Tuesday, July 22, 2008

We're havin' a baby!

My choices for plantings in my vegetable garden are often based more on looks than taste. Yes, I'm a superficial gardener.

I planted scarlet runner bean seeds because I love the look of the scarlet flowers, not the flavor of the bean. And I planted two watermelon plants because I love the shape of the leaves.

But superficiality doesn't make me any less of a proud mama. One of the watermelon plants has produced a perfect, six-inch fruit. If all goes well, we'll have a few siblings to enjoy as well.

Isn't it adorable?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Peachy-Keeny Pie

The window of time when peaches are at their most luscious is brief. That's why I'm taking advantage by pumping out fresh peach pies as fast as my friend Janet can pick the sweet fruit from her trees. After all; there's only one thing better than a fresh strawberry pie, and that's a fresh peach pie.

Many of my friends admit to taking the easy way out and purchasing frozen pie crusts. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's really not necessary because it's so easy to make your own pie crust.

Before you roll your eyes and think "sure," as I did when my neighbor told me it's easy to make orange marmalade, let me assure you. When I say something is easy, you can believe that it is because I am admittedly one of the laziest food bloggers this side of the Whole Foods Market. (And no doubt on that side as well.) And I'm also a bit inept, probably due to a touch of ADD. I guess these are the two things that differentiate me as a food blogger. That and the Hapa Hillbilly thing.

But I digress. (Oops, the ADD is coming through). The point is that making good pie crust is as easy as pie. If I can do it, anyone can. And, with this recipe, it's just as easy to pump out four pie crusts as it is to produce one.

Easy-as-Pie Crust
(Makes four or five crusts)

5 C. flour
1 t. salt
2 C. shortening
1 egg beaten well plus enough milk to make a cup
2 T. vinegar

1) Mix flour and salt. Cut in shortening.

I use two knives to cut the shortening into the flour, but you can also use a pastry cutter or a food processor.

2) Beat egg and add non-fat milk to make one cup. Add 2 T. of vinegar and stir.

3) Add liquid mix to flour mix and place ball on lightly floured sheet of parchment paper.

I thought you said "lightly floured."

4) Divide into four sections. (Technically, this recipe is enough for five, but it's not easy to divide a ball into five equal pieces.)

I like to bake two pies and freeze the other two balls of pie crust dough.

I think I first learned this easy trick for getting the pie crust from the parchment to the pie pan in my home ec class at Broadway Junior High in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Roll out the dough and then fold it four times.
1. Fold the left edge in a little past the center.
2. Fold the right edge in a little past the center.
3. Fold the top edge down a little past the center.
4. Fold the bottom edge up a little past the center.

That's what it's all about!

Plop the folded dough into the center of a pie plate.

Gently unfold.

Finally, flute the edges with your fingers or crimp them with a fork.
Don't forget to poke holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork before baking.

After your pie shells have baked to a warm, golden brown, the final step is to fill with fresh peaches and a variation on the Shoney's strawberry pie filling recipe:

1 C. sugar
dash of salt
4 T. peach Jello
2 T. cornstarch
1 C. water

  • Combine sugar, corstarch, salt and water.
  • Cook and stir until clear.
  • Add Jello and stir until dissolved.
  • Mix with fresh peaches.
(This recipe is designed for one pie, but I find that it's enough filling for two. I use approximately 2 pounds of peaches per pie.)

Not bad for a lazy, inept baker, huh?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Makin' a List, Eatin' It Twice

When I was a guest at the City of Hope for nearly a month last year, eating became an arduous chore. Open mouth, insert fork. Chew. Repeat.

It took me more than an hour to polish off a bowl of Cheerios. I could turn a plate of tuna fish on crackers into a two-hour lunch (without the martini). Five-course dinners at the French Laundry have been known to take less time.

Even though I no longer enjoyed
eating food, I developed an obsessive, intellectual appetite for the stuff. I talked endlessly about food with anyone who entered the room. I even tried to talk the cleaning lady into smuggling in her homemade tamales (contraband for stem cell transplant patients). I watched the Food Network during half of my waking hours and spent the other half perusing food sites and blogs.

And I made countless lists. Lists of San Gabriel Valley banh mi restaurants, dim sum eateries, tea shops and LA County ramen joints. Lists of restaurants I wanted to visit, recipes I planned to try and parties I wanted to throw.

I think Wandering Chopsticks was responsible for at least half of the items on my lists. (I recently got to meet her when she came to my house to gather fruit - Open Mouth, Insert Citrus.) On the day before Independence Day, I followed one of her recommendations and headed to Tito's Market in El Monte for empanadas.

It seemed that everyone, from the LA Times to Chowhound to Yelp!, agreed with WC that these were the BEST empanadas in So. Cal. How could I miss?

Tito's is located on Garvey Ave., just east of Rosemead Blvd., on a stretch with equal parts Asian and Latin restaurants. I was able to cross off two items on my list by stopping at Baguette City for a $2.00 vegetarian banh mi sandwich before heading to the Argentinian Market.

The line for takeout food was snaking out the door, but the service was friendly and efficient. In less than five minutes I was placing my order for 8 chicken and 8 ground beef empanadas. They lived up to all the hype and, at $1.25 each, were worth the drive from Altadena to El Monte.

I served them with a pitcher of homemade Sangria, which we consumed before walking down to the Altadena Town and Country Club to see the Third of July fireworks.

Susan's Sassy Sangria
6 oranges (+ 2 sliced oranges for garnish)
4 large Meyers lemons
1 cup simple syrup
1 bottle red wine
1 cup brandy

Make the simple syrup by combining 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool.

Squeeze the juice from the lemons and oranges into a pitcher. Add simple sugar, wine and brandy. Garnish with thin slices of orange.

Sangria is best made at least two hours before drinking so that the flavors can combine. This drink is easy, delicious and refreshing on a hot summer day, a balmy evening or. . . well, just about any time.

So. . . what's on your food list?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Road Trip!

Put me behind the steering wheel of my Prius for more than three hours, and the fantasies begin. No, I don't dream about Thelma and Louise-style adventures. I don't even give too much thought to the high price of gas since I'm averaging more than 50 miles to the gallon. What I fantasize about is food.

When I'm on the road in West Virginia, my favorite drinking while driving indulgence is RC Cola. If I can find it in a bottle, so much the better. Pair that with salty, crispy Wise Potato Chips (available only on the East Coast), and I really do think I'm all that and a bag of chips.

But when I'm on the road from LA to Sacramento and SF on that endless stretch called the I-5, I don't find general stores stocked with ice-cold pop or Wise Owl potato chips. So what did I munch and sip while driving along this arid route, where dust clouds are more common than cumulus clouds?

I filled a Nalgene bottle with home-brewed, sweet green tea. It's the drink of choice of half-Japanese, all Hillbilly transplants from West Virgnia to California. And instead of chowing chips, I munched on high-protein snacks like beef jerky, pistachio nuts and dried mangoes. It's all healthy, but somehow it seemed a little wrong for the road.

When I arrived in Rocklin (a suburb of Sacramento), my friend Barbara made sure I had my favorite breakfast: Greek yogurt with fresh berries, orange zest and a tiny bear squeeze of honey.

In San Francisco, I tried Bar Tartine for dinner. I paired a glass of White Bordeaux with raw scallops and thinly sliced radish and seaweed in a delicate sauce. When I was down to the last little scallop, I cut it into teeny-weeny bites so that I could draw out the experience. The lady sitting next to me at the bar had the same dish, and our simultaneous "mmmmm's" of pleasure were becoming a little embarrassing.

The rest of the menu blended sophisticated, high brow ingredients (e.g. quail egg, foie gras) with down-home, low-brow items (e.g. ramps, bone marrow, pork belly). Yes, you read that correctly - bone marrow.

Canines have been sucking out the fatty marrow from bones for centuries. My friend Mara uses the roasted marrow bones for the base of the richest soup you'll ever taste. And I learned last year that bone marrow isn't just rich in flavor. It's packed with stem cells, the miraculous little components that become red or white blood cells and platelets. What I didn't know is that you could roast three small bones, put them on a plate with a tiny scooping spoon and two pieces of toast and call it an appetizer for $13. Live and learn.

(I thought briefly about performing a "bone marrow transplant" by moving the bone from my neighbor's plate to my own, but I stayed focused on my scallops. Sometimes I can't resist a little cancer humor.)

Dessert was an across-the-brow favorite: chocolate souffle with a side of sour cherries, a crackling of toffee and a topping of homemade vanilla ice cream.

The real treat came after dinner, when Valencia St. became the parade route for the pre-Gay Pride parade on Sunday. Thousands of proud revelers packed the streets. When the scallop-loving woman next to me announced that there were "dykes on bikes," I looked askance, but she assured me that was the group's official moniker.

I won't describe all of my SF meals, but I will say that breakfast at my friend Sisi's came with one of the best views in the city.

A Room with a View

On the way back home, I was out of iced green tea, pistachios, mangoes and jerky, so I devoured miniature chocolate chip cookies from Tartine Bakery. When those were gone, I refueled at Foster Freeze with chilli cheese fries and a root beer freeze. Now that's road trip eating - junk food guaranteed to put some junk in the trunk.

What's your favorite road-trip indulgence?