Talking About Thinking About Food *

* with apologies to I.’s podcast “Talking About Thinking About Records”

It’s funny how vacation works, isn’t it? You dive in with ambition: goals! Plans! But the first thing you want to do is relax, right? I mean, you need some definite time for relaxing, especially if the vacation starts with a holiday that requires preparation. And then once you’ve relaxed for a week… or maybe two… you start thinking about those plans. You start one of them. You consider another. And then when you clear your head again, there are only three days left before work starts again, and you realize that since you can’t accomplish everything you set out to do, it would be better to just stubbornly do nothing, telling yourself you are enjoying the time left as hard as you can.

At least, that’s what you do if you’re me. I had six tasks written down that I wanted to accomplish over the winter break. I did two of them. At first I was fairly gung-ho. I embarked on one of my big projects, but circumstances were more complicated than intended, and then a few things took longer than I thought, and there were shows to watch, and a dog who needed attention, and a husband who wanted the same, and suddenly it was February and I had to start thinking about my classes for the impending semester.

One of the tasks I had set for myself, as it seems I always do during breaks, and always fail to fulfill, was to create a backlog of posts so that for the first month of school, I would already have something ready to go and thus stay ahead of the curve, if a week lacking in time or inspiration came along. But in the actual weeks when I should have been doing this, I was by turns uninspired and resentful. I realize that this blog isn’t my job – it’s my hobby! But sometimes, because I give myself a weekly deadline, it feels like a job. Therefore, when I start to think about plotting out and executing a recipe, especially if that’s going to involve doing a round (or two) of dishes first, I feel like I’m giving up my vacation. Even though this is supposed to be my fun “work.”

So clearly I don’t have a recipe for you this week. “Just post a photo of food!” my mom said when I talked to her this weekend. But I’m a writer more than a photographer, so instead I thought I’d tell you a little about some of the food I ate during this break, and some of the dishes I’m thinking about now. I can’t promise all – or any! – of them will appear here, but maybe it will be a good way, as I teeter on the precipice of the new semester, of getting me back into all of my “jobs,” not just the one I get paid for.  🙂

The best thing I ate over the break may have been the dessert my sister, my mom and I made for Christmas. This year, we decided on a theme of “spiced.” Breaking from our appetizer tradition, we made a sit-down dinner, and everything in the meal – in fact, everything we ate all day (minus the odd chocolate truffle) – had to have a spiced component. Apple cardamom cake for breakfast, avocado toast with dukkah for lunch; N. even brewed a winter-spiced ale to fit the theme. Dessert, then, was an opportunity to show off all those warm tingling flavors in the spice cupboard, which we did with a trifle. In a huge balloon of a wine glass, we layered chunks of Mom’s best gingerbread, dollops of nutmeg and rum custard, ginger apple compote, and a generous heap of whipped cream. It was an indulgent project to dig your spoon all the way down and pick up a taste of everything, but the components went together perfectly, and the custard and compote were sufficiently rich, and the whipped cream, well, creamy enough, that you couldn’t tell I’d overbaked the gingerbread just a touch… Actually, I do have a photo of this one:

Other break foods that were definitively worth eating included the lamb burger from the recently shuttered San Francisco location of Park Chow, perfectly medium in the center and so juicy it required rolled-up sleeves. I tried a deliciously crunchy Hong Kong style crispy noodle dish at a Chinese restaurant near my parents’ house and wanted nothing else for two days. We made a lightly amended version of Melissa D’Arabian’s wine braised pork tacos that went over extremely well, especially with bright red cabbage strands and chunks of avocado on top. Perhaps most recently, we took a large, lightly toasted pavlova topped with stewed berries, toasted almonds, and amaretto whipped cream as a dessert offering for dinner with friends with a severe wheat allergy. The pillowy, marshmallowy center hidden inside the light crispness of the meringue’s exterior is a revelation.

Looking forward, I have an eclectic mix of things I think sound good. I’ve finally caught N.’s taco bug and now I just want them all the time. This week I’m taking an Ottolenghi recipe for squash that drizzles butternut batons with an herb oil and dollops them with yogurt, and folding them into a tortilla because why not? I’m dreaming of a winter taco that involves beer braised beef, shaved brussels sprouts, and definitely some radish. Maybe a horseradish crema of some sort. On the sweet side, I’m thinking about cookies studded with dried apricots and white chocolate, and just this morning (well, I guess it will be yesterday morning when this goes live) I thought about how lovely a thick, densely crumbed chocolate loaf cake – almost fudgy – would be topped with a light frosting, maybe a swiss buttercream or the like, flavored with something unusual. Marmalade, maybe, or ginger. Or tea.

And then of course I have my Chopped Challenge. N. tells me he has the entrée “basket” of ingredients for February worked out, so maybe that’s what I’ll have to share with you next week. Until then, be well, and tell me what you’re loving (or dreaming of) eating!

Photo “Friday”

Between a conference this weekend and a lot of business that did and didn’t get done, no chance of a recipe today. Instead, here are a few food-related shots I’ve taken recently. It’s not Friday (why isn’t it Friday?), but enjoy nonetheless!

Lemons and lavender.

 

My favorite old napkins, ready to do their job one more time.

 

Best shaped (and tallest, and fluffiest) sourdough loaves to date.

Save

Save

Rain check + Photo… Monday?

I haven’t been the most reliable of posters lately, I know, but it is “that time of the term.” Next week there’s a long weekend, which I’m using to do a little recipe developing. Till then, as a consolation prize, here are a few non-recipe related photos I’ve played with and liked the looks of. Enjoy, and have a lovely week!

2016-food-blog-march-0530Lots ‘o lemons

2016-photo-fridaysLoved the mix of browns and the uneven curve of the bowls in my cabinet.

2016-photo-fridays-2Playing with depth of field.

2016-photo-fridays-0268Strange layers and crevices of a brainy head of cauliflower.

 

Photo Essay: Goat House Brewing

Coming back feels like starting over. How do I do this? What do I sound like? Which words should tumble onto the page first? In an article from The New Yorker about language intimacy and its ties to relationship intimacy and communication, Lauren Collins notes that “Bilinguals overwhelmingly report that they feel like different people in different languages. It is often assumed that the mother tongue is the language of the true self. In many ways, it remains the primal vehicle… But, if first languages are reservoirs of emotion, second languages can be rivers undammed, freeing their speakers to ride different currents.”

Though I write and speak in English – it is my first and (aside from garbled, declension-less memories of high school Spanish and college Latin) only language – I have always felt that the spoken and written form of a language might as well be two different tongues (one of which doesn’t require the tongue at all). Thus, though I’ve talked about food consistently during the weeks we’ve been apart, I haven’t written about it (or about much of anything) at all. You can chalk this up to issues of vacation, politics, heat, social justice, laziness, or good old writer’s block, but the result is the same as a month off from practicing a different language: the water in that pool feels cold, and awkward, and heavy. This is why, for my students, coming back even after the summer makes writing feel ungainly and foreign – it is. It’s another language. It’s hard to float when you’ve spent a month on the solid ground you knew first.

So instead of plunging, I’m coming in from the shallow end, a few steps at a time. More recipes to come, I promise; there are only a few weeks before school starts and I want to have a good back-log to keep us going, plus there’s that whole 2016 blog challenge I took on in January that I’m doing so well with… But for today, as my first step back into the pool, I want to offer you something different.

Part one of our vacation was a visit with N’s parents. They live in northern California, in the same town he grew up in. This town, its sleepy rural character disrupted only by railroad and pottery booms, is now a distant outskirt to Sacramento and decidedly in the “suburb” category, boasting itself as an All-America City with wood-planked “downtown” area and well-marked signage advertising the “Wine Trail” in the outer reaches of the city.

When we first started visiting N’s parents there as a couple, every time we drove through town he would remark on something that had changed. Family grocers became Walmart. Undeveloped fields became track housing. He’s now able, thanks to the number of new roads, to get lost in the city he grew up in.

The one area of the sleepy old town that remains is where N’s grandmother lives: on an old ranch house a ways outside the center of town. We visit her when we make the pilgrimage through, and the last few times we’ve noticed signs for a relative newcomer to the scene: Goat House Brewing.

2016 Summer-0123

Brewery’s sign from the road

Around since late 2013, Goat House is the epitome of local. Their taproom is a converted barn. They grow their own hops – about 20 varieties – which they use in their brews. They experiment and collaborate and incorporate hometown ingredients – hop honey from their own vines in a light honey ale, Valencia oranges from their orchard in a Belgian, and an interesting wine-beer blend using a red wine made less than three miles away. It’s a very vertical, rather than horizontal, business plan – there is no sense that Goat House wants to stretch outward, only that they want to work closely and deeply with what is nearby. Because they are only open four days a week, until this recent visit we hadn’t had a chance to stop by.

Logo inside the barn

Logo inside the barn

This particular day, we spent an hour or so with N’s grandmother, listening as she coasted through stories about far-flung relatives and trying together to work out how the slim, distant branches of the family tree weave together. As we headed out to the car, we’d already decided to stop at Goat House Brewing on the way home. After receiving a friendly, detailed run through the tap offerings, we selected our first pours and settled in on the picnic style tables made from wood salvaged from an old stadium in San Francisco. It was in the mid-90s, but there was a breeze blowing through the barn’s wide open doors on either side, and we spent a comfortable hour or so sampling and enjoying this little sparkle at the end of a dusty drive.

Growlers ready to be filled

Growlers ready to be filled

So here are some glimpses of Goat House Brewing, a place we’re already planning to return to when we next pass through N’s hometown, to try new flavors, to chat with the owners, to see Rory the donkey and Georgia the dog; to carve out a space of familiarity in this new-old city.

Hop vines awaiting a harvest

Hop vines awaiting a harvest

Hide and seek goat!

Hide and seek goat!

Georgia, the brewhouse dog

Georgia, the brewhouse dog

2016 Summer-0080

“Baciami Prima” (“kiss me first”) – intriguing wine-beer blend. All the mustiness of a wine cellar and all the funk of a Belgian in one deep purple pour.

A “Dark Side” (left – their stout: creamy and roasty with hints of coffee and chocolate) and a “Row Hoe” (right – a red ale on nitro that I didn’t taste)

foam trails from the Dark Side

foam trails from the Dark Side

A brewery and taproom called Goat House better have some goats, and indeed they are right out back behind the barn (along with Rory the donkey, who helps keep them safe)

2016 Summer-01052016 Summer-00992016 Summer-01022016 Summer-01082016 Summer-0106

See you next week, when I hope my treading water in this form of my language will have smoothed, with the application of both kitchen and keyboard, into more practiced strokes.

Save

Save

Save

Photo… Monday?

I ran out of time for new recipes this week,* the result of a stack of writing assignments from each of my four classes sitting on my desk in varying heights and stages of completion, and with the inevitable promise of more to come. So instead, here are a couple of recent shots to keep you entertained…

See you next week.

2016 Food Blog February-0366 2016 Photo Fridays-0268

 

* if you’re looking at that latest Instagram photo and calling me a liar, then okay, you caught me. But that’s for Twelve Loaves, so you’ll have to hold out for next week. And trust me, it’s a good one.