Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pavlova, Schaum Torte, or a Walk on the Moon?

I've been cleaning out the freezer, making way for the harvest of the new growing season. There were egg whites left over from my spring yen for yolks.  I read somewhere you could freeze them for later. Well later came and its true, they whipped into a hella divine meringue. 

I'm not one for sweets, but a recent trip to Wisconsin after the recall, triggered a recall of a sugary part of my childhood called Schaum Torte, a traditional German dessert - named "Schaum" meaning "foam" in German. Later in life my girlfriend Patience, a fabulous cook, introduced me to a similar dessert called Pavlova, a traditional recipe of New Zealand - named for the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who took a fancy to the light dessert on one of her tours. Both are meringues, basically sugar and egg whites whipped to a stiff peaked frenzy and slowly baked. The result is a chewy sweet marshmallowy mess, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, typically slathered with whipped cream, heaped with fresh berries, kiwis, ice cream, or whatever happens to be in your larder worth desserting.

I'm not one to preach the benefits of egg whipping or reiterate confections of international origin. Recipes, how-tos, and theories about both dishes abound on the web. There are foodies and bloggers and recipe hounds out there with much more finesse than myself.  My fascination lies simply in the process of transformation and the symbolism therein, a way of Being in the kitchen, the heart of the home.  It's a wonder of alchemy that a slimy colorless egg white could morph into heavenly fluff and so much fun can be had just beating it. Who dreamed this up? Cooking is not always about eating or the feeding and pleasing of others. There are days it turns to artistic expression, if only to please the imagination of the artist who happens to be cooking.

The aha moment for this post unfolded during a frustrating photo shoot; me fumbling with the light, not getting it right, same old boring pie in your face picture to accompany a floppy story called, "The Blob That Came From The Oven." After several unsuccessful takes I stepped back, took a breath, and returned to my mantra, "Try New Things." Squinting, I looked at the hot mess from another angle, then a little closer, going in a little closer, going in...when out of the blue the light bulb turned on in my head and angels started singing "In Egg Shells is Deo!"
Suddenly my meringue came to life,
spouting new twists,
erotic fantasies with soft body contours in secret places,
walks on lunar landscapes,
spirits of the ancestors.

Images enlarged to wall size, were framed and hung in galleries to amuse artsy types sipping white wine, and graced the walls of swanky Manhattan offices . . .
 just messing around.

"Try New Things" is a mantra I live by, and one I like to share. It keeps the mind fresh, inventive, youthful and open to starting over. Thinking new unsticks the stuck in your ways.

 Get outside the box by creating a new one. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Just Beets

Catch of the Day

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Damn Good Portuguese Kale and Bean Soup

This recipe is from Marta, gourmand extraordinaire, Bocce Ball Teammate, and fellow Santa Cruz Mountain Gourmet Dinner Club Member.    
She made this soup for for our Bocce pregame picnic this week.
Fired up by hearty vittles, we played to win!

Onward to the championship finals!
Go Gourmet!
Got the T Shirt...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ode to Compost

                  If asked to wax poetic about compost, mincing words, I'd go beatnik style:
"I dig compost.
I dig it the most."

As any gardener will attest, compost is gold, the composition of decomposition, a metaphor for the Eternal Circle of Life. To get all scholarly about it, compost is a word of Latin origin coming from the word “compositus” (to compose, or put together), “com” – together plus “ponere” – to place. In this case placing together different substances that decompose (or fall apart), to produce a newly composed substance composed of rotted organic materials called “humus” (from Latin meaning “earth, soil”).

The earliest writings about compost known today were written on clay tablets but the great wisdom concerning the art of composting hasn't changed:
Shit makes makes stuff grow better.

As one of my garden mentors tactfully pointed out, there's a big difference between dirt and soil. Dirt is dirty. Soil take skills to craft and years to build.

Here at Voss Gardens, dense clay and high mineral content in the water create the terroir that makes our vegetables taste so robust, but it is a constant challenge to bring rich texture and fertility into the soil that produces the produce. The horses next door contribute grandly to the cause with manure we haul uphill and matters getting wasted in the kitchen and garden devotedly lend their dynamic decay to the heap.

Back from my foray into the foods of the Heartland, I returned to find a little village of volunteers camped out in my compost on the back 40 - pumpkins, tomatoes and sunflowers. The sturdy plants have found a home in ground that hasn't been watered in over a month. They are flowering and will soon bear fruit! Growing up without me, warms my green heart... Let's hear it for the pile!

Friday, June 15, 2012

**WISCONSIN FOOD MEMORIES** Part 1 - Ice Cream, Corn and Aphrodisiacs; Part 2 - Cheese, Wieners and the Bakery; Part 3 - Oshkosh Bread, Fish Fry and Foie Gras

I spent last week down memory lane in Watertown, Wisconsin. My 90 year old parents are downsizing and I got to get down with them.  The process of sifting thru closets and drawers and sorting out the accumulated stuff of their 66 year marriage aroused a myriad of emotions, but my mom’s “get er done” attitude prevailed. In the midst of the shuffle our meals together provided a sense of stability. Mom and dad were always three squares a day types and both were skilled cooks. Their tastes in old age are simple and wholesome, recipes that blend prepackaged and from scratch. Meals are ceremonies of familiarity, giving my dad regular chores to keep his failing mind occupied. My mom rises to the occasion and pulls spectacular desserts out of her hat. Sitting once again at the family table stirred up a number of childhood food memories, images that formed my flair. Aside from the political climate of the recent governor recall election, running errands around town took me to places that kindled a recall of growing up in America’s Dairyland. Camera in tow, I captured a few highlights.

Mullens Dairy Bar remains an enduring Watertown landmark. I remember watching the big milk tankers loading moo juice from the farms into the dairy. Inside, after skimming the cream off the top, the milk was bottled into returnable glass jugs - recycled was not a household word. Drivers in cute little white trucks transported the jugs to customers on their milk routes. They kept their cool with blocks of ice. We had a “milk chute” built right into the wall of our kitchen for deliveries.

Meanwhile, back at the dairy, the rich cream was churned on sight. The front of the dairy was an ice cream parlor serving up the latest scoop. On muggy summer nights we’d pile into the old Buick we nicknamed Ginger and daddy would take us out for ice cream cones. Blackberry marble was my favorite.

Mullens is still on Main Street, half a block from St. Bernard’s grade school.We’d go there after class to flirt with the boys, sharing nickel cherry cokes at the soda fountain-one glass, two straws.

Sweet corn had religious overtones in our house. I’m still a believer and corny, to boot. Anticipation ran high among the faithful, awaiting the first golden fruits from the best growers. The local farmers parked in front of the old armory and sold their morning harvest from the backs of their trucks. They would sell out by noon. It was Farmers Market every day during corn season. Ears sold for a dollar a dozen and a dozen was 13. Go figure.
I took ballet lessons inside the armory. After class I’d sit outside waiting for mom to pick me up and chat with the farmers. They were friendly and kind. One day, an old guy reached deep into his overalls, handed me a penny, and told me to get myself an all day sucker. I guess these days he could be considered a pervert.
Back home with the corn, we’d take turns shucking. Someone put the water on, setting in motion the hustle to see how fast we could get it in the pot. It was all about how fresh. Some nights we just had corn for dinner, washed down with Mullen’s milk. You’d roll that steaming ear right into a stick of butter, shake a little salt on it and dive into corn heaven. My dad was the most fervent devotee, his horn-rimmed glasses steaming up as he reveled in corn ecstasy. While the empty cobs piled up on the side of his plate, us kids would toy with how many rows we could chomp at once, or race and compare take down patterns, row by row vs. round and round. My mom’s red lipstick would smear all over her corn cobs. If you happened to be missing some front teeth that summer you were screwed, forced to chew from the side and getting butter all across your cheeks, or, heaven forbid, have it cut it off the cob.
"Knee high by the Fourth of July hey!"

A Midwestern girl, I never saw the ocean until my late teens. The closest thing I knew to that kind of raw power was a cornfield that stretched to the horizon. The endless rows, photosynthesizing at a high rate within a short growing season, teemed with life force. Later in life, we’d get high and wander in the fields all night listening to the corn grow. It was far out man.

Zwieg's Grill was the place to go after high school basketball games. My boyfriend played on the team. After he showered and basked in victory or defeat we’d meet at Zwieg's with post game appetites He would get a cheeseburger. I, ever the vegetable lover, preferred onion rings or french fries. Fueled by greasy aphrodisiacs and teenage hormones we’d snuggle into his Chevy Impala and drive to Riverside Park.

The park was built during the depression,
a WPA project which provided much needed jobs and left the town with a treasure. The quiet road that passes through the park runs above a quadrant of baseball diamonds surrounded by terraced grass bleachers.

Affectionately referred to as ‘The Terraces” it was the local Lovers’ Lane. Maybe it still is.
We’d find a spot among a few other cars with the same idea, stop the motor, and make out like crazy. The windows would steam up and yes, some nights we got to first base.


No matter how you cut it, you can’t grow up in Wisconsin without cheese and cheesy idioms. I’m not recalling a lot of strong cheese moments except it was always there. We were a cheddar household, variety meant mild, medium, sharp or extra sharp. Nothing fancy, we’d get the best available from the corner cheese shop a few doors down from the butcher. Cheddar made everything better; saltine crackers, apples, sandwiches, burgers, casseroles, even Sunday night pizza. It somehow worked its way into mom’s infamous Thursday Night Goulash, aka-clean out the fridge day. We ate grilled cheese sandwiches like other kids ate peanut butter and jelly. Of course what we were really jonesing for were those individually plastic wrapped Kraft American slices or Velveeta. My mom gave in after a while.

Most of the small cheese factories in South Eastern Wisconsin were abandoned by the 50’s. I remember passing them on country roads, overgrown with weeds, windows broken and roofs collapsed. The structures themselves remained intact. Made of large boulders gathered from the surrounding terrain, their cave-like design provided the built in temperature controls needed for aging. No doubt the land was cleared stone by stone to make room for the pastures that made room for the corn that fed the cows that made the milk that made the cheese that the corporations now made. Present day foodies are spawning new breeds of food artisans who are rediscovering the art of cheese making and reviving some of the old factories.

We never ate hot dogs. Weeee had to eat weeeeeners bought fresh from the butcher shop down the block from my parents’ jewelry store. I just wanted to be normal and eat regular hot dogs like the other kids. The other kids on the other hand, wanted to eat our grilled brats pre-cooked in beer and red onions.

Fendt Brothers have been making wieners, brats, bologna and sausage in this building since 1919. My high school pal, Bonnie Fendt, lived upstairs. They have a wonderful collection of memorabilia in the shop. Every visit to Watertown means a stop at Fendts to pick up goodies to take back to Watertown Wiener fans on the West Coast.

It was often my chore to pick up the weekly order at Bayer's, the other meat market, now closed. My siblings and I thought the butcher was hilarious and would crack up mimicking his thick German/Midwestern accent. At the time, he was the closest we ever got to a stand up comedian. His sales pitch was always the same; he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
The scenario would go something like this:

Me shopping, reading from my mom’s neatly written list,
”A ring of bologna please.”
The Butcher, in a blood stained apron, painfully limping, missing a finger or two,
“2 dozen wieners.”
“2 dozen brats.”
“2 pounds of hamburger”
“That’s all.”
‘That’s it!"
"Will dat be awl?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Sum-ting eltse?”
“NO, thank you!!”
“Andt, Sum-ting eltse?"
One was never sure if he was for real or not,
but that wiener man certainly fed my sense of humor.

Guess you had to be there...

The Central Bake Shop was my first job outside the family jewelry store. I worked the front counter selling bread and pastries. I had to wear a dorky white uniform and a hair net. I savored the smell of fresh bread coming out of the big ovens on those early Saturday mornings, but to this day I can’t stomach doughnuts or sweet rolls.

Today it’s a Panaderia and Pasteleria, sign of the times.


Saint Bernard's Church, the towering Catholic edifice that influenced much of my childhood.

Saint Bernard's Parochial School was next door to the church. It was built in 1897. My mom went there, as did all of her 5 children.
In my early elementary years we went to mass every day at 8am. According to custom, we had to fast three hours before Holy Communion. That meant no breakfast at home. Mom or dad would pack us fried egg sandwiches and wrap them in foil to keep them warm. We’d file into the classroom after church and break our fast. Big time comfort food- the body of Christ chased with a runny yoked egg on toasted Oshkosh bread dripping in butter.
We never got to eat Wonder Bread. My dad insisted that his family eat real bread from his hometown bakery. He’d load up on it in Oshkosh during visits to relatives, or have it shipped on the bus, then stash it in the freezer.

Growing up Catholic meant we never ate meat on Fridays. I forget why, but we were one step ahead of Paul McCartney and those meatless Monday advocates. Along with this dogma we faithfully observed the rite of Friday Night Fish Fry. Stores stayed open until 9 one night a week in those days-Fridays/payday. So while dad watched the store, mom took us out. Fish fries were typically an all you could eat affair, a bargain for large Catholic families. My financially savvy mother never missed a trick. The Knights of Columbus, Rosary Altar Society, and other Catholic groups would sponsor fish fries.The coleslaw was homemade, the bread was rye, and the fish was perch, no salt water nearby ya know.

Occasionally we would go rogue and fish and chip at the Sharp Corner Tavern.
Mom probably needed a beer.
Today its an office.

While other high schools had mascots like Lions or Eagles or Pirates, we were the Goslings. What kind of mascot is that? A cheerleader, it was awkward for me to holler, “We are the Goslings, the mighty mighty Goslings, everywhere we go-oh, people want to know-oh, who we are!”

Well I wanted to know!
What makes a baby goose mighty?
One of Watertown's many historic murals.
Back in the early 1900’s Watertown was famous for its stuffed geese. Their livers were made into Pate De Foie Gras, a sought after delicacy in the high end restaurants of New York City. German immigrant farmers from the Alsace region force fed their geese by shoving noodles down their long necks, an old world tradition. The “noodling” caused the birds’ flesh to firm and livers to enlarge. Stuffed and unable to move, they were stuffed again into crates and shipped live by train to the east coast. “Watertown Stuffed Goose” appeared on affluent tables, and menus of luxurious ocean liners and first class dining cars. It was a flourishing local business that put Watertown on the map, and that, my friends, is how the high school mascot got its name.
Go Goslings Go!

hmmm...whatever....Happy Pride!

Tha tha tha...that's all folks!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

BBQ Fava Beans and Carrots with Balsamic Dipping Sauce

In my neck of the woods, Fava Beans are "A Listers" on the “What’s Seasonal Now” list. These noble legumes are all the rage for their smoky notes, hulky nutrition and soil nitrogen fixing properties-Voss Garden Super Stars. I’ve planted in fall and I’ve planted in February and I like February better, less chance for diseases and bugs. Favas are particularly susceptible to aphids, and standing tall, need props for good posture. Otherwise they are easy to grow but so time consuming to prepare.

Short on time? Just let them go, harvest the whole plant at once, separate the pods, and hang them to dry in paper bags. After a few weeks, the big Lima sized seeds will separate easily from their husks. Store them in glass jars and bring a decorative touch to your kitchen. Later, soaked and simmered, they stand on their own as a hearty dish or add gusto to a soup or stew. Puréed favas blend into a distinctive hummus. Some gluten free nuts even make their own fava flour.

Fresh fava beans are so delicious I don’t want to miss out on their moment, but all that shucking and blanching and peeling is labor intensive. I love to cook, but I love to host and entertain too. How to do it all with grace and style? No worries mate, go fire up the Barbie and let your guests do the prep and eat at the same time.

Barbequed Fava Beans
Prep a few hours ahead or on the fly.

Place whole fava pods on a cookie sheet, drizzle lightly with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Stir.
Place sheet in BBQ on medium high, cover, allowing pods to steam for 15-20 minutes
Halfway through cooking, stir and sprinkle with kosher salt and smoked paprika
When pods are limp remove from heat. Set out a bowl for the discarded pods.
Roll up your sleeves, its gonna get messy. Dig in-hands on. Separate the beans from the pods like shelling edamame, or dunk the whole pods in the Balsamic Dipping Sauce* and suck out the beans. The pods taste so good you may want to eat them too. Say yes to a fiber fest!

I had some roasted carrots leftover from a previous post in the freezer. (see “Led By A Carrot”3/17/12, for how to roast) Thawed and just warmed on the grill, the carrots play nice with the beans, not only colorful but taste amazing!
P.S. For more fava fun and recipes see previous post, “Fava Four Way4/17/2010

*Balsamic Dipping Sauce
We originally made this for salad dressing, but it was so good we took a dip.

¼ c balsamic vinegar
¾ c olive oil
1 generous Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
3 cloves garlic
salt to taste
tons of fresh black pepper
put all ingredients in the food processor and let her rip

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Saturday, June 2
plant out watercress in clumps in upper beds
plant out purple bush beans, Willow Bed front
plant out Blue Lake Beans, Willow Bed cage w/favas, cage in Scott Bed
set gopher traps in Bed 5, Edge 2, Gabe Bed
plant out moss and wooley thyme ground covers off bedroom deck where roses were removed
Sunday, June 3
dig out 2 heirloom volunteer tomatos (yellow plum?) from Gabe Bed
amend holes and replant in Gabe Bed and Sam Bed in pot
thin out sunflowers from Little Farm rows, replant in kitchen beds and big pots
June 4-June 12
Wednesday, June 13
back, nothing died, harvest for Jessica Theroux
Jimmy and crew still working on retaining wall
Friday, June 15
take out lettuces, Bed 3, give away
Saturday, June 16
plant out Persian Cukes  - end of Beds 3, 4, and Edge
take out red mizuna, Long Bed and Wall 2
take out snow peas, Gabe right
take out snow peas, Gabe right
Sunday, June 17
plant out space saver cukes in Sam Bed
plant out pumpkins, Gabe Right, Magnolia, end of Sam
plant out red sunflowers, new Cherry Bed
Monday, June 18
harvest for chef
take out snap peas, Gabe Left
all lettuces out of Bed 3 but for seed plants
plant out rest of kolrabi, Level 2, wall
turn, amend and prep Long Bed for lettuce planting
plant out nasturtiums and lupin in Cherry Bed
"                                               " in Kitchen Bed
take out arugula in big pots and Cherry Bed
Tuesday, June 19
seed plant, shaker method, lettuce (2mixes) Long Bed, arugula/Cherry Beds, cover
take out all favas, turn Edge 2,
set up netting in Kitchen Bed for SR beans
pot up in gallons, "Love Lies Bleeding","Erotic Love", Spanish Thyme, spikey grasses
Daryll working on irrigation
Josh bringing in horse manure
Wednesday, June 20
shop for pepper starts, new sprinklers
experiment with sprinklers
turn Edge 2, amend, plant out space cukes
plant out Scarlett Runner Beans in Kitchen Bed
prep Willow Bed for SR Beans
Thursday, June 21
gopher in Kitchen Bed grrrrr
plant out  6 Anaheim and 1 pimento peppers in pots, Kitchen Beds
plant out eggplant in pots, Kitchen Beds
plant out Delecata Squash, onions, amaranth, Edge/Level 2
plant out SR Beans, Willow Bed
plant out yellow cosmos, here and there
plant out micro brassica mix and red-veined amaranth in Long Bed
start in flats, butternut squash, Italian parsley, opal and thai basil
got the gopher, yay
Saturday, June 23
take out lettuce in back of bean cages, Top - harvest for dinner
rework irrigation in front of house around new retaining wall, rearrange pots,etc.
plant out bronze fennel, purple oregano, lemon balm, New Room Bed
cut back artichokes, Bed 1
pot into 1/2 gallons, oregano, sage, zinnias, nicotinia
Sunday, June 24
further tweek irrigation in front
damn gopher in Edge 2
prepare holes for melons, Gabe/Left
take out all beets
take out arugula in Kitchen and Cherry Beds, harvest for chef
Monday, June 25
first squash blossoms, zuchinni is setting
harvest for chef, take out lettuce on Edge 2 and top behind beans
turn and amend Edge 2, Cherry and Kitchen Beds, prepare for planting
Darryl put in medicine plant, irrigation
pm session, plant out melons and corn, Gabe/Left
Arugula up, 5 days
Wednesday, June 27
landscape out steps in guest room
pot up basil,(bought starts at Mountain Feed) some for cloche,
some planted out in Gabe Bed Right (leaky irrigation, very wet)
cage volunteer tomatoes
plant out 2 pablano peppers in pots, front of New Room
Thursday, June 28
got gopher, Wall 2, set more traps, quite a problem this year
seed plant lettuces, shaker method, Wall 2, Top, cover
seed plant arugula, shaker, Cherry and Kitchen Beds, cover
thin out arugula and plant starts, Cherry Beds

Friday, June 1, 2012

My Big Fat Wedding Brunch

I got married last weekend. It was a small ceremony on the beach followed by brunch at home.The reception will be in September, also in our home at Voss Gardens.

The brunch for 14 was orchestrated by my wildly creative partner in food fun, personal chef Jon Lagardere, and sous chef Josh, our live-in stagiaire for Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos. The menu featured cuisine from our garden, which we harvested together in grand celebratory style the night before. Our  Divine Light Minister, a dear old friend, and his charming wife, my Maid of Honor/Beck and Call Girl, also played a key part in the food gathering ritual.

While we were on the beach saying our vows, the chefs scurried around the kitchen like elves making magic. We came home to a wonderland of freshly picked flowers, a table set with elegance, chilled champagne and copious platters of select cheeses, spreads, and fruits. Bottles were popped, toasts were made, people milled and mingled, sat down, feasted, and toasted some more. Then we made beautiful music together,
at least we thought we did.

My Big Fat Wedding Brunch Menu

 Voss Garden Artichokes with Garlic Aioli
 Voss Garden Arugula Salad, garnished with Blood Sorrel, Orach and Nasturtiums
dressed with German Baked Eggs and Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
 Savory Crepes filled with San Francisco Bay Dungeness Crab and creme fresh,
adorned with smoked salmon and fresh Voss Garden sorrel sauce
 Mom's Cherry Pie
Hubby's Homemade Loquat Ice Cream

Let the revelry begin!