Well, food blogging has brought about many firsts. I look at food differently, often thinking about how to plate it and how to capture the light just perfectly in a photo. I read recipes differently, always pausing to think about adapting them to my own interests and taste. And last but not least, I look at dishes and linens much, much differently. Even if I'm eating alone and in a rush, I still always set a place for myself. There's something depressing about standing in front of the TV or perching on the edge of a chair at the counter. I always put out a nice place mat and silverware, and there are usually flowers on the table. The aesthetics of a room, table, and a place setting is important if you think about eating as a sensory experience and not just a habit or necessity. Now I'm not talking fine china and stemware with each meal. I'm just saying the presentation of food matters. So I've been very aware of dishes, napkins, linens, and antique silverware lately. And during the past week, Heath Ceramics has come into my radar. I was having coffee and a macaron at Cibo in Sausalito and noticed their beautiful dishware. After a little investigation, I realized it was Heath, and I'd just read how Chez Panisse uses Heath Ceramics for their dishes and serving ware. I promptly hopped online and discovered they've been around since 1948 and, low and behold, the U.S. factory is in my backyard. I knew what I had to do: the next morning I woke up and headed over to investigate. And that's when I found the plate.
Two east coast visitors in two days makes Megan a happy girl. Jeb, my charming and hilarious friend from Boston College, stopped in for a night on Sunday and fabulous Anthony has graced San Fransciso with his presence for the next few days. On Sunday we took Jeb up to Sonoma, ate at The Girl & the Fig, drove to Yountville and had macarons and espresso out on the patio of Bouchon Bakery, and chatted away until it was dark and my flip-flopped feet were freezing. Then tonight, Linnea and I were supposed to meet up with Anthony and Liz to have some drinks in the city. Blame it on daylight savings time (because I am) or my minor social anxiety (likely) or just pure laziness (very likely)--but I'm sitting here in front of my computer screen instead of on a bar stool. I actually took a shower, got dressed, put on a little blush (generally the extent of my make-up) and was ready to roll. I was in the passenger side of Linnea's car, deciding which playlist to listen to. For a few blocks, there were lots of internal pep-talks about how much fun this would be and how productive Tuesdays were over-rated anyhow. Nope, turn the car around. I just couldn't imagine staying out late, having to get up early, and navigating around noisy bars. Instead, I turned to brussels sprouts, chorizo, and onion and tried a recipe I'm thinking of making for Thanksgiving. While I'm dying to see Anthony and hear about what's going on in his world, I was thrilled with a hot plate of these little guys with dinner. I know that brussels sprouts aren't everyone's favorite, but these are quite tender and absorb the flavor of the chorizo and onion beautifully. I'd go out on a limb and say that even non sprout-loving folks may appreciate them.
I recently bought myself a present. I'd heard amazing things about David Tanis's book A Platter of Figs. Cooks I respected loved it, I kept running into it at bookstores, and then I was visiting my sister in Seattle and saw it on the shelf at Delancey That's it. I was sold. I'm not sure how to even talk about this book because it's so unlike any other. It's not just a cookbook. Christopher Hirsheimer takes beautiful, spare photographs that really highlight the integrity of the food. And then there's David's recipes. He focuses on simplicity and seasonality. In his introduction, he notes "The platter of figs is a metaphor for the food I like. Fresh ripe figs are voluptuous and generous, luxurious and fleeting. And beautiful." If you're not familiar with David's story, he grew up in Ohio, moved to California, took odd jobs in Bay Area kitchens, landed a pizza and salad gig at Chez Panisse and eventually stayed to run the upstairs cafe. The draw to open his own restaurant eventually brought him to Santa Fe. He was extremely successful there, but business became tough in a depressed economy and David moved back to CA...and to Chez Panisse. At the time, he shared the downstairs restaurant chef position with Jean-Pierre Moulle. They split up the week. Then in 2001, an opportunity arose for David to move to Paris. Initially saddened, Alice Waters came up with the perfect plan: instead of splitting up the week, they could split up the year! And that was that: David cooks for six months out of the year at Chez Panisse and during the other six months he hosts a private dining club in Paris, preparing meals in his tiny galley kitchen. In talking about initially meeting David in the early days and asking him to cook lunch for her, Waters notes,"It was that lunch's radical simplicity that won me over." And that radical simplicity is exactly what drew me to A Platter of Figs. The book is split into seasonal, themed menus. For example, under Fall you'll see "The Bean Soup Lunch" or "Dinner for a Tuscan." David's writing is visual and visceral: he paints lovely narratives before each menu, talking about the weather, the seasons, the light at a certain time of day. You could buy this book with little intention to cook any of the recipes and still enjoy it. I promise.
In the Bay Area, we often have an Indian summer. It descends each year around this time. And each year, I always wonder why it's heating up as we ease into September. Just when all the fall clothes pop up in store windows, when the morning light begins to change, and when you feel like you should be making soup--it's damn hot. And with the heat comes my kitchen lethargy. Rather than cooking, I find myself putting things together instead: salads with tomatoes and squash from the garden, sandwiches with cold cuts and lots of mayo and crisp lettuce, simple pastas with olives and shaved Parmesan, my infamous rustic Mexican pizzas (if you're lucky, more on that later). So in the summer, I like to make this pesto and keep it in the fridge to have readily available when cooking sounds as enticing as changing a flat tire. Now before we get to the recipe, you may be asking yourself, 'wait a second. I thought Megan lived in San Francisco where it's rarely above 75.' Well, I've lied to you. Probably not a good tactic so early on in our relationship. I actually live right outside the city, about 8 eight miles North, in Marin County. I live on a wide street with big leafy oaks in a very large house with a pool, two back yards, a circular driveway, lemon trees, and a box garden.
The Sebastopol Gravenstein Fair was this past weekend. I had a few food adventures planned in the city, but Craig, Linnea, and I decided a little jaunt up North might be fun. It's been strangely cool in the mornings and evenings here; the light is even starting to change. I've been in denial that Fall is looming. The Gravenstein Fair, I figured, would be a nice way to come to terms with this fact. When I was going to graduate school in Boston, I couldn't wait for Fall. The leaves turned overnight (I kid you not), the air was crisp without being frigid, and there seemed to always be a good reason to make soup. One of my favorite things to do was go apple picking out on an old family farm in New Hampshire. They gave you special apple picking bags with super sturdy handles, and you could buy provisions at the little country store to have a picnic out in the orchards: honeys, apple butter, farm-fresh eggs, apple chutneys, and homemade apple breads. I miss that. But I was thinking the Gravenstein Fair might be similar: paper cups full of cider, bales of hay, maybe pick some apples. Instead, I found something very different. I realized quickly that, amidst the Thai BBQ and corndogs, there wasn't going to be any apple picking. I really had to hunt for cider. And people were walking around with carnival toys and huge, furry hats. But the more I excused the fact that I'd had the wrong idea of what the festival would hold, it was actually a nice afternoon. We saw a restored tractor exhibit, ate doughy apple fritters, and tried Grandma's Fried Apple Rings (apple rings, lightly battered and fried, and dusted with powdered sugar by none other than Grandma herself):