Sunday was basically a wash. I had a great run along the Mill Valley bike path. The sun was out. I felt strong. Stopped by Peet’s for a mid-morning latte on the way home, took a hot shower, watered the lawn and got ready to head over to the East Bay with my girls. Then… the plumbing disaster that ended up consuming the rest of the day. Suffice it to say there was lots of water, numerous soaking towels, a $1000 plumber (who happened to be an expert on black widows), and an afternoon down the drain–literally. So after napping a bit and ruminating about the Sunday I’d never get back, my curly-haired traveling companion and I hopped in the car and started driving with no clear sense of where we would go. Driving through Albany, it hit us: Fonda! Don’t they have an all-day happy hour? Weren’t they on the 100 Best List from the SF Chronicle?
Yes and yes. Fonda is an interesting marriage of rustic and industrial. Dark woods, dewey yellow paint, dim lighting, and a hatched big-beam ceiling. All this joined with funky metal tables, an upstairs loft for diners wanting to be set back away from the bustle a bit, and large warp-around windows. It’s almost two concepts, but it works. Everything but the booths. You sit down and immediately reminsice about last week’s Iyengar class and how much your grandma told you not to slouch. Stiff, firm, and unforgiving.
We began where all good things begin: drinks. It’s always amusing when people describe the strong drinks at a restaurant and I end up having to order an extra shot so I can actually taste the alcohol. Not at Fonda. I ordered the Cachaca Drop, reminscient of a Lemon Drop without the cloyingly sweet aftertaste. Cachaca is a Brazilian liquor like Rum except that it’s made from a distillation of sugar cane, whereas Rum’s made Molasses. Enough about the particulars. It was a refreshing summery drink with a good strong kick that helped me to ease into that stiff booth, just a little. My partner in crime tried the Nahuatl’s Punch: a blend of rum, lime and pineapple juices, and 7-up. It reminded me a little bit of what we’d mix up in high school using cheap ingredients to mask the taste of alcohol. Good then (what wasn’t?), a little too perky now.
There were so many things we wanted to try on the menu, but we stuck with the chicken flautas with salsa molcajete, the Oaxacan black beans, the fresh housemade corn tamale with Early Girl Salsa, and the cucumber & cherry tomato salad. The chicken flautas were, unfortunately, forgettable. The salsa accompanying them had a fresh fire-roasted flavor, but the actual dish was a bit luke-warm and the chicken was sparse and fatty. The black beans and the cucumber salad are both simple dishes, but were spectacular. When traveling in Ecuador, almost all meals come with black refried beans that have this smoky, almost creamy taste and Fonda has emulated that precisely here. I could eat these every day. The cucumber salad was perfect: grilled onions and queso fresca livened up the crisp cucumbers and summer tomatoes perched amongst a light oregano vinaigrette. Then there was the tamale: sunny, lively, bursting with fresh corn kernels. For dessert, we tried the warm molten chocolate cake. I generally try to avoid the ubiquitous dessert for more interesting options (passion fruit creme brulee or Colombian chocolate ice cream sandwich), but I was reminded that when it comes down to it, who doesn’t love a bit of warm oozing chocolate with big dollops of homemade whipped cream? Sweet, small portion; complex dark flavor.
If I lived in this ‘hood, I’d be here often. It’s open until 12:30 every night and after imbibing a few of those creative cocktails, you could just stumble on home. So although the plumber will be back tomorrow to finish hydro-scrubbing the pipe (huh?!), I’ll rest easy tonight knowing that there’s a place out there that makes you feel like you did something with your day, sampled some fresh and lovingly prepared Nuevo Latin food, and didn’t sacrifice your pay-check to do so. I’ll drink to that.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.