Not so tough

I know, I know, I am a neglectful blogger at best. Let’s just say the last few months of this life have been filled to over flowing with a multitude of emotions, events and lots of eating.  I finally graduated from culinary school and moved to Bangkok, holy crap.  But that isn’t what this post is about, don’t worry, we will get there. This is about the women in my life who got me here.  Women who I have laughed, cried, raged and most importantly eaten and cooked with.  Women of astounding character and beauty.

I never truly thought of myself as a people person, and yet strangely enough this is one of the greatest things I learned from culinary school, that secretly, I love people.  My years of hardening my exterior to the majority of humanity seems to be softening, dammit.  I now accept that I can not go through this life alone. I need strong people to help steady me and I need to be loved deeply. Shit, what an eye opener.  Some how I have managed to garner the love and friendship of a handful of amazing women, women who no matter the irrationality of my thinking, the crass sentence structures that fly unbridled from my mouth or my wild swing in life style choices, they strike through that exterior and hold onto the soft parts of me.

Good god lady, what does this have to do with food, you overly sentimental fool? This is probably what your asking yourself right now.  Well let me tell you, in the last month of living in the bay area the amount of love that oozed out of these women came mostly in the form of meals to remember.  Wether the food was amazing or not, the moments eating with them are what I will remember the most. From glasses of champagne over oysters to complex cocktails with organs, if it was available to be eaten, we did it and did it in a way that my ladies know how I like too, order till the waiter realizes they are dealing with professionals; leaving no dish untasted or under analyzed.

These meals, with these women, truly brought home to me the reason why I cook.  Food brings people together in a way that nothing else could.  You can’t have a wedding, birthday or funeral without food.  It brings calmness, joy and comfort.  It enhances the human experience that we all seem to be sharing.  Weather it is taking an early afternoon, on a Wednesday, to drink rose and suck down oysters: at Anchor Oyster Bar in San Francisco:

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Kaitlin and I enjoying tea and Rose while my dear friend Anna captures the moment.

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or a more formal lunch to help close a chapter on my professional life as a gardener at Gather in Berkeley:

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Ladies who garden and obsess over food.

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or a slow dinner between friends at Locanda in San Francisco:

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It helps bring a common focus, a thing to discuss, dilberate, detest or salivate over.  It defines cultures and regions of the world. It is a simple human need to eat and we can make it so much more.  We have elevated it to an art form, a scientific break through in sensory manipulation or simply a way to ease our hungry bellies after a hard day of toiling in the world.  The complexities of feeding people and eating with people are as vast and varied as the kinds of people we are feeding.   I have found through all these complexities of food one very simple thing is for sure, it is best done in the company of those you love and when thats not possible, sit at the bar of a restaurant and watch what we cooks do in the kitchen, talk to the cooks and the servers and the person sitting next to you.  Let food be the doorway to what could become a new friendship, even if it only lasts through the meal.

So in short, thank you ladies, for you are the reason I do what I do.  I do it for the love. Damn, I am just a big softie after all.

 

The Bow and Spade; My level 5 menu project.

 

When I started conceptualizing for this menu project I immediately knew I wanted to represent the gardening aspect of my life. Since I began culinary school I have been on an internal journey of discovery. Discovery of myself, my passion and facing the duality of my personality. My career as a gardener has always represented balance, patience and nurturing, while the culinary side of my life is about passion, risk and adventure. Through this menu I wanted to bring harmony to the two things in my life that have had the biggest influence over who I have been, and who I am becoming.

In order to represent the garden in this menu I have chosen to use a variety of blossoms from my own garden as garnish. The desserts all have a floral theme to them. The blossoms are edible and organically grown. I have a deep fondness for bringing such a fragile product into an environment filled with fire and sharp knives. It brings a gentleness to the plate and serves to remind us that all our food comes from nature, was hopefully once outside growing in the sun, grazing on grass or buried in the soil. In our kitchens, as cooks, we will work countless hours in windowless environments, rendering these gifts of nature into an entirely different life giving, memory inducing, sensory expanding product. I truly feel that, as a cook, you deserve to be as stimulated and nurtured by what you are producing as the people who will receive the gift of your creation. That stimulation will help fuel you to further create and respect the products of the natural world.

The culinary side of me is represented by my use of wild game and offal. Several times over the course of this program my fellow classmates have referred to me as primal, an animal and the beast, all of which I have genuinely loved. Many nights through this experience I have felt like a huntress and the hunted, tracking myself and hunting my future. It extends beyond these easy words to something more like a feeling, the feeling of the rhythm of a kitchen. There is a natural rhythm of cooking much like the natural rhythm in nature. The prance of a deer is never out of rhythm with the rest of it’s environment, for it could lead to certain death. In the kitchen any misstep can lead to a cataclysmic evening of late dishes slapped together with little thought or care.

Cooking is also a very sensual experience. Much like smelling a rose on a hot summer day. It washes over you and transports you and distends your sense of time. I chose to use rosewater in my rice pudding to help convey that sense of sensuality and timelessness. Roses have religious and romantic symbolism that stretches back through the history of humans. They are medicinal and can help prevent women from hemorrhaging during child birth. They are represented in many major religions from Muslim to Christian. The rose is both wild and tame, has inspired women to passion and men to the very specific control of hybridization to create ruffles and fragrance that are purely human creations. Rosewater’s origins are as old as man and can be traced back to the Phoenician’s, Greeks and the Romans. Used in flavoring food and relieving the senses of generally unpleasant smells. We humans have been infatuated with roses since we first stumbled upon them.

I feel the harmony of these dishes is best represented by the wine pairings, which allow a mellow flow and cohesive influence to each dish. For the first course I chose a 2010 Jurancon sec clos lapeyre. The sweet and spicy notes of this wine compliment while the underlying minerality helps cut through the fat that each dish inhibits.

For our second course I chose a 2009 Pavelot- Pernand-Vergelesses for it’s light bodied forest floor qualities that pair well with the morels in the Rabbit ballantine but don’t over power the delicateness of the rabbit meat.

For the fourth course I chose a 2010 Elian da ros sua spunte , whose bright acidity helps lift the dishes rather than a typical dessert wine that would be heavy sugar on the pallet.

menu

dedication

duck liver mousse with port wine gelee

duck liver mousse with port wine gelee

 

 

 

carrot thyme fritter over parsley coulis

carrot thyme fritter over parsley coulis

 

 

Bone marrow with roasted garlic, micro arugula salad and salvia

Bone marrow with roasted garlic, micro arugula salad and salvia

 

 

chilled asparagus and dill soup, creme fraiche, thyme blossoms

chilled asparagus and dill soup, creme fraiche, thyme blossoms

 

 

squid ink ravioli, dill cream sauce

squid ink ravioli, dill cream sauce

 

 

rabbit ballantine stuffed with rabbit liver and morel pate, micro salad, carrots glace a blanc with salvia blossoms

rabbit ballantine stuffed with rabbit liver and morel pate, micro salad, carrots glace a blanc with salvia blossoms

juniper and pepper encrusted venison, cherry wine reduction, sauteed fiddleheads, poached beech mushrooms and roasted fingerlings

juniper and pepper encrusted venison, cherry wine reduction, sauteed fiddleheads, poached beech mushrooms and roasted fingerlings

madagascar pink rice rosewater pudding, candied pistachios, candied rose petals

madagascar pink rice rosewater pudding, candied pistachios, candied rose petals

elderflower panna cotta, kumquat reduction, candied kumquats, borage

elderflower panna cotta, kumquat reduction, candied kumquats, borage

le bete noir with fleur de sel, candied orange peel, orange blossoms and orange blossom chantilly

le bete noir with fleur de sel, candied orange peel, orange blossoms and orange blossom chantilly

A healthy dose of fear

Sometimes in this life you have to shake your senses up. Step outside the doldrum of your routine and bring a little fear of the unknown into the equation. Currently I wage the battle with this thing called fear.  I have walked a sure and steady path for years now.  Sleep came easy and the bills were paid.  Now I stand on the precipice of discovery, heartbreak and ultimately a very human experience.  Leaving gardening and plunging into the fire of a culinary path for earnest and true.

I am bound for southeast asia in a few months to blow in the breeze and work outside my comfort zone.  I am ready to taste and explore a  world so vastly different from everything I have ever known. Food is my ticket, and baby I am ready to board that fuckin’ plane. A healthy dose of fear is my main baggage.

Food can make you sigh with pleasure, comfort your broken heart, evoke powerful memories and it can open your mind to horizons you never dreamed about. It can transport you through your senses to places you’ve never been.  It can bring that element of fear right to your plate.  I decided to work with silkie chicken as a symbol of  this current tidal wave of fear.  If your unfamiliar with silkie chickens they have a natural purplish black hue to their flesh.  This is not what we typically want in our chicken which is generally chosen as a comforting food rather than a challenging food.

silkie chicken

I wanted to maintain this color and deepen it to what you now know to be my favorite color, black, so I chose to smoke it.  I paired it with ginger infused forbidden black rice, spicy pickled enoki mushrooms, pickled  purple cabbage, pickled Quail eggs and served with a ginger spiked dashi broth.

IMG_2049 IMG_1969 IMG_2055 IMG_1959 IMG_1964Never settle for  a life that leaves you wondering what you could have done.  Step into the abyss and find out what is waiting down there in the dark of the unknown.  In respect to my current mindset I name this dish the Phoenix, cause sometimes you have to burn everything to the ground for anything new to grow.  And just to relate it to the garden path I have walked for so long, even the forest knows this.  Only after a fire do we see such magical things as morels.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” ~ Frank Herbert, Dune

 

 

For my mother, a true black sheep.

Lamb; earthy, succulent and utterly devine.  Growing up in my house we ate as much lamb as we could afford.  If I had to pick a meat that best describes my family this might be it.  Strong in flavor and easily off putting to more sensitive palates (read americans). I come from a line of head strong off putting women.  We laugh loudly and have firm opinions on most subjects.  We are earthy and slightly mad.  My mother, the maddest of the three.

She was the very definition of free spirit.  She lived outside most of the rules and deeply instilled in me that if you aren’t following your heart you are betraying yourself.  She struggled with this lesson her whole life, reaching for her dreams and never quite grasping them.  It has taken me 30+ years to understand what she was trying to teach me.  That no matter how hard you fall when you reach beyond your grasp, you pick yourself back up, square your shoulders and push on.

The last meal I made for my mother was leg of lamb.  That meal is still so vivid in my mind.  Working in her cramped kitchen in Boulder Colorado the night before christmas, annoyed I paid $5 for a bunch of fresh rosemary when it grows like a weed in all my gardens.  We roasted potatoes and made artichokes, well out of season, but one of her favorites.  She was loopy on pain meds, the cancer was starting to really take it’s toll on her at this point.  She was so loopy she dipped a large piece of lamb fat into her dipping butter for the artichoke, fat dripping from her chin, her smile goofy and lopsided content to masticate her fat creation all night.  The smell of her perfume and the roasted lamb meat heavy in the air.  Bob Dylan working it out on the stereo. It was sadly perfect.

My mother taught me to cook, she taught me to garden. She taught me to be a survivor and her animalistic tenacity showed me how to be a fierce woman who saw the world through the eyes of a sceptic while appreciating all the natural beauty around us.  She was one of a kind and even though it was rough going between us for most of it, I am glad she raised me.  I celebrate her birthday every year with a special meal.  This year I chose  lambs neck. It has a special vulnerability to it that I felt was so perfect for her memory.

Lambs neck braised with mint, meyer lemons and garlic served over thyme infused japanese purple sweet potatoes and meyer lemon roasted radishes.

lambs neck, raw and ready for love

lambs neck, raw and ready for love

 

Lambs neck with meyer lemon, mint and garlic over japanese purple sweet potatoes and roasted radishes

Lambs neck with meyer lemon, mint and garlic over japanese purple sweet potatoes and roasted radishes

Happy birthday Mom, Thanks for teaching me that different is good and passion is an essential ingredient to life.

 

 

Vernal Equinox, the balance of day and night

That time has come to us once again.  The day and night find a balance.  We reemerge from the shadows to find the joys of lighter clothes, animals freaking and plants bursting forth with color and fragrance to relieve our tired winter senses.  Even for a crank like me, spring holds me in it’s spell.

Spring, most importantly, mean asparagus.  That complexly flavored veggie that only stays around for a few short weeks. But oh, what a glorious few weeks it is.  Rising out of the ground like a tiny chlorophyll packed tower just waiting to make you feel awkward about the way your pee smells in a public restroom.  Grilled, steamed or made into soup, bring it on till it runs dry.

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chilled asparagus soup with yogurt, meyer lemon and terragon swirl and fried tips and meyer lemon zest

chilled asparagus soup with yogurt, meyer lemon and terragon swirl and fried tips and meyer lemon zest

So, to you I say, happy spring.  It’s almost time to set aside root veggies and indulge in a sensuous new cooking season. May it bring you closer to nature in a way you never thought imaginable.

Big bird meet little bird

It all started with an emu egg.  So glorious in its aquatic toned speckles, it beckoned to me  and I was powerless to resist. I have a very special connection with Emu’s, this being the power animal of one of my favorite people on the planet. I had to make sure to take this product seriously, and well, not so seriously.  The balance of my relationship with my human Emu is just such.  We appreciate the vast and innumerable differences we have and yet these are the things that have kept us bonded and infatuated with each other over the years. Yes, I do refer to her as the Emu, please stop rolling your eyes.

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First off, when dealing with an egg of this size you get to use power tools to open it. This is always a bonus for me! I debated with my culinary colleagues about the best process for opening this treasure and being the male dominated brains they are they opted for tools that would give me straight edges to work with.  Dremel was first choice for them but I opted for a simpler technique of drilling a series of holes and then just cracking it open to obtain a more jagged appearance in the finished product.  Now, what to make?  So much egg to deal with.

I ran through all the potentials in my head of mousse, baking a soufflé in the actual shell, poaching one giant egg… but when it came down to it pasta was the best choice.  Yes, another post about pasta.  Sorry.  Why pasta though? Cause what else would look more like a nest? and why not pair it with quail to add humor and tastiness to the project? So this silliness was born:

a posse of quails, chill in

a posse of quails, chillin, pre seasoning.

coriander grilled quails in and emu tagliatelle nest
coriander grilled quails in an emu tagliatelle nest

Now for the more serious side of this project.  Quail has always been a fond meat for me and pairing it with dark fruits like cherries or plums really makes me happy.  Here in Cali we are still months away from these fruits so I purchased dried santa rosa plums and soaked them for a few hours in a port wine bath.  I pulled the meat off the little birds, pureed the plums and mixed them together to stuff some emu raviolis and then finished the dish with a  sauce beurre blanc studded with port poached plums and garnished with fennel frond.

Emu egg ravioli stuffed with coriander grilled quail and port poached plums

 

human size portion

human size portion

the bloody rose has no thorns

I fell in love with panna cotta long ago.  The silkiness of this dessert is heaven to me.  Texture, texture, texture.  One of my favorite things about eating.  For my 30th birthday my husband took me to Michael Mina’s in San Francisco. I had a sea urchin panna cotta that transported me to another world. I closed my eyes and felt as if I were walking on the ocean.  It was one of those moments with food that was so powerful that to this day I can recall it with almost perfect clarity.

A few weeks ago we ate at AQ and had a palate cleanser of rose panna cotta that left me aching for more.  It pulled at my longing for summer gardens and that heady fragrance of rose in the air and the droning of bees working their pollinating magic.  So the only logical thing to do of course was to come home and recreate that magic.

I just took a basic panna cotta recipe using Straus milk and cream.  Instead of adding vanilla I used a tablespoon of rose water.  Let the silky love unfold! I also made a blood orange sauce to accompany it, the citrus lends a beautifully clean finish on the palate.

natures glistening jewel

natures glistening jewel

 

one of a kind design, especially for me, by the lovely and talented Anna Payden.

one of a kind design, especially for me, by the lovely and talented Anna Payden.

rose panna cotta with blood orange sauce and jasmine blooms

rose panna cotta with blood orange sauce and jasmine blooms

floating in a sea of blood

floating in a sea of blood

I.P.A

Intensity. Passion. Adrenaline.  This is the life of professional cooking.  This is the path I am staring straight down the barrel at. In talking with many Chefs, they hear that I am a gardener and immediately question my sanity.  Why on earth would I go from a peaceful world into a world fraught with so much potential chaos?  The answer is simple.  I have no other choice if I ever want to truly be happy.  This is about living life under my own banner of exploration. The minute I step into a kitchen, I feel at home. It is a logical place for me, which is refreshing to my often illogical mind.  I have purpose in a  kitchen. It’s like a hot shot of espresso straight to my heart.  Knives, fire, potentially blood and often that soft finished product at the end, made from things that grew and lived and breathed and ate and flowered and… Ugh! Words.

It’s really the simplest things like a small spoonful of bright orange carrot soup with a garnish of offset chervil leaf is why I want to cook professionally.  So much in this world is haphazardly slapped together, and small details that are so poignant are often overlooked.  The reward of creating something that makes someone stop and take notice is beyond fulfilling.

When I started my culinary education, I had no idea how far I would want to take it. That was the point of starting school.  I just felt burned out, on life, my career and how I was engaging the world.  I went into this with a vague notion of wanting to cook professionally but uncertain how that might actually play out. But the transformation in me has been like a wildfire.  From indecision to this intense drive to grab at anything that might deepen my understanding of the techniques that I am learning, to knowing full well that nothing is certain but I am on the right path and have developed, as one friend said, “the focus of a laser beam”.

I have become ravenous. Ravenous for change, for taste, for visual stimulation, for adventure.  To say I have always been hungry may be misleading, it may make you think only of physical appetite, a need for nourishment.  This is something much greater and more profound than I could have hoped for. This is an insatiable hunger that will keep me on a quest for the rest of my days. It’s the nourishment of the soul and never letting my personal fire die out. This is just the beginning of my life.

 

Meat, it started with a head and feet.

Let me start with saying, I was once a vegetarian. Hell, I was vegan, macrobiotic and at one point I even tried eating raw.  Through all that I came around to the realization that, yes, I love animals, but I really love to eat them too.  So eat them I do! I do my best to source meat from people who actually give a damn about the welfare of animals and the way that farming effects our environment.  I try to eat outside the 3 main meats (in america at least), of chicken, beef and pork as much as I possibly can.  I eat the extra parts and believe wasting, above all, is a sin.

If you’re a vegetarian, great! I really have no problem with you, just keep your politics to your self and we will be just fine.  The people I have the most grievances with are the carte blanche meat eaters who squirm at the sight of blood, bones and the organs of animals.  Seriously people! Guess what? Nicely wrapped meat with no skin or bones creeps me out.   All meat was moving and looking at shit somehow before you bought it. You have lost touch with the natural world if this is how you want it to be.  You should just be a vegetarian, so you never have to feel bad about eating living things again.  When I met my husband I made it clear, if you can’t eat meat off the bone this isn’t going to last.

I’m not saying everyone needs to run out and kill their own meat, although I think it would be beneficial for the human race to actually connect with their food on a more real level, I just wish people could be more accountable for the impact they have in this world. Especially on our furry, feathered and scaled friends who can’t speak up.  So next time you see that whole fish with the head on, on a menu, don’t be a wimp, look your meal in the face and thank it for nourishing you.

So all that being said lets take a look at what I picked up at The Local Butcher in Berkeley California yesterday:

Head and feet still intact! Just the way I like it.

Head and feet still intact! Had to pose her, couldn’t help myself. Seductive chicken.

 

Squid ink, reflection of my heart.

So, for those that know me, you know black is where it is at for me. For those that don’t know me, consider yourself educated on such matters.  Recently I have been obsessed with the idea of developing an all black dish, which has spiraled into an all black menu. So of course, squid ink has to be involved! Also what better way to start this bloggy thing than with a black dish.  Oh, maybe you were expecting bone marrow? Don’t worry, that will be coming soon.  Mmmm, marrow.

So, locating squid ink is fairly easy, you just need a good fish monger. I happen to love Monterey Fish Market in Berkeley and they are getting pretty used to me popping in and antagonizing them.  I was able to procure cuttle fish ink, which is essentially the same thing, from these masters of aquatic delights, for a fair price.  While I was there I also had to pick up a few lobsters, cause well, I just had too.

So cuttle fish ink tagliatelle was my project for dinner and I must say, what a fun way to spend the afternoon.  Making pasta is like taking a trip back to childhood, play doh factory anyone?

Yep, thats a blue egg.  Isn't she lovely?

Yep, thats a blue egg. Isn’t she lovely?

 

 

Oh yes, black.

Oh yes, black.

 

 

a great stress reliever, working the dough.

a great stress reliever, working the dough.pasta dough

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ribbons of love

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I served it with these guys all roasted with butter and garlic chives, simple and delicious.

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