Friday, October 31, 2008

Best & Worst Halloween Candy

Candy List Time! I'm channeling my 8-yr-old self here, circa the late 70s..and please, chime in with your best/worst. We didn't have a lot of candy in my house growing up, so Halloween was pretty much the only time we got to ditch the Tiger's Milk and acerola (mmm, rose hip jelly coated in carob! you try trading THAT for a Devil Dog!)bars for what the rest of the kid world was eating. Even then, though, I had strong opinions. Thus...

Best Halloween Candy:

1. Nestle's Chunky. These were just cool: a big silver-wrapped chunk o' chocolate studded with raisins and peanuts. A mass-market mendiant, and really good if you like the chocolate-with-stuff-in-it genre.

2. Hershey's Special Dark minis. The ONLY chance of getting straight-up dark chocolate on Halloween. I loved these madly even as a kid and would swap anything for them. Even now, when I could go buy my own Green & Black and Scharffenberger extra-darks, if someone leaves an office candybowl full of minis near me, I will mock-casually fish through them while picking out and hording ALL the Special Darks for my own nefarious purposes.

3.Goldenberg Peanut Chews. An East Coast thing, originally made by a family company in Philadelphia. Dark(!!) chocolate coating around molasses-based chewy stuff and peanuts. Not too sweet, really good. These are still around in name, but are made by the Just Born Co. (of Peeps fame) now.

4. Junior Mints. Rattling the little boxes was fun. Plus there always seemed to be one last, slightly melted, minty chocolate button in there when you needed it.

5. Mr. Goodbar. Much lower on the worthwhile-mini scale than Special Darks, but they remind me of one summer when I found a copy of 70s-scandal paperback Looking for Mr. Goodbar in our rented Nantucket cottage. This led to my 10 or 11 year old self asking my sisters what a four-letter word starting with "c" and rhyming with "bunt" meant. In the middle of the ice cream parlor on Main Street. Ah, good times.

6. Nestle Crunch. Mmmm, crunchy. Rice Krispies good.

7. Dots. Hard little dome-shaped gumdrops that were fun to shake in the box. Plus, I discovered one day that my mom liked to steal these from our stash and put them in her yogurt. She was extremely embarrassed about this when I caught her at it.

8. Wacky Packs! Yep, it was the 70s...No, not candy, but these were so cool (and designed, I later found out, by the likes of anti-establishment types like Art Spiegelman) that they made up for the lack of sugar. Every parent thought these were gross, which added much to the appeal. Even as an all-girl crew, my sisters and I loved these.


1. Candy Corn. Hardened earwax masquerading as cuteness, in a dead heat with:
2. Circus Peanuts. The heinous spawn of styrofoam and St. Joseph's baby aspirin.
3. Box o' raisins. Nice try, health Mom. No wonder no one likes your kids.
4. Candy apples. Just one of the many aspects of childhood that I found trying. Not that I really remember anyone handing these out. I just hate them.
5. Butterfingers. Blech. What's with that weirdass orange (but not orange-flavored) stuff in there (see circus peanuts, above)? Yes, I know everyone else loooves them. That's more Special Darks for me, kiddos.
6. Mary Janes, Sugar Daddys, all other hard, tasteless but achingly sweet toffees on a stick. Callard & Bowser these are not.
7. Candy buttons (on paper). And the point of these would be?
8. Mounds and Almond Joys. Because I have always loathed coconut. Their only use was as trading material, or for scraping the dark chocolate off with my teeth, stopping the minute the vile white shreds appeared.
9. Hershey bars. They taste like RUBBER, people! Rubber with dirt, too much sugar, and sour milk! Not so horrible with almonds, but overall, way too ubiquitous for being such a crap product.
10. A rock. Because, you know, you're going to be spending many nickels on psychiatry if all you get is a rock.


Booo! I love Halloween. This might have something to do with having a late-October birthday; for my whole life, I've associated black cats, pumpkins, skeletons, and autumn leaves with good things coming my way. Then there's that once-a-year smell of a freshly knifed-open jack o' lantern, sitting fat and orange on a kitchen table covered with newspaper, and the slippery squish of the seeds and pumpkin-guts between your fingers as you pull them out.

Kids come in handy here, if you happen to have any around; let those deft little hands go to work separating the seeds from their clingy, slimy web of strings. It's a satisfyingly messy and purposeful job, and will keep them involved but away from the initial big-knife job of carving the lid and hacking out the big, toothy grin.

Once the seeds are separated, give them a rinse in a colander and spread them out on a cookie sheet to dry. Rub them with a light vegetable oil, sprinkle with salt (and regular or smoked paprika, pure chile powder, or cayenne, depending on your tastes), and roast in the oven at 350 F, stirring occasionally, until dry and crunchy. I find these completely addictive, and a crucial coda to the whole pumpkin-carving process.

But, back to Halloween. Since the holiday falls on a Friday, you can really make the whole weekend into a spooky celebration, ending with Sunday's Day of the Dead events around town. And goddess knows, if there's one thing San Franciscans like better than getting naked in public, it's dressing up. Many, many drag virgins will be discovering what it feels like to balance 150 lbs+ on two 4-inch spikes the size of your thumb. Just as many others, especially those from the warmer climes of the South & East Bays, will be realizing that SF gets really, really cold at night, especially when you're wearing nothing but glasses, a spandex flag bikini and a "Miss Alaska" banner. Come midnight, you gonna wish you knew how to field-dress a moose, or at least turn a stuffed polar bear into a coat, PETA be damned.

So, what you wear tonight and tomorrow is up to you (me? Joan Holloway, girdle, gold pencil, and all) but you can start out the day in the right way. What do women want? If you were me last year, it was the Batula, a spatula in the shape of a bat, and an orange and black spiderweb apron. (Both gifts were that rare and fabulous thing, items I'd never considered but that instantly spoke to my deepest desires for world batulation. Plus, you can use the Batula to spank anyone that comes between you and your pancakes.)

This weekend, it's spider and skull-shaped pancakes for everyone in the house. And while the shapes may be spooky, the pancakes themselves are both wholesome and really tasty. You could use grated winter squash or pumpkin in these if you want to really stick to the theme, but carrots are easier. Enjoy!

Spooky Autumn Pancakes

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tbsp wheat germ
2 tbsp rolled oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon or pumpkin/apple pie spice (a very handy combo of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice, sold already mixed)
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 tbsp vegetable oil, such as canola, or melted butter
1 tbsp maple syrup* or honey
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 large raw carrot, grated
Butter for cooking pancakes

In a large bowl, sift or whisk dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, beat buttermilk, egg, oil, and maple syrup together. Stir (don't beat!) wet ingredients into dry, adding a couple tbsp of water if mixture seems too thick. (It should be fairly thick and pillowy--enough so you can spoon it out rather than pour it). Gently stir in nuts and carrots. Set aside.

Over medium heat, heat a wide skillet or griddle. When a drop of water will sizzle and skitter over the surface, add a slim pat of butter and swirl to coat the surface. Turn down the heat to medium-low and add batter. Flip once bubbles begin to form and pop and edges look glazed. Cook another minute or two until well-browned on bottom. Repeat as needed. Serve with warm maple syrup and butter. Boooo! Serves 3 to 4, more or less.

*Yankee that I am, I feel strongly that ONLY real maple syrup is worth eating. "Table syrup" is just corn syrup and artificial flavorings, and does nothing but skyrocket your blood sugar and make the whole kitchen stink like IHOP. Look for the deep, mellow Grade B syrup sold at Trader Joe's and in bulk at Rainbow Grocery.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Will work for food

For a lot of reasons, now seems like a very good time to see how much we can do with a barter economy. As the Fallen Fruit collective claims, "You have nothing to lose but your hunger!" All my fruits and vegetables have come from truly local sources these past couple of weeks, and none of them cost me a dime.

Not in money, that is. I did, in fact, pay for all them--by forking compost, setting up irrigation tubes, weeding, making garden signs, picking strawberries, cooking for 50 farm apprentices, harvesting chard, making rosemary bundles from the huge bush in my front yard, and more. There are a lot of sources of beautiful fruits and vegetables available, if you have the time to spare to earn them. Right now, I have more time than cash, so with a few hours spent, I've become rich in gorgeous produce, to eat and share.

A few sources:

Alemany Farm, at the base of Bernal Heights. This Sunday is their Harvest Fair, so come down and see what's going on around the farm. Best non-car way to get there, besides walking and biking: the 67-Bernal Heights bus to Ellsworth and Alemany. Get off right where the bus turns in the public housing development, then walk back out to Alemany, turn right and the farm's about a dozen yards down the street. Workdays are alternating Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5, also Monday afternoons. Volunteers work and then share in a communal harvest. Right now, the tomatoes and strawberries are finishing up, but there's still lots of chard, collards, lettuce, a few peppers, ground cherries, feijodas, and green (and purple) beans.

Garden for the Environment. 7th Ave and Lawton, in the Sunset. This is a half-acre teaching garden rather than a working farm, but volunteers often share a small harvest (I went home with a big bag of bok choy) at the end of the workday. Workdays are Wednesdays, 10-2pm, and Saturday afternoons. Workshops are taught every weekend on various gardening topics, like seed saving and worm composting. PQ may be teaching some preserving the harvest classes here this winter.

Free Farm Stand. Longtime community gardener and food-justice activist Tree started this stand inside the community garden at the park on 23rd and Treat in April, using the overflow from several community gardens in Potrero and the Mission. Now he also gets donations from Acme Bread (loads of day-old fancy bread, like their killer walnut levain) and several farmers at the Ferry Plaza farmers' market, plus city-park gleanings (including a bushel of apples harvested from a tree in Golden Gate Park) and backyard harvests from friends. Sundays from 1pm to 3pm. If you have any homegrown extras--herbs, fruit, flowers, vegetables, seedlings (I brought rosemary bundles from my yard), feel free to bring 'em along, otherwise, just come and help yourself, and talk to Tree about helping out in the various gardens in which he works.

Heartfelt. This cute little giftie and flower shop on Cortland in Bernal Heights has a little freebie table out front, where locals put out their garden extras. In the summer, it was lots of plums and lemons; right now, there are 2 big bowls of green and red apples. Seedlings, bulbs, herbs have also made their way there. Check in with the staff before you donate; help yourself if you're taking, being, of course, mindful of sharing.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Blintz Me

Yes, thanks to volunteering on several urban farms this week, I have a whole lotta veggies (and fruits) going on in my house right now. But what I really want are blintzes, preferably the ones made by my grandma Fae, may she rest in peace. Why? Probably because they're a typical part of the Yom Kippur breaking-the-fast meal.

Anyone? Grandma? Any blintz-fryers out there with farmer cheese at the ready? Once I get through all the apples, chard, and peppers, I'm going out to the Russian delis on Clement St and getting me some blintz-ready dairy products.

I live with regret that I never wrote down measurements for my grandmother's perfect blintzes. But this recipe (adapted from one on Epicurious) seems very close to what I remember her using.

For crêpes
1 1/2 cups whole milk
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter, melted, for frying

In blender, combine milk and eggs. Add flour and salt and blend at low speed until smooth, less than 1 minute. Let batter stand 1/2 hour.

Have ready large plate or platter. Place skillet over moderately high heat, brush lightly with some melted butter, and heat until butter just begins to smoke. Pour 1/4 to 1/3 cup batter into pan, tilting to spread into thin, even layer. Cook until crêpe begins to "blister," edges curl slightly away from skillet, and underside is lightly browned, about 1 to 2 minutes. Flip crêpe out of skillet and onto plate, cooked side up.

Repeat with remaining batter, brushing skillet lightly with melted butter before cooking each crêpe. Stack crêpes, cooked side down, on plate and let cool.

For filling
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) farmer cheese
1/2 cup (4 ounces) cottage cheese (4% milk fat) or pot cheese
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon sugar
pinch salt
big pinch cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla

In large bowl, mash together farmer and cottage cheeses until blended. Add egg yolk, sugar, salt, and cinnamon and mix until combined. Taste and adjust sugar, vanilla, cinnamon.

Place 1 crêpe, cooked side up, on a plate. Place 2 tablespoons filling in center, and fold up bottom to cover filling. Fold in sides, then roll to seal. (If you've never seen a blintz before, think flattish, squared-off egg rolls.) Place on a large plate. Repeat with remaining crêpes and filling. (Can be made up to 1 day ahead; cover and chill until ready to fry.)

For sauce (optional; or just serve with more butter and powdered sugar or warm maple syrup)
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

In large saucepan, combine 2 cups blueberries, sugar, and cornstarch. Set over moderately low heat and stir gently until sugar dissolves. Raise heat to moderately high and boil, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and gently stir in remaining blueberries.

To fry blintzes, you'll need an additional 4 tb butter.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in iron skillet over moderately high heat. Add 3 blintzes and fry until golden brown on both sides, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining butter and blintzes. Serve hot with sauce.

I have now been an Officially Bad Jew on 2 Yom Kippurs. The first time, I was inadvertently (I swear!) recipe-testing the BLT for Fun Food that morning. Which meant I was standing in the kitchen, eating and frying several rounds of bacon while I should have in temple, fasting. Normally, I'm not even a bacon eater, which makes it worse. This time, I was out at Pier 23 celebrating Shar's birthday when I should have been at Kol Nidre services. Susie gave her all these fabulous Vosges bars, and so I ended up eating not just chocolate but bacon-studded chocolate. I'm hoping that maybe it was still before sundown when I did this. I'm also very glad Jewish theology really doesn't have an eternal-damnation thing going.

Cupcakes for CA, MA, CT

Go Connecticut! Even if they're just angling for some of those gay ice-sculpture dollars (now that all those Darien bankers are going bust), the Supreme Court in Conn. just ruled, 4-3, that same-sex couples can marry in their state. This is great, great news. And since NY gov David Patterson has agreed to recognize out-of-state marriages, all those gay New Yorkers with Connecticut country houses can just throw their tuxes in the car without without having to jet up to MA or out to CA. Yippeee! Wedding cupcakes for all!

But, of course, nothing can be taken for granted. It's crucial to get out and vote this November. And while your vote is between you and your conscience, if you live in CA the PQ is urging you to consider VOTING NO ON PROP 8. Prop 8 would take away the already-established right for all couples to legally marry in CA.

No matter what you think of gay people buying matching towels together, if you're straight, letting gay people marry too should make NO difference in your life. You can still get married, divorced, married again as many times as you like. So what if Jim and James down the street are married too? This is supposed to be the land of the free, y'all. More freedoms--and the acceptance of the responsibilities that come with them--are, in my opinion, the hallmarks of a strong country and a social fabric that's worthy of respect. Do the right thing, for your friends and neighbors.

Vegan Cupcakes for Everybody
Now, you know I'm down with the butter and eggs when it comes to baking. But in the interest of inclusiveness, here's a recipe worth a try, even for the egg-adverse among us.

* 1 cup soy milk
* 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
* 3/4 cup granulated sugar
* 1/3 cup canola oil
* 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 1/3 cup cocoa powder, Dutch-processed or regular
* 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon salt


1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a muffin pan with paper or foil liners. Awww, ain't they cute?
2. Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, and vanilla extract to the soy milk mixture and beat until foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Really, you need to sift, because both cocoa and baking soda love to clump up into annoying little balls. Add in two batches to wet ingredients and beat until no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are OK).
3. Pour into liners, filling 3/4 of the way. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

Monday, October 06, 2008

gettin' dirty just shakin' that thing

Farming! It was all about the dirt this weekend. Went down to UCSC for the CASFS Harvest fest, and it was absolutely charming, as always. A whole posse of little face-painted kids were bobbing and swaying to the Rolling Cultivators' rockin' bluegrass while a couple of farmies were grinding away at the cider press, with Karen and Felizia pouring juice, another farmie grilling corn and veggie kabobs, and just loads of general sunshine and happiness. I was in apple-eating bliss, with all those cold nights, disappearing mugs, and close quarters with loud, walk-over-the-table-in-dirty-boots dudes forgotten, or at least not in the forefront of my mind. No, it was happy times with Frankie and Beans (the rat-eating farm cats), all the Early Girl dry-farmed tomatoes you could eat, and that priceless view. (And it's almost deadline time for applying to the program for '09, so get on it if you want to go! Happy to answer any and all questions you might have, especially for you over-30 types.)

An even more priceless view was to be had from the Chancellor's house, where we got to hear a short concert by the Shanghai Quartet, before their larger concert as part of the Arts and Lectures series. Hearing Ravel, Schubert, Brahms, and a contemporary Chinese composer in what was essentially a large living room with a stunning view of the ocean and meadows was also high on the bliss rating for the day, followed by browsing around and finally spending the last of the Book Shop Santa Cruz gift certificate I'd earned last year with my 2nd place in the apple pie contest. I went home with The Urban Homestead handbook, full of useful and snappily-written info about self-sufficient city living, from making daikon pickles and building your own solar dehydrator to using greywater and why it's crucially important to make sure your chickens have dry, fluffy, healthy butts.

And then onto the Alemany Farm, to dig and dig and dig and dig some more, to get out the posts that were planted halfway to China to hold up the bean fence. We pulled out the old beans, rolled up the chicken wire, and then spent hours digging out the poles. But by the end of the afternoon, the bed was cleared and marked off for a cover crop planting, and I was harvesting a big bucket of plum, lemon boy, sungold, and early girl tomatoes. Came home with a fabulous harvest of tomatoes, green beans, strawberries, rainbow chard, basil, and lettuce mix, all grown and picked right there in Bernal. You can have free vegetables, too: just show up and work from 12-5pm, and you can share in the bounty of the harvest at the end of the day. The farm has work days every weekend, alternating Saturday and Sunday. (The schedule's on their website.) Somehow, vegetables taste better when you bring them home, sweaty and dirty, having earning them with your back and hands.

Tonight, it's local salad-o-rama, with Shar and Susie. I'll be combining my Bernal harvest with what I brought back from the Santa Cruz farm (since I also had a gift certificate to spend at their market stand, earned from cooking 3 squares for the farmies earlier this year). Which means a salad nicoise, I think--with everything but the tuna (and the wine from Arkansas!) local. Green beans, lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers--all local. And then apple gingerbread, followed by a nip over to hipster-tapas hangout Andulu, at 16th and Guerrero, to see the gorgeous photos of Bill Basquin, part of a photo series and film doc dubbed Soiled, about what he's been growing in his community plot in the Dearborn Garden.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

challah and nails

So, it seems I missed my chance--twice!--to have a baby named Violet. E. and his wife have just named their new little one Violet, joining Dutch, his ladywife, and their girl Violet. And since there are other ladies out there who might very well have spawned by now, perhaps there are even more Violets among my ex's. Well, a big cheer to all of them, and here's to their getting a full night's sleep again sometime in the next five years.

What else? Last night was a lovely Rosh Hashanah celebration, with piles of homemade challah, much butter and honey, apples, pears, Asian pears and pomegranates, Arkansas wine and grape juice from the Post Familie winery, lots of barbecued chicken, corn muffins, and honey butter from Roxxie and Nancy's new favorite bbq joint out in the avenues, right next to their favorite cheap Indian place, and salad from Christina. It was a stone soup/potluck kind of deal--the best kind--and everyone agreed that the wine tasted like Manischevitz, only better. I've done many types of RH dinners, and this was the most low-key but one of the warmest, too.

Now, onto Sukkot planning! I wanted to build a sukkah out at the farm last year, but busy farm life got in the way. But here, we have a little back patio, just big enough for a little hut. It could happen, with some scrap lumber, rope, nails, and branches. One thing I am not going to do, though, is spend $$$ buying some super-ugly sukkah from a kit. A writer from the NYT reviewed a few this week, and they all sounded (and looked) hideous, made of metal tubes and printed plastic sheets, nothing like the rustic farm-laborer's shacks that were the inspiration for the holiday in the first place. The writer freely admitted having no confidence in his ability to even put together something from a kit, inviting an architect friend over to do the screwing and hammering. Are we really that far removed from taking care of basic tasks for ourselves? Granted, I'm no handyperson, but I can hammer a nail, sew a button, and bake a loaf of bread. (Given my druthers, I'd also like to know how to spin wool, make croissants, and tend goats, but that's just me.) Slapping together a temporary little hut in the backyard--one that, by Torah mandate, cannot have a solid roof, and only needs 2 1/2 walls to be kosher--is not like raising your own barn. It can look as slapdash as you want, as long as it can stay up for a week and provide space for a dinner table. I'm no carpenter, but how hard can it be? I'm thinking of having a build-the-sukkah party in a few weeks. Bring a piece of wood, bring a handful of nails, and help make it happen! followed by, of course, dining al fresco, looking up through the branches at the stars.