and realize that you just never had a “good version” of that dish before? Pancakes were like that for me. I never much cared for the pancake breakfast events we attended while I was a child. The Bisquick pancakes served were dry, tough and bland- until you doused them with artificially flavored syrup that was too sweet and gave me a headache.

I fell in love with these pancakes, however. I wanted to find more uses for the package of oat flour I bought for another recipe, and on the back of the Bob’s Red Mill label I found a recipe for oatmeal pancakes. They came out light, fluffy, with some chewy texture from the quick oats and a mild, pleasant flavor. Drizzled with a little real maple syrup and topped with sliced strawberries, I was in weekday breakfast heaven.

Next time I would double the recipe, because as it is, it yielded 10 medium-sized pancakes. I'd like to freeze a bunch and re-heat them in my toaster oven for a quick breakfast throughout the week.

Oatmeal Pancakes

Recipe from Bob's Red Mill

3/4 cup Oat Flour
3/4 cup Quick Rolled Oats
1 cup Nonfat Milk (I used almond milk)
2 T. Sugar
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
2 Egg Yolks, beaten
1 T. Vegetable Oil
2 Egg Whites


In a small saucepan heat milk till hot; stir in oats; let stand for 5 minutes.

In a mixing bowl combine oat flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add oat-milk mixture.

In a small bowl combine egg yolks and cooking oil; add all at once to flour-oat mixture, stirring just till combined.

In another bowl beat egg white till stiff peaks form; fold into the batter. For each pancake, pour about 1/4 cup of the batter onto a hot, lightly greased griddle or heavy skillet. Cook till golden brown, turning to cook other side when pancake has a bubbly surface and slightly dry edges.

Use a 1/4 cup measure as a handy scoop for transferring pancake batter from the bowl to the griddle. If you want smaller pancakes, switch to a 1 tablespoon measure. That will put just the right amount of batter on the griddle for dollar-size pancakes. Makes 12 pancakes.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Healthier Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

There seem to be two camps when it comes to rhubarb: the anti-rhubarbites and the rhubarb fanatics. As for me, I worship the pie plant as an unparalleled rite of spring.

Around the same time each year, the little strawberry stand down the street from my parents' house opens for business, proffering their ruby gems that outshine anything found in the grocery stores. I can’t imagine any better welcome to spring than the tart firmness of rhubarb mingled with sweet soft berries in a warm crisp.

The strawberry-rhubarb recipe I have often relied upon, tempting though it was, seemed a little heavy this year. It called for two layers of white flour-based crisp, and the filling called for a mind-boggling amount of white sugar. I have been trying to reduce my sugar and refined carb intake where possible, and was sure that I could come up with a more healthy version that I would still enjoy.

A homey dish like a fruit crisp lends itself well to whole grain flours, and I felt that whole wheat and oat flours worked marvelously for the topping. For the filling, I replaced the white sugar with a little honey, some lemon zest to brighten the flavors, and some vanilla for fragrance. I added a little cornstarch for thickening, but not enough to make the texture gloppy. The resulting crisp was delightful. Instead of masking the natural flavors of the fruit with an excess sweetness, the flavors shone through. If you're a rhubarb lover, I hope you enjoy the season as much as I am right now!

A Healthier Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp


½ cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup oat flour
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. kosher salt
5 T. unsalted butter


4 stalks rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 pint strawberries, trimmed and quartered
2 T. honey
1 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 375°.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flours, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon and kosher salt. Cut in the 5 tablespoons chilled, diced butter using a pastry blender (or, if you don’t have one, rub the butter in with your fingers). Place the mixture in the refrigerator.

3. Grease a 9×9-inch pan. Set aside.

4. In another medium bowl, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, honey, cornstarch, zest, and vanilla. Spoon the mixture into the buttered dish or dishes. Blanket the strawberry-rhubarb mixture with the chilled topping. Bake for 40 minutes or until bubbling underneath and brown on top.

Ravioli with Pea Shoot Pesto

Photo courtesy of Sunset magazine

Confession #1: I have never made my own pesto before.

Confession #2: I was a little late in getting my peas started this spring. Since they're all in a container and probably will never have the space to grow into full-blown sugar snap-pea producing machines before the hot weather hits Sacramento... I figured why not use them up with this recipe for pea shoot pesto?

The recipe is a great one for spring, as it uses young pea shoots (which can be grown or found at farmer's markets) and mint (I actually used freshly picked parsley), which is more likely to be available at this time of year, when basil is probably just a tiny transplant in your herb garden.

As for the pesto, it was as easy as figuring out how to adhere the food processor attachment to my blender. It came out simply delicious, rich and indulgent. I spooned it over spinach cheese tortellini and swooned.

Confession #3: I have garlic breath now.

Ravioli with Snap Peas, Pea Shoots, and Minty Pea Shoot Pesto
From Sunset magazine

1 small garlic clove
4 ounces parmesan cheese, cut into chunks
1 1/2 qts. lightly packed tender pea shoots*, separated into 4- to 5-in. pieces, divided
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh cheese ravioli
2 cups sugar snap peas

1. Whirl garlic in a food processor to mince. Add cheese and whirl until grated. Add 2 cups pea shoots, the mint, and oil; pulse until coarsely puréed. Scrape into a small bowl and press plastic wrap against pesto.

2. Cook ravioli as package directs, adding snap peas during last 2 minutes. Drain; return to pot. Whisk pesto, then gently toss three-quarters of it with pasta. Add remaining pea shoots and toss gently. Serve immediately, with remaining pesto if you like (or save it for a sandwich).

*Find at farmers' markets or Asian markets.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Portuguese Sweet Bread

Every year as a child, I looked forward to two things above all at Easter. My Portuguese grandma would visit the Portuguese bakery and bring us little coconut-filled tarts (which I re-created at home last year) and sweet bread. Back then, the bakery loaves would be wrapped around hard-boiled Easter eggs for a festive touch. I didn't get that fancy, but I did find a good recipe for making sweet bread at home. Master baker Peter Reinhart can do no wrong it seems!

The loaves do tend to look frightfully dark when they emerge from the oven, with a shiny dark brown top. The dark color stems from the high sugar content of the dough; the shine comes from the egg white glaze you brush on before baking.

When my loaves emerged, I panicked. They looked even darker than the book picture and I was terrified they might be ruined. After all, I had invested two expensive bottles of citrus extracts, many eggs and most of my day to the double batch in the oven. Frantically, I cut into a loaf.... and breathed a sigh of relief. Outside, crunchy and brown. Inside, golden sweet perfection. Whew!

Happy Easter, from our family to yours.

From The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart


1/2 cup (2.25 ounces) unbleached bread flour
1 T. (.5 ounce) granulated sugar
2 1/4 tsp. (.25 ounce) instant yeast
1/2 cup (4 ounces) water, at room temperature

6 T. (3 ounces) granulated sugar
1 tsp. (.25 ounce) salt
1/4 cup (1.25 ounces) powdered milk
2 T. (1 ounce) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 T. (1 ounce) vegetable shortening
2 large eggs
1 tsp. (.17 ounce) lemon extract
1 tsp. (.17 ounce) orange extract
1 tsp. (.17 ounce) vanilla extract
3 cups (13.5 ounces) unbleached bread flour
6 T. (3 ounces) water, at room temperature

Egg Wash
1 egg, whisked with 1 tsp. water until frothy

1. Make the sponge. Stir together the flour, sugar, and yeast in a small bowl. Add the water and stir until mixed. Cover the howl with plastic wrap for 60-90 minutes, or until the sponge gets foamy.

2. Make the dough. Combine the sugar, salt, powdered milk, butter and shortening in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix with paddle attachment until smooth, then add eggs and extracts. Switch to dough hook attachment and mix in sponge and flour. Add water as needed and mix until you achieve a soft dough that is not wet or sticky. It will take at least 12 minutes, maybe more, to reach the right consistency. Oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

4. Remove dough from bowl and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Form each piece into a boule. Place boule, seam side down, into an oiled pie plate. Mist tops with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

5. Proof at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, or until dough fills the pans fully, doubling in size.

6. Gently brush the loaves with the egg wash. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. with the oven rack on the middle shelf.

7. Bake the loaves for 50 to 60 minutes (mine were done at 50). After 30 minutes, rotate 180 degrees. Because of the high amount of sugar, the dough will brown very quickly, but it will not be done. The final color will be a rich mahogany brown.

8. Remove the bread from the pie pans and place on a rack to cool. The bread will soften as it cools, resulting in a very soft, squishy loaf. Allow the bread to cool for at least 90 minutes before slicing or serving.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mission: Gochujang Sauce

The first time I heard of gochujang sauce was several weeks ago when my husband and I were brainstorming ideas for eating in. We wanted to take something that is generally thought of as "fast food" or "take out" and make it at home. Soon we were remembering the delicious Korean-style tacos from the Kogi truck that we tried on a trip to LA last year.

Much to my delight, I found the exact recipe for the BBQ sauce used in the Kogi Korean tacos here, as well as a recipe for some tasty pickled cucumbers. Only problem was, I wasn't sure where to find the spicy fermented chile paste known as gochujang. We asked around and finally found some at a local Korean market (I know, go figure). There are many brands, but most look something like this:

We made the Korean tacos - they rocked. Now that we have a huge tub of sweet/spicy gochujang, we've been experimenting with more Korean dishes like Pork Bulgogi:

And a spicy chicken dish called Dak Gochujang Boekum:

It's so fun discovering new ingredients that make cooking an endless adventure in taste, not to mention fun places like a Korean market that I never would have thought of entering before.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mostly Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

My husband made the pizza above last Friday and it was delicious. He made the sauce from scratch and topped it with fresh mozzarella, sauteed red bell peppers, and mild Italian sausage. (I kinda dreamed this combo up, but he made my dream pizza a reality!) We made the mostly whole-wheat pizza dough that morning and let it rise all day while we were at work. Here's the recipe below, thanks to Mark Bittman.

No-Work Mostly Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
From Mark Bittman's The Food Matters Cookbook

2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. bread or all-purpose flour (plus more as needed)
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 tsp. salt
2 T. olive oil

Combine first four ingredients plus 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large bowl. Stir in 1 1/2 c. water. The dough should be relatively sticky and wet, like biscuit batter. If not, add a little more water.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover, and put it in a warm spot. Let the dough sit for at least 6 or up to 12 hours.

When you're ready, heat the oven. Generously oil a baking sheet or a large ovenproof skillet. Dust your hands with a little white flour and fold the dough over in the bowl a few times. It will be sticky, but don't use too much flour. Dust your hands again only when absolutely necessary and use a light, gentle touch. Gently press the dough into the skillet or onto the baking sheet.

Brush the top of the pizza with a little olive oil, cover, and let sit while you get the toppings together, but no more than 60 minutes or so.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

Traditionally in my family, Easter is preceded by hard-boiling the heck out of several dozen eggs, then dipping them in pungent vinegar solutions with funky wire devices. After the egg hunt is over, we spend several days eating pink- and blue-tinged egg salad for lunch, and snacking on deviled eggs. Very old-school, I know, but aren’t the best parts of all holidays old-school?

Just this week, I did some online research and finally figured out the secret to perfect hard-boiled eggs. I made a batch this way and the yolk came out bright yellow, no greenish grey ring around the yolk! The shell also peeled away perfectly, no tearing (although I know that this also has to do with the age of the egg, the older the better, for hard-boiling at least). I can’t believe the method is so simple. Just make sure to use small to medium eggs; if you use large eggs, the yolk may not cook hard enough for your liking. Here it is:

1) Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Do not salt the water. Bring the water to a boil.

2) Boil for 3 minutes.

3) Cover your saucepan with a lid and remove from heat. Allow to rest for 8 minutes.

4) Drain the hot water off and fill the saucepan with cold water to cool the eggs.

5) Eat eggs right away or refrigerate.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Welcoming Spring

"May scorched and withered; March was restless, and could be hard and cold in its brightness; but April came along softly like a blessing, and if it were a fine April it was so beautiful that it was impossible not to feel different, not to feel stirred and touched."

-Enchanted April, Elizabeth Von Arnim

This weekend has been a glorious spring one, when everyone and everything in the world seemed to be waking up to warmth and the possibility of growth. I spent some time at my parents' place admiring apple blossoms, hummingbirds, the pastoral sheep, and fertilizing fruit trees. But I spent most of my time pulling weeds and preparing what I hope will be a good summer garden. Here's the before picture - not so hot:

After several years of neglect, I have been adding in fertilizer (thanks, sheep and goat), leaf mold, and other organic matter. Though the space was full of weeds when we began on Saturday, those weeds have now been removed, revealing some promising rich black soil underneath.

Next step: rent a rototiller, set up a sprinkler, and plant some seeds! I wanted to do all of this much earlier, but the terrible amount of rain we have received in Northern California lately made it quite difficult to do. We will keep you posted on the results. Happy spring to you!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Road Trip to Salt Lake City

Last weekend we made the 11-hour drive from Sacramento to Salt Lake City, Utah to visit some good friends and discover what good food we could eat along the way. On the way there, I dubbed the long trek across I-80 "the ugliest road trip imaginable", but there were some pretty/surreal sights: We also passed some sort of bizarre weather phenomenon that looked like a mini tornado, but I was too busy trying not to get sucked into it to take a picture. We got to explore downtown Salt Lake, where I admired many of the historical, grand buildings like my favorite, the beautifully serene Salt Lake City Temple. This is the geographical center of the city, with all surrounding roads being built around it (1 block south is called 100 South). This system helps you find your way around an otherwise unknown city. And of course we stopped for lunch at Caputo's Deli, an Italian-style spot where lots of guys congregate together for sub sandwiches and perhaps discussions of "The Godfather". We enjoyed the sandwiches, the chocolate selection at the candy counter, peering into the cheese cave, and sampling olive oils and balsamic vinegars. My favorite was sweet, thick, and wonderful... and $50 a bottle. That's the real stuff! Later, we took a gondola ride up in Park City for great views: And real Belgian waffles at the top! We ate at Mazza, a popular Mediterranean restaurant: And Bombay House, one of the best Indian restaurants I have found anywhere and an old favorite of mine. Try the chicken tikka masala and the Peshawari coconut naan! As for road food, I did quite a bit of research before we left to avoid fast food as much as possible. In Reno, we followed in the footsteps of Guy Fieri and ate at the Gold N Silver Inn. I recommend the Tri Tip Sandwich (for hearty appetites only!): And in Winnemucca, we had a great Pulled Pork sandwich on a garlicky bun at the Flying Pig BBQ. The beans were hearty and the fries are made with local Winnemucca potatoes! Now we're back, home sweet home, and reflecting on all the fun we had.