Rio del Higo

A fig tree sits above the river. For one week a year, if everything comes off just right, they can be gently sliced and tossed with a wee bit of balsamic vinegar. Pizza dough, on a five-day cold ferment, is sprinkled with fresh thyme, pepper, gorgonzola and mozzarella, and is cooked until almost done then topped with prosciutto, the figs, fresh basil and maybe a smattering of grated parmesan and finished when the figs have heated through.

It’s only slightly less addictive than crack cocaine…..


Portrait of a Simple Summer Meal

A groggy mix of chili, ginger, salted blackbean and enough sugar, sesame and soy rounds out a sauce that will cook the outer bits to pure, crispy ocean bacon perfection and hold together the inside flesh in a buttery smooth celebration of salmon.

Don’t cook the salmon too long! Just get it HOT. Get it where it just sets up inside. It’s done! This is soft eating: bites of spicy, sweet, held up by preserved black beans and faintly perfumed with ginger and garlic. No chewing allowed … bite gently down and let it all come forth playing with each of the flavors mixing with the bits of crispy outside. Chinook salmon is rarely better.

And the green beans … bright green, early season, snappy tender just-can’t-turn away invitations. Steam them gently and they will reward even the most indifferent of us green bean wanna-be-lovers. Haste may be the order here! Toss generously in fruity olive oil, flat parsley along with that young, sweet onion just pulled and maybe a dash of pepper for good measure. Sea salt pulls it all together. Set it in the hot oven while the salmon finishes none too soon. This is one step past warmed but well shy of what might be considered “cooked”.

The crusty bread is just a vehicle for fragrant basil, green garlic, and shaved parmesan with a bit o’ butter under it all. It adds a needed chew to the party.

Small bites are the rule all around.

Dessert follows suit: the first tree ripened peaches of summer. The kind with a firm give under the weight of a finger. Sliced with the sharpest of knives and tossed with this morning’s strawberries and raspberries under a dollop of goat yogurt.

Somewhere along the way, life slips into the sublime….

note: this started out as another poem trying to capture a moment in time… I’m not sure where it landed: somewhere between recipe, description and an attempt to share a little food joy. These basic meals, when everything is still quivering from the vine, branch or water have the uncanny ability to stop time altogether….

The Pizza Diary

I don’t know when the affliction began. I think it was the nettle-preserved lemon pizza at Regazza in San Francisco over the winter. The papery crust really hooked me and a seed was planted. My early experiments, while satisfying, were nowhere near my idea of a good pizza. In my mind, the crust would make the pizza – everything else was just a formality. My doughs were overworked and lacked good crumb structure. More research ensued. I started a yeast culture – figuring if I was gonna dive into this world of yeasted breads, I better have a culture on hand. Little did I know, the sourdough culture I was about to develop would add an added layer of complexity to the whole process. I dove into books, internet forums and the occasional pizza slice out was analyzed and critiqued. I soon realized that if I wanted a real crust to develop in my humble home gas oven, I would need a better stone. I landed on a cordierite slab after getting scared off by the sheer weight of a soapstone slab – plus, the soapstone would probably take too long to heat through for my low volume of baking. Next in line was a digital scale. Most recipes and discussions stressed the need for exact weights of ingredients for dough making. Dough was talked about in terms of percent hydration, multi-day fermentations and crumb structure. If I was going to go for it, I had better roll up my sleeves and get kneading. And knead I did until my arms were tired, the floor a mess and dirty bowls piled everywhere. What I really needed was a solid stand mixer. Again, if I was gonna go for it, I needed the right tools, and the best tools. I found a used Hobart N50 on ebay. These things are widely regarded as one of the best stand mixers on the planet – with the design essentially unchanged since they were first introduced way back in the 40s or thereabouts. They can mix concrete, winch a truck out of the mud, and knead a dough to a gluten-y goodness.


Celebrating Spring with Food

Here on the coast, Spring seems to launch itself in full force one day, hunker down the next all the while building to the next crescendo of a calm, sunny morning. Up in the hills, still soggy and chilly from yesterday’s rain, black trumpet mushrooms are scattered under the tan oaks secretly playing the songs of a passing winter. Craterellus are a bit difficult to spot, but once clued in, they can appear in scattered patches bursting through a forest floor littered with light colored tan oak leaves. Clean them up, saute’ with olive oil, butter, thyme and a wee bit of salt and pepper, add them to caramelized leeks, toss in a little creme fraiche at the end. Layer them with a bit of gruyere in a tart shell and you will be reminded that life remains solidly in the good zone. Serve with a salad of fresh spring arugula, last fall’s kabocha squash and roasted seeds and heaven can be found in every bite.

Velvetine landscapes of spring time
Black trumpet blowing it's song through the woods
A whole band blares out the tunes of spring time, good food and the coming of summer.
Mushroom-leek tart, arugula-kabocha salad and the clutter of a kitchen at work.

A little-fava-dab-will-do

Fava bean season is rapidly waning ... natures perfect bean cozy in their fleecy shell
Fresh basil, red sicilian garlic and olive oil. Oh yeah, and favas, too!
One-by-one the outer covering of the fava is removed.
...and carefully worked into a wonderful spread that also doubles as an evening mosquito repellent if eaten in ample quantities for lunch.

Roasted tomatoes

I promised myself I would take care of chores today: laundry (including folding), kitchen cleaning, vacuuming (yes, I occasionally do vacuum the house), and, the fun part, making tomato sauce!  All this prior to tomorrow’s hike into a rarely-fished stretch of water unseen to most.  The river is currently up nearly a foot and a slow drop should be ideal for an afternoon exploratory descent into this land of poison oak, free-roaming black bears and wild steelhead.

Mixing very soft coot with slightly stiffer pheasant rump to see how it responds as a "do all" fly for varying current and swing speeds.
Mixing very soft coot with slightly stiffer pheasant rump to see how it responds as a"do-all" fly for varying current and swing speeds. (yes, I know my wings are a tad too fat)

Lunch special – Broccoli Polonaise

Needed a hearty helping of vegetables after yesterdays cholestorol-fix breakfast.  In keeping with the gratin theme, I was motivated by Prof. Steve Holzinger’s article”All About Gratins”

The Broccoli Gratinee sounded fairly straightforward:  butter, breadcrumbs, parmesan seasonings over crisp steamed broccoli baked in a hot oven.   The parmesan was to be added at the end of the butter-breadcrumb mixing and the mixture may have been too hot and set in the pan before being transferred to the gratin dish.  After a quick ten minutes in the oven it was set to cool.  Despite the dryness – it was super yummy – I couldn’t have ordered up a better lunch.  This recipe will require some further contemplation – reminding me of the old adage “Think before you Cook!”

Chard Gratin for lunch hold the halibut

The gratin is best after it’s sat for a bit.  I’ve only made a couple of them and only two of them could I say that I nailed it – either with just the right amount of nutmeg or set up just right and not too gritty or watery.  I had hoped to have the gratin today with some fresh halibut since the ocean was relatively flat and a boat ride was in order.  Once out there, though, my stomach indicated otherwise and I spent a couple of uncomfortable hours on the boat trying not to move too much for fear of upsetting the delicate balance of a semi-stable stomach on rolling seas.  Plenty of sand-dabs for Kyle (I was too busy ‘balancing’ to work a sand dab rig) and he had never eaten them before.  They are probably one of my favorite eating fish – but lots of work for tiny filets – and I definitely wasn’t going to be up to it this afternoon.

I returned home to a Sunday newspaper, baseball game on the radio and chard gratin.  Exactly what I needed.  It may not look pretty to the eye, but neither did I after a long morning afloat.  After the first bite, I thought to myself “you nailed it”  yummmmm.  Not a cure for seasickness – only a night’s sleep will take it completely out of me – but a darned good way to start an afternoon nap.

A slice of chard gratin before an afternoon nap is a surefire way to take the seasickness edge off.
A slice of chard gratin before an afternoon nap is a surefire way to take the seasickness edge off (glass of juice and sparkling water not pictured).

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen

The pursuit for chard gratin continues…

The chard is blanched for a minute and then the excess water is squeezed out.

The bread crumbs are ready…needing only to be crushed

The chard is chopped and sauteed with a wee bit of garlic and finished with nutmeg, salt, pepper, a healthy sprinkling of flour and milk is slowly worked into the mix.  I may have made this a bit too watery.

The chard is transferred to a pan…

And topped with the breadcrumbs.  I may have overtoasted my bread … we’ll see…

Into the oven for a slow cook so it doesn’t bubble up.

Stay tuned…