Sunday, December 13, 2009

Musings from the West

Hello all!

I realized it has been almost 2 months since my last post - my, how time does fly! I am celebrating today because my internet connection was finally set up at home - thus making blogging about food, fun and life on the West Coast much easier. I have missed keeping track of my creations and also my delicious meals out (which I have had a number of since moving out to the San Francisco Bay Area in November). So this will be somewhat of an eclectic entry, part a catch-up entry, part reflection, and all enough to make my stomach growl audibly, as it is right now!

Fresh Food Delights

You all know my love for farmer's markets, so it's no surprise that I have sought out a few in my time here already. I work about 3 blocks from the Ferry Building (a foodie mecca on the SF bay, outfit with dozens of gourmet restaurants and food shops that you can afford only if you promise them your first born child...) As you can imagine, walking through the Ferry Building is a certain kind of heaven for me (especially as a break in the middle of a busy day), but the best part is that on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturday's they have a beautiful farmer's market outside.

It's interesting to me how much of an institution farmer's markets have become, especially in San Francisco. When I first started going to farmer's markets (the small summer market in Norwood MA and the fantastic fall market in Poughkeepsie on the Vassar campus), the markets felt more like a hidden gem than a way of life. Here, the market almost takes on the form of open air markets in Europe - they happen with such regularity and offer so much (right now the persimmons are in season and in abundance!) that you can easily plan your whole week's shopping around the market (or shop a few times a week for the freshest ingredients.) I love that shift in lifestyle, and also the fact that it's December and I am still shopping at fully stocked and luscious markets that seem interminable, in a great way. I also had the pleasure of visiting the Berkeley farmer's market last Saturday (which was a beautiful fall day). In the spirit of the season I invested in a number of root vegetables, with the intention of roasting them. I still have to make the time for that - maybe today! At any rate, I am loving the idea of making farmer's markets even more a part of my year round life and shopping here in Berkeley/SF.

Gourmet Delights

Eating out has been a central part of my experience here so far. I've felt this pull between wanting to shop for local food and cook it in my new beautiful kitchen, and also indulge in all of the amazing restaurants around here. So far it's been a pretty good compromise of the two, although perhaps weighted a little towards eating out, as you'll see in my long list of experiences below!

I have not had a bad meal yet in California. I've been discussing with my friends whether that is in fact even possible - with the wealth of amazing restaurants in this area, how could one survive if they served subpar food? It boggles my mind. In the interest of time, I'll list out many the places I've eaten out since I have been here (I have been wanting to keep track, so here goes- I left off a few that were either take out, or slightly less memorable, although by no means not delicious)
  • Chaya (Asian Fusion restaurant/bar on the bay in downtown SF - went there on my 2nd day of work for a happy hour with my coworkers - beautiful scenery, pretty good sushi roll)
  • Salt House (Amazing gourmet restaurant with a southern flair - took a client there on my second week of work, and had a delicious meal that included perfectly cook halibut, and an amazing Canadian delight called Poutin - basically french fries with cheese and gravy - soooo good!)
  • Jupiter (fun pizza and salad place in downtown Berkeley - good pizza, great beer selection (microbrewery) and fun atmosphere - lots of outdoor tables, just make sure you find one with a heat lamp! Best enjoyed with a group of good friends)
  • Cheeseboard Collective (a Berkeley institution, this place's reputation certainly preceded it, as it was recommended to me by virtually everyone I know who knows Berkeley dining. Each day, they have one pizza and one salad - it's all vegetarian and all made with fresh, local ingredients. Seriously delicious and crave-able)
  • The Slanted Door (One of the few sit down restaurants in the Ferry Building, this Vietnamese place definitely has one of the best views in the city - and amazing food of course. It's a huge restaurant with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Bay Bridge. We got tofu, mushrooms, jumbo prawns, the works - the most memorably was the lemon cake for dessert and the elderflower spritzer I had with dinner)
  • Gregoire (Gourmet French take out restaurant in North Berkeley, founded on the premise that gourmet French food should be affordable and enjoyable on a regular basis. Known for their potato puffs above all else (which are little crispy bites of heaven), and the menu changes monthly to reflect seasonable dishes and foods. Bonnie and I love Gregoire and it will definitely be a regular indulgence. Mmmmm - getting hungry just thinking about the potato puffs!)
  • Poleng (Asian fusion restaurant in the NOPA/Western Addition neighborhood of SF. Went for dinner last Saturday night - everything was delicious but the most memorable was their tea selection. They have amazing tea blends, and they give you a little box with samples of each so you can smell them all before choosing. It was like doing a tea paring with our food!)
  • Delica (One of the Ferry Building standards, this is a Japanese take out place that has all kinds of interesting salads - I got a bento box with rice, tofu and two really interesting salads - one had lotus root and something called "mountain potato" and the other had black shiny seaweed and edamame. Both were delicious)
Wow - I could actually go on and on with this list, but in the interest of time and the fact that writing about all of these meals has made my stomach growl audibly, I think I will leave my reviews to a later date. To summarize, it must be quite obvious that I am thrilled about the food life out here- it has all been delicious. But most importantly (and I think thankfully, given that I have only been here a month), I feel like each meal I listed above and the others that I didn't even have time to write about were shared with wonderful, interesting and dear people, from all stages of my life, and that is what has really made them memorable. (I have been blessed with a few visitors from home, wonderful existing friends who live here, and some new ones that I can't believe I've only known for a month- or less!)

I think one of the things that makes San Francisco such a special place is that not only is the food delicious but that the people who live here are grateful for it, and are also so excited to share it together. I've been talking to a lot of people - friends and new acquaintances alike, about what makes San Francisco and the Bay Area such a unique place to live. The conclusion that I have come to so far is that most people who live here have in some way chosen to be here for a common reason - everyone is looking for a place where people are welcoming, open minded and eager to be themselves and let others thrive as well. That ethos penetrates everything in the city and makes it a place that is so easy to fall in love with and feel like home in. As you can probably tell - I'm thrilled to be here.

And of course, to eat the food.

More soon.....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My love of produce...

Readers! I apologize for going MIA for a few weeks. I have exciting news - I am moving to the foodie mecca of the country - the Bay Area! I am so thrilled to be getting out there and have a life adventure - I hope to live in North Berkeley near the Gourmet Ghetto - so there will be endless blog fodder. Anyhow - my life has been turned upside down by the impending move (I arrive in sunny CA on November 8) and my cooking plans between now and then include coming up with the most creative ways to eat all of the food I have in the pantry and freezer without resorting to dinners of frozen berries, fake chicken nuggets and mayo (which might not be too far away at this rate....!)

Anyhow - that is my excuse for being a bad blogger over the past few weeks. But I am back and here to share that news and more - I just got word that my love of produce has resulted in some online exposure! A photo I took at the Portland, OR Farmer's Market in June 2009 has been published in an online guide to Portland, called the Schmap Portland Guide. It's a photo of lettuce and berries, and it can be viewed when you put the cursor over the "Northwest" area link.

Having this picture discovered on Flickr and published in this guide is very cool - and it's an ironically timed event, as I have been thinking recently about how much I love fresh produce. I know, it's kind of a weird thing to be obsessed about. But for some reason, it just makes me really happy to be surrounded by plants - fruits, veggies - even house plants (btw I am starting to have separation anxiety about leaving my house plants behind in Boston...) But I had this realization the other day, when I was at the new Whole Foods at Legacy Place in Dedham, MA. I was running errands for my parents and decided to stop into Whole Foods - I had heard the new store (which opened very recently) was beautiful - I could spend hours in Whole Foods as it is, and the appeal of a brand new store, coupled with the fact that I just left the very overwhelming and aesthetically unbecoming Costco down the street, was too much to resist. Oh, and the fact that it was snowing/sleeting/raining in the middle of October also added to my desire to escape reality and retreat into foodie paradise, aka Whole Foods.

I was browsing around the produce section, and went to pick out some rainbow swiss chard (on sale for $2/bunch - yay!) As I was grabbing a bunch, a young woman and her boyfriend/husband were standing there trying to figure out the difference in the various colors of swiss chard (they had white, red and yellow varieties for sale). She saw me pick out a bunch and asked if I could offer any insight onto the differences between the varieties. I gave her my two cents - explained a little about the vegetable and said that I like the red the best because I think it's a little more tender than the white, and it makes a really pretty color when you cook it with the stems. It was a brief and simple conversation and she thanked me and said it looked like I knew what I was talking about - but I walked away with a grin on my face - again, I know it's cheesy, but there is something that is so heart warming about connecting with other people over food that is fresh, beautiful and nutritious. There are seemingly endless varieties of fruits and vegetables out there and industrial agriculture and commercial grocery stores only provide access to such a small amount of it - even at a place like Whole Foods. I guess it made me happy to know that even though I think there is a long way to go to make our food system sustainable and to provide wide access to diverse crops, that maybe it's ok to start with one bunch of swiss chard at a time.

As I walked out of Whole Foods, I saw on the ground someone's shopping list. It had two columns - one said "Farm" and the other said "WF". I smiled again - I just can't imagine how big my food grin will be once I get to Berkeley!

Off to eat lunch - whole wheat pasta, fresh pesto, and red swiss chard. Yum....

Friday, October 2, 2009

Matzo Brei

For any of you who have read Ruth Reichl's books, you know that one of her favorite comfort foods is matzo brei - a food that she describes with such warmth in her books that even though I have never had it, I regularly crave it. I keep meaning to try her recipe for it, but I haven't remembered to pick up matzo (the fact that we are as far from Passover as you can get doesn't help my case either!)

Well, this morning I woke up against my will at 5am again - a funny little trick my body has been playing on my the past two weeks. As I lay there in bed, willing myself to fall back asleep even for an hour, I decided (in my partially awake mind) that I wanted matzo brei for breakfast. I had to have it. Why, I don't know. But I did.

Now, despite where you may think this is going, I did not take advantage of the 24 hour Shaw's to get matzo. When I finally got up around 7, I decided to find her recipe on and just make it with what I had - water crackers!

I had no idea what it would come out like - I ended up following some of the comments on her recipe and amending it to fit the ingredients I had on hand.

Here is how I did it - I have to say, I was very skeptical at how it would taste when it was done, because it looked kind of dry. I packaged it up and brought it into the office (I always eat my breakfast at work), and I was pleasantly surprised at how yummy it was! So in case you ever wake up at 5am and decide you want matzo brei - know that you're not alone, and here's a recipe you can follow (I presume it would really work with any kind of mild flavored cracker....perhaps not a really crumbly/buttery kind, but any dry one)

Hack Matzo Brei, minus the Matzo:

8 water crackers (we had sesame flavor ones, and they were yummy)
2 eggs
splash of milk (enough to moisten the crackers)
small handful (approx. 2 tablespoons) of finely chopped onion
chives or other herbs, for flavor
butter (be as courageous as you want here - I used a little more than was enough to coat the pan, but as you can see on her recipe, Ruth calls for like 1/2 a stick!!)
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Break up the crackers into small pieces, and place them in a bowl with the milk. Let them sit for about 3-4 minutes, until moist but not too soggy. Pour out most of the milk (you can keep a little in to make the mixture fluffier if you'd like.

Add the two eggs to the same bowl, and scramble them together with the matzo. Add the onions and chives/herbs and a dash of salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a skillet on the stove until melted and hot.

Pour the mixture into the pan and cook - I think that it would be best to make it like an omelet - cook for 2 minutes or so then flip, cook the other side and try to keep the inside moist.

When it's nicely browned on both sides, remove from the pan and serve!!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Can food cure a dreary day?

I know I am not alone in the feeling. You're tired. You're bored. You feel restless. We've all been there. So you reach for a cookie. Or a chocolate. Or anything that makes you happy to eat, in hopes that it will make you feel better.

So, does it?

I'm posing the question partially in earnest, because I am curious about other people's experiences with food cravings. (Feel free to comment!) However, my personal theory is that it doesn't really make anything better in the long run (surprise surprise), although there is certainly something satiating and satisfying about eating it in the moment.

Take today, for example. After waking up at 5:30, and unable to fall back asleep, I decided to start the day early. I think between my pre-dawn wake up and a general feeling of "blah", I was in the mood to eat sweets today. Fortunately for me, my coworker was kind enough to bring in some leftover cookies from her Yom Kippur breakfast. Surely those make a fabulous 10am snack, I thought as I went for one. And then two. And they were delicious. Usually I limit myself to one main "sweet" per day - my ability for self control comes only from the fact that I don't have a huge sweet tooth in the first place. But today was different. After my morning cookie indulgence (chocolate chip AND oatmeal raisin - I'm wild and crazy!) I decided that I needed an afternoon snack. So I ate not one, not two, but like 8 ginger snaps. And they were stale (although I kind of like them that way). My rational - I wanted to finish the bag. And I was bored. Not my best example of good judgment.

Fast forward until now (I wrote the previous part a few hours ago). Well, my eating habits haven't gotten better but my mood has! I just stopped at Dave's Fresh Pasta for eggs on my way home (stay tuned for upcoming posts on the fabulousness that is Dave's...) , and after a mildly humorous interaction with my regular sales guy there during which I tried to pay for $2.50 eggs with a credit card, only to be told that there is a $5 limit, and then scrounged together leftover coins from my wallet to pay him at least $2 (he said he'd call it even at $2!), I was approached by another sales person with a chocolate croissant in her hand, who proceeded to ask if I wanted it for free! Did I ever! Why ruin a great day of unhealthy eating by having something nutritional for dinner! Bring on the chocolate croissant!! So, I just ate it. For dinner. Sure, I'll be hungry in about an hour and will probably eat the three sad leftover frozen shrimp dumplings from Trader Joe's that have been waiting patiently in my freezer for a night just like this. But for now, I have decided that instead of feeling badly about eating badly in the moment, I am going to embrace it. Even if I know that I'll be starving and cranky when the sugar high wears off.

Maybe that's the key to enjoying a little nutritional deviance in the moment - I shouldn't ruin the glory of indulging on too many sweets/fried foods/fill in the blank unhealthy eating by feeling guilty for eating it, but rather savor it and know that there is always time to get back on the bandwagon of health eating know... later! And you though this was a blog about healthy vegetarian eating....

(Stay tuned for the post update during which I inevitably lament the decision to eat 10 cookies and a chocolate croissant in one day....fortunately I have got a whole batch of kale soup to cure that feeling! )

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why someone should invent smell-o-vision

I woke up this morning to rain. I knew it was coming, and secretly I was kind of looking forward to a rainy Sunday. Yesterday was the most glorious fall day. My friend Amal and I took advantage of the beautiful weather and went out to farm country - we visited the Harvest Fest at Gaining Ground in Concord, and were pleasantly surprised to be greeted with a delicious lunch buffet full of farm fresh foods. We continued our day of outdoor autumn appreciation by visiting Carver Hill Orchards, in Stow, where we ended up picking apples and laying in the field, soaking in the smells and beauty of it all.

So with that start to my weekend, I was kind of glad to have an excuse to stay home and relax around the apartment (although I have million things I should be doing!) So in honor of the rain, I stayed in bed this morning after waking up and finished reading Ruth Reichel's Tender at the Bone, the first of her memoirs about her young life as a budding chef and food critic. Her writing makes me salivate - she uses the most lush and colorful language to describe food and it is amazing how well she brings to life the dishes she discusses. I finished the book this morning - I'm going to do my best to hold out on reading her next book, so I can savor the deliciousness of her writing for a little while longer...

Needless to say, I was inspired and in the mood for cooking by the time I got up! I started the day with a fried egg on toast spread with basil pesto, and I tried out a new experiment - I made my own chai tea! It was delicious and very easy - I used this
recipe, and even though I put in only half the called for sugar (and used soy milk), it was still a little sweet for my taste. But I will definitely make it again - I might even make more this afternoon!

Breakfast though was not enough to satiate my desire to cook (note to all - while my day may sound super productive to some, really it was a full on attempt at procrastination against some important things that I still have to do - just like writing this blog post is a form of procrastination!) Next up - apple sauce. I cut up a bunch of the apples I had picked yesterday (Romes, Macouns and Macs) and stuck them in a big pot with a cinnamon stick and some cloves. I cooked it for at least an hour, and the house filled up with the delicious, cozy, enveloping smell of apples and spice.

As delicious as apple sauce is, I recognize that it will not tide me through the week of meals ahead. So that brings me to cooking adventure number three for the day - soup! A perfect day to simmer a pot of hearty soup. The only problem - I have virtually no food at home, and am avoiding going grocery shopping on a rainy Sunday (when pretty much every other person in Somerville and Cambridge is bound to be at the grocery store).

So, here is what I came up with - it's currently simmering on the stove, tempting me with it's delicious basil smell, but because I haven't eaten it yet I can't fully vouch for it's flavor. I'll have to update this post later, but for now, my recipe:

Green Kale Soup (great for a rainy day)

1 large bunch of curly kale (you could really use any kind)
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
1 leek
1 can of cannellini beans
1 cup barley

1/2 cup of basil pesto
olive oil
splash of white wine
8 cups water
salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste

I first sauteed the onion, leek and garlic in the oil, and after about 10 minutes, I added a few splashes of white white (partially for flavor, partially because I want to use up the wine before it goes bad!)

After the onions were soft and slightly browned, I added the kale, which I had washed, ripped up and removed the stems from. Next, add the water. I used enough to cover the kale (I had a lot of kale - really the inspiration for this soup was the need to use up my kale!) Then I rinsed the barley and the beans and added both. Finally, I dropped in the pesto (I had made a huge batch of pesto back in August and froze it in muffin tins - so I added 2 muffins worth of pesto)

I've been simmering the soup for about 45 minutes now and the veggies are all cooked but the flavors need to meld a little more. Oh, I also tried something different that I had read about ages ago - I have been saving the rind of a nice parm cheese for a while because I heard it was good to add to soups to give a little intensity to the flavor. So I tossed a chunk of rind in there - we'll see what happens!

Ok - the smell of the dish is definitely calling me into the kitchen - must go and stir the pot (maybe once my green soup is done I'll finally buckle down and do my other work - wish me luck!)

UPDATE: The soup came out great! The only thing I would do differently would be to add a little less barley - it was a little barley heavy, and the grain soaked up more of the liquid that I had anticipated. But other than that, delicious!!

Friday, September 25, 2009

The harvest awaits....

After a few days of humid, sticky late summer weather, I woke up this morning with the distinct sense that fall was truly in the air. The sun was shining brilliantly, and dappled the sidewalk as it shone through the brightly colored leaves. I had a spring in my step on the way to work - which is unusual on a Friday, when my only spring is the one that means I am one step closer to the weekend! I think the spring in my step was just enough to push me over the edge on the whole blog thing. Then the topic of blogs came up in a work meeting, and I decided - now's the time. What am I waiting for?! Blog world - here I come!!

Least you think this blog will be a random string of self-aggrandizing musings on life, think again. Well actually, it may fit that bill at some points, but the intention is broader - I view this as a more structured forum for me to share my creative outlet with the world. For those of you who know me, (and frankly, if you are reading my first blog posting and you don't know me - well, then I'm flattered! And it's nice to meet you, stranger), you know that I love to cook. Specifically (and among other things), I love to cook vegetables. In fact, I really love everything to do with vegetables. I love planting them, growing them, harvesting them, eating them - the works! I have always been into cooking and eating, but in the past 8 months or so, I turned a corner, and have been adopting what I think of as a more holistic approach to food and eating. I have become passionate about where my food comes from, and that has ushered in what I loving refer to as my "farm era". This summer I have indulged myself in one of the most glorious of summer traditions - relying on farmers markets and local farms for my food.

So that brings me to this blog. For the past few months, I have been toying with publishing a blog. I had a seed of an idea (haha no pun intended!) but was afraid of the commitment that it takes to upkeep a blog. But today, with that fall nip in the air and that sunshine on my face, and with a the memories of my delicious dinner from last night still tickling my taste buds, I decided to throw caution to the wind and start the blog I've been wanting to start.

Now, because I am someone who needs a little discipline in life, I have decided to lay out my strategy for this blog here:

  • The broad topic of the blog is about food and all that relates to it - recipes, photos, farms, plants, animals, restaurants and more.
  • Specifically, I plan to focus the theme of the blog on my attempts, as a fish-eating vegetarian who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, to eat locally, healthily and holistically year round (warning: there may very well be venting about how hard it is to find local food in Massachusetts in January - but I will just have to deal!)
  • I am trying to approach this with realistic expectations about the time commitment I can make to keeping up a blog. Right now, I hope to post at least once a week - ideally I'd like to be inspired more often, but we'll see how the process goes.

Finally, about the name (I need to wrap this first entry up because I want to head home and, well, eat!) I think the name "Bloom Mangia" represents what I am doing here - talking not just about food and eating, but also about where food comes from, and what food means to me and to others in the world. I love the visualization of something blooming - not just growing, but bursting into the world in bloom. And mangia, because I love the energy and color that the word elicits, and most importantly, my mom (even though she's not the Italian one!) would often say "mangia, mangia!" when we sat down for dinner.

So thank you - the 4 of you out there who are reading this:) I hope to be providing culinary inspiration, as well as a little humor, in the coming months as I share my foodie (btw, I hate that word!) musings with the blogosphere.