Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Comfort zone

Lately I've been questioning my choice in job. Yes, it pays well but frankly most days I'm bored as hell. There is no longer any challenge. I just go through the motions. Did I mention my paycheck though? My paycheck allows me certain freedoms outside of work. And so now I have told myself to focus on the check.

To balance that check, I have started tutoring again. Actually tutoring pays well too.
The difference is that I am engaged while tutoring as opposed to my regular job at which I usually act annoyed most days.

Tonight I had my first session with a new student. And it was great. Maddie thought that I was tutoring drinking but I was really tutoring geometry. Because I kick ass at math, being a former geek and all. As a former geek, I can make math accessible to the non-geek. You know that whole percentage thing? Well that's completely about a sale at Macy's and then having to add on the sales tax. Or it's baseball stats.

So I met the kid in a cafe because he thought their apartment was too small. I found out later that he didn't want to meet at the neighborhood cafe but would have preferred to meet at the closest location of the gods of coffee. Maybe in the future. When his mom showed up at the end of the session to see how things had gone, he proudly told her that we had finished all of his homework and that he understood it all much better. Did I mention how good I am at this stuff? Not just the subject matter but making a kid feel confident and all? Because I totally rock. And I gave him my own homework -- things that will help him to prepare for his upcoming test.

What I have learned over the many years of tutoring is that many parents just want someone to help the kids do their homework. Just because they can do the homework -- with assistance -- does not mean that they will do well on tests. For this kid, I realized that he did not have a firm grasp on the vocabulary. I gave the family a list of vocabulary that I noted throughout the session to be turned into flashcards. And yes, this is why they pay me more than they would a college student who is tutoring. The college student might not take this extra step. I might also throw in some worksheets down the road.

Tutoring? Finally I feel engaged. I look forward to upcoming sessions with this student. And my "real parents" have also said that they would like me to start tutoring their granddaughter -- my niece -- once more.

Oh and did I mention all the cute guys -- who are adults -- who frequent the cafe in which I meet the kid? Yeah, this could be a good thing for me in so many ways.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The morning after

I don't know about y'all but after I have spent an enjoyable day baking in the sun, I really don't feel like moving much the next day. Unfortunately there is that small problem of hunger. I ran through the possibilities in my mind. Going out for something seemed to defeat the idea of a day of lounging. But I really didn't have the energy for cooking. Then it came to me; the answer was assembly.

Now assembly to me usually means making a salad. I've had way too many salads over the last few months -- heck the last week -- though to want yet another one. (This also why when I tend to assemble a meal, I don't really feel inspired to post. Also if you've already seen that salad, why do you want to see it again?) I guess this is where I say thank you to Trader Joe's as items from there were my answer to something that would be relatively quick to assemble.

I started with the frozen mahi mahi burgers. I think I was kind of hungry when I bought them. Also mahi mahi happens to be one of my favorite fish. I do know that when I bought them, I had no idea what I would do with them. And no, the answer is not to slap one on a bun. I love burgers but that is really too much bread for me and I always end up eating only half the bun. It's one of my quirks. Halfway through eating a burger, I will get rid of the bread and usually whatever tomato is left at that point.

I did feel like the mahi mahi needed some kind of bread though. I was going to make do with a crumpet but I persevered and located the whole grain English muffins in the fridge. Perfect. And perhaps some romaine lettuce.

The next element was the poached egg. At this point I realized that I was basically constructing a version of a Benedict. Hollandaise sauce was out of the question as far as I was concerned. Thankfully I am the condiment queen and located the jar of tartar sauce with jalapeno.

The final assembly from bottom to top -- half of a toasted whole grain English muffin, romaine, tartar sauce with jalapeno, mahi mahi burger, poached egg.

And now for the truth. The photo above is not what I made for brunch but when I made the dish again for dinner. While it was tasty, I felt there was something missing -- avocado. Usually when I have mahi mahi, I make a salsa to go with it. So back to the fridge I headed. Now this is about using what's on hand. I came up with an orange, avocado, jalapeno and shallot. Normally I would through in some cilantro but I had neither fresh nor dried. The shallot was because it was the only allium besides garlic that I had on hand. The mixture was just the added element that the dish needed. Well except for the orange. Yes, the citrus was needed but the orange was too sweet. Next time I'll try something like supremed grapefruit. Or maybe the juice of Meyer lemon. Gah! I have lemons on the tree that I could have used.

And I have also figured out that I really should head to the grocery store tomorrow. I mean really. What kind of house has absolutely no onions in it?

Saturday, September 25, 2010


So today I did something I haven't done in a really long time -- went to a show in a large venue. And of course today would be the day that it was a high of 93 at the venue. Needless to say there was a great amount of water consumed. Oh and I remembered the sunblock before getting there.

What would make me venture into a large venue? The combination of Cameo, Gladys Knight, and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly.

I started to think after chatting with folks earlier in the week that many are unfamiliar with the latter. This was solidified when Frankie paused in the show to talk about the band's history.

They have been together for about 40 years, starting in Philadelphia. In 1972 they packed up and moved to the Bay Area. All because they heard Sly and wanted to be near the guy who was turning out that cool music.

The band has always gotten plenty of airplay on Black stations but has never really crossed over. As a result, Frankie described the band as kind of an underground band. They seriously have a cult-like following.

And so before I turn in for some much needed coma sleep after all those hours in the sun, I'd like to leave you with this song. It's always been one of my favorites of theirs.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I realized that it's probably been some time since the cats have made an appearance around here. We have all been trying to learn the lesson that there is plenty of room on the couch for all of us. Once we have that one down, we may try working on "there is plenty of room on the bed for all of us." Or maybe not. Boris does seem content sleeping on the floor most of the time.

Yesterday while out shopping for food and food-related items, I decided that the cats had not received a new toy in quite some time. Now Natasha likes to play soccer, kicking a ball up and down the room, so I knew this would be a hit with her. I also sanely decided to place said object in the living room instead of the bedroom.

The surprise was that Boris enjoys the toy just as much as Natasha. In fact they were originally playing together with each seated at opposite ends of the eight. By the time I decided to take photos, they had opted for solo play though. I wanted an action shot of Boris. Unfortunately he stopped to pose as soon as he saw the camera and refused to return to the game until the camera was out of sight. He's such a diva. And Natasha and I think at times there is only room for two divas here. And we were here before he was.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Two days

This was supposed to have been dinner last week but I just didn't have the energy to make it so I put the meat in the freezer. But then I pulled it back out yesterday. Wouldn't you know it? Today was much warmer than it had been last week. Oh well.

So what we have here are braised short ribs. OK. So there's only one on the plate. One is enough. Normally I start them off on top of the stove and then throw them into the oven for a couple of hours or so. I still started on the stove. Dredged the ribs in flour and browned them in a little olive oil. Added onions, celery and carrots to the pan that the meat had been cooked in. Deglazed the pan with some red wine. All of this then got thrown into the crockpot with some chopped tomato, beef broth, bay leaf, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon. Simmered in the crockpot on low for about seven hours.

Then it all went in the fridge. Why? Short ribs are fatty. Removed it all from the fridge tonight. Removed the fat that had solidified on top. Threw it all into a casserole dish and into the oven for about an hour.

Served up with my usual broccoli and Yukon gold potatoes mashed with a little horseradish in the mix.

Definitely will be repeating this when it becomes cold and wet outside in the coming months. Or maybe I'll just pull this batch out of the freezer as there seems to be room in there once more.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Doing time

Summers are always a bit stressful for me because my mother suddenly appears back in town. For almost two months I have been putting off the inevitable -- taking my mother out for her birthday. Because you know, that's what good daughters do. If it had been left up to my mother, we would have taken yet another trip to Hotel Mac on Saturday. Instead I decided to tempt fate and announced that we would be going to The Dead Fish in Crockett.

The first challenge hit when my mother questioned the waiter about the crab enchiladas. I flinched and wished that I could order a cocktail. They make really good cocktails at The Dead Fish. But nowadays when you're out with my mother, you're not allowed to order anything alcoholic. Well maybe y'all could but I'm not. Well I could; I'd just have to be willing to put up with the non-stop lecture. From the woman I once saw do five tequila shots with dinner. Whatever.

I have had nothing but mussels on the brain lately. My mother opted for the crab chowder which is actually a clam chowder to which some fresh crab meat has been added. The mussels were yummy but paled in comparison to those from Plouf. My mother thought the chowder was so filling that she would have been happy with half a cup.

We decided to split a side of veggies. Apparently the only thing my mother recognized on the plate was the broccoli as I had to explain everything else.

And we split this heaping amount of garlic crab.

On the way back to her house, I drove streets instead of the freeway as my mother simply could not believe that we were on San Pablo Avenue. For those unfamiliar with the area, San Pablo Avenue runs through several cities from Crockett to Oakland. And because I'm a good daughter, I played rummikub with her when we returned to her house. I won. If I was a really good daughter, I would have played a second game to give her a chance to win. But I'm not that good.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lessons learned

The first lesson that I learned this week was that I just don't have the energy to cook the way I like to after working all day at this time in my life. I started the week thinking that I would make another dish to show y'all during this week. It will be appearing in my kitchen over this weekend instead.

I also learned why I love my camera so much. Unfortunately I left it at the Zombie household last weekend and have not had a chance to pick it up since. So now you are forced to suffer through photos taken on my iPhone 3GS in low light situations. My camera would have been able to compensate for the poor lighting but my phone cannot.

Ken has been in town for a conference and so we agreed to meet for dinner tonight. Unfortunately his charming wife was not with him. I still hope to meet her one day.

Due to his hotel location, I decided that Belden would be the perfect destination. I like to think that the restaurants in this two block alley offer a little of something for everyone. Plus there's that whole European vibe. My Spanish instructor in college said that San Francisco was one of his favorite cities in the United States because it was one of the most European. I have come to agree with him over the years as I not only absolutely adore San Francisco but New York and Boston as well. Then again it may be a coastal thing as well.

As we walked to Belden, I had definite ideas of where I'd like to go -- Plouf or B44. When Ken mentioned that he wanted seafood, the choice became apparent -- Plouf.

Ken started with oysters on the half shell, a mixture of bivalves from Washington and local ones...

while I picked the carpaccio. While I wanted seafood, I also needed to have some red meat.

Ken then went with the sea bass special.

And here's where not having my camera sucked. These are mussels -- their specialty. And they were divine. Unfortunately the style I went with is not even listed on their online menu and I cannot remember it. I do remember that there were red pepper flakes involved. Perhaps some shallots.

There was also some Chimay and at the end of the meal, a French beer that came in a bottle reminiscent of a Grolsch bottle. Oh and the style in pouring the server had.

It was a pleasure to finally meet Ken. My only regret is that he now has probably learned what so many other bloggers know -- that I like to cook food more than I like to eat it. I like to taste; I just don't necessarily eat. Oh and that I talk incessantly. Hopefully he will forgive me my sins. And that you will forgive me for not taking that final photo I had imagined -- the photo of the alley itself so that you could get a feel for it all.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The main event

Going to Berkeley Bowl is such an adventure -- especially on a Friday evening. Not as bad as Saturday during the day but still.

There are things about which I took for granted from years of shopping at the Bowl. Like creme fraiche. What's up with the lack of creme fraiche in grocery stores in Oakland? This was the basis of my decision to go shopping at Berkeley Bowl. My first thought was to revisit a past recipe -- the mussels. But then I set off on a search for something different and settled on Pork Medallions with Mustard-Chive Sauce. The sauce is wonderful and would go well with chicken as well if you are not into pork. And because I loved the stew I had from Burma Superstar, I decided to give the Kabocha squash mash a try as well. Another hit.

And the best part? The ability to share it with friends when I took half of it to the Zombie household last night.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A simple answer

My life had become variations on the same theme. Get up in the morning, go to work, come home. After nearly two years of working in San Leandro, there were no more great culinary adventures to be had during my day. OK. Well maybe I do still need to check out that pupuseria I spotted in San Lorenzo but really? Not much else. My coworkers are creatures of routine for the most part when it comes to food. I mean really routine as in if you know what day of the week it is, you know what they'll be having for lunch. I think I'm about the only person in the office who actually reads books for fun.

So apparently all I needed to do was to get myself out of the rut, however brief a time, to start feeling like me once more. A long weekend in Berkeley. A quick trip to Poulet.

Part of the reason I have not been subjecting you to food photos over the summer is that there have been a lot of salads. Now don't get me wrong. I absolutely love salad -- even if I work with folks who cannot understand how you can have a salad as a meal. But they'd probably approve of this one -- sort of.

Last night after work, I found myself returning to Berkeley. Silly me had left my debit card at the gas station on Wednesday night and they still had it. Lucky me. Especially since I didn't even realize that it was missing until Friday afternoon. I know. I lead a charmed life. Once I knew I would be returning to Berkeley, I started imagining the kind of takeout I could pick up. Gregoire. Angeline's. A high school friend suggested Gather. That's when the surprise hit me. Forget all those places; I was going to go to Berkeley Bowl -- and I was actually going to cook something.

This salad was an afterthought. When I began planning my meal, I remembered the days when meals began with a simple salad -- like a prelude. It's about eating for a reason other than survival. This one? Baby romaine tossed with walnut oil and sherry vinegar and topped with Bartlett pear and manchego cheese. I know not much but wait until you see what followed. Cooking has once more become an adventure of sorts around here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Shana tova

So after work today, I drove into Berkeley to hit my old fave spot, Poulet. Because you know that it's Rosh Hashanah and that means a special holiday menu at Poulet. There was Chicken B'Stilla -- phyllo filled with chicken, almonds and cinnamon, Lamb Ragout with apricots, raisins, cumin and ginger, Noodle Kugel and Summer Vegetable Gratin. Per usual it was all very tasty.

And when presented with the choice of carrot cake and apple strudel, I don't think that one should have to make a choice.

I've been busy checking out classes to take in the coming months and I'm even thinking about hitting the farmers' market on Sunday -- something I haven't done in some time. I am even thinking about skipping Poulet for Thanksgiving this year and actually cooking. Hmmm. Seems like the last time I did that was three years ago.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Kicking off the training wheels

Usually when I come to stay with Dumb and Dumber, I survive on a mixture of takeout and things that can be thrown in the microwave -- stuff from the frozen food section of the store or containers that I have stored away in my own freezer. As I sat at work on Thursday making my shopping list, an idea struck. I could actually cook something. I know that part of my trepidation in the past was the idea of an unfamiliar kitchen. But really now. I've been doing this dogsitting thing for at least four years now. I know their kitchen. (What I realized later is that I was unfamiliar with the lighting and so spent much longer trying to take a photo than I would have in my own kitchen.)

Deciding to cook was the easy part; what to cook was a tad more difficult. I feel like it's been months since I've really cooked anything. Suddenly Butter Chicken came to mind. Perhaps since it's been quite some time since I've made it seeing as it's not exactly a low calorie dish. But you've gotta live some times. And so it was decided.

Then a new panic took hold. I had had no intention of returning home and my cookbook was at home. How was I going to swing this? And then I realized just how lost I had become. Even when I use a recipe, I never measure things exactly. Yes, even when baking because I have learned that you can fudge a little in baking. But just a little. I have been cooking Indian food for years. I am comfortable with the spices and can tell when something needs perhaps a little more cardamom. Or cumin. I did cheat by looking at a few recipes online but none were really like the one upon which I have relied all these years. And so here goes.

When I first started making Butter Chicken, it was because I had heard of it on one of those wedding reality shows. Really wish I could tell you which but they have a way of melting together in one's mind. I have yet to find a restaurant in Berkeley that has Butter Chicken on the menu; when I do get it from a restaurant now, it's from a place in Hayward. I like the sauce in theirs but it's kind of close to the Chicken Tikka Masala -- and mine never reminds me of that dish.

What I noticed in the recipes was that most call for breast meat. I always use thigh meat. Why? Because there have been too many times in which I am enjoying a dish in a restaurant and bite into the meat only to discover that it is rather dry. I find the juxtaposition of a tasty sauce with meh meat to be jarring. So thigh meat because it's much more difficult to dry out.

Of course the whole preparation thing might explain that dryness as well. Many of the recipes had you throwing the meat immediately into the pan to cook. I thought, "Umm. Didn't you miss a step?" To me the crucial step is to marinate the meat overnight in whole milk yogurt. That's right. Whole milk. When it's time, the meat and marinade hit the hot pan together. Oh, and that stuff in the pan? Butter. I figured it's called Butter Chicken because of the high levels of dairy fat going on.

Other than this, it's just some sauteed onions, diced tomatoes, crushed cashews, heavy cream, and spices. That was another thing. A lot of the recipes called for garam masala. I almost never buy spice blends like garam masala or curry powder. It seems silly to me as I always have the individual spices that make up these blends on hand anyway. So I use a blend of cinnamon, ginger, cumin, coriander and cardamom. Sometimes some turmeric. But only if I am wearing dark colors. I have made the mistake of getting some stray turmeric on light-colored clothing in the past. Only have to make that mistake once.

When I was a kid, I had a hot pink bike. One evening upon returning home, my father, who had been in the driveway watching me ride, announced that it was time to take the training wheels off of my bike. I was terrified but he assured me it would be OK. Apparently I had been riding so fast -- I was going downhill -- that the training wheels had not even been touching the ground. I thought I could only do it if I had the wheels but they were really more like the stuffed animal that I hugged at night to keep the monsters in the closet at bay.

So the wheels are off and I'm trying to head back into the kitchen. But there are some things I need to do before that really happens. I realized that I need to go out to eat more often -- at places that are not necessarily about churning out the same stuff day after day for those with unadventurous palates or perhaps lack of imagination. I need to start hitting the farmers' markets again. I need to start leafing through the magazines that show up in my mailbox a bit more regularly. Heck. I can't even remember the last time I perused the Epicurious website. I just haven't been feeling surprised or inspired lately. It's been a never ending march of sameness. Well, I'm tired of this ride; it's time to get back on the roller coaster.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

They knew

This photo of Boris and Natasha was taken on Tuesday evening. All this week they have been trying to get as much quality time as possible. I figured they already knew and so was surprised by Boris' puzzled look as I left this morning, suitcase in hand. I assume that he will be throwing a rager in my absence and will not clean up after himself. This will be his payback for my not taking him with me on Monday night when I went to see Dave Chappelle (Fantastic show.) and for not sharing my snow crab legs later in the week.

It's back to Berkeley and the dogs for me. Although I was slightly freaked out to hear that cops had to shoot a mountain lion that was prowling the Gourmet Ghetto earlier this week -- a mere two blocks from my former home.

We're having a heatwave once more. Yesterday it was 90 while today is slightly cooler. Luckily it will continue to cool off over the weekend as it can be unbearably warm at Marin's home. I have also vowed that I will not lock myself out this time.

What will I be doing? Watching "Weeds" on Netflix instant viewing. I am currently in the middle of season three. I also have some reading to do. I am slowly but surely making my way through The Hour I First Believed. Just in case I want to switch things up, I also have with me the latest book from Meg Gardiner as well as that Anthony Bourdain book about which everyone has been talking.

I have also decided to get all kinds of crazy over the weekend. Normally when I watch Dumb and Dumber, I eat takeout and stuff that can be prepared in the microwave. This weekend I have brought along food that will require actual cooking. Actually I haven't been doing any actual cooking in quite some time unless you want to count boiling eggs. Which I'm not going to do this weekend because did you know that Trader Joe's now carries hard boiled eggs? And they're already peeled.

Finally I will also try my best to stay out of Beckett's as that always seems to lead to trouble. But I'll probably cross town to stop into see my BFF, The Commander.

Hope y'all have a great weekend. I know I am really looking forward to having four days off in a row.