Monday, April 28, 2008

sweet berry heaven

Mmmm, strawberries. As it turns out, Watsonville's Tomatero Farms doesn't just sell at the Grand Lake farmers' market, they sell at my local down the hill, the Alemany Sat morning market, where everyone was basking and strolling in the sunshine. Well, some of us were basking. The rest were stuffing mad handfuls of sugar-snap peas into plastic bags and stowing 10-lb nets of oranges into granny carts. The last of the Sevilles were on display, along with a shriveled Buddha's Hand or two.

(Speaking of which, I ended up chopping up my BH and adding the blanched bits of rind to my kumquat marmalade. A mistake! This BH, perhaps all BHs, had a strong, camphor-ish scent, and made the whole batch of kumquat marm taste like Vick's vapor rub. Eucalyptus marmalade! Not the tastiest thing for toast.Next time, should there be one, I'm sticking the whole thing in a jar of vodka and making citrus liquor. Another kind of medicine...)

But I saw a flat or two of red berries behind the lettuce (flat whorls of red butter lettuce to make you weep) at Tomatero, and asked the price. Turned out they were just a buck a box, because they had been picked Wed. and were looking a little ratty by Saturday. Personally, I like a superripe, wine-dark berry, so with a little picking over it was cheap sweet heaven.

What other good things? Meatloaf on a rainy night at Blue Plate, with mashed p'taters and green beans, and the best smoky bacon ever. They do a salad that comes with a gorgeous burnished strip of bacon laid over the top of it, and that's reason to eat your rabbit food right there. Being on a fridge magnet with my pal Molly, advertising the Sundance Saloon (motto: "Building Community, Two Steps at a Time"), a fab country-western hangout over on Barnveldt St, near the produce district off of Bayshore. Hot coffee and warm apricot turnovers from the Liberty Cafe bakery on a sunny weekend morning.

Garden lilacs that smelled like lilacs, at Heartfelt on Cortland, and a blowsy three-buck bouquet of lavender-pink garden roses that smelled like roses, from one of the vegetable stands at the Alemany market. Essays about owls and poetry about snakes from Stanley Kunitz. Hearing about rabbit, Powell's, and absinthe up in Portland. Serving hot homemade herb biscuits to the plant-sale crowds at the Homeless Garden Project, and feeding the farmies with fresh strawberries, roasted squash, lentil soup and homemade rolls. Being sprung from the chocolate mines for the next four days, and going back down to the farm to cook again.

And of course, Cookie Fairy!

Monday, April 14, 2008

duck, duck, mousse!

Come on down to Santa Cruz and see PQ make duck-egg frittata. The Homeless Garden Project will be holding their annual Plant Sale and Youth Day on Saturday, April 19th, and I'll be doing a cooking demo in their newly rebuilt outdoor kitchen. We'll be getting VERY local, using chard from the gardens along with duck eggs from the ducks that roam the rows. And because you can't have eggs without bread, there will also be flaky herb biscuits, using whatever herbs (probably rosemary) are growing around. And then, after the demo, I'll be scooting up the hill to the farm center, to make dinner for the new little farmies coming in to set up their tents. I can't believe it's been a year already since I fled the snows of Watertown for the fog and strawberries of Santa Cruz...

More info on Saturday's event, here.
Note that this is at the Natural Bridges garden itself, NOT the little shop where they sell their wreaths and stuff. If you have a garden, definitely plan to pick up some stuff at their great plant sale, which will have loads of organic plant starts, fruit trees, herbs, annuals, and perennials.

Where: Homeless Garden Project, Natural Bridges Farm, Schaffer Road at Delaware Ave, Santa Cruz, CA
When: Plant Sale, 9am-6pm. Cooking demo: 3pm-4pm.

What else is in the kitchen right now? Scones with lemon zest, candied ginger and dried apricots, just because, plus last night's mashed potatoes and a picked-over chicken, plus a few sugar-snap peas with mint chiffonnade, courtesy of Tomatero Farms in Watsonville, which had the best-tasting sugar snaps, eggs, and strawbs in the whole market. And two quarts of frozen lemon juice, because you just never know, and a crate of meyer lemons doesn't last forever, but lemon juice in the freezer does, or at least as close to it as I need to be.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

PQ for Sale

Which is to say, a case of Meyer lemons in my kitchen, waiting to be used! I think, given the abundance awaiting PQ's attentions, I might actually sell some of my wares this time around. Nothing fancy, no Paypal or anything. But if you live in San Francisco or its nearby environs, I think we can figure out a way to swap fabulous lemon marmalade or lemon curd for cash. Let's see: here's what I'm proposing:

For Sale from Pie Queen Kitchen:

Pablo's Ode to a Lemon marmalade (nothing but organic Meyer lemons and sugar)
8 oz. , $8

Delovely Delicious Lemon Curd (organic Meyer lemons, eggs, butter, sugar)
$8 oz, $10

and to go with:

Happy Tea Time Lemon-Currant Scones (whole wheat and white pastry flour, butter, currants, meyer lemon zest, buttermilk, sugar, baking soda, salt)
-the real deal, light and fluffy, perfect with tea and marmalade or lemon curd
$10 for 6 scones

So, interested? All extra-delicious and homemade in the PQ kitchen. The lemons are definitely organic; I can go all-organic/local with the other ingredients, too, although it might be a little pricier. Option of using local Straus organic butter and buttermilk, pastured eggs from Soul Food Farms, etc. Post a comment if you want to get some, and we'll figure it out.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Ode To a Lemon

Out of lemon flowers
from the moonlight, love's
lashed and insatiable
sodden with fragrance,
the lemon tree's yellow
the lemons
move down
from the tree's planetarium

Delicate merchandise!
The harbors are big with it-
for the light and the
barbarous gold.
We open
the halves
of a miracle,
and a clotting of acids
into the starry
original juices,
irreducible, changeless,
so the freshness lives on
in a lemon,
in the sweet-smelling house of the rind,
the proportions, arcane and acerb.

Cutting the lemon
the knife
leaves a little cathedral:
alcoves unguessed by the eye
that open acidulous glass
to the light; topazes
riding the droplets,
aromatic facades.

So, while the hand
holds the cut of the lemon,
half a world
on a trencher,
the gold of the universe
to your touch:
a cup yellow
with miracles,
a breast and a nipple
perfuming the earth;
a flashing made fruitage,
the diminutive fire of a planet.

-Pablo Neruda

Monday, April 07, 2008

Maybe things aren't as bad as you think

Rhubarb, we have it here at PQ Castle! Along with another, final case of Meyer lemons--final, that is, until I go down to cook at the farm in 2 weeks and score as many Meyers as I can pack out. Whatever ripe lemons are left after making the famous Meyer lemon pound cake and lavender-sugar lemonade are coming home with me. Well, I might leave a few (or 10) so that Lanette and I, aka Cookie Fairy, have something to work with when we return to cook for the new farmies on May Day. Lemon ricotta pancakes? Lemon thumbprint cookies? Spicy lemon lentils? Mmm, tasty. As I recall from my own first few farmie weeks, there's not a lot in the larder or in the fields at this time, so I'll have to be inventive with the carrots and beets. But I remain dedicated to the PQ Farm-Cooking Creed: No Bean Mush, No Undressed Salads, No Unpeeled Beets, and Yes, There Is (Always) Dessert.

But back to the rhubarb, another perk from the produce co., so silky and pretty and gorgeously pink. I am thinking, of course, of strawberry-rhubarb pie, the most perfect harbinger of spring I know. And perhaps some rhubarb compote, with a hint of rosewater or vanilla bean. And then a few jars of strawberry-rhubarb jam, since I gave all my farm jam away last year.

Brown sugar and waffles

Artichokes, fava bean leaves, asparagus, and soon, yes, rhubarb: Spring at last, spring at last, hallelujah, it's spring at last! The tiny page mandarins are still kicking around, though, and a sweeter little citrus you'll never see. Four of these, from Tory Farms, were about all I could afford from the Ferry Plaza farmers' market last Saturday, but they're so sweet and juicy you could grin all day just from licking your sticky fingers. After a spin around the crowded, crowded market(it's only April, people! Nothing to see here, no tomatoes, no peaches...where are you going to stand come July if you all pile in here now just for tangerines and deep-fried asparagus?) I headed back down to my local, the much more down-to-asphalt Alemany Market.

It was close to 1:30pm when I got down there, so many of the booths were already shut down and sweeping up, but I still scored a bag of 4 or 5 slim heads of red butter lettuce rubber-banded together for $1, plus cilantro, garlic, onions, peppers, and a big bag of brutto ma buono tangelos, golden nugget tangerines, Meyer lemons, and mandarins for a mere buck a pound. Flowers, taco trucks, strawberries (conventionally grown, and a little beat up, but $10 a flat' organics go for $35/flat): PQ says check it out. SE edge of Bernal Heights, Putnam and Alemany, Saturday mornings.

It was an Eazy-Bay kind of weekend, from breakfast at Brown Sugar Kitchen in West Oakland to a French movie (Hors de Prix--Priceless--with Audrey Tatou, and a delightful romp it was) in Piedmont, drinks at Kingman's Lucky Lounge, coffee at Peet's on Grand Ave, even late-night eats at Rudy's Can't-Fail Cafe (the servers' black rocker tees read "Serving E'ville" with the RC/FC logo done AC/DC style on the front) in Emeryville (they're open til 1am! In the East Bay! Wheeee!) The only thing I missed was farmers' market cocktails at the Easy with the Red Meat Ranger, Papa Sueno, and their market pals Kelly (who sells fabulous girly lotions and soaps) and Arianna, who runs a small farm and chicken ranch in Watsonville. Arianna is cool, says Papa Sueno, because she farms, raises Peruvian chickens that can lay green eggs, and knows all about what's in season. Farmers are our new rock stars, now that we're all too sleepy to stay out late enough to go to gigs any more.

So, what will being in bed by 10, PQ can be up with the chickens herself, and a good thing too, if you want to get some of that fried chicken and waffles at Brown Sugar Kitchen. Don't let the industrial West Oakland setting fool you: Peralta Studios is just across the street, and the word is out about the homemade biscuits and doughnuts and Blue Bottle Coffee. Shuna of Eggbeater was working the biscuit dough behind the counter, doing a helpout for her pal, BSK owner Tanya Holland. The all-female kitchen crew was working hard, scooping grits and plating waffles on this busy weekend morning.

Oh, those waffles! At the last moment, I looked to the left, looked to the right, and realized the chicken would be little too much fried for first thing in the AM. But on their own, these waffles were light-as-a-feather babies, crisp and airy and golden brown. Real maple syrup, a smear of some kind of flavored butter, chicken-apple sausage from Aidell's: a very good time. The biscuits are very fine too, but only if you get them warmed up. Cold, they're still good, but they won't fill you with that special buttery-edged Southern-warmed lovin'. The home fries were good, the scrambled eggs were very good, the Niman Ranch bacon top-hole.

But now, the caveats. BSK, at least on busy weekends, does not have its service together. The hostess has no time (or inclination) for charm, the servers are sweet but overwhelmed. After finally snagging seats at the counter, then being ignored for many minutes, we went and fetched our own menus. The weekend menu itself is short--a fine thing, usually. I like a chef with an opinion, and there are enough places with millions of omelettes already. But there's short, and then there's running a breakfast place with no straight-up eggs-potatoes-toast option.

Now, I'd understand this, maybe, if this was a dinner place that did a fancy brunch once a week. But no, this is a joint that only serves breakfast and lunch. I understand that, grits and pie aside, this ain't no Just for You, no Rudy's or Al's Good Food Cafe. Holland's clearly not interested in running a short-order white-wheat-or-rye diner. What you can get are cheese grits and poached eggs, quiche, veggie scramble, French toast, or waffles (with or without fried chicken). But if you, like many, many people, want home fries, a biscuit, and some scrambled eggs for breakfast, you're going to get charged a la carte prices for every little thing, which means something like $12, with bacon.

Then they charged me for the fried chicken I didn't order. And did I mention it took close to 45 minutes between sitting down and getting breakfast? On the plus side, there were a couple of free (cold) biscuits to take the edge off, and an extra cup of coffee. (Another warning: that Blue Bottle coffee is all French-pressed, which means no waitress warming up your cup from the Bunn-o-matic. I imagine if you want more than a single dose of joe , you're going to pay a fresh $2 for every round. Haven't confirmed this, but I didn't see any warmups going around, so I'm figuring this for policy. And go easy on the half-and-half: it comes in tiny pitchers, filled only halfway.)

Not that I'm trying to be negative, mind--I came in really wanting to love BSK. It's a very pleasant place, with apple-green walls and a lively open kitchen, and some very handsome pecan and sweet-potato pies on display, right next to some massively nutty sticky buns. But it's still getting itself together, and a little more attention to the nuances of making customers happy--instead of just well waffled--would go far in getting the PQ's adoration, or at least her returning breakfast cash.