Friday, February 22, 2013

Allie Reads the News

In August 2012 The Berkeley Voice reported news of the upcoming ban affecting 90 businesses in Berkeley

On January 1st, Alameda County began imposing a ban on plastic bags, and charging a fee for paper bags in certain stores. My county joined other counties and cities like San Francisco, San Jose, San Mateo, and Washington D. C. that have already passed laws to cut down on plastic bag pollution. Plastic bag laws. Businesses here may still distribute recyclable paper bags at checkout, but customers must pay a minimum of 10 cents per bag, and the hope is that the charge will encourage patrons to bring their own bags. The law affects stores that sell prepackaged food and alcohol and large pharmacies.

Many shoppers resent paying for bags, believing that stores are profiting from this new practice. Actually, no one is making money. Grocery stores typically pay 7 to 12 cents per paper bag, and less for plastic. The 10 cent charge will help compensate them for the mandatory paper selection. Fancy gift bags cost much more.

The law makes perfect sense, especially in this maritime environment where so many bags wind up in the bay or ocean. And now shoppers can make a fashion statement with their reusable bags.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


 This is the card I regive to my husband Dean every year.  It's his favorite. Our cats change over the years but the message stays the same. And there is zero waste!                                    

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

     My birthday was fast approaching and this year I wanted to do something a little different. Different as in Birthday Lunch instead of Birthday Dinner. And what better choice than a mid-day visit to my favorite dining room in the world—Greens Restaurant! With one o'clock reservations for a table by the window, we set out. The day was glorious, and the drive through scenic Marin county and over the Golden Gate Bridge was a treat in itself.
View  of the Bay, Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County from my favorite dining room in the world

     Greens is located in a reconverted warehouse at Fort Mason in the Marina district of San Francisco. Fort Mason, former Army post.  The restaurant was opened in 1979 under the auspices of the San Francisco Zen Center with Deborah Madison as head chef. She developed their distinctive culinary style— an elegant and ebullient expression of creative vegetarian cuisine. With an imaginative mix of casual elegance, exciting tastes, and a subtle message of health and  Zen harmony, Greens changed forever the way we think of vegetarian restaurants. From the beginning they relied on beautiful, organic produce from Green Gulch Farm, run by the Zen Center in a valley in the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco. The  farm's lush landscape, which gardener Wendy Johnson describes as "a brocade of every shade of green" is open to visitors on Sundays. Green Gulch Farm. They also sell spectacular produce at the Marin and Ferry Plaza farmer's markets.

Green Gulch Farm in Marin County

   The Tassajara Bakery, a legendary favorite on Cole Street in Noe Valley, baked the bread and some desserts for the restaurant when it first opened. The bakery, which opened in 1972, was sold, and later closed.  Now all the wonderful desserts are prepared in-house. Annie Somerville, who started cooking at Greens in 1981, became executive chef in 1985 when Deborah left for Rome, and then Santa Fe.  She has remained in that position to this day. Ms. Somerville feels that the recipes have evolved over the years and are  a little leaner now, with less emphasis on cream and butter, but the creative inspiration of Deborah Madison remains at the heart of their kitchen

The old Tassajara Bakery in Noe Valley

     Getting back to my birthday...We walked up the stairway to the restaurant, passed the spectacular flower arrangement and entered the dining room with its lofty ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows—an open, spacious, lively scene which was as welcoming as ever.

For the best experience, ask for a table by the window

     We were escorted to a lovely table at water's edge and quickly perused the menu. We ordered two different local beers, settled on three tempting items to share for lunch and then amused ourselves by watching a duck diving and surfacing over and over again while we waited for our first course. I tried to snap a photo of the duck before each plunge but he was too quick for me.

     First to arrive was our verdant salad of "County Line lettuce, little gems and watercress with Brokaw avocado, Owari satsumas, oro blanco and spiced pumpkin seeds," glistening with a light citrus, chili vinaigrette. I was so taken with with the  sparkling beauty of the salad that I took pictures at all angles on the sunlit  plate. The salad was delicious as well as beautiful, and I now include crunchy pepitas on top of my own salad creations.

     Next  our "grilled ridgecut Gristmills polenta with grilled wild mushrooms, crisp shallots, herb cream, shaved grana padano and arugula" was served. We indulged in the perfect blending of grainy, grilled polenta and woodsy, wild  king and trumpet mushrooms bathed in cream and crowned with melting cheese. More photos were snapped.

     Our third dish was "garlic parsley linguine with braised beluga lentils, Mariquita Farm rapini, shallots, pepper flakes, Arbequina olive oil, goat cheese and grana padano," which surprised me with it's spare use of lentils, the creaminess of the goat cheese and the spiciness of rapini. I was so absorbed with enjoying my pasta that I neglected to take a photo.

     I did, however, photograph our dessert, a trio of sorbets—Cranberry-orange, quince-vanilla and pear- cinnamon, which were a creamy, flavorful and refreshing end to a lovely meal.

Trio of sorbets— cranberry-orange, quince-vanilla and pear-cinnamon

      Only later, when I read the article in the New York Times dining section, did I get the message that some restaurants object to photography in their dining rooms. Restaurants turn camera shy.  And why not, when patrons use annoying flashes, set up flexible tripods (called gorillapods) on their tables and even stand on their chairs to get  shots from above. Fortunately for me, no one objected to my photographing my surroundings on that birthday afternoon, but I will be even more discreet in the future.

Featured Books:

The Greens Cookbook, published in 1987, was written by  founding chef Deborah Madison, with Edward Espe Brown, Zen priest and author of The Tassajara Bread Book, who acted alternately as the restaurant's manager, host, waiter and sommelier for four years. The book came out eight years after the restaurant opened, and has served as inspiration for home cooks who want to duplicate the beautiful, healthful and tasty dishes served in the restaurant.

Annie Somerville, who has been executive chef at Greens Restaurant since Ms. Madison left in 1985, wrote Fields of Greens (published in 1993,) and then  Everyday Greens  (2003.)  In both of her books, you will find more great vegetarian recipes from the restaurant, including a  summer dish with polenta triangles (like I had on my recent visit) baked with corn, tomatoes, and basil. Even though the recipe is time consuming, it is so delicious I make it every summer.