Friday, October 26, 2007

halloween fruits

It's that time again. The crazy time of year when the Great Pumpkin rises over the patch and the ghouls and goblins come out to eat. Time to dress up and go sample some autumn fruit at the Berkeley Farmers' Markets, like on this coming Tuesday Halloween-eve as part of the Fall Fruit 'N Fright festivites. If you're in the East Bay, don't miss it and come check it out! If you can't make it, there is also this Saturday the 27th (tomorrow, sorry for the short notice) a chance to come for a preview fall fruit tasting while shopping. Then if you're lucky you can come again on Tuesday the 30th for more tasting and holiday festivities. Eat pie! Honor the dead! Dress up with the kids and come on down and carve a pumpkin! Show them that Halloween ain't just candy, it's also a bounty of great fruit. And what better way to get kids to love fruit than to give them the best in a fun atmosphere.

Rumor has it that master baker and sourdough saviour JtheC fresh from a desert camping trip will be making a brief appearance to cut some fruit for the public. A small flamingo and baby penguin that are the fruit of his loins might be in tow but other than avian off-spring, no miracles will be involved. However, J-man will be wielding a really sharp paring knife (which he keeps in his sleeve for such occasions, and hopes to not injure one of his healing hands this time) and working alongside other volunteers (is it really any suprise that he does?) while lovingly slicing some really delectable fruit, and serving it to you, the market shopper, for free. Just come on by the Ecology Center booth with a mouth ready for stuffing with tantalizingly super tasty pears, apples, and persimmons, maybe even some early citrus and spooky bloody looking pomegranates.

It's time for fun. See you there! Tell the folks at the booth that the Monkey Wrangler sent you and if you're there later in the day, give JtheC a big squeeze while enjoying the festivities......

Sunday, October 21, 2007

cornmeal harvest time at the park

As a shopper at many farmers' markets, I've developed a certain eye for particular foodstuffs. Grains for example. They seem to be lacking in selection at most markets, so when I find a good source I make sure to remember when and where, how much and how good. But this too has limits, since although grains store well, the storage bins tend to empty out before harvest time, leaving folks like me just DYING for a month or so before the new crop is ready. Take corn for instance. I just lurv the stuff. Corn on the cob, frozen corn, popcorn, with a special emphasis this year in cornmeal. I can't get enough apparently. With the pickings slim at the markets lately, I was very happy to find that the East Bay Regional Park District can occasionally be a source for fresh, delicious local grains.

This past weekend we went down to Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont to enjoy their Harvest Festival with our good friends. We had read about various activities including corn husking and doll making, cider pressing and ice cream making. Also, that grains would be milled on-site, including wheat. And corn. My heart did a little flutter: could it be? please lord let their be some for me......

Luckily, there were even some genuine old-timers around to do the grinding, using a few tractors as power for the belts involved to run the things. It was mesmerizing to stand at a safe distance and watch the spinning and listen to the spittysandygrindy noises as the flour was milled. Another team of folks took the large trays of fresh, warm flour and scooped it into cloth bags, tossing them on a nearby table for another team to sell. We checked it all out and then bought a still slighlty warm bag for the road. I did a little happy dance, and started thinking of cornbread variations and the possibilities of ingesting to much and getting corn bloat.

Come Monday, with the sourdough fed and looking like it's contemplating some sort of alien flight, it was only natural I'd add some cornflour and start with pizza dough. A touch of whole wheat made it in as well, resulting in it being a third whole grain. We went out and picked some rosemary and thyme and added this with the salt near the end of kneading. After a few hours it had poofed up nicely so I put the stone in the oven for a pre-heat.

Our cherry tomatoes out front are continuing to supply us with fruit so we picked a few cups worth and halved them for a topping. Out back the basil is still hanging on, especially the purple stuff. On Sunday, I finally turned some of our roma harvest into a sauce, so we used this as a base, pressed in basil leaves, finished with cheese and oodles of carmelized onions and we're in business. Then it hit me. All the water I use for my gardening needs at home are from Eb-Mud as we affectionately call it around here, so this pizza is really:
EBRPD Grain + EBMUD watered garden = YUM

Fine with me. I love it when two governmental agencies can get together on something for the betterment of the people. Even when they don't know it. With any luck, someone working for one of these will have some staff member who occasionally trolls about looking for who's saying what about them. On the off chance they are I like you guys. A lot. Please keep up the good work!

Ok, ass-kissing aside, I had to fold some of this dough up, especially since I spotted the calzone fiend out in my tomato patch the hour before and knew he must be on the prowl for a freebie. I tossed in some cheese at the last moment (we didn't have much left) hoping the smell would deter my supertaster quasi-vegan cousin from barging in and mooching on my dinner. Apparently it worked. There's still half in the fridge.

Wednesday found us hitting GTK for more corn meal experiments. I had plenty of buttermilk, eggs and cheese, and the jalapeños I had needed using. But who needs excuses to make cornbread? The weather has started turning crappy round these parts and I've been wanting warm things at all meals. Warm bread in particular.

So how lucky was I, when I pulled the bread from the oven and then remembered my ma saying she had some slow cooked pork roast and veggies in the fridge. I got these out and got some heat into them quick. I unmolded the muffins, having eaten one already since I accidently mangled the top. I pulled another two and a slice off the round to consume with the pork. Together, the flavors danced. The peppers were sweet with just a touch of heat. The freshness of the corn really rang. Damn. I ate until I could hardly breathe. The elder monkey was off with the grandparents and the younger was asleep. The entire scene was too much. I thought, I'm super-hella-lucky. I love my life.

The next day, I'm not sure why exactly, but I just had to make more corn bread. Well, kinda. This stuff was a sandwich loaf of sorts, with about a third of a whole grain component, most of which was corn meal. Because I failed to give my starter any notice of my intent to bake, I cheated and used a packet of commercial yeast. That's right folks. Even the Monkey Wrangler occasionally cheats and uses a form of yeast that will go from pure ingredients to baked loaf in under four hours. But, I did feel a bit silly and was thinking of my friend Chilebrown (who's bacon gift I was about to cook) and his deadly good sourdough jalapeño cheddar bread. Failing in the sourdough department, but still feeling inspired, I added some horseradish jack and a few jalapeños to the dough. The loaf came out beautiful, with all the flavor I had imagined in it coming through. I was proud, as it would allow me yet more cornmeal gluttony.

With the ingredients sliced, baked, fried and ready, it was time for some BAT sandwiches with roasted garlic rosemary potatoes. I'd like to take a moment here and thank Chilebrown for the bacon (it was the pork shoulder bacon from Gene's Market. Did that make it Chandler bacon then CB?) as it was most wonderful and satisfying. I'd also like to apologize to my friend Leena who will read this and want to kill me out of jealousy for having such fine bacon at hand. The poor thing. I guess down under you just can't get good bacon. Well, feast your eyes on this girl. I know the picture doesn't highlight the bacon well, but let me tell you: it was extra crispy.

I've toned it down on the corn madness in the last few days and have been concentrating on the cider. I mean, ciders. So far, so good. If all keeps going like it is, it will be cider not vinegar. So happy. Life is good. Busy, but good.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

fall break

Holy crap, where have I been the past two weeks? Like, there anybody out there still listening? Have I completely lost my audience by now?

(thump thump thump.......a static-y clicking sound over and over) this thing on?

Oh, right, it's about me not the audience, yes that was it. This is a blog not a job, really here to be a collection of thoughts and ideas that need form, direction maybe, at the very least a place to reside. Being that the space is public, you dear reader get to look at what spills out of the head, however occasional it might be. So, where was I?

The end of september was a whirlwind of activity and food preservation, but it did have a few highlights. During one of our wrangler/monkey "date nights" we dropped by the opening party for our friend's new restaurant and got a chance to see a master dessertress in action. The food was delicious, the staff very accommodating and polite, the ambience most tasteful and soothing. But the dessert.......oh, my! Try, like, the cumin pot de creme for starters. Being a party though, we ate gobs of hot fried pastries (not on the menu yet) made outta something called shoe paste, while sitting at a bar or sorts and admiring the green shoed boss run the sweets department. It was witnessing a craft being performed in a niche of heaven. Fried puffs tossed with hot cardamon or rose or fennel or cacao nib, some sugar of course, then maybe some mesquite flour. You name the spice combo it was sublime. We sat around and ate till stuffed. I thought about how I just wanted to sit there all night and do nothing but eat donuts at the bar. I thought of the talking heads: Everybody's trying, to get to the bar. The name of the bar, the bar is called Heaven.

Choux paste, fancy food and delicious drinks aside, the monkey will probably always think of it as the place where she scored a lot of donuts and some tasty ice cream while sitting at a bar with her daddy. I just love building memories.

Speaking of childhood memories.......this was so frickin' satisfying it was nearly criminal. I had some mortadella in the fridge from the BFM and a craving for a sandwich. It brought me back with how rare a treat it was like when as a child, only this was from such a fine source. Nonetheless it reminded me of thirty something years ago. What I needed was some homemeade ketchup and hot mustard to round out the satisfying taste of what I now think of as my modern version of a bologna sandwich. Come to think of it, if the free mortadella had been stolen and not gifted it would definitley be criminal, but sorry to report, it was just nearly so.

The next day, I was out tending to the wild cherry tomatoes that are still going strong (okay, lurking about like some produce criminal) when I noticed that one of the teeny-tiny itty-bitty melons in the front yard was getting soft. I looked both ways down the sidewalk and picked it from the dry looking vine, giving it a whiff and nearly falling over. It smelled fantastic! Could it be true? A decent cantaloupe here in coldville? I brought it inside and hacked it in two. Low and behold it looked good too, even if it was only half size. It wasn't the sweetest thing ever, but damn it smelled good!

........and speaking of sweet! For the first weekend of October, we were stationed in picturesque Calistoga with our family for the wedding of H's brother. The last of the bunch (of 7, so I do mean bunch) just had to out do everyone else's wedding. Needless to say the ceremony was a grand and formal event with hundreds in attendance held in a medieval Tuscan castle, which fortunately was only a five minute ride from our cottage by the river in downtown. The kids held on till after 10 pm, which was quite remarkable. We knew it was time to go when we handed the elder monkey an extravagant looking chocolate dessert that was only met with a looking-through-us blank stare with glazed over eyes. "Sweetie, do you want some dessert?" No. (?!) Oh my, we better leave......

For those who know me in person, yes, in that photo at the castle I am missing some hair. A bit over 10 inches to be exact. I was feeling in of need a trim for the wedding and I figured it was about time for my second donation of hair to a good cause. If you know of anyone with a long rope dangling from their skull or some extra long braids that could lose some major length then send them over to the Locks of Love site. Or if you know someone who has really really long hair and they are resistant to the idea of losing a mere foot of it, then get them drunk and do it for them. When they wake up the next morning tell them it was for the children. If they are still mad then try and deflect their rage by saying something like "well, I guess I shouldn't mention the tattoo on your ass then!"

Back at home it was time to make some english muffins for my one and only customer who wanted to place a special order. Wait, one and only paying customer I should clarify. You see, when she places an order for them I think back to our tutorial earlier in the year and how I am ever grateful for the opportunity to fine tune my methods with a master. The muffins are now something I am rather proud of. To say dear Shuna is the one ordering them is akin to doing that little childhood dance we all know: "She likes mine better! Nyaah, nyaah, nyaaaaah nyaaah, nyaah! I get to make them, not you!" and all the other things or stupid stuff you'd say when you were feeling superior to your peers. It's not much, just some english muffins. And believe me, I know she could make them for herself, and better, but why? She probably has loads of friends willing to make and feed her anything at a moments notice, because in the past she'd shared some part of her knowledge or the most amazing dessert you'd ever had with them.

Speaking of the past, this one wasn't too long ago but if you've ever read this blog you might remember the bacon/chocolate combo thing and how in a vicodin induced stupor I blathered on about how great they are together. With weasel coffee of all things. Well, with the passing of my 135th birthday this week, my partner and monkey made me a choco/choco twisty candled birthday cake, and as a bonus I received a bacon chocolate bar from my older sister (yep, she's 140!) The cake was scrumptious and the bar was rather, uh......unique. It was, well, I mean is since I still have half, actually, really good. No, really. I guess if it was killer I would have snarfed the whole thing in one sitting, but it's salty enough to keep me from over indulging. It's pleasant and familiar somehow, like having a very smooth dark milk chocolate bar with smokey bits of salt in it. Only, after eating it, you realize that some of the smokey salty crunchy bits were bacon as you pick it from your teeth with your tongue. Overall though, the bacon works well with the chocolate. Really. I'm not gonna go start buying them and making a habit out of it, but if you find that the bacon chocolate bar is an itch that just needs scratching, then go find yourself one of these.

So, there you have it. I really have been alive and well, enjoying this love and food filled life, despite the radio silence. Sorry to my friends and fellow bloggers out there who I've failed to drop by and comment on lately. I've been overwhelmed with double-monkeydom and am still working on the groove........