Category Archives: Food Matters

food politics, philosophy, essays, and issues

16 Batches of Pesto is Squirrel Behavior

pesto productionIt has begun.

The point in the summer when my squirrel instincts kick in and I start stuffing and storing food in my cheeks and no one notices because I’m really fat.

Wait – no – I mean, the point in the season where I become a squirrel but no one notices because I’m already impressively hirsute.

Gah! What I really mean is —

CANNING SEASON HAS BEGUN!

I can feel it in my bones. The need to sock food away in the pantry and freezer. I look at all produce and wonder what I can do with it to save it. I don’t do it in a small way, either. Food preserving in a small way is great and I encourage everyone to do it on any scale that suits them.

I only do it on a large scale. I’m an inherently lazy person. I really am. I think in some way my spazzy excitement about the things I love has to be balanced out by my dark chronic depression and a damning inertia in order to prevent the world and people around me from being irradiated by my overwhelming excitement over the little things, like when I find basil for $1.25 per bunch from my local farm.

I can’t muster up the energy to make one or two batches of pesto. That would require that I drag out my food processor and all the ingredients for food that will be gone by tomorrow. WASTED USE OF ENERGY. But it’s totally worth getting it out to make 16 batches of pesto.

That’s what I made yesterday. One batch to eat last night and 15 to put in the freezer.

Need a pesto recipe? I have a great one my friend Chelsea and I developed together:

Pesto Recipe

Philip wants me to make at least 10 more batches. It’s hard to refuse when I can get locally grown basil for such a great price. I can’t afford to buy pine nuts so this pesto is made with walnuts.

Walnuts I foraged from the neighborhood for free last fall. I have plenty to use up. Tons. That cost me nothing but the labor of gathering and then cracking them and then freezing them. This makes this pesto the cheapest I’ve ever made. In Oregon one summer I froze 21 batches of pesto but each basil bunch was $2.40 and I used pine nuts which cost $16 per pound (I think we got ours from Trader Joe’s which might have been less but some pine nuts cost up to $32 per pound and eventually I just couldn’t pay it). Anyway, it was much more expensive to make that pesto but it was worth it for how much better home made pesto is than store bought.

This year the pesto is costing about $2 per batch which is just for the oil and Parmesan and garlic. A bargain.

There’s something about food preserving that makes me so excited and energized and deeply satisfied. I look forward to canning season all year just as much as I look forward to eating tomatoes and cucumbers all year. I hope I’ll get a ton of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce in the freezer this year too. Last year I didn’t process many tomatoes in the canner because I have a lot of space to use up in my freezer and if I don’t fill it then it’s wasted energy.

Today is a pickling day. Yesterday was going to be for pickling but then that basil happened and I had to go with it. Today I’m pickling (ripe) cherry tomatoes (new to me – not sure if I’ll like the results) and dilled beans which I love and haven’t made for several years. I’ll do one or two jars with a hot pepper in them for my sister and others who like a spicy pickle.

It’s already almost 1pm and I’m still in my pyjamas so it’s time to get dressed and bicycle to the farm for some dill heads and I may have to go get more vinegar. I’ll be using the burner on the BBQ for the canning today as I’ll be making batches too big for the kitchen stove.

LET’S GET THIS PICKLE PARTY GOING!

A Great Year for Tomatoes!

tomatoes and VespaThe tomatoes this year are phenomenal! The winner for most prolific is tied between my Sungold cherry tomato plant and the Ananas Noire plant which produces these small green tomatoes. They’re pretty good but not nearly as good as Aunt Ruby’s German Green which I couldn’t find in the nursery. I have a seed packet of them to start next year.

tomato soup and croutons 2This tomato soup with garlic croutons is the best tomato soup I’ve ever made – but I added too much salt so next batch I will be more cautious with the salt.  I made this just as the tomatoes were starting to ripen so it’s half homegrown tomatoes and half canned store bought tomato sauce. I will be making this again and probably actually put the recipe on the blog.

makings for ugly tomato sauceI took color theory at FIDM so I knew this sauce was going to be brownish but it is less pretty than I predicted. In future I will not combine my green tomatoes with my red ones for sauce. Also note how full the pot it. This batch of sauce cooked down to just 2 quarts of sauce.

ugly sauceOrangey brownish sauce.

fancyass chickenPhilip, Max, and Max’s friend Sam made chicken Kiev this past weekend though Sam had to leave before tasting it because it takes FOREVER to make this. Huge success with the kid. He liked the parsley garlic butter sauce. Even ate the big chunks of garlic though it was supposed to be smooth. The kid likes garlic! As it’s turning out, Max is a gourmand. He likes really fancy food. Only freshly made. He loves sushi but only from the restaurant they go to, not from the supermarket. He is still intensely picky about texture so if the salt roasted chicken he usually likes is a tiny bit rubbery or different – he won’t eat it. No leftovers.

I’m having a lot of trouble feeding him from day to day still. Back to Nature seems to have changed their cracker recipes and now they’re all sub-par and Max won’t eat them. So peanut butter and round crackers is suddenly not happening. It’s super frustrating. So everyday eating is still hugely frustrating but meanwhile he’s trying lots of things. Like, I say “hey, try this out, kid” and if what I hand him doesn’t offend him visually he’ll try it. This was not how things used to be. He used to be so suspicious of trying anything new that huge negotiations would have to be undertaken, probably with plenty of warning days in advance, in order to convince him to try things.

So for those people with extreme picky eaters like mine – even once they start trying things – this food thing can be a major uphill climb. Hang in there, (I tell you and remind myself), your kid might actually be a gourmand instead of just a problem eater but it will take a lot of patience and experimentation and time to uncover the food lover.

Today I’m going to make a big pot of experimental salsa to can. The one thing I have to figure out is how much acidity to add to it to make it safe for canning. I’m using a Ball recipe for guidance but changing some flavoring things. For one thing, I will be using my pickled jalapenos in it (which obviously means my salsa will already have higher acidity than if using fresh peppers). Also – way more cilantro. Their recipes always call for a couple of tablespoons but cilantro loses a lot of its flavor when cooked and that small amount adds almost nothing to salsa. I have found a couple of other recipes that use a lot more of it. Anyway, I’m using my green tomatoes for this and I’m pretty excited. I haven’t canned salsa for many years. It will be good to have some jars stashed away.

I spent a couple of hours looking through my extensive collection of preserving books and it got me so excited to do some new preserving projects. The one author I’m missing from my collection is Marisa McClellans two books. I can’t afford to buy them right now but I really want both of her titles: Food in Jars and Preserving by the Pint and when I have money for a couple more books I’m getting them. But my collection is pretty fantastic and it’s just about time to rev up for the canning season.

Canning projects I want to try this year:

pickled red onions

pickled cocktail onions

develop new salsa recipe (today!)

bruschetta topping

pickled ripe cherry tomatoes

Old favorites I plan to make:

tomato sauce

dilly beans

marinated summer vegetables

garlic dill pickles

canned peaches

canned vanilla pears

and more pickled jalapenos*

*Those black little dots I’ve seen in the batches this year and last year are weird but apparently not dangerous (Philip and I have been eating the jalapenos anyway with no ill effects) . Needless to say, I can’t give them to friends just to be safe. I’m going to be using a bunch of last year’s in my salsa so they will be cooked again and 100% safe at that point. But I will hold back a jar and take it to the extension office for answers. I meant to do that last year but will do it this time. I need that mystery solved.

 

The Tudor Rose Tea Room: a review

top hat misterFor my friend Sharon’s birthday she invited a few of her oldest friends to join her for a full tea at The Tudor Rose Tea Room.  We had a great time all hanging out together and the staff at the tea room went some way to accommodating some special diet restrictions which was nice.

tea room 7If what you want in a tea room is super-fey decor, the kind little girls are supposed to adore, this is the place for you.  It’s stuffed to the gills with weird statuary of fairies and bunnies with carrots and the odd menacing Chinese guy.  It has a fountain and twinkling lights and and, I have to mention this again, bunnies with carrots.  The decorating style is not for grown-ups.

weak teaAbout their tea.  They have plenty of varieties available but if you are a PG Tips drinker you must ask for their strongest black tea and request that they leave the tea in the pot to steep extra long.  If you do this – you will have a great cup.  The house teas they presented us with were really weak and full of flowers which, if you like that sort of thing, is fine.  I don’t like flowery tea.  Plenty of people do so this is a question of personal taste and if you go forewarned you can get what you like.  So there’s something for everyone in the tea department.

tea room 2Our waitress was really nice but I feel that she has been schooled to be extra genteel – to say “lovely” as many times as possible in conversation, and to modulate her voice to be extra gentle as though the customers are very delicate people.  But really, I thought our server was doing a great job.  It’s not her fault that I’m such a curmudgeonly person.

tea room 5These are their sugar cubes.  I do not pollute my tea with glossy colored sugar.  I ripped the roses off the cubes.  A little barbaric of me perhaps, but this is no way to treat honest sugar cubes or a good cup of tea.

tea room 3I liked the mismatched china quite a bit.

tea room 1The pots of tea keep on coming and that was really nice too.  Especially when we finally asked for their strongest tea.  About the food.  The first thing they brought out was a tomato soup with tiny ravioli in it and I really enjoyed it.  I liked it so much I went home and re-created it.  The small salad was also really nice.  Very fresh and good.

sconesThe scones were also very good.  I have to say that they were nowhere near as good as the fresh baked scones I had at an inn in the Highlands, but really, nothing will ever compare to those so there’s no point in trying.  These are very good.

sammiesI could not eat the sandwiches.  I took one bite of the top level ones which were goat cheese with fig and some nuts on the outside.  I didn’t know it was goat until I took the bite and had a mouth full of barnyard.  This is not the tea house’s shortcoming, this is just my personal tastes butting in.  I don’t eat meat and I don’t eat goat cheese but I think for those who do like these things, these sandwiches would not disappoint.

curry pastiesBut here’s where I have got to come down hard.  These pasties.  I was really excited to eat one.  They are filled with vegetables in a curry sauce.  This is one of those things you expect the English to do exceptionally well since it really is one of their specialties.  I was deeply disappointed by this.  The pastry was not nice.  Dry and a little hard – crunchy-ish.  Crunchy-ish cardboard.  There’s no excuse for this.  Then there’s the curry gravy and vegetables.  The English are supposed to be very good at curries.  This one seemed like it maybe came from a mix or, I don’t really know.  The vegetables must have been frozen and though that is not necessarily a crime, if you use frozen you absolutely have to use the best quality frozen you can buy.  I could not finish my pastie and it made me mad to have been so let down.  I can, and will, make my own curry pasties and they will be exponentially better than these ones.

little sweetsAnd then there’s the finish.  The little deserts were very pretty but I think they must have used the same pastry for these that they did for the curry pasties.  When you bite into a morsel like this the pastry shell should be a bit delicate and melt in your mouth with the filling.  It should not be toothy and dry.  The lemon curd was also a bit bitter for my taste.  But the pastry shells are the main problem.

Can I recommend The Tudor Rose to others?  If you want to throw your little girl a real tea party this is the place to go.  Little girls, big girls who wish they didn’t have to grow up, princesses, fairies, all will enjoy the atmosphere.  If you are like me and prefer a more grown-up tea room, the bunnies and fairies will make you really uncomfortable.

Decor aside, I think if The Tudor Rose would change their pastry dough they will have made a substantial improvement to their fare.

Tudor Rose Tea Room

733 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa

707-535-2045

 

Shameful Food Confession: I don’t like Asian Food

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(“Asian food” here is defined as foods from the many different countries throughout Asia that I’ve tried.  My feelings about Asian food is NOT reflective of my feelings about Asian culture or Asian people – so don’t you dare suggest it!)

Max is exploring Japanese food.  He went with Philip last week and had some raw fish he really loved and a cucumber salad he loved and he even liked a tuna sushi roll he tried.  I wanted to go to Japanese food with them mostly because I wanted to see Max enjoying food I never imagined he’d like.  So we went to Haku sushi just down the street from us.

He tried different things than last time and the only thing he liked was the shrimp tempura this time.  The cucumber salad we ordered wasn’t what he got last time and he didn’t like this one.  The raw fish was different too.  Then he ordered a crazy roll and didn’t like that.  But the main thing is that he’s trying lots of new things these days.

I was reminded that I don’t like Japanese food and it does not get along with me at all and never has.  The only thing I can eat is the miso soup, the cucumber salad, the dressed lettuce, the plain rice, and tempura.  But tempura has always made me feel queasy and gross after eating it no matter how much I enjoy the flavor.  The miso soup always has bits of seaweed in it and though a fairly mild kind I only just tolerate it.  Things that taste remotely like the sea make me gag.  Literally gag.  Haku’s tempura was very good, as far as tempura goes, but I burped for hours afterwards.  Not my favorite way to remember a meal.

But before I even ate the tempura I made the mistake of eating a bite of some bright green stem things that were served with the cucumbers that turned out to be some kind of sea weed that tasted STRONGLY of FISH.  I would have spit it out but I didn’t want to be impolite.  After fighting my gag reflex to the death I managed to swallow the nasty stuff and within minutes I was burping up fish flavor.

I have come to the realization that not only does Japanese food not agree with me, no Asian food agrees with me.  I am using “Asian” in a generic way to include food traditions from Thailand, Burma, China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam.  I’m keenly aware that the food traditions in each of those countries is unique from each other in many and distinct ways – I don’t mean to lump them together for any other purpose than that they all happen not to agree with me.  Fish being a huge part of all of those food traditions as well as meat and sauces using fish and shrimp and then there are the radishes (I burp them up) and water chestnuts (I burp them up) and the Asian style of fermenting (I burp it up) – get the theme here?

Then there are curries.  My one favorite thing to make that is based on a Thai dish is Winter squash curry coconut soup.  It’s amazing and for some reason that particular dish does not give me any problems.  I’ve never been a huge curry fan but these days it isn’t just a matter of preference, my body doesn’t like them either.  So let’s add Indian food to the list because now when I have Indian food (which I do love) it generally doesn’t agree with me either.

I do love some Chinese food but I can’t lie – I usually don’t feel that great after eating it.  Never have.  I have always eaten it anyway.

Among my peers it feels like a point of shame not to LOVE Thai food and Japanese food.  If you don’t love Asian food you’re just not cool and may as well be an ignorant white-bred bitch from the fifties.  (Interestingly, most of my peers do not like Chinese food except for my Chinese friends and me.)  The most uber-cool people love Korean and Vietnamese food because Japanese and Thai food are so common now that it may as well be spaghetti.

I don’t even like rice that much.

I like a lot of components of Asian food traditions such as tofu and soba noodles and miso and simple stir-fries and edamame and satay sauce but it’s a real inauthentic pick and choose kind of thing.

What food do I like?  I like Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food.  But even with Middle Eastern food I can’t eat things that are heavy on the cumin which always repeats on me like old-man armpits in my esophagus.

Mediterranean food (Italy, Greece, France, northern Africa, and Israel etc.) is what my body likes the best.  It’s what I crave.  It’s what I feel my best eating.  It’s easy to make Mediterranean food minus the meat and fish.  I also love Mexican food which generally agrees with me well.

So there it is.  My big confession of shame.  I’m not a cool eater.  I’m not adventuresome.  Even if I loved adventuresome flavors my body wouldn’t let me explore comfortably.

But if Max’s body and tastes lead him to Japanese food and maybe eventually some other Asian food traditions – I will be thrilled!  He likes raw fish.  He loves seafood.  I’m excited for him to find new food traditions that he’s actually wanting to explore.  He’s tasting things he never would have tasted two years ago.  He’s trying things.

Yes, he still mostly loves fried foods and mostly sees produce as a necessary evil that his mother forces him to keep trying.  But what I see is a good food palette forming.  It’s just the beginning.  I see a future in which I wean him off of chips and crackers and french fries and he eats more raw fish and vinagered cucumbers and some veggie burgers.  I don’t know, I just think it’s awesome that he’s exploring.  Any mother of an extreme picky eater knows how huge this voluntary exploration is.

I will not go out to Japanese food again but this is something that Philip and Max can do together and now I need to go apply to some more jobs so we can support a sushi-eating habit.

Troya Restaurant: My New San Francisco Favorite

Troya entranceIt’s been a long time since a restaurant has inspired me to get back in my kitchen to learn to make new dishes.  Troya, on 5th and Clement in San Francisco, reminded me of my trip to Israel and how I came home burning to get into my kitchen to learn to make my own pita and recreate the meze dishes we had at Arab restaurants there.

Troya looked a little fancy for my tastes from the outside.  I like low-key restaurants that serve really approachable but delicious food.  I don’t want my sauces foamed and precious and I don’t want enormous plates with single architectural bites arranged in the middle.  Haute food is not my scene.  I want humble dishes made exceptionally well.  I want peasant food and country food and classic foods with fresh twists.  In spite of how shiny Troya looked the menu was enticing and the prices just within my budget.

Troya interiorThe restaurant describes its food as a blend of Turkish-mediterranean.  I have no experience with Turkish food but Mediterranean food is my favorite and there were a lot of familiar dishes with slightly unfamiliar touches.

bread for dippingFirst we got some bread with olive oil, crushed pistachios, and what I think is a red za’atar mix.  I loved dipping the bread in olive oil and then the pistachios but the spice mix was too perfumy for my taste, though Philip really enjoyed it.

warmed herbed olivesNext we had the warm olives marinated in herbs and citrus.  Philip says he’ll never eat cold olives again.  They were amazing – the warmth enhances the olive flavor wonderfully.

zucchini cakesThe zucchini cakes.  This was our favorite dish.  Our only complaint was that they didn’t come with enough of the yogurt sauce.  But honestly – that’s such a small complaint.  I don’t know what else is in these deep fried cakes besides zucchini but I mean to find out when I go  back again!  The texture inside was moist but didn’t have an uncooked flavor – they were perfect.

zucchini cakes openNormally I despise images of half eaten food but I wanted to show you what they looked like inside the crispy exterior.

grilled halloumi beet saladThe grilled halloumi cheese with roasted baby beets, local greens, and pistachios was the second runner up for favorite dish.  I’m a sucker for a beet salad with nuts and this one was perfectly dressed.  (It’s a pet peeve of mine when salads are underdressed because, unlike bunnies, I don’t like dry greens.)

veg moussakaLastly we had the vegetarian moussakka.  It was creamy and the vegetables worked well together but they used fresh mint in the seasoning which isn’t my favorite.  It didn’t ruin it for me but I wished I couldn’t taste it because it interfered with the melting flavors of the other ingredients.

I can’t wait to go back!  There are some other vegetarian dishes to try and obviously I have to have those zucchini cakes again.

A couple of other notes:

  • The wait staff was super friendly and took good care of us from beginning to end.  We went before it was crowded so I don’t know how it is when it’s bustling but we had a great experience.
  • Though the restaurant seemed a little on the fancy side for me at first I changed my opinion soon after being seated.  It’s casual enough that you won’t feel stupid for not dressing up or knowing how to use a fish fork (they don’t have any – ha!).
  • You won’t care about this but I could see my old apartment from my seat and it pleased me so much!  I thought of my friend and old roommate Jessica and if she ever comes up to visit I think we’ll have to eat at Troya and talk about the old days.

10 Food Blogging Trends That Need to End

bacon mallow pop 1

1.  Rehashing the rehashed recipes ad infinitum…

Here are some food trends that have been done to fucking DEATH: bacon, candied bacon, bacon jam, doughnuts (the new cupcake), kale chips, buffalo anything, pulled pork, quinoa, bacon in desserts, red velvet anything, chocolate chip cookies, cookie dough anything, loaded baked potato soup, green smoothies, anything with chia seeds, s’mores anything, homemade marshmallows, and sweet potato fries just to name a few.  You’re just following the fumes of trends that have been driven into the ground.

2.  Photos of food spilling and dripping over the sides of dishes.

It’s not arty – it’s gross.  It makes my fingers feel sticky and rather than wanting to grab a spoon or fork and eat your food I want to grab a sponge or a dish towel and clean up after you.

3.  Stuffing cookies with candy or other cookies.

Stuffing food inside other food.  This over-the-top stuffing of food inside other food has become one big gluttonous denial that heart attacks and diabetes could happen to YOU.

4. Supporting the packaged crap industry

There is apparently a continuous contest  to see how many ways one can cram processed crap into their home baked goods.  Disposing of whole bags of fun-size candy bars in a cake recipe is sick and needs to stop.  Please refer to #3.

5.  Hyperbolic food writing.

We get it – food can be emotional for some people.  Suggesting that a single dish of food is “life changing” is ridiculous.  Talking about food as though it can heal all the wounds of life is also ridiculous.  Be real.  Stop trying to flog emotions out of us with the promise of life-changing pasta.  We’re not simpletons.

6.  Striped paper straws

Time for a new prop for food photo shoots involving any kind of sweets or sweet beverages.  My eyes are so tired of seeing the same striped straws everywhere.  What annoys me about them aside from their ubiquity is the “old fashioned wholesomeness” bloggers seem to be implying as if jaunty little straws can neutralize the potential for heart disease and obesity represented on the endless parades of plates piled high with processed-crap-stuffed baked goods.

7. Fondant.

Fondant doesn’t taste good.  The first rule of food is that it should nourish your body.  The first rule of food worth talking about is that it also taste good.  If it neither nourishes nor tastes good it doesn’t matter how pretty it is, you may as well be sculpting cakes out of play-dough.

8. The evils of “mouth-feel”

Never describe to me how food will FEEL or ACT in my mouth (or in yours).  The second you start talking about food in people’s mouths I am imagining masticated food and that makes me lose my appetite which is the opposite of what your writing is trying to accomplish.  It’s not funny.  It truly grosses me out.  I don’t want a “party” or an “explosion” of any kind IN MY MOUTH.  So get out of my mouth, please, and keep me out of yours too.

9. Fluffy cake flavored drinks pretending to be martinis

Calling any beverage in a martini glass a martini.  It’s not the glass that makes it a martini – it’s the use of gin + vermouth  that makes it a martini.  The only other version of a martini that’s still a martini is vodka + vermouth.  If your drink contains anything else – it is most definitely NOT a martini so give it a new name.*

10.  The cast of characters ingredient shot.**

Unless you plan to not have an ingredient list with your recipe (which would be a dumb move) no one needs to see the ingredients all grouped together on your kitchen counter.  It adds insult to injury when every item in the photo is labeled – it suggests that your readers are so new to the world that they don’t know what butter looks like.  Trust me – we know it when we’re looking at eggs just like we understood what you meant when you listed “2 eggs” in the ingredient list.

*A splash of olive brine and a garnish of an olive or a lemon twist are the only other variations allowable for the drink to still bear the name “martini”.  If you’re using flavored vodkas – it’s not a martini.

**My friend Sarah’s words for it.  Brilliant.

Foraging for Walnuts Brings Me Back to the Beginning

I’ve been foraging for blackberries my whole life.  I also remember picking gooseberries on Mount Shasta when I was a small child.  I used to find and eat miner’s grass and also sour grass.  Things I learned from my mom.  But it wasn’t until I moved to the JC neighborhood in Santa Rosa that I really became a forager in earnest.  I rediscovered my love of picking wild blackberries and the first year in Santa Rosa my friend Sharon and I learned to make blackberry jam together which started my love of food preserving.  I was taking classes at the Junior College and walked to school from my house early in the morning for math class.  After the first storm that year I noticed walnuts on the ground.

I know a walnut when I see one.  Who doesn’t?  The Stemples had several walnut trees in their back yard and they always had huge bags of walnuts in their mud room.  The truth is – I never really liked walnuts.  They were “okay”.  I’d eat them if someone put them in baked goods but I always wished people would stop putting walnuts in their cookies because I thought it ruined them.  When I first saw the walnuts on the ground I wasn’t that excited about them but I was curious to know if all walnuts are edible and if you could eat them fresh out of the shell or did you have to do something to them?  I picked up a few and carried them around with me.  Eventually I ate one of them and didn’t get sick.

The walnuts were all over the ground and I started picking them up as I walked, filling my backpack with them.  I still didn’t really like them but I couldn’t resist collecting them.  Something clicked (I think it’s called OCD) and the repetitive activity of collecting nuts and hoarding them in my garage was soothing and fun and addictive.  So I ended up with an enormous quantity of them.  All picked up from my neighborhood streets.  It was free food.  Food I didn’t like, of course, but FREE.  And satisfying to collect.

Eventually I had to force myself to stop.  A person who doesn’t like walnuts doesn’t need a year’s supply of them.  I decided to try eating them in different ways to see if I really didn’t like them.  What I discovered is that I really dislike walnuts in baked goods.  Period.  I won’t shun your gift of banana bread with walnuts in it, but only because I’m used to my mom baking nuts in everything and I’m pretty polite about gifts.  But I’ll wish you hadn’t polluted your banana bread with walnuts.  I tried walnuts in other ways and discovered that I love them lightly roasted and put on salads.  When you do that they remain crisp.  To me – an uncrisp nut is an abomination.  I also discovered that I love candied walnuts – just to eat out of hand or on a pear salad.  Deborah Madison introduced me to walnut sauce and it is one of my favorite sauces in the world.  It’s creamy and rich and wonderful.  I make it very smooth – no grit.

Every year for 5 years I collected a year’s supply of walnuts and ate them all.  I was lucky that when I lived in Oregon a dear friend of mine had access to free walnuts and gave me tons of them because there weren’t a lot to forage in McMinnville.  But I missed foraging for them myself.  I missed the yearly activity that signaled deep fall.  They nearly always start falling after the first real rainstorm.  Which we just had a few days ago.  While foraging for olives with my friend Sharon she mentioned that she was finding walnuts on the ground and I very nearly dropped the olive project to go collect nuts.

Instead I stuffed down the panicky feeling that I would miss my chance to gather nuts and hoard them in my tree trunk… and waited one whole day to go out looking for them.  Yesterday Chick and I walked to my old favorite walnut trees and I gathered a bag full.  Many of them are smaller than I like but will still be good.  Chick didn’t think much of the walnut collecting.  She would much rather forage for poop.  Still, she did her best imitation of a patient dog and I felt right again.  Like time is flowing in the right direction after being stopped for years.  I know I keep saying shit like this – but it’s true.  This is where it truly started for me and to walk the same path I’ve walked year after year to the same trees, trees that I’ve come to think of as quiet personal companions, it makes me feel like I just found something that’s been lost.  It feels wonderful.  It feels peaceful and makes me happy.

Once you get into the foraging mode it’s impossible not to see food all around you.  Or to wonder about things that MIGHT be edible.  To someone.  This old cactus in our neighborhood caught my eye yesterday as it has caught my eye every time I’ve walked by it in the last 12 years.  But this time I saw it differently.

Are those “prickly pears”?  Can you make jam out of those?  And is this the kind of cactus you can make nopalitos from?  CAN I EAT THIS CACTUS?

I wouldn’t dream of trying to take any part of it because it is a masterpiece in this yard – it is clearly not food hanging over the sidewalk waiting to be plucked at by strangers.  Taking any part of this plant would be grand and mean theft.  But it amuses me how you look at things differently after years of foraging.

Cheers to my fellow foragers out there!

Things I’ve foraged for so far:

blackberries

gooseberries (only the once but it was memorable)

miner’s lettuce

sour grass

walnuts

elderberries

nettles

plantain

rosehips

hazelnuts (for others, I hate hazelnuts)

Indian plum (my friend Nicole introduced me and Max to it – it’s a leaf that tastes like a cucumber)

mushrooms (not very successfully – I did find an old bolete, an old chanterelle, and Philip and Max found me a lobster mushroom)

Chipmunk Disorder Flareup (collecting food for the winter in full swing)

These are olives my friend Sharon and I foraged from someone’s yard.  Don’t worry – we asked permission and were granted it by the really nice ladies who lived there.  They even supplied us with a step ladder to get at some of the higher branches.  When we walked up their steps and rang their bell I thought they’d probably think we were trying to bring them some religion and worried they might be hostile.  Or maybe they’d think we were on to some make-up scam and be hostile.  I’m glad we took the chance and I’m equally glad that they were so agreeable.

There are more olive pictures at the bottom of this post.  I’ve been meaning to share this disturbing picture with you: this is what happens when you think you’re being all thrifty and freeze “tomato water” for use in soups.  What I don’t want to know is why is the water part all yellowy?  Such a nasty surprise to find in my freezer.

I also wanted to chronicle how much you have to cook tomato sauce down to get a nice thick sauce.  This is the pre-cooked picture.  See how full that big pot is?  Do you know how much work it took to clean, score, core and blanch then peel, squeeze, and dice that big pot of tomatoes?  If you’ve done this before then you DO know.

The steam didn’t cooperate with my camera but you can see through it that the tomato level has dropped dramatically.

This is my 22 pound French heirloom squash that the produce stand people called “Peanut Squash” – it was difficult to find anything definitive on the subject but I’m completely sure that this squash is actually called Galeux d’Eysines.  It’s fairly pumpkin-like in flavor but is less watery than pumpkin.  This mean-ass squash caused me to cut myself.  When wrestling such enormous cucurbitas – I recommend being particularly aware of the location of all your fingers in relation to your knife.

Olives are one of my favorite foods.  The only kind of olive I’m not fond of are the black canned Mission olives ubiquitous on pizzas from chain restaurants.  I don’t hate them but I would never voluntarily add them to food.  But give me any kind of green olive or black olive that is salty, or salty and vinegary, or salty and herby – yeah, big fan here.  Years ago I read a whole book about olives because my Grandfather was interested in them.  He told me stories about the olive orchard he bought in Italy when he was still a young-ish man.  It was supposedly one of the locations written about in Homer’s Odyssey.  My grandmother eventually forced him to sell the orchard and I got the feeling he still wasn’t over it in his 80′s.  Big clue as to how come they got divorced eventually.

The book I read was “Olives” by Mort Rosenblum.  It was informative and whet my appetite for curing olives on my own.  It also irritated me – Mort is something of a pompous windbag – though he may not be like that in real life at all.  It’s just the tone of the book and honestly, I read it so long ago now I’m not sure I’d have the same opinion the second time around.  The point is that for over 12 years I’ve had the ambition to cure my own olives but back then it didn’t occur to me that I might be able to forage some and I certainly didn’t have any access to fresh olives for sale.

Since that time I have become a pretty good forager of walnuts, nettles, elderberries, blackberries, rose hips, and plantain – but until moving back to California there were no olives to forage for.  But now I am seeing them everywhere.  The biggest problem is that a lot of the ones I’m seeing are too small to bother with curing them.  Sharon and I definitely got enough to play with and in just a few minutes I’m going to introduce my haul to a lye bath*.

What I really want to do today is drive all over town looking for more olives to forage.

I am in full chipmunk mode now.  I’m taking the dog for a walk to see if the walnuts have started falling in the neighborhood.  Sometimes I wish I could forage and preserve food all the time – without other obligations like working or writing books (not really an obligation since I am unpublished and completely unknown – let’s just call it an obligation to myself) or running errands.  I want to spend all my time cooking and experimenting with food preserving.  And foraging.

I must go get dressed and made up – the olives are waiting for me and I need lipstick today.  I should also probably check on my fermenting pickles, shouldn’t I?  You might be curious how they’re doing about now.  I’m a little scared to look.  Drat – I also need to clean my work table.

And all I want to do is go collect nuts and fruits in my cheeks to store in my tree trunk.

*In case you’re curious – I’m using this recipe for curing olives with lye from Hank Shaw’s blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

Flipper’s Burgers, Caffe Trieste, and Mo’s in San Francisco

Flipper’s Burgers.  This one is located in Hayes Valley and I’ve been to it once before and got a superb sandwich called “The Suzie” which has eggplant, roasted red peppers, pesto, and cheese – so good I dreamt about it for years afterwards.  While I was tempted to fulfill my dreams of having that sandwich again, I really wanted breakfast.  Now that San Francisco is once again within reasonable reach – I felt comfortable skipping the sandwich this time knowing I can come back for it another time.

A really large man (in every direction) who was missing several key teeth took my order for a latte.  This man did not seem to be a waiter so I thought he might be a bored cook.

I’ve heard all kinds of raves about Blue Bottle coffee.  I had one of their lattes just before heading out to Flippers (just a couple of blocks away) and I have to report that I found Blue Bottle’s latte to be disappointing – the flavor was pretty good but not strong enough (more like a cafe au lait strength) and it came to me not very hot – a latte needs to be hot.  This latte, though, this one was PERFECT.  This is how I used to make them at the coffee roastery.  Perfect foam, hot as hell, with the espresso carefully suspended in a stripe between the foam and the milk.  Excellent flavor as well.

I ordered the salsa omelet and it was pretty good.  They were a little (a lot) skimpy on the sour cream but I still enjoyed my breakfast.  The potatoes could have been a little less dry but the flavor was good and, anyway, that’s what ketchup is for.

After my breakfast (which I actually ate at noon) I had to head straight for North Beach to meet my guys at Caffe Trieste.  I had to squeeze myself onto a Van Ness Muni and hopped off at Broadway.  Not wanting to have to climb over the enormously steep Broadway hill (though which the Broadway tunnel runs) I smartly clipped one block over to Vallejo.  And immediately found myself climbing the impossibly steep Telegraph Hill I had tried to avoid.  We will not discuss my idiocy in detail.  Once I made it over the mountain with splendidly red sweaty skin – I found my guys coolly sipping sodas at the outside tables of Caffee Trieste, that most famous of North Beach hang outs.  Max loves cafes so it was great to bring him to experience a classic.  He approved of it.

Philip and Max went to the Comic con south of Market and Max showed off all the loot he got from it: pins, post cards, a tiny piece of original art,  a tiny vampire doll made of string, and stickers.

He had a great time.  We sat and chatted for a while and tried to ignore the loud crazy old guy accosting customers and enjoyed the wonderful breeze finally kicking up.  I had expected San Francisco to wow me with cold foggy weather but instead it drenched me with muggy bright heat.  What a traitor of a city!!

Before leaving the city to go visit my dad in Marin Max really wanted to get a bite to eat.  We spotted “Mo’s Grill” just around the corner.  The food was pretty good but the place has about 4 tables total and it’s cramped so don’t be surprised if, while trying to figure out what to order, a Frenchman’s bony ass obscures your view of the menu in your hand.

I have missed San Francisco so much.  When asked if Max likes Portland or San Francisco better he says San Francisco.  I thought I liked Portland better but the truth is that nothing can really compare to my birth city.

But don’t worry my Portland friends – we do still love Portland because it’s an amazing and cool city that’s way cleaner than San Francisco.

Extreme Picky Eating: Criticism and New Ideas

(These are the remains of one of Max’s breakfast “cookies”.  I often find little piles of rejected bits on Max’s plate.  This is a vast improvement on when he used to simply reject an entire plate of food if there was one bit of what he considered disturbing wrongness on it.)

This past week Max met his new pediatrician in an appointment to discuss options for dealing with his bloody noses which have returned in force.  During that appointment she told us that he’s a little tall for his age and a little heavy for his age.  Due to his being in the 95 percentile for his weight she told us she has to discuss diet and exercise.  I told her that diet is difficult with Max because he’s an extreme picky eater.  She asked what he eats and on being told she launched into a lecture about how a diet made up completely of empty carbs is really unhealthy.  As if I didn’t know.  I then explained that his eating habits are related to his OCD which makes eating very problematic for him.  This did not, apparently, register with her as an important fact to consider.

She went on to ask me if I have read the labels on cheese puffs – a nutrition-less “food” – and I assured her that I am an avid label reader and am aware of everything that is in (or isn’t in) the food my kid eats.  I reiterated that there are few foods Max will eat and that at the end of the day it’s important that he eat something rather than nothing.  She told me she wanted to make an appointment for me with the nutritionist.

And that’s when I got angry.  But I held it in and told her I knew exactly what my son SHOULD be eating to be healthy – that it wasn’t a question of knowing what a healthy diet is but a question of what my son is willing to eat.  She turned to him and asked him if he understands that the way he eats is going to lead to many diet-related health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

Right then and there I knew I was going to get a new pediatrician for Max.  Trying to scare a kid with OCD into eating food that tastes like goat pellets by telling him the alternative is horrible sickness – is ineffective.  Shaming a parent of such a kid is not going to make the kid eat better either.  The worst thing is that I believe she assumed that I must eat the same way I feed my kid because I’m obese.  I LOOK like a person who doesn’t know what a healthy diet is.  I LOOK like a person who lives off of diet soda and Doritos.

My concerns about my son’s physical health are constant and upsetting to me but one thing I know for sure: badgering Max to eat differently or forcing food down his throat that makes him want to throw up is not good for his mental and emotional health.  Food is as stressful a topic for him as it is for me.  I want his physical health to be better but I have to constantly balance that against his over-all well being and the quality of my relationship with him.

We’ve been very fortunate in most of Max’s pediatricians over the years in that they understood that a picky eater like Max isn’t being picky to be difficult – they have understood that it’s not an ideal situation and their advice has been useful and their approach has been both reasonable and encouraging.  Not one of them ever assumed that my kid’s extreme dietary restrictions were a result of my ignorance of what a healthy diet is.  All of them had encountered kids like Max before and knew what I was dealing with.

Best advice:

Don’t make a battle out of food with an extreme picky eater like Max.

With your average kid who is reluctant to eat vegetables it may be effective to simply keep reintroducing them to foods you want them to eat and with the idea that eventually they will accept them.  Or that famous tactic of making your kid sit at a table for hours until they finally eat that piece of carrot.  Or the other one where if they don’t eat what you expect them to eat they don’t eat at all – in the belief that no child will ever starve themselves to death.  With average kids these tactics may work and aren’t likely to cause bigger problems.  Kids like Max are at risk of developing eating disorders by making food a constant battle ground.  So if your kid has major sensory issues that are limiting what he/she is willing to eat – understand that they may be incapable of overcoming their food aversions.

Give your extreme picky eater multi-vitamins -

Even this has been majorly challenging because most vitamins have a flavor and even non-picky adults recognize that vitamin-flavored things are usually not pleasant.  Chewables for kids can taste good or NOT.  Max would accept chewables for a while and then they would start to taste bad to him.  Some never passed muster in the first place.  Eventually he begged me to get him vitamins he could swallow.  I prefer natural vitamins but these are HUGE (even the ones for kids) and taste NASTY.  Even to me.  Max thought I was trying to kill him with the horse vitamins.  After trying to find flavorless swallowables I finally went back to chewables and made him try the ones from Trader Joe’s – he’s been taking these without complaint for the past few months.  Fingers crossed he continues to take them without complaint.

Never give up offering healthy food options to your picky eater -

It’s exhausting trying to get a picky eater to try new things or old things they used to like.  I give up from time to time.  But I always pick up the challenge again because I love my kid and I really do want him to be healthier.  I eat healthy food myself so we always have lots of produce and whole grain breads and nuts around the house.  I always offer him healthy options and try to get him to try new things.  Continue to be an example of how to eat healthily for your child and know that that example is meaningful even if it isn’t going to make them eat brown rice any time soon.  They’ll KNOW what a healthy diet is and that will help them later on.

For the last few months I’ve had no energy to engage in the constant struggle of getting Max to eat produce and during the move and settling in period his diet has definitely reached a low level.  Even before this upsetting visit to the pediatrician I was working on a plan for a renewed effort at improving his diet.  I have decided to channel my anger and the shame this doc made me feel into new food ideas for Max.  I’m going to jot them down here for my own sake – so I can keep track of them and not forget any of them.

Some diet guidelines to enforce (setting small boundaries and rules has worked for him in the past and it’s time to re-establish them):

Take his multi-vitamins every day.

Drink plenty of water – I don’t care if it’s mineral water or plain.

Take at least a couple of bites of something in the morning before gym class.

Eat one fruit or vegetable item a day (half an apple, half a cucumber, several baby carrots, or a handful of grapes).

Something with whole grains in it (cornbread made with whole wheat, breakfast “cookie”, slice of whole wheat bread with either ketchup or brown sugar on it – don’t care, or whole wheat crackers, or home made granola bar).

Potato chips only on weekends.

Soda only on weekends.

On to some new food ideas:

Grape and apple slushie:

he won’t drink most smoothies.  He asked how come he couldn’t have a grape or apple smoothie.  I explained the challenge there with regard to texture (when he says grape in this context he means concords which have seeds) and apples aren’t often a smoothie ingredient. My idea is to freeze natural unfiltered concord grape juice into ice cube trays then blend them with half an apple.  The result will hopefully be a purple grape tasting icy drink that has some fresh apple in it.

Quick breads baked in square muffin pans:

he likes cornbread but won’t eat it when it isn’t fresh (it gets too dry and crumbly by the next day) and this is a problem for me.  He might eat it more often if I could freeze individual portions.  The problem is that he doesn’t like muffins (the puffed top not matching the shape of the bottom is the problem) and usually I make cornbread in a pie dish and do triangular slices – these are too fragile for freezing.  Even if I did them in a square pan and cut them in squares – the slices will be too fragile for my purposes.  I think individual square servings of quick breads might work well.  I could do cornbread and gingerbread this way.  I also want to get him to try a zucchini bread.

Granola bars using brown rice syrup -

He’s liked granola bars a few times in the past but the commercial ones often have high fructose corn syrup in them.  When I made some at home using honey the honey flavor was too strong.  Someone suggested using agave syrup or brown rice syrup – I am not a fan of agave syrup but one granola bar he liked for a while used brown rice syrup and so I want to experiment with that.

Veggie burgers -

Recently he ate a few garden burgers (the original one) but near the end of the third one he encountered a lump of something that was unpleasant and hasn’t wanted to eat them since.  My mom and I also experienced this gristle-like lump in ours around the same time.  Very strange.  I found a recipe for veggie burgers in a Cook’s Illustrated issue that seems very promising.  The only issue with veggie burgers at home is shaping them.  Max won’t eat funky shaped things.  My friend Chelsea told me about hamburger presses and I’m going to get one and try that.

Potatoes -

I have wanted to try making tater tots at home so that I can use organic potatoes but all tater tots really require frying.  I would like to find some potato finger foods that Max would like that are baked instead of fried.  My thought here is doing a kind of hash brown but in small silver dollar sized pieces.  With the slightly flattened shape I can get both sides to be golden brown in the oven without frying.  I also want to see if I can get him to eat and enjoy oven baked fries.

Corn dog type thing that’s got a different kind of filling -

Except corn dogs require frying.  I just keep thinking of a finger food that’s got and outside grain type covering with shredded potatoes and carrots (or something like that) inside.  Something he could dip in ketchup or ranch.  This is not a fully formed idea yet – just jotting down the basic idea.  I was thinking of things like bite-sized bagel dogs but with whole wheat bagel dough and a filling that’s a mix of things that wouldn’t be too strongly flavored or weirdly textured – again – potatoes come to mind.  Yes, I know, more carbs.  I’m working with what I can.  I’ll take an all carb diet consisting of organic and home made food to an all carb diet that comes in packages.  If I could get something like this to work out – I could start playing with adding ingredients in small amounts to add nutrients.

Peanut butter balls -

He likes peanut butter flavor.  He desperately needs more protein.  I’m thinking lightly sweetened peanut butter dipped in a thin layer of chocolate (he like a little chocolate but not a lot).  Maybe I could mix a little bit of bran into them that he wouldn’t notice.  If I could get him to eat a peanut butter ball before school that would at least be a little bit of protein to start the day off with.  He’s eating peanut butter breakfast “cookies” again right now but will tire of them before too long.

That’s all I have right now.  Perhaps as I try some of these things I’ll report back how they worked out.

The last thing I want to mention in this new picky eating post is that I have appreciated the comments I’ve gotten from other parents of picky eaters like Max.  Recently a mom and daughter commented on my old picky eating post and it was really wonderful to hear from a picky eater who grew up and started broadening her eating horizons.  She reports that she is perfectly healthy and isn’t as picky as she used to be.  Thank you for sharing your stories!  It really does make me feel better and also hopeful that I can get Max to adulthood without him developing terrible diet related health problems.

Extreme Picky Eating: The Beginning

Extreme Picky Eating: The Max Diet