10 Pictures and 2 Snakes from Berkeley’s Cesar Chavez Park

Last weekend, Kris and I took the pooch on a walk around the Berkeley Marina and Cesar Chavez Park.  It was an absolutely stunning September day around the Bay.  Clear skies with just the slightest hint of haze only as you looked out towards San Francisco.

The sunlight glimmered off the surface of the bay as if it was winking at you.

The sail boats not in use had erect, empty masts like skyscrapers on the water, only they bobbed with the ebb and flow of the waves.

We spotted a lot of seagulls and a couple of pelicans, loitering by the boat launching area. They must have thought they could get a free meal from fishermen’s scrapings.

Hidden in a small community garden was this cute “garden wedding” display.  I love the giraffe as witness.

Looping our way around the path that runs along the perimeter of Cesar Chavez Park, we got a spectacular view of San Francisco through a couple of layers of haze.  I love that glittering water.

Cesar Chavez is a mecca for kite flyers.  Some days you only have 10 kite flyers, other days 30 plus.  I’ve always been curious what it’s like on Kite Festival Days.

You will always hear the zooming of a master kite flyer, diving his/her kite through the air.  The wings flap frantically, and the wind hits the edges of the kite making it sound like the motor of a remote control airplane.  The kite swoops down like a bird of prey, and it looks like it’s going to crash into the ground.  At the last second, the kite flyer lifts his/her arms up and steers it back up into the air, only to dive bomb the kite again.

Lots of joggers, lots of bicyclists, but this little girl with her pink shirt, pink moccasins, pink bike, and pink ribbons streaming from her handlebars was the cutest.  She was closely following her dad and had a voice as bubblegum pink as her set of wheels.  I had purple streams coming off my handlebars when I was her age.

I was so tickled by this girl trailing her dad that I failed to notice this in the path.

Thankfully I have a husband who pays attention to what he’s doing.  He said it was just relaxing on the hot concrete path as if it were sunbathing.  A jogger started to pass us and Kris tried to warn her to watch out for the snake, but she had her headphones on.  Well, she found out about it soon enough, yelped, and almost lost her balance and fell onto the other side of the path.

It’s a quick path around this park, only 1 meandering mile, but as soon as you make the final loop, you get a view of Berkeley and UC Berkeley campus.  The tall white building is the campanile, the clock tower.

Just my luck, as I was getting excited to take the above photograph, Kris notices another slithering friend right next to my foot.

This time it was my turn to yelp, almost lose my balance, and scare the thing away.

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Spinach and Eggplant Quiche (with tofu!)

What my husband doesn’t know won’t kill him.

In this case, what my husband doesn’t know is that instead of using cream in a recent quiche recipe, I used soft tofu.  All to a brilliant ending of “Wow, this is tasty, honey.”

I love quiche.  Not only is it a simple, very versatile recipe, but it’s also a fabulous way to use up leftover vegetables.

Here’s the finished product.  I forgot to charge my camera battery, so I don’t have a step-by-step tutorial.  Sorry folks.

Print this recipe: Spinach and Eggplant Quiche (with tofu!)

In any case, the basics of a quiche are the following:

  • 1 pie crust.  Use store bought for a faster prep time.  Use a store bought one that’s already in a tin for the epitome of convenience.
  • 2 cups of cheese.  I like Gruyere cheese because it has a rich, nutty flavor.  Regular Swiss cheese is fine too.
  • 2 eggs to help bind everything together.  3 would be fine too if you like your quiche with more egg flavor.
  • Other flavorings.  Obviously salt and pepper, but herbs and other spices work well too.  I used dried marjoram (one of my favorites) and 1 seeded and diced canned chipotle pepper with an extra teaspoon of its smoky adobo sauce.  De-seeding it is optional; it decreases the spiciness.
  • Heavy cream or tofu.  1 cup of cream if that’s your route.  I wanted to go lower fat so I used half a package of soft tofu which melted as soon as my mixing spoon touched it.
  • 1diced onion, sauteed with vegetables to start the cooking process
  • Vegetables.  Also sauteed with the onions.  Open your produce drawers and play connect the dots.  This is truly a recipe for making-over any leftover vegetables into a knockout.  I used about 2 cups of fresh eggplant and 1 10-ounce package of frozen chopped spinach.

Ready set, 3 steps.  That’s all.

1.  Mix cheese, eggs, tofu, and extra flavorings in a large bowl.

2.  Saute the diced onion and vegetables in olive oil for 5-7 minutes until they are cooked.  The onions will be translucent.  I used eggplant and their color went from pale white to buttery yellow. Generally the vegetables need to cook a little beforehand to ensure that they are fully done and melt-in-your-mouth-soft when you serve the quiche.

3.  Mix everything together to make the filling.  Empty it into your pie shall.  Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, plus or minus.  Insert a toothpick or butter knife in the center and make sure it comes out clean.

Triple Threat Jalapeno Poppers for Football Season

Football season is upon us, and that means finger foods.  If you have people coming over to watch or find yourself over a friend’s house because your TV doesn’t work (ahem), these Jalapeno Poppers are truly addictive.  I brought some over to my friend Dina’s 30th B-day celebration.  Without hyperbole, every single one had been eaten within 5 minutes.

These poppers are what I call a triple threat.  With theater people, a triple threat is someone who can act, sing, and dance.  A Triple Threat Jalapeno Popper similarly performs in 3 gustatory categories: salty, sweet, and spicy.  Move over Barbra Streisand.

Warning these Jalapeno Poppers have an unexplained phenomenon of turning normal humans into ravenous wolves.  Use caution when setting them out.

The management recommends that you double the recipe whenever making them.
Thank You.

Get the recipe already: Triple Threat Jalapeno Poppers

We’ll be using a wire rack placed inside a cookie sheet to help crisp up the bacon and catch all the drippings.

Cut 11 pieces of bacon into thirds.  I know my picture looks like I cut the bacon strips in half; that’s because I didn’t think to take a picture until I was 1/3 of the way done, so this is a picture of 2/3 of the bacon I used.  The strips should be just enough to wrap around the jalapeno.

Now the filling: 3 tablespoons of raspberry preserves (please don’t go cheap on me here) and one 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened overnight on your countertop.  (Or just whip everything together in a handy-dandy stand mixer.  Nothing like pure brute force to cover up lack of planning)

Add 1/3 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Next, prepare your jalapenos.  Lop off the stems.  They’ll look like little hats.

Cut them in half.

Remove the seeds with a spoon.

Don’t touch any part of your face for the next 48 hours.  OK, not specifically that much time, but be careful especially around your eyes.  Optional, for sensitive hands, use gloves.

Take a small spoon and fill each jalapeno half with about a teaspoon of the cheese filling.

Then wrap a piece of bacon around the stuffed jalapeno.

Secure with a toothpick or two.  Although if you don’t have toothpicks because you forgot to pick them up at the grocery store (awkward cough, cough), make sure to wrap the bacon in such a way that the ends meet on the bottom of the jalapeno.  Then place them seam side down when you put the popper on the wire rack to bake.

Lovely.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.  Then flip the poppers over to crisp up the bacon on the other side.  Use a fork and extra carefulness if you don’t have toothpicks securing the bacon wrapped jalapenos.

Bake another 10 minutes until crisp.

Enjoy these Triple Threat Jalapeno Poppers for any football game.

Herb Poached Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes, Kale, and Olives

Skip the cooking tutorial, print the recipe, and get cooking: Herb Poached Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes

Ever poached anything besides eggs?  Even if you haven’t poached eggs, which is delicious and makes them creamy and delicate, poaching is an underrated cooking method.  It gets no love.

Poaching is actually very easy and fool-proof, my favorite way to cook.  At its heart, here’s the poaching equation:

liquid+something to cook=poaching

Of course variations exist for everything.

What kind of liquid? Water, chicken or vegetable broth, wine, dessert wine.  With herbs?  With vegetables like beets to add color?

What are ya cooking? Eggs, chicken, pears, fish….  You get the idea.

Today we’re making an easy herb-poached chicken with a sweet and piquant taste.  This method of poaching will make your chicken absolutely, flawlessly moist and flavorful, but here’s the caveat.  You have to follow directions to a tee.  I know this is hard (look who’s talking), following a recipe word for word makes me feel like I’m in a straight jacket sometimes.  However, due to some awful baking disasters recently, I’ve learned that directions have a purpose, especially in something where the method guarantees delight.

OK, I exaggerate, you don’t have to follow every single direction for ingredients, but THE METHOD of poaching including timing and taking it off heat MUST maintain its purity.  I repeat.  Follow the method like your life depended on it, but you can improvise with ingredients.  (In my personal opinion, though no one asked, the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes, piquancy of the olives, and extra healthiness of the kale are a very tasy and colorful combo).

Start with your poaching liquid.  I have 2 cups of water and 2 cups of chicken broth.  I’m going to have so much herb-flavor going on that I wanted a diluted chicken broth.  Here’s the list of herbs: 2 bay leaves, 3 sprigs of fresh thyme, 3 sprigs of fresh oregano, and 10-12 fresh basil leaves.  Oh yeah, plus 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.  If you are flavor-phobic, just halve the fresh herbs; it’ll still give the chicken a subtle herb taste, just not as robust.

Don’t be intimidated by the amount of herbs here.  Or for that matter your hands smelling like an herb garden.  This is goodness.

Liquid- check.  Now place 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the poaching liquid.

Warning: this is the part where you HAVE to follow directions.

Bring the pot up to a boil.  Cover it.  Bring down the heat so the liquid has a nice simmer.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  TURN OFF THE HEAT, and let the chicken sit, covered, in its poaching liquid for 15 minutes.  After you’re done, take the chicken out.  Don’t keep it cooking in the pot otherwise it’ll get dry and over cooked.  Make sure you use your microwave or oven timers to remind you about this process.

OK, that’s the end of the mandatory method.  Let’s get to work on the topping for this chicken.

Start with prepping the kale.  I have 1 bunch of dinosaur kale.  I love how the grooves on the leaves look like dinosaur scales.

We’ll need to remove the woody stems.  Fold the leaves in half.

Then carefully, slide your knife along the stem to cut it out.

When you open the kale back up, it’ll look like it has legs.

Once you have all the kale trimmed of the woody stems, rough chop it.

Next.  Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan and heat it over medium-high heat.  Add the cherry tomatoes.  Cook for about 3 minutes.  You’ll see the skin start to crack open like a flower bursting on some tomatoes.  Others will begin to gush their sweet, red juices.

Sprinkle the kale on top.  Now add in about 1/2 cup of dry white wine.

Don’t forget to pour yourself a glass.  Cooking is tough stuff.  If you don’t cook with alcohol, use chicken broth or, worst case scenario, water.

Cook this about 5 minutes until the kale starts to wilt and look like it’s hugging the cherry tomatoes.

Now add 1/2 cup of mixed flavorful olives.  I like kalamata and pimiento-stuffed green olives.

Have I told you that I now have 3 jars of kalamata olives in my cupboard?  Just gotta make sure we’ll never run out of them.

Cook the olives, kale, and cherry tomatoes another 3-5 minutes.  Make sure some cherry tomatoes have maintained their shape- oh Lord, when you bite into them, warm sweetness will explode on your tongue.

Once you’re ready to serve, cut up the herb-poached chicken in slices, then top with the Cherry tomatoes, kale, and olive mixture.

I promise, your taste buds will dance in delight.

Scottish Oatcakes a la Game of Thones

Skip the woman’s gibber-jabber and get the recipe: Oatcakes with Apple Compote

I’ve been MIA for a few months now because I have trouble lifting my face out of George R.R. Martin’s epic series A Song of Ice and Fire.  Mainstream, out of the fantasy-genre-loop people, like myself, learned of the series from the HBO hit TV show named after the first book, A Game of Thrones.

Martin has been called the “American Tolkien” for his epic masterpiece that so far is 5 books; I’m on Book #4, A Feast for Crows.  Aside from the brilliant plot twists that keep me up so late I feel like a college student again, Martin has absolutely delicious and thorough descriptions of the food the characters eat.  Usually this kind of description is something I gloss over in my hunger for story.  Ironically enough, I first noticed how often Martin writes about the food as I was participating in a food/body cleanse, in other words, I noticed how often he writes about food while fasting.

For the cleanse itself, my husband and I had a liquid meal for both breakfast and dinner.  Lunch was our only solid meal of the day, and let me tell you, when you only have 1 meal a day that you can chew and feel all the textures and complexity of tastes, your tongue riots in delight and seeks out that window of pleasure each day.  Flavors seem to magically multiply a hundredfold when they are in such scarcity.

Here’s how a typical evening read would go:

It’s evening and I’ve had my bowl of raw, blended butternut squash and spinach puree enhanced with filtered water.  I can only stomach half of the soup because the flavor has a bitter uncookedness about it that makes me gag.  To forget my half eaten watery squash-spinach soup, I seek escape.  Curled up on the couch with a book to distract my mind and stomach from its hunger, I read this, “They broke their fast on black bread and boiled goose eggs and fish fried up with onions and bacon…” (311) or this “The eight soon-to-be brothers feasted on rack of lamb baked in a crust of garlic and herbs, garnished with sprigs of mint, and surrounded by mashed yellow turnips swimming in butter….  There were salads  of spinach and chickpeas and turnip greens, and afterwards bowls of iced blueberries and sweet cream” (445) or this “Jon was breaking his fast on applecakes and blood sausage…” (515).  All quotes are from the first book, A Game of Thrones.

It’s torture.  Martin’s tantalizing descriptions of meals and feasts only reminded me that all I could have was water.  And so, I drank.  Water helped me persevere through his meticulously detailed food descriptions.

One of the most common food items in Westeros, one of the fictional settings of the series, is oatcakes.  Many characters break their fast (translation eat breakfast) on oatcakes which are a grain staple of choice in Scotland.  With a little research, an idea here, another there, I came up with my own version of oatcakes.  PS the recipe is at the beginning of the post.  I’m so flatter that you decided to read my gibber-jabber in lieu of just seeking the recipe.

Start with your dry ingredients:

Fluff these together until mixed.

Now we’ll add our wet ingredients.  The baking soda needs something to react with, so I’m adding buttermilk which also helps with soft chewiness in baked goodies.  This is 1/4 cup of buttermilk and 1/4 cup of water.

I got a little excited which is why the measuring cup is so close and slightly out of focus.

Next, pop a stick of butter, 1/2 cup in the microwave for 30-45 seconds until melted.  Then add it to your mixing bowl.

Mix it all together.  It should have a sticky, thick, but well integrated consistency.

Now lay it out flat with a rubber spatula.  Aim for about 1/2 inch thickness.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Oatcakes are a rustic, everyday food item in Scotland; your edges do not need to be absolutely straight edged.  It’s not like we’re feeding a queen here.

At this point, you can score the dough,  by lightly running a knife over the batter to mark the portion cuts enough, just a gentle line here.

Then, bake at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes until GBD, golden, brown, and delicious.  For impatient people, like me, once they come out of the oven they fall apart easily.  When allowed to cool, they stick together better.

While the oatcakes bake, make your apple compote.

Using a paring knife, peel the apples by starting at the stem and moving just underneath the peel in circles until you get to the end.  Don’t worry if you lose your flow, just place the knife under the skin again and keep circling around and around.

Core the apples by chopping chunks away from the center.

Then rough chop them into 1 inch pieces.  Place them in a saute pan over  medium high heat.  Add lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon.  Cook for 8-10 minutes until apples are softened.

Note about apples: I recommend you use Gala apples because they are soft and some pieces will begin to disintegrate and create liquid apple gravy as you cook them, while other pieces will remain intact giving you the best of both worlds: chunky and creamy.

In the final shot here, I used Granny Apples which are, like any grandmother, hardy and built to last.  Every piece maintained its chopped form, and I didn’t get any of the oozing apple gravy I got the previous week I made the compote with Gala apples.  It was still a taste of fall on my mouth, but i most definitely will always make this compote with Gala apples.  

The Case for Being Stylish Homeowners

Docket #CV 123

Case #987

Dictates of Society vs. the Ericksons

Domicile in question: single family home located in the stylish, hipster central-San Francisco Bay Area

Room in question: living room which, due to a lack of window treatments, gives passer-byes a clear view inside at ugly walls dotted with too many colors

Charges: disorderly stylish-homeowner conduct, excessive use of Behr paint samples, infringement on neighbors’ rights to see a pretty home inside a window, and style negligence

Plaintiff, please state your case and evidence.

Honorable members of hipster Bay Area society.  We of the San Francisco Bay Area have a style standard to uphold.  Around the country, the world even, people look to the Bay Area for innovation, style, panache, the next Apple product or Google acquisition, even Michael Pollan’s forthcoming book telling us how to eat.

The Ericksons are a part of our community only because of a geographical location.  Their outright rejection and refusal to participate in being stylish new Bay Area home owners has caused unprecedented torment to our aesthetically inclined community.  Their indecision in finding a color for their living room has motivated friends and family to say, and I quote, “They are a lost cause.”  Please note exhibit A, B, and C on the record as evidence.

Exhibit A: Living Room Wall- southside

Guess how many different paint samples are exposed on this single wall for the entire community to see?

Exhibit B: Southside living room wall with colors numbered

Additionally we have Exhibit C, the east-facing wall.  4 more colors for a total of 24 paint patches.  An obvious excessive use of Behr paint samples from Home Depot.

Many people retuning from a long day at work on BART have notified us of the eye-pain caused by the quilted paint look sported in the Erickson living room.  Due to the fact that they do not have curtains everyone passing by is subjected to this style negligence.  Truly this is a classic case of style unbecoming a Bay-Area homeowner.

Defense…state your case.

(looking up from reading Game of Thrones series)

Ms. Erickson?  (throat clearing in awkwardness) What do you have to say in your own style defense?

Oh.  Hi.  Ummm.  Right.  Style defense.  Ladies and gentlemen, upholders of the dictates of society.  I admit that I am a fashionably disadvantaged person.  My husband and I bought our house about a year ago, and we’ve been in a process of making this house a home.  Our home.

We’ve been having some difficulties, as the prosecution has duly noted.  We have this beautiful slate fireplace, see?

And it has such beautiful cool blue tones with splotches of terracotta browns and peachy-browns, and rich greys.  And the amazing thing about this slate fireplace is that it changes colors depending on the way the light hits it coming through the window or if it is morning or afternoon light.

Then we have these bright wooden floors, stained in a yellowy orange color with brown grain marks.  We didn’t choose this color because when we ripped out the carpet and got our floors redone we didn’t know that we could choose our floor stain color.  We just let our floor guy handle it.  Isn’t this a lovely rich warm tone though?

Please ignore the playful puppy in this photo.  Whenever we sit on the ground she thinks we are going to start wrestling.

So, our struggle has been how do we complement both a cool tone from the fireplace and a rich warm tone from the floors?

We made significant strides when we finally just went with instinct and chose a color.  Ironically one of the first 3 we put up, but that’s a story for another day.

Dictates of society: we may have mostly IKEA furniture bought from craigslist, a coffee table with a giant crack in the middle of it, and a CRV TV set that we put nick knacks on because it doesn’t work, but we have soul, and if style is anything it is instinct and soul.  This is not a case of style negligence.  I ask you to see our progress as a slow process of new, young homeowners learning to trust their instincts and discovering their sense of style.

Veracruz-Style Tilapia (Tilapia Veracruzana)

We’re riding the end of summer produce wave here in NorCal.  It started with zucchini, now we are in the midst of a tomato influx.

For more tomato recipes see Homemade Tomato Sauce and Chilled Gazpacho.

Skip the story and get a cookin’ with the printable recipe: Veracruz-Style Tilapia

Some of my favorite foods are from what Christopher Columbus intriguingly called “The New World.”  These foods include tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, avocados, and let’s not forget potatoes from the land of the Incas.  As much as we equate tomatoes with Italian food, it was a Central American ingredient first, and indeed some of the tastiest uses for summer-ripened tomatoes can be found especially in Mexican food.

Veracruz-style fish is the most popular fish dish in Mexico, followed closely by fish tacos.  OK, I made up the fish tacos taking second place, but Veracruz, a state on the eastern edge of Mexico bordering the Caribbean Sea, is well-known for its seafood.

Traditionally it’s made with red snapper, a medium-firm white fish, but bass and (in this recipe) tilapia make fine substitutes.  The only thing to remember with tilapia is that very thin fillets have a tendency to fall apart since it is such a light fish.  You can see this evidenced in my above final dish picture.  What this means is you have to cook the fish at the absolute last minute before you’re ready to serve so it doesn’t totally fall apart.  OK the last 6 minutes; they do need to cook.  Another option would be to cook the sauce and fish separate, then top the fish with the rich, red sauce when ready to serve.  Your delicious choice.

We’ll start with tomatoes, about 1 large tomato per serving.  We’ll need to peel these with a paring knife which is a short, sharp knife, usually with an edge about 2-3 inches long and a handle that just feels like it’s made for the palm of your hand.  It’s used for precise cutting requirements, like peeling tomatoes.  Adult supervision is required for anyone over age 18.  First hint: be careful.  Second hint: have confidence in your abilities; the knife, not to mention the tomato, can feel it.  Third hint: don’t use overripe tomatoes since there is a higher chance of cutting yourself as you peel the skin off.

Start at the top, where the core is.  Slide your paring knife just under the tomato’s skin.  This is the kind of cutting task that will let you know if you have a sharp knife or not.

Making a circular path, continue cutting the peel until you reach the bottom.  With practice, it should come off all in one long, funny looking concentric circle piece.  Don’t worry if yours doesn’t look like that.  We all need a goal to work towards sometimes.

When you get to the end, sometimes you can just pull the last chunk off.

Rough chop your tomatoes and place in a food processor.

Whir them until they look like this.

Many people like to puree half the tomatoes and chop up the other half for a chunkier sauce texture.  This is a delicious variation.  I’m lazy, so I just puree them all.

Dice up 1 onion of your color choice.  Dice up a bell pepper of your color choice.  There can be a lot of color combos here.  I’ll leave the algorithms to people who know how to figure that out.

We’re also going to seed and de-membrane 2 fresh jalapeno peppers.  This means cut the peppers in half and slip your knife right under the membranes to cut the white parts out.  Can you handle a lot of heat?  Then be lazy and leave the seeds and membranes in and just dice the pepper up.

Saute these pieces of aromatic bliss (onions, peppers, jalapenos) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

Don’t forget about the 5 cloves of minced garlic.  This recipe is not for the flavor-phobic.  Then again, none of my recipes are.

Pour in the pureed tomatoes.  Bring the sauce up to a simmer.

Slice up some pimento-filled green olives.  Those are the ones with the little red peppers stuffed inside, but don’t worry they’re not hot peppers.  Think 4-5 olives per serving.

Oh goodness this makes me want to have a dirty martini.

Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.

Simmer the sauce until it thickens.  Or, if you’re in a rush, make a slurry by dissolving 2 teaspoons of corn starch in 2 teaspoons of water in a small cup.  Once it turns a murky white color, drop it into the tomato sauce, then continue the simmer until thickened.

Add your tilapia fillets.  Drown them in sauce as best you can so they soak up all the delicious flavor. Cook until flaky, about 6 minutes for super thin fillets, like mine.

Serve with sliced, boiled potatoes for a true New World dinner.  This dish gets along with white or brown rice also.