Monthly Archives: November 2011

Fall Rainbow













From my walks around town this week.

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Seasonal drinking

Like food, I have preferred beverages for different seasons. In the spring, I want lemonade with vodka and other citrus drinks or light red wines. In the summer, I want chilled whites or rose wines and to add iced tea to that lemonade, but tequila instead of vodka. Also, hard cider. In the fall, I’m all about the heavier red wines and rum with spiced cider. Late fall coming on winter, I want bourbon (manhattans and whiskey sours, though whiskey sours are also good during lemon season in the early spring). And in the winter, I want white russians, mulled wine and ciders with spiced rum, and spicy red wines.

Anyone else out there have seasonal adult beverage preferences?

A plethora of pomegranates

Our friends with the superproductive garden have a pomegranate tree that produced an overabundance of fruit this year. While I was visiting today with my lucky friend who had a five day weekend (she works four ten-hour-days each week and Monday’s her scheduled day off), she offered to give me some of the pomegranates, since they have far more than they can eat or use before they go bad or dry out. I left with a bag of 12 medium-to-large gorgeous pomegranates, most with just a slight split but none completely closed so I need to use them soon. Any ideas for how to best use these ruby beauties? I’ve got one idea for making pomegranate-infused vodka, but that won’t take my whole stash. I’ve already made chocolate-covered pomegranate clusters, which are delicious but don’t keep very long even in the refrigerator. So I’m opening up the floor to suggestions. What’s the best use for a dozen organic, homegrown pomegranates?

The Other Half

Oldest Friend, who has made an appearance many times before on this blog, came to town for a visit over the holiday weekend. We’d tried to make a plan to see her last Sunday night in San Diego after the wedding we attended while she was there for work, but previously forgotten arrangements got in the way and so we decided we’d have to see one another while she was visiting for Thanksgiving.

Our initial plan was to have lunch together on Friday afternoon in Healdsburg, which is where, when I was very small, we did our grocery shopping and where I took ballet class, as Geyserville was (and still is) too small for a proper market. When I was young, Healdsburg was a relatively small farming/agricultural community where generations raised their families. Local businesses patronized by local people sat around and branching from central town square. In the spring, local kids participated in the Future Farmers parade (my preschool classmates and I rode, costumed, on a big flatbed truck at least once), part of the local fair where horsemanship and 4H kids reigned supreme. The movie theater had one screen, and people lined up around the block for new releases. It was a quiet town where not much happened. But as the 90s rolled on and the wine industry became more and more an entrenched part of the local economy, Healdsburg began to change. It seemed everyone from San Francisco and other points south began to discover a place that wasn’t as stuck up or snooty as Napa County, and Healdsburg was only too happy to accommodate the influx of tourist dollars by building new hotels, B&Bs, and inns, building new tasting rooms, boutiques, and art galleries, and eventually pricing local businesses out of the storefronts they’d inhabited for years.

These days, Healdsburg is a mecca for wine lovers who have deep pockets and enjoy kitsch value. Of all the businesses inhabiting the storefronts around the main square, only two (a fabric store and a dive bar that’s been there since 1933) are still original to my memories of childhood. Oldest Friend proposed we eat at the local branch of a vegan/raw cafe, and I googled the menu only to realize that we couldn’t afford to eat there. I suggested a different place, one we’d been many times, most recently in July when my brother-in-law and his wife were visiting. I googled THEIR menu and realized they’d raised all prices by .50 to $1.50 on each menu item. Curious, I checked Yelp and couldn’t find a single affordable restaurant in town that was at all appealing. Our plans for meeting ended up not working for Friday for a variety of reasons, but it was really disheartening to know that there were so few affordable options anymore for eating out in Healdsburg.

Luckily, we managed to carve out a few hours on Saturday afternoon to send some time together. We met at the aforementioned Cafe Pretentious (not its real name, but I can’t help but call it that in my head) after Dan and I shared a $6 meal of Trader Joe’s sushi purchased during our weekly grocery shopping. Cafe Pretentious has a few things going for it: first, Oldest Friend loves it, and second, they have big comfortable couches and bottles of water sitting around, so you can basically go in and lounge and not have to order anything. (The biggest downside, for me particularly, is that it’s attached to a store that was filled with lavender, which makes me itchy and sneezy. I stayed away.) We spent an hour or so there, and then spent another two hours window shopping around the high-priced clothing boutiques, gift shops, shoe shops, purse stores, antique stores, jewelry stores, and kitchenware stores that make up the current retail options around the main plaza in Healdsburg.

I’ve found that sometimes, when I have absolutely no money to spend and therefore I don’t have to think at all about what something might cost, going into expensive stores can be kind of fun. It’s a harmless little fantasy, to imagine being the kind of person who actually patronizes those shops and doesn’t have to look at price tags because you can always afford it. I fondled bracelets and imagined what flowers I’d arrange in a given vase or antique cut glass pitcher. I touched the fabrics and admired the craftsmanship of the stitching, appreciated the artistry of the shot and thought of the perfect occasion for the hat. I also saw an awful lot of overpriced junk. And I saw, in a way that is a little creepy every time, the stores that used to be there: the toy store, which got priced out of its lease and had to move a block away – the toy store where I used to play with the wooden trainset and press my nose against the glass of the off-limits doll room. I saw the deli where I’d get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread with the crusts removed, a glass of milk or a small apple-shaped glass bottle of apple juice, and a small bag of locally-produced potato chips. I saw the jewelry store, called Forty Carrots, and Mister Moons when it wasn’t too expensive to buy any of the fun gifts, jewelry, or soaps, even for a teenage girl who only had babysitting money to spend.

Oldest Friend tried on a pair of shoes in the shoe store (not a shoe in the store under $50 and many over $200) and I imagined what it might be like to just be able to buy a pair of John Fluevogs or Frye boots because I wanted them. She tried on a silver bracelet, and I imagined what it would be like to buy it later and give it to her for Christmas. So many of the people who live in Healdsburg now, or who visit, could do those things and never give it a second thought, could buy the Humboldt Fog cheese, fancy crackers, and locally grown organic figs at the Oakville grocery for a picnic at a winery or in the town square. They aren’t the 1% (I doubt the 1% would ever even go to a town as rustic as Healdsburg still is in many ways), but they’re definitely more in the “haves” than the “have nots.” I’m glad that Healdsburg has managed to boost its image and economy, because it’s good for the locals. It’s also priced an awful lot of people my age out of owning a home or raising a family in the town where they grew up. There are at least two sides to every situation.

Our jaunt around the spendy stores of Healdsburg wasn’t completely window-shopping, however. Dan managed to find a diamond in the rough – a well-loved Griswold cast iron skillet made between 1909 and 1929 for $5 at the local antique store. It’s easily fixed up and I’m sure we’ll be using it for the rest of our lives. Not too shabby, Healdsburg.

25 years

Sisters back in the day

Twenty-five years ago today, my baby sister was born. I still remember the day pretty clearly, my parents leaving for the hospital in the middle of the night, the neighbor who stayed with us making pancakes in the morning, going into the forest with my dad to help find the perfect baby bay laurel tree that would become Laurel’s tree.

Six weeks ago my baby sister got married (recap post coming on Monday morning) and moved to Ireland, but before that she worked full time as a legal secretary and volunteered as a CASA. Before that, she traveled to Ireland (where she met the man who she’d eventually marry) after graduating from UC Santa Barbara. My sister is gorgeous and accomplished and wonderful, and we all miss her terribly.

First dance

I used sprigs of bay laurel from her tree in Laurel’s wedding bouquet and in her husband’s boutonniere because I’m sentimental like that. It was a way to tie her new family to her family of origin, a way to bridge her journey from daughter and sister to wife (and maybe, someday, mother). I also made her a wreath of laurel from her tree to wear during the reception, long a symbol of victory. Laurel has been victorious in many of the achievements she’s set out to accomplish so far in her first 25 years on this planet. I have no doubt that she’ll reach every other goal she sets for herself. I love you, Floral, and I hope your new Irish family made your first quarter century celebration a good one.

On Laurel's wedding day

Food on Friday: Two pies edition

Yesterday’s post wasn’t 100% fictional. I did, in fact, make two pies in the morning: a pumpkin pie made from a sugar pumpkin I processed a week or so ago, and an apple-blackberry pie that included blackberries I picked and froze this summer. I don’t bake all that often these days except when I’ll be sharing what I make with other people, so Thanksgiving was a good excuse to try out a new pie crust recipe I’d been wanting to try. Dan insists Thanksgiving isn’t complete without pumpkin pie, and my mom insisted I bring a fruit pie, so these were my two contributions to the family’s Thanksgiving meal.

Pumpkin pie (from a sugar pumpkin), adapted from standard Libby’s pumpkin pie recipe

One sugar pumpkin, processed and water squeezed out of the flesh (should leave about 1.5-2 cups of pumpkin)
1 14 oz can evaporated milk (full, low, or nonfat)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 unbaked pie shell (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 425F. In a medium bowl, combine pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, spices, and salt until thoroughly mixed. Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375F and bake for another 35-40 minutes or until filling is set and no longer runny. Serve with freshly whipped cream.

Apple-blackberry pie, loosely adapted from apple pie recipe in red plaid Better Homes & Gardens cookbook

3 large granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
3/4-1 cup frozen or fresh blackberries
juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)
*3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp corn starch
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
double crust pie recipe (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 375F. In a large bowl, mix all filling ingredients and let sit for a few minutes while you prepare the bottom pie crust in a deep dish pie pan. Pour apple/blackberry mixture into pie pan and add top crust, crimping edges. Poke several holes in the top of the pie with a fork. Slide a baking sheet or pizza pan onto the bottom rack to catch potential drips and the pie onto the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until top crust is golden and juice is bubbling up through the top of the pie. Serve with freshly whipped cream, if desired.

* You can increase the sugar up to 1.5 cups if you like a sweeter pie. I like my fruit pies to be more tart and offset the tartness with whipped cream

Recently, I saw something on America’s Test Kitchen on PBS about using vodka in place of some of the water in a standard pie crust recipe because alcohol will help wet the ingredients but won’t cause the gluten in the flour to develop, which helps keep the crust flakier and less dense/heavy. I was excited to try this out, and found a recipe for vodka pie crust (the alcohol bakes out and doesn’t flavor the crust at all). After sampling both of my pies last night, I feel the experiment was a smashing success, and I plan to use alcohol in place of some of the water from now on.

Recipe for single pie crust (will make enough for single crust pie, plus some extra)

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
small amounts of pie-appropriate spices (cinnamon, cloves, etc.)(optional)
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup butter flavored vegetable shortening cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons of cold vodka
2 tablespoons cold water

Store all ingredients in refrigerator or freezer or chill them before using. In a medium bowl, sift flour, salt, sugar, and spices if using. Using a pastry blender, cut cold fat into flour mixture until the largest lumps are the size of small peas. Put in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Remove and pour vodka and water over mixture, then use a rubber spatula to mix liquid into dry ingredients until just holding together. Gather into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge for an hour (or up to 24 hours) or, if time constrained, in the freezer for 15 minutes to cool it down again and let it rest.

Cover a flat surface with waxed paper and sprinkle with flour. Plop crust dough onto floured surface and sprinkle with more flour. Using a rolling pin and working as fast as possible, roll out until crust is about 1/8 inch thick and big enough to fit in a pie pan, adding small amounts of additional flour if needed to keep dough from sticking to rolling pin. You will see pieces of fat that are not worked all the way into the dough and this is a good thing. Lift waxed paper and flip crust into pie pan, then peel waxed paper away. Trim overhang edges of dough (you can use them for other small projects, like cinnamon sugar crust twists) and crimp remaining dough. Fill and bake with your filling of choice.

Recipe for double crust pie

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1.5 teaspoons sugar
3/4 tsp salt
small amounts of pie-appropriate spices (optional)
1 stick cold unsalted butter
6 tablespoons cold butter flavored vegetable shortening
3 tablespoons cold vodka
3 tablespoons cold water

Follow as above for single crust recipe, but divide dough roughly in half before rolling, using larger ball for bottom crust. When bottom crust is in pan, add filling of choice. Roll out and add top crust over filling. Trim overhang and crimp edges, making sure to poke holes in the top of the pie with a knife or fork so steam can escape.

The might-have-been

In the morning, I baked a pumpkin pie from a pumpkin I processed a week ago, and an apple/blackbery pie with blackberries I picked this summer and froze, in between diaper changes and efforts to keep grubby fingers out of cabinets.

In the afternoon, the pies were loaded into the car, alongside the carseat. We drove to grandma’s house, stopping along the way to pick up whipping cream. I waited in the car and sang songs while Dan ran into the store, and when we arrived we unloaded the pies and all the things you pack when you bring a baby someplace.

Instead of a glass of wine with the hummus and veggie appetizers, I had a glass of water, because my eight-month-old needed to eat a couple of times. He’s just at a stage where he’s smiley and happy to play with all the adults in his life who love him. He even has his own highchair at grandma’s.

I learned more about my cousin’s trip to Africa and told her about what my 13-month-old could do now that she hadn’t been able to do before my cousin left in July. I showed her the pictures of my sister’s wedding, with Dan holding our daughter in the big family photo.

As we ate, our 16-month-old had his own tray of potatoes and green beans to nosh on. We even gave him a few pieces of grip-sized turkey to practice with. He made a big mess as usual, but the dogs were thrilled to have little bits of people food to clean up off the floor.

Toward the end of the meal, everyone went around the table and mentioned something we’re thankful for. I gave silent thanks that our 18-month-old was healthy and developmentally normal. After dinner, she lurched around like Frankenstein after the dogs and we Skyped with her other grandparents in Colorado. Her favorite part of the meal was the little bit of apple from the slice of apple pie on my plate.

My favorite part of the meal was having a child there to share it with us.