happy new year


Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time. – The More Loving One, W. H. Auden

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California



Perhaps everyone recalls episodes from their childhood that seem so dear now, but were detested at the time in which they were actually occurring. As of late, I am beginning to remember many moments from my youth, specifically those revolving around food, but not all were loathsome even then. I nostalgically remember the image of my mother in our small, colorful kitchen. She did not hesitate to share her knowledge of food, but she also did not make a performance of it. It was usually in subtle ways, like cleaning spinach leaves on both sides under running water, with an explanation that bugs like to hide on the underside of the leaf, where I would learn about spinach and how she was going to prepare it. Did Popeye also have to wash his spinach, I would inquire, but there was not always time for all of my questions.

I thrived when this knowledge was shared with me, which I am sure I made a game out of as my imagination ran wild with almost anything. I held a secret from the adult world, although I do not know how much of secret it could have been, as I rather enjoyed boasting about my newly acquired facts. Leeks should be cleaned thoroughly because they grow in sandy soil, and eating sand makes your teeth grind, which is very unsatisfactory for everyone, I would constantly note, mimicking my mother’s cautious tone as best I could. I took heed to this warning myself, and had ingrained in my mind a previously calamitous meal of sandy, overcooked beets (which I was already repulsed by to begin with), and did not wish to recreate the catastrophe.  But leeks on the other hand, I always adored and dutifully ate in all of their presented states. My fascination was mostly founded in the old wives’ tale that if you ate the center of the leek (the stalk), you would become deaf.

I loved superstitions, and most of all, breaking them. I proudly remember eating fish and dairy at the same time. Lest I forget, this resulted in others following my lead, and disruptions on at least two family tables of what had previously been calm, weekly fish dinners without dairy. But something about going deaf made me resist the temptation of the leeks. Let me elucidate, yes- a small part of me still wanted to try it, and would practice the worst outcome. I began often by cupping my ears with my hands to imagine going deaf, or plugging them up with my index fingers, but I could still hear birds chirping or cars going by. Most terrifyingly, I could hear my invariable heartbeat thumping. I could not, for all the imaginative worlds that I created, see one without the ability of sound. So I made sure to clean leeks well, and remove the middle part, if there was one. But I would not bite into one, no matter the pressure of fellow peers. I am being chary, I would tell anyone who asked, in a state of angst and mortification. I would vanquish other superstitions, but not this one, and each time I cook leeks, I am reminded of this memory.


a bright squash soup


I often say that I find things on this blog, which may seem peculiar. Or perhaps you have come to believe that I tend to lose many items. This is not always the case. I like to think of these events as discoveries, much like a squirrel who stores for winter, and then is delighted to be reunited with the food in spring. Just as I was lamenting the passing of squash season last week, and not being able to cook more soups and desserts this winter, I found two small butternut squash gems in my storage closet, along with a kabocha squash (or Japanese pumpkin). Interestingly, the kabocha squash was introduced in Japan in the 1540’s by way of Portuguese sailors, who had originally found it in Cambodia (hence the Portuguese name of the squash being Cambodia abobora), and this squash has been favored since then by the Japanese for its sweet texture.

I decided to prepare it in the most traditional way I could think of, in a coconut soup with curry powder and other spices. Bright and yellow, like the weather we have been having, this soup can be served warm or chilled, and accompanies not just rice, but meat (lamb!) as well. I finished the soup off with some ground pink peppercorns, which have a heat that most closely reminds me of chilies rather than black pepper. These berries are actually not related to peppercorns, and although the taste is initially peppery, the flavor that follows is sweet. Since pink peppercorns are very soft, they can be easily smashed with the back of a spoon or knife, or in a mortar and pestle. There is no need to grind them very finely, as the taste is not too spicy, and lends itself beautifully for a delicate balance with the other flavors of this soup.

Butternut & Kabocha Squash Coconut Soup with Curry Powder

coconut squash soup with curry
Ingredients (for four small or two very large servings):
~3 lbs. of squash (butternut or kabocha, or a combination of whatever you have around – acorn and pie pumpkin could work as well)
2-3 tbs. coconut oil
2 tbs. butter, sliced or diced
brown sugar (I used about three tablespoons)
pinch of salt (less than 1 tsp.)
1 can coconut cream (you can find it at Trader Joe’s, thicker than coconut milk), 2 tbs. reserved
1/4-1 cup of water, or coconut milk
1 teaspoon curry powder (my mix has coriander, fenugreek, nutmeg, ginger, fennel, cinnamon, black and white pepper, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, cloves, and cayenne pepper, mace, bay leaf)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated turmeric (1/4 tsp. if using dried)
juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
1 tsp. pink peppercorns, freshly ground (optional)
cilantro (for garnish, optional)

1) Preheat oven at 350, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash the squash if dirty, then cut into halves or portions that are of similar size. Season each half with the coconut oil so that the entire inside (you can cook with the seeds, or remove the seeds) is covered. combine salt and brown sugar, and sprinkle on each squash. Add the diced butter around the edges, and put on the baking sheet. It will depend on the variety you use, but the squash should be done in about 45-60 minutes (the best test is to see if it easily gives way when poked with a toothpick/knife/fork). Take it out, and let it slightly cool.
2) Once the squash is cool enough to handle, remove the seeds (if you left them in), and peel squash away from the skin. I find the best way to do this is by using a grapefruit spoon around the stubborn/awkward edges. Discard the skin, but if you like the seeds, keep them. You can eat them, or roast them a little longer, and season them with allspice and salt for a delicious snack.
3) At this point, you can either smash the squash with a potato masher (thick consistency) or add it in a blender (I opted for the latter). Add the coconut cream, water/broth/milk, and blend. If the consistency is too thin or thick, adjust, and incorporate the curry powder, garam masala, and turmeric. Note: If your curry and garam masala powders are old, you can increase the amount you add slightly (no more than 1/2 tsp. of both). If you are blending the soup, it will become very aerated (and will solidify when placed in the fridge).
4) Squeeze some lime or lemon juice, and garnish with some freshly ground pink peppercorns or cilantro, and the remaining coconut cream. Serve hot with meats, enjoy chilled on a hot day with a light salad and some bread for dipping. Delicious any way you have it.

farewell to winter salad


The sun wakes us up early with a glow that creeps in through the openings of the brown curtains, and remains throughout the day, growing brighter and warmer. A small breeze is a welcome relief on my way to work. The weather brings forth spring produce, and green is seen all around. I received some wonderful citrus this week, juicy and heavy from a long rest on the trees all winter. I gathered it along with the last fennel bulb in the refrigerator, and a can of chickpeas. In about three minutes, I had a lunch that paid tribute to the passing of winter, but was bursting with the brightness of spring.

Chickpea Salad with Orange and Fennel

chickpea salad with oranges and fennel
Ingredients (for one): 
1/2 can of chickpeas, drained and thoroughly rinsed
1 medium orange, peeled and sliced (or one large orange, half peeled and sliced, and use the other half to squeeze over the salad)
1 very small fennel bulb, or a couple of layers, sliced
one sage stem (about 20 small leaves), chop if using larger leaves of sage
1/2 teaspoon champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon mushroom and sage olive oil (or extra virgin olive oil)

1) Combine the chickpeas and fennel, toss with vinegar and olive oil. Gently incorporate your orange slices, and use some of the liquid from the bottom of the dish/bowl to soak them. You don’t want the slices to break apart, nor be drenched in oil or vinegar.
2) Add the salt, and adjust to your taste. Finish with the sage leaves, and enjoy.

a walk in the woods


mushroom in the woods

hidden mushroom in the woods

almond tree branch


almond tree branch in the morning

almond tree flowering

blue sky and clouds over the pacific ocean


blue sky

how to make pot pie without a recipe


Pretty bold statement, I know. Lately I find myself with lots of leftovers, or only an hour to make dinner, or both situations at once. I wanted to solve the puzzle of how to avoid eating pulled pork sliders for the third day in a row, and what to do with one random potato. I have made pot pies before, but they were the stuff of nightmares: grey clouds of liquid with lost pieces of vegetables, always too dry, or super soggy. I know that there are personal preferences for this dish, and mine rest in just the right proportion of vegetables and liquid, which is enriched with butter, wine, and broth.

With this in mind, I wanted a master recipe where I could deviate in the meat selection available (or lack thereof), and vegetables used at my discrepancy. Working on the proportions resulted in some rather large dishes, some very dry ones, and a particular dinner that yielded no takers even among the most courageous. The final recipe is a simple, forgiving one for whatever you want to use in the mixture.

The most important thing is that you want to have are vegetables, meat or no meat. I really like the mixed bag of carrots, peas, lima beans, green beans, and corn that most stores have in the frozen section. Although I can easily pull together these ingredients, if I am in a hurry, popping these in a pot really cuts down the time I need to spend on dinner, and most importantly, they are reminiscent of the pot pies from my childhood. I like to use fresh vegetables when available: celery is a great example, especially if you want to keep it as a last minute addition for the crunch. Potatoes are another great choice, as they will help things come together, and sweet potatoes are great with pork or chicken. Root vegetables such as sunchokes, turnips, or beets are wonderful and complimentary additions, but take care not to add too many. A fine balance of meat and vegetables is ideal, and even when making a vegetarian version, the ingredients should get along together. Mushrooms are a great alternative to meat, especially a variety, will produce that meaty taste.

Herbs are a great way to transform what may have been fennel crusted pork into thyme scented pork for a pot pie. I enjoy using the basic herbs with pot pies, because they are already on hand, and are familiar flavors. This recipe is about comfort for me, as you can tell. Thyme is great with all meats and vegetables, basil too. I like sage for chicken or turkey, oregano for beef or lamb, and juniper berries for the venison or more game-y meats. Rosemary, crushed red pepper, garlic and onion powders, fennel, and cumin are some other favorites. A slight addition of grated citrus can elevate the dish. Think simple if in a hurry though – fresh chopped parsley or cilantro can be added before transferring to a baking dish.

Meat is great. If you don’t eat meat though, you can always substitute the meat half with more vegetables, this is actually where I would recommend potatoes or turnips, the roots shine through. I offer the meal from last night as an example of what you can pull together in less than 60 minutes, start to finish.

Pork Pot Pie

pork pot pie

Ingredients (for four servings): 
two tablespoons olive oil
four tablespoons butter, divided into two tbs. each
one medium sweet potato (I used a purple sweet potato), peeled and cubed (about 1/2 in.)
one shallot, diced
about one tablespoon of dried thyme, use your judgement
about one teaspoon of dried Italian herb mix (mine is from Oaktown Spice Shop)
1/4 cup or more of dry white wine
1/2 lb. of mixed vegetables (if frozen, thaw for a few minutes in water)
one tablespoon of all purpose flour
1/2 cup of milk or half-and-half, warmed if possible
1/2 lb. of meat (mine was pulled pork)
1+ cups of pork broth (or chicken, vegetable, etc.) – you want to have at least two cups on hand, warmed if possible
a few sprigs of chopped parsley
one sheet of puff pastry, thawed (my favorite quick recipe is from here)
one egg, slightly beaten in a ramekin or small container, with a couple of drops of water added to it

1) Turn your oven on to 375 F. Place your olive oil and two tablespoons of butter in a pan, over medium heat, until butter begins to slightly sizzle, then add the cubed potato. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, until the potato begins to slightly soften and get a golden hue. (If using other roots, or fresh carrots, they would be added along with the potato, as they need more time to cook.) Add the shallot, and cook for another 1-2 minutes, until it begins to soften. Add the thyme and Italian herb mix, and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. The shallots will be translucent by now.
2) Add the dry white wine (or red wine for beef or lamb), and cook until half of the liquid has evaporated. Then add the other vegetables (if making a vegetarian version, then add about one pound of vegetables all at one go now). It’s okay if they are not fully thawed, as you can finish the thawing in the pot at this time. Also, the other two tablespoons of butter need to be added now. Leave the vegetables to get a nice color, about 2-3 minutes, depending if they are thawed or not. Salt.
3) Meanwhile, if not already done, pull your pork apart. This is easier if the meat is slightly warm (but don’t burn yourself). Set the meat aside. Return to the pot, give it a good stir, and add the flour. You want to distribute the flour among all of the vegetables, so keep going until you see it is so, as you don’t want clumps of flour. The butter will help cook some of the flour, so leave the mixture alone for a minute or so, before adding the milk. Once the milk is added, stir (or whisk) away. Taste, and salt if needed.
4) Add the meat, if using. I like to cook the pork in the milk mixture to see how much liquid it will soak up. You can add the broth at this time, or with the milk above. Either way, let the mixture cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Although it may seem like a lot of liquid, this will quickly evaporate once in the oven.
5) Add the chopped parsley, and transfer the meat and vegetables into a baking dish (oval 11 in. worked for me). Stretch out the puff pastry about half to one inch longer than the length of your dish, you want the pastry to create a warm little oven for the meat and vegetables, and let it hang over the sides slightly. Brush the egg mixture over the pastry, getting underneath the pieces hanging from the edge of the dish. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the puff pastry is a rich golden color. Rest a few minutes before serving.

vegetables and pork

happy new year


Passeggere: Cosi vorrei ancor io se avessi a rivivere, e cosi tutti. Ma questo e segno che il case, fino a tutto quest’anno, ha trattato tutti male. E si vede chiaro che ciascuno e d’opinione che sia stato piu o di piu peso il male, che gli e toccato, che il bene, se a patto di riavere la vita di prima, con tutto il suo bene e il suo male, nessuno vorrebbe rinascere. Quella vita ch’e una cosa bella, non e la vita che si conosce, ma quella che non si conosce; non la vita passata, ma la futura. Coll’anno nuovo, il caso incomincera a trattar bene voi e me e tutti gli altri, e si principiera la vita felice. Non e vero?
Venditore: Speriamo. 

Passerby: That’s what I would like too if I were to live all over again; and that’s what everyone else would like. But this means that, up until the end of this year, Fortune has treated everyone badly. And it’s clear that everyone thinks that he was allotted more, and greater, evil than good – if to live the same life all over again, with all its good and all its evil, no one would want to be born anew. The life that’s beautiful is not the life we know, but the life we don’t know; not the past life, but the future. With the new year, Fortune will start treating you and me and all the others well, and the happy life will begin. Isn’t it true?
Peddler: Hopefully.

golden gate bridge