Thursday, July 26, 2012


                              For Isabelle- who planted nasturtiums in her garden every summer.

                           May she dream of California where they sprout, untended, like weeds.


Nasturtiums with the Painting 'Dance' by Henri Matisse (1912)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"Do I dare to eat a Peach"

From The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot

"Do I dare to eat a peach?"

a line from The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Inspired by so many beautiful Eliot images on the web, I originally wanted to write about T. S. Eliot in my blog. Snippets of poetry from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock were racing through my head, specifically, "In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo", "I have measured my life in coffee spoons", and "Do I dare to eat a peach".  Peaches!   In an instant my mind jumped from poetry to peaches.

After nectarines, peaches are my favorite "stone fruit", as food writers now call them. The season is in full swing and the markets are overflowing with varieties like Spring Flame, Suncrest,  Z Lady, Rio Oso, and fragrant white varieties like Babcock. I stocked up, and after letting them mature for a few days (peaches will only soften, not sweeten, after they are picked),  they were ripe, juicy and ready to go. I have four favorite peach dishes that I make when summer sidles into Berkeley; not counting eating them with juices dripping down my chin. (Note: Peach juice stains clothing quite aggressively, so if stains occur, quickly flush the area with cold water and wash with some laundry detergent such as "Planet." The stain will disappear if treated immediately.)

Grilled Peaches
This is a delicious sweet/savory accompaniment to grilled chicken, easily accomplished by anointing clean, dry peaches with olive oil and grilling on a torrid grill until grill marks appear and juices caramelize. In a pinch, these can serve as dessert with ice cream, the juices congealing into a syrupy sauce.

The next three dishes are strictly desserts:

Peach Gallette  ( photo courtesy of Kat's Patisserie)
Peach Gallette
Gallettes are a rustic free-form version of a tart without the tart pan, and the combination of flaky pastry topped with vibrant fresh fruit lightly glazed with sugar and jam is truly scrumptious. Since I use Silpat liners (nonstick silicone baking mats made in France),  there is no need to transfer dough to a tart pan. I can roll out the pastry dough right on the silpat liner, transfer the liner to the baking sheet and then arrange the peaches, apples or plums on top, and bake. No wonder professional bakers love them, and home bakers too.

Peach Kuchen from the Tassahara Bread Book
Peach Kuchen
A treasured recipe from The Tassahara Bread Book (see below) described as "A peach-jewel mosaic set in custard baked on a sweet crust."
2 cups flour
1/4 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
12 skinned  peach halves (dip peaches in boiling water for 10-15 seconds, then peel)
1 t cinnamon
2 egg yolks beaten or 2 whole eggs
1 cup heavy cream or sour cream
                                                                                                [serves 2-12 (did they eat dinner first?)]
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and 2 T. of the sugar. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter or in the food processor until it looks like coarse meal. Press this firmly into a baking pan (9"X 13"). Arrange the peach halves on the surface. Mix the remaining sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle it over the fruit.
Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, then beat the yolks together with the cream and pour it over the top, and bake an additional 40 minutes at 375 degrees or until the peaches are soft and the custard has thickened.
(Note: I halved the recipe with good results in the photo above and did not peel the peaches, which adds color and texture.)

Raspberry sauce for Peach Melba
Peach Melba
A simple but perfect combination of peaches, poached quickly in a sugar syrup, skinned, halved with the stones taken out, and served with vanilla ice cream covered with raspberry sauce. This dessert was created by Auguste Escoffier for the famed Australian opera star Nellie Melba in 1892.

Raspberry sauce is easily accomplished by swirling fresh raspberries with sugar-to-taste in a food processor and then forcing the mass of red pith and seeds through a fine strainer. Straining is actually quite tedious and I have yet to find the perfect tool. The beautiful ruby sauce keeps for weeks in the refrigerator. Beware of folks who suggest that frozen berries are as good as fresh; in my experience, fresh is best!

Peach segment from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

sign in Tassahara Zen Center Kitchen

Featured books:

Those of us who made bread in the '70s are very familiar with The Tassahara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown. We relied on his thorough recipes and  that familiar type face to teach us the rudiments of bread-making and reminders of the Zen method: "bread makes itself" and "recipes don't belong to anyone, given to me, I give them to you." The book is rooted in the Tassahara Zen Center, the first one in the US, started in Carmel Valley in the 60s.  Ed Brown was the cook and gentle teacher of Zen Buddhism to all  who shared his passion for freshly made bread and the joy of baking it. Published in 1970, we now see the paperback twenty-fifth anniversary edition in bookstores. Yet, however much I enjoy bread making, my copy opens most readily to the stained page 131 with recipe #99 for Peach Kuchen.

Epitaph for a Peach by David Mas Masimoto is a story of one critical year in the life of an organic peach farmer. The book chronicles the year Masimoto attempts to save the 'Sun Crest', one of the last remaining truly juicy peaches. It is a lyrical, sensuous and thoroughly engrossing memoir, and it has it all: drama, suspense, poetry and peaches! The book originated with an article the author sent to The Los Angeles Times and then expanded into this book which was published by Harper San Francisco in 1995. He has now gone on to write other wonderful books.


Disclaimer: No books were harmed or composted in creating this blog

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ginger Cookies for Marion Cunningham

     Curiously, when I read the news this week that Marion Cunningham had died at ninety, I was baking a batch of Ginger Jack Cookies---her recipe! This was the second time I had made them in two weeks. They were so delicious the first time, that my husband and I craved them again;  furthermore,  I had cut down on the amount of candied ginger she called for, so this time I wanted to experiment with the full 1 1/4 cups. This turned out to be the perfect amount; the heat of the ginger dissipating as the cookies baked. My admiration for Mrs. Cunningham increased.

 Freshly baked Oatmeal- Ginger Jack Cookies

     Since a mutual friend introduced us at a party in the late '70s, I have always admired Marion Cunningham. When we met she was hard at work on the revision of  The Fannie Farmer Cookbook for Alfred A.Knopf. Throughout the years I saw her quite frequently: just visiting, or buying books in my San Francisco bookshop, Cookbook Corner, walking along Sutter Street with her daughter, at meetings and events of the newly formed San Francisco Professional Food Society, and dining at her favorite Berkeley haunts: The Fourth Street Grill owned by Mark Miller, Bridge Creek Restaurant, which featured her recipe for tender pancakes called "heavenly hots,"  and, over several decades, at The Chez Panisse Cafe. She always greeted me with her fond "hello Dear" and it was a pleasure to see her. Even though she traveled in the elite circles of the food world and consorted with luminaries like James Beard, Julia Child and Alice Waters she always showed great kindness and respect for all of her friends. She was lovely, opinionated and fun. As an avid proponent of cooking and baking at home, she wrote and taught tirelessly to this end. She regarded those activities as the greatest pleasures in life. The last time I spoke with her by phone, we conversed about her participation in the oral history project at U. C. Berkeley's Bancroft Library. Then she faded from my view. I heard she had succumbed to Alzheimer's disease and had moved from her Walnut Creek home where she had developed and tested so many recipes. Next, I was saddened to hear of her death; I find it hard to deal with her absence. Yet, any time now, I expect she might miraculously pop up at an unexpected moment, like when I am searching for a great recipe for oatmeal cookies with lots of ginger.

Marion Cunningham in her Walnut Creek, California kitchen
Of course, she had a cat

Ginger Jack Cookies  adapted from the  San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook
"These chewy cookies, by Marion Cunningham, leave a trail of heat in the back of the throat from the generous use of candied ginger."   ( My notation: Don't be afraid to use the full amount)

1 cup butter                                                          1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar                                         1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup brown sugar                                               1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs                                                                   2 cups cornflakes, crushed
1 teaspoon vanilla                                                   1 cup rolled oats
2 cups all-purpose flour                                         1 1/4 cups finely chopped candied ginger
     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking sheets if not using non-stick pans
Cream butter with an electric mixer, slowly add both sugars and mix until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
     Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; stir with a fork until mixed.Add to creamed mixture and beat until thoroughly mixed. Add the cornflakes, oats and ginger. Mix well
     Drop by teaspoons 1 1/2 inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake about 8 min. or until the edges  are lightly golden. Do not over bake.
     Transfer the cookies to racks to cool. Yields about 7 dozen 2" diameter cookies.
     If desired, halving recipe works well.

Featured Book(s)

     Though I know it all began with The Fannie Farmer cookbook, which put Marion Cunningham on the map, I would rather  feature my old friend The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook, edited by Michael Bauer and Fran Irwin. It is a compilation of recipes which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Marion wrote a popular weekly column for the newspaper during the 90's, so some of her creative recipes are included.  Not only does the book contain her meaningful Ginger Jack Cookies, but it also features an ingenious preparation for Fish Fillets with Mustard Meringue on page 267, which I enjoy again and again. She adapted this recipe from another California classic,  Helen Brown's West Coast Cookbook. The author, Helen Evans Brown, was a compatriot of James Beard, so she obviously influenced Mrs. Cunningham, who then added contemporary twists to the recipe. I am honored to feature recipes and books by both of these California women.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ode to Allie's Prey, or Look What the Cat Dragged In

Today Allie brought in a hummingbird. Late this afternoon I heard cat commotion from the entryway, and familiar with this scenario, I arrived in a flash to see a tiny bird flapping up the wall, with my cat Allie in hot pursuit. I rushed to get a towel to rescue the pathetic little creature. Now quiet on the floor, I covered it with the cloth and tenderly took it outside. Sensing a tiny heartbeat in my hand, I couldn't help but peek. As I opened the towel in the sunlight,  the bird metamorphosed from a brown, limp lump into a magical creature sporting a  fluorescent-magenta circle on it's tiny head. It still looked half-dead, so I suspected it would not recover. But, repeating my usual ritual, I took it across the street, far from harm, and laid it on a soft, sun-warmed bed of leaves, possibly its final resting place. From this perspective I could observe the vivid coloration on the bird's brow, and was again awestruck by its beauty. I nudged the inert body a few times, and was stunned when the bird suddenly shot straight up into the air, flying freely and peeping joyously. A successful rescue!

 Freed hummingbird trying it's wings

Other rescues have not ended so happily. Therefore, in memory of all the fallen creatures brought in by Allie the cat, I have decided to make a list: ( N.B.  I never put Allie's victims in my green bin, nor in the large curbside bin, which would be permissible). In keeping with a certain innate respect, I always lay them to rest on the earth. And sometimes, they actually rouse themselves and scurry away.

Allie at work

Allie's "Gifts"

  • 5 birds including a Steller's jay, a sparrow, some inconclusive feathers and the humming bird
  • 3 garter snakes all deposited near the door
  • countless mice, large and tiny, alive and dead
  • one rat  (dead, fortunately)
  • bugs and moths of all descriptions


Frederick the Literate

My favorite work by the well-known painter of Americana, Charles Wysocki (1928-2002), depicts an old library. The shelves where kitty is sleeping are crammed with books with titles that would interest a cat like Allie:

Delicious Field Mice I Have Known
Lusting For the Giant Rodent
The Feline Comedy
The Three Mousketeers
Field Guide to the Garbage Can
A Tale of Two Kitties
How to Catnap with a Smile
How to Smell a Rat

Thursday, July 5, 2012


A Tale Of Pits and Stems in Paradise       

Pop in mouth,  crunch down, chew up, expel pit, repeat... that's the cherry experience. I  swoon, but for green bin, it's the pits.

My beloved Monterey Market

I first rolled into Berkeley in my '67 Saab on Memorial Day 1971. Within days, I discovered the Co-op grocery,  that bastion of 60's and 70s Berzerkleyness,  and entered a garden of Eden: cherries in May!!!  For a Wisconsin girl, this was paradise.  The Co-op itself was a seminal experience.  Bulletin boards plastered with job offers, communal vacancies, rider board, sales and rental listings of all types,  it was a real kaleidoscope of California life, an original Craig's list. They even had a kiddy corral.

 My membership # was 3529552

Up to this point the only fresh cherries I had  encountered were sweet purplish bings or sour, red pie cherries native to northern Wisconsin.  Here in California I discovered several varieties of yellow fleshed beauties flecked with scarlet,  that I had only seen in cans,  packed in overly sweet heavy syrup.

Canned Royal Anne or Queen Anne cherries as they are called here 

Creamy- fleshed  Ranier or Queen Anne  cherries were piled high in the Co -op supermarkets,  ( The Berkeley  farmer's markets  didn't open til the 1980s.)  Both varieties are available in California  and, best of all, I could select my own fruit rather than buy a packaged bunch. I was in heaven! Soon after my arrival, I found out I wasn't far from the source: I could drive about  thirty miles to Brentwood and pick my own fruit from real cherry trees.  And though fruit farms are disappearing at an alarming rate around here, this is still true. An informative article about picking your own fruit  in the Bay Area  appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle  on Sunday, June 17th.  U-Pick Fruit Options . Forty- odd years later,  I'm still meandering in this Garden of Eden.

A basket full of freshly picked cherries

An abundance of  fresh Raniers at the Monterey Market on June 18tn

As usual, I prefer to eat my lovely, fresh cherries immediately and pop the stems and pits right into my green bin if I'm at home. Then I unearth my favorite cherry concoctions from various books and files. And, of course, I have to search for my cherry pitter which has been in storage since last June. Those pesky pits must be dealt with, and green bin anticipates the results. I love cherry clafouties, or at least I love the idea of this French pudding-like dessert, for I have failed all too often in practice. I remember ordering a delicious (and light)  apple version at Bistrot Jeanty in Yountville. Mine are unfortunately heavy and dense. But I do make a beautiful Italian cherry cake from Carole Field's excellent cookbook In Nonna's Kitchen.
Unfortunately, the pitting is time consuming and messy and the cherries often sink to the bottom. So, I always return to a favorite old-fashioned dessert that can only be made in the short early- summer period when cherries and apricots converge. I found it years ago in The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison and I make it  once or twice every season. As an extra bonus my green bin gets cherry plus apricot pits and luckily, the tapioca keeps well from year to year.

Fresh apricots and bing cherries ready for a transformation

2 lbs apricots
3/4 lb bing cherries
3 T sugar
1 1/2 T tapioca

Rinse the fruit, cut apricots in half and remove pits. Cut the halves into thick chunks. Pit the cherries or slice them in two and pull out the seeds. Combine the fruit and toss them with the sugar and tapioca. If the fruit is tart, add more sugar to taste. Pour into a pie plate or gratin dish. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and make the crisp topping.

2/3 cup unbleached white or whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
6 T  cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Combine the flour, oats, sugar, and salt in a bowl or food processor. Then add the butter. Work the ingredients together with your fingers, or pulse in processor 'til they are blended.  Now sprinkle topping over prepared fruit and bake for 45 minutes, or until top is browned and there is a thick juice around the edge.  Remove the crumble from the oven and let it rest.  Serve warm with ice cream.

The finished product, hot from the oven


I first saw this image of Life is a Chair of Bowlies as a greeting card, not a book. The card was the runaway bestseller in my shop Cookbook Corner. Now out-of-print, the book spawned an entire industry of add-ons, including calenders, aprons, greeting cards, tea pots and more. With its charming drawings and witty sayings by Mary Engelbreit, it is adorable and can easily be obtained on-line.  

Life Is Just A Chair of Bowlies by Mary Engelbreit