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Archive for June, 2010

Finally, finally we are headlong into summer.  It was 98, wow it’s hot, burning your hands on the steering wheel, sleep with the air conditioning on, degrees here the other day. Huzzah! Summer! We’re finally seeing some “local” signs plastered on the front of the bins at the grocery.  The farmer’s markets stalls are getting more abundant and colorful each week. I’m making icy drinks and watching the condensation run down the glass and puddle on the table.  Thin cotton and linen. Bare feet. Nights on the balcony, wine in hand watching the stars and the moths helplessly throw themselves against the screen trying to get to the light. I like to take late night drives around my neighborhood and see the people gathered on the their front porches,talking and watching the cars drive by. Folks lingering at outdoor tables at restaurants and kids hanging in small groups laughing and telling each other tales. As the earth yields her colors and bright tastes, we seem to become more open ourselves. We’re out there, drinking in the warmth, reaching towards and connecting with each other. The seasons are magical to me, and summer is everyone holding hands, faces to the sun, smelling peaches and corn and peppers.

But wait!  This is about melons, right?  Yeah, melons.  Most of the time, I just cut those babies open and eat them. No adornments necessary. Watermelon most of all. Just looking at watermelons makes me think of being little, at a picnic table with friends, having giant slices of watermelon on paper plates. Biting right into the middle, each end reaching almost to your ears, juice streaking every chin and neck, hands to elbows. Oh, and smiles as big as those slices. Great stuff. Well, this is a bit more sophisticated. A little more nuanced and complex. Don’t worry, it’s still fun. Fun! Watermelon! Yeah! Right, right, cool and sophisticated, and really, really de-ee-e-lish. (more…)

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Quietly last November, a shop opened in Lodo that I think should have been accompanied by fireworks, bands playing, and lines of people.  The name of the shop is EVOO Marketplace. Yes, EVOO, but this is beyond the stuff that Rachel Ray glugs over everything. Olive oil and Balsamic vinegar like you’ve never seen before. In all kinds of flavors, like Persian Lime and Wild Mushroom and Sage olive oils, a Honey-Ginger and a Dark Chocolate Balsamic.  Mick and Carolyn Major, the creative minds behind this exciting venture will pair oils and vinegar together in combinations that will send you into a dream state just thinking of all things you’ll want to put it on.  The store is a gem, with high ceiling and brick walls, and lots of room to walk around the banks of stainless steel “fusti” that the oils and vinegar are kept in.

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For 15 years, I’ve been looking for a meatball as good as the ones my ex-mother-in-law made.  As far as I’m concerned they don’t exist. There were no secret ingredients, no magic potions, no unusual cooking tricks. Simple, straightforward meatballs. I can tell you what’s in them, ground beef (she preferred triple ground) italian seasoned breadcrumbs, water, salt, pepper, and a grate of romano cheese. She browned them in oil on all sides and plopped them in the pot of sauce to finish cooking. That’s it. I’ve done it a hundred times. I’ve made them start to finish with her standing next to me. They NEVER tasted as good. I was convinced that there was some chemical reaction that took place when she rolled them in her hands that was the difference. I have no explanation for it, it doesn’t make a bit of sense, but it’s true. When you put one of her meatballs in your mouth, the lights when off in your brain, all your senses stood up and paid attention, and you thought, “Ooohhhhh, this is what a meatball is supposed to taste like!” and then ate every one on your plate (and anyone else’s plate you could get them off). From that moment on, it’s over for you as far as meatballs are concerned. I’ve had them everywhere and nothing compares.

So, what do you do when faced with the knowledge that the best beef meatball is unobtainable?  You look for different meatballs, made from other meats, in varying sizes, in endless combinations of ingredients. Let me tell you, there are some GREAT meatballs out there. This is a search that’s fun to be on.  Ok, a bit more than a search. An obsession. A small, quiet, no one ever knew it existed obsession. Anyway. I have found some great ones. I found a lamb and risotto meatball that’s so good I’ll knock you off your chair to eat yours. A pork meatball so soft and yielding stuffed into a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich that will just floor you. Then there are these. Now I’m not sure they are in the category of the best thing ever, but they’re pretty damn good. I found them bookmarked in a last years copy of Gourmet (don’t you still miss that magazine?) and finally made them. They’re flavorful, with a lovely texture. Like me, I think you’ll going to think of so many things to put them in, and like me, look down and realize you ate four of them (I know, but I was hungry!) while you were daydreaming.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.* I had everything I needed to make almost anything in the house. I couldn’t muster up even the slightest interest in cooking. When did this happen? I woke up a few mornings ago and after brushing my teeth stood in the kitchen thinking “Isn’t there anything here that doesn’t have to be cooked?” Huh? So not like me. No idea of why. Well, maybe I know. I had a bad week, cooking wise. I pulled out all the stops, buying the ingredients I needed for the recipes I had bookmarked, made sure I had the correct pots, pans and whatever else I needed. I arranged the week so plenty of time was available. It was downhill from there. Let me break it down for you. #1, disaster. #2, Meh, not good enough to talk about. #3, Great! But I forgot to take pictures. #4, I have no idea what that was in that pan. It overflowed and jacked my stove up, and the only thing in common that it had with the recipe was it was brown. Yeah. #5, Well I didn’t exactly get to #5. I got the stuff out, but the previous 4 had me shook, and I put it all away. I called for Thai take out and called it a day. Or week. Whichever, better to forget it all. So there you have it. I fell flat on my butt in the middle of the no cooking zone.

Late at night a day or so later, I was clicking my way through my favorite cooking blogs when my eye fell upon David Lebovitz’s post for an “Easy Jam Tart”.  Looked good. Reading the recipe, it did look easy. After looking around a bit, it seemed all my favorite bloggers had made this recipe and all had been successful. In fact, the praise for the ease and simplicity of it was unanimous. Was this it? The one? Could this pull me out of the no cooking zone and back to my happy cooking self? I decided it was. All I needed was a sure thing to boost my confidence a bit. After a week like the one I had, can you blame me for being a bit wary of cooking? So, here’s the thing. They didn’t lie. It is that easy. It was really good. Sometimes you forget that baking (or cooking) doesn’t have to be complicated or hours on end involved. Sure, stretching your cooking chops is fun. Learning new methods and techniques is great. Occasionally you’re going to completely duff it. Just go back to simple. It will totally reset you. Make this. You can make this. Trust me, I’m a woman who knows how badly things can go in the kitchen. You can do this, you’re going to have fun doing it, and you’ll blush from all the compliments you’ll receive.

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