Food

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Tomatoes

I’m really excited about tomatoes right now.

For the last ten years, since the first year we lived together, Dennis has been planting tomatoes. The first few years, when we had a spectacular garden behind our little rented cottage in Rockridge, the tomatoes were amazing and plentiful. The next several years, we moved a lot, and the tomatoes really never ripened as well as those East Bay stunners. This season brings our first crop of tomatoes in our Sugartown house. And they are scrumptious.

I’m so inspired by the taste of this fruit, by the fact that, when I pick one in the heat of the day, I can taste the spirit of the California sun in each bite. So I’m going to make sauce. Lots of sauce.

I called a local organic farm that is expecting a bumper of San Marzanos later this month.

Zoe from the farm is going to call me when they have the tomatoes that won’t sell at market because they are too ripe or less than perfect. I’m going to drive up and get those tomatoes, and with a little advice and equipment borrowed from Leigh’s chef friend, Ingrid, I’m going to jar sauce. This way, I can feed the family on the California sunshine all winter long. How pioneerish, right? Like I said, I’m excited. I’ll let you know when the call comes from Zoe and take pictures of the process.

In the meantime, I want to share a sauce recipe I made up the other day.

I went out to the tomato vines with my bright red colander and picked a handful of Super Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes (vine selected and planted by Dennis) and a few Early Boys (selected and planted by Little J). I pulled off the greens and put the tomatoes right into the slow cooker. I drizzled olive oil and about a quarter cup of red wine over them. I added some sauteed onion, garlic and red pepper. I sprinkled on salt, pepper and oregano. Then I cooked them on low for four hours.

When Little J and I came back from the pool, the house smelled heavenly. The tomatoes had released a lot of liquid, but were still whole (!?). I smashed them up with a wooden spoon and added a small can of Muir Glenn organic tomato paste. Then I let them simmer for another hour. The smell was intoxicating.

I blended the sauce with my Braun immersion blender, which is the best cooking tool ever because you don’t have to transfer hot contents to a blender. Then, I pressed the liquid through a fine mesh colander to separate out all the skins and seeds. The result was a creamy, delicious sauce that looked like a too thick tomato soup and tasted like  a balmy evening in southern Spain.

We dined alfresco that evening as it was the hottest night of the year. Little J ate shirtless and shoeless. He devoured a plate of ravioli smothered in the sauce made from the tomatoes he grew. Then he played in the back yard while Dennis and I ate the sauce over shredded spaghetti squash (which looks like pasta. Have you cooked this? It’s amazing).

I’d added some fresh basil during the last ten minutes of cooking and a little chevre to gild the lilly. Wow. What a satisfying meal.

A little bit of heaven from a little red fruit and a gorgeous end-of-summer night. Dennis and I sat outside later with a glass of wine and drank in the stars for dessert. Perfection.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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On the way home from post-treatment-then-post-healthy-five-yr-check-up for J,  we stopped for our usual frozen yogurt. After that, Little J was tuuuckered. “Daddy WHEN are we going to be back in Sugartown?”

“By the time you count to thirty, we’ll be off the freeway,” Dennis answered.

Immediately and predictably, Little J started to count as fast as he could. To get the off-ramp there faster.

When he realized he was going to finish before the off-ramp came, he slowed down. When he realized he couldn’t control how quickly the off-ramp was going to come, he let it go and started to do something more fun. “Let’s all count to one hundred.” We were home before we knew it. The kid’s been in kindergarten for three whole days, but he already knows the most important lesson of all, one that Joan Didion taught me: “Play it as it Lays.”

Speaking of Kindergarten, here’s Little J on the first day.

We agree as a family that we’ve accomplished our goal set back in May to have a great summer in spite of the cancer treatments. The last few weeks were no exception. With my birthday celebrations followed by a super-amazing blood-transfusion, and James tearing it up at summer camp, how could they not be great weeks. Here for you, the five senses tour:

Taste

Uncle Mike turned 50 two days after I turned 41, so he treated us all to brunch at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville. Yum is not enough. Family-style delicious fare shared with Coopers, their BFFs, their lovelies, and their little ones is about as much perfection as one can take. Then there was the local pub for Fish ‘n Chips on my actual bday with my Sugartown girls. Finally, Central Market with the BFFs Mari and Carolyn.

Watermelon salad with feta cheese and lavender-infused honey. MMM.

*Romantic dinner in SF with Dennis after quick jaunt to Tiffany left out to preserve sweetness and mystery.

Smell

Chlorine, spray-on sunscreen, and victory as Little J and his swim coach Mason engage in a smile-off. J has just swum half the length of a full-length pool.

Sound

The crunching and slurping and satisfied mmms of the long-awaited last-day-before-school-homemade ice cream sandwiches. There were even some bees buzzing nearby. And maybe a cat yawning in the sunshine.

Touch

The last hug and kiss before school.

Sight

Before this happened:

Sixth sense?

Well, the last thoughts of summer leave us so grateful for my successful treatment and our healthy, happy kid. I have one more round, possibly two (if my bone marrow can take it, visualize strong marrow!) but I’m not counting the seconds to the off-ramp, either. I’m walking to school each day with J and D and playing “I spy with my little eye” and secretly fantasizing about being a part of the PTA when I have the strength. Playing it as it Lays.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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Frog Hollow Peaches from The Frog Hollow website (Can you smell them?)

File this one under “Things that Make me Go Mmm …”

Peaches. Lately I’ve been harassing encouraging anyone who will listen to try Frog Hollow Farms peaches. They are the best in orange, fuzzy goodness that California has to offer. Farmer Al Courchesne has been growing these beauties on his farm near the Sacramento Delta for over thirty years.  In the Bay Area, you can get them from Whole Foods Market or at the Frog Hollow Market at the Embarcadero Ferry Building.

If you’re like my friend Leigh, or me, and you grew up with peaches or nectarines in your backyard, you knew what summer fruit was supposed to taste like, to smell like. But maybe because it’s been so long since you tasted fruit that wasn’t picked before it was ripe, that was sprayed with stuff to keep it from ripening until it got to the store. It’s understandable. I love the kind of peaches we had as kids, the kind you could smell in the bowl on the counter before you even touched them, that were juicy but not squishy, the kind that filled your entire head with the nectar of sweet summer after one bite. If you love these too, or if you’re reading this and realizing you’ve never had the experience of California’s finest fuzzy gold, then you must (here I go again!) track down some Frog Hollow Peaches in the next few weeks. I think they even ship them across the U.S. I know there are lots of readers around the world. Don’t fret. I’m sure you have your yummy fruits that  I can’t even imagine. Please share in comments.

I’m not working for Frog Hollow, I swear.  It’s just that this year, their crop really sent me over the edge. With my chemo treatments, I can barely taste anything. I’m so grateful to be able to taste the peaches. So grateful. I know that I’m known for hyperbole and, even at the age of forty, often use more than one “o” for the word so. As in, the peaches are soooo good. But this time  I mean it.

When you try the peaches, let me know how you like them. Below is a salad I like to make with peaches, romaine, and herbs straight from the garden. I’m still trying to get the recipe for Heather’s “Disappearing” Peach Crisp. I’ll post that soon too. Oh, and below the salad is a picture of my very own newly shorn head, in keeping with the peach-fuzz theme.

Hugs,

Jennifer

Peachy Keen Romaine and Chevre’

Toss crisp Romaine hearts with a tbs each of mint and basil

Crumble a good Chevre’ over all

Place Frog Hollow peach chunks over all

Drizzle olive oil and a good dark balsamic

Add a touch of black pepper and sea salt or better yet, fleur de sel

viva the fuzz!!

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From Felicia Cago's blog

I’ve been craving bones, unbeknown to me.

I’d been dreaming of the perfect bowl of pho since chemo last Tuesday and then again last night, after round two. When a friend asked what pho was, I discovered it’s a Vietnamese bone soup. When pho broth is prepared traditionally, chicken bones are boiled and browned for hours, leeching valuable minerals from the marrow right into the broth.

I’ve also been craving bones unbeknown to me. Last night I thought of the amazing chicken-bone soup my friend Amy made me back in 2008. I swear the stuff is magical. You stir in a little sherry so it goes down smoothly, and voila: rosy cheeks and a happy tum replace vampire jowls and a bloated, empty stomach. Lucky for me, as I write this, Amy is brewing her magic broth for me just across Sugartown.

But my strange craving is also being fed by Ms. Miller who, totally unaware of my osteo-obsession of late, cleaned, dried, and giftwrapped a sweet package of tiny chicken wishbones and sent them winging my way. When I unwrapped them, James held one up and asked, “What is this?”

“A talisman,” I answered. I’m going to make a mobile of sorts from the wishbones, but first maybe dip them in glue and cover them in what, glitter? sugar? tiny white feathers? A wishbone mobile. A talisman for the strength of bones and good luck. Little perches where angels can alight in the night, while we sleep.

So Doctor G met with us yesterday morning before treatment, and the whole bone theme came into sharper focus. None of this is any coincidence, it turns out.

“So the marrow of your bones is very sensitive. Very sensitive. Your white cell count was blahdy blah, and one week later it is now blahdyblah. That means your risk for infection is really high. But we need to move forward with treatment, so you’ll get a shot of Neulasta tomorrow which will stimulate your sensitive marrow to make more white cells. Which you will feel. Because of your sensitive marrow. Do you remember if you could feel it last time?”  “Yes, we call Neulasta ‘the bone crusher’.”

The very good news is that there is a ‘bone crusher’ shot. I can’t help feeling how grateful I am that I can continue treatment in spite of my sensitive bones, that they can just use the ‘bone crusher’ to boost my marrow and keep going. It’s a blessing.

And the day in the chair yesterday? It wasn’t a breeze. I always say it was a breeze, because it usually is! But this time it was not. My veins(!) it seems, have also developed a sensitivity to the chemo, as well.  Stingy, achy, burny, two different tries of two different veins, and finally got it working pain free. Phew.

Toward the end of the day, my favorite nurse came in and she and D and I talked about having a port put into my chest so they can leave my poor veins alone. It’ll be like Iron Man’s, but no light, and off to the left, near my collar bone, smaller, and more discreet. It’ll be under my skin, no tubes coming out of it, just a little bump under there like an extra bone, or a secret power.

So now, we get two weeks with no chemo. Just us, the bone crusher, my bone soups and the making of my wishbone mobile. Then the port goes in if my white cells are up,  on Wed June 10th, then chemo again on the 11th.

After treatment, D and I drove home in the rain last night,  processing all this. The good, the difficult, the amazing care we get from all our doctors and nurses. We wondered if Little J was doing okay with neighbor D who had graciously picked him up from school and taken him that afternoon. We’d heard she was going to take him out with Little T.  And just as we were thinking of them, neighbor D sent us this picture:

Driving the Cart at the Grocery Store

It was perfect timing.

Hugs and healthy bones and smooches to you,

Jennifer

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