Saturday, November 29, 2008

Swing your partner, round and round

Sitemeter is always entertaining. Besides letting me know that PQ has blog readers in Moscow and Singapore, it also has a fun little feature that reveals how readers get here. For example, someone living in the U.K. needs pie bad today, having typed "PIE AND PIE AND MORE PIE" into their Google box. And what they got, as the second listing, was a PQ posting entitled, conveniently enough, "Pie and More Pie". "Dirt Cake" is always another reliable search, as is "Ice Cream Girl," whose red lace continues to make the rounds.

Well, anyway. The kitchen is finally, finally clean, the floor washed and even the compost bin emptied. The last green tomatoes from the patio--which I have to face are just not going to ripen on the nearly dead plants, it being almost December--are on the table, hopefully to ripen over the next couple of weeks, or meet their end sliced, cornmealed, and fried. The last of the cranberry bread went into the toaster for breakfast, with oatmeal topped with the remains of the apple compote from the Fallen Fruit jamming session. It's a tentatively sunny day out there, and I must put on some shoes and get daylight while I can, the last few days all having been spent inside baking, eating, and cleaning.

Fun things coming up:

Sat/Sun: The gorgeous Flora Grubb plant store/garden down in Bernal flats/Bayview is having a weekend open house today and tomorrow (11/29-11/30), with homemade pie and of course coffee from Ritual Roasters (just like some supermarkets have in-house Starbucks, FG has their own RR counter). New sprout Greyson Danger Grubb will also be on display today, accepting homage for having the coolest name ever.
This was just super fun, as it happens. S., just back from 4 days of Cape Cod family time, was dying to get back to California reality, and this is part of his post-Thanksgiving, post-family re-entry tradition. So we zipped down there, where they had not only a tall silver urn of hot cider but 3 big bottles of spiced rum, Jack Daniel's, and tequila to doctor it. Clearly, they know what the people need. We got our cups and a couple slices of really good Shaker lemon pie (with kumquats!) and set off on a happy meander around the glittery bird ornaments and enormous succulents. And who should turn out to work there but my old housemate Laura, which whom I shared a big, run-down five-person flat in the Fillmore, sometime in the mid-90s. Ah, small city, long life, yet again.


Sat: The Really Free Market in Dolores Park. Give away your stuff, go home with somebody's else's! Out with the old, in with new (to you). No money, no trade...just everything free. This sounds very groovy. 1-5pm today, in Dolores Park.

Mon: Cutting Ball Theater is having a fabulous fundraiser Monday night, with amazing music, performances, and square dancing with a caller. Don't miss it--just $10-$20, sliding scale, to raise money for the development of a new play by Eugenie Chan (of the critically acclaimed one-woman short play Bone to Pick) in conjunction with Polish performance troupe Teatr Zar.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Walk right in, it's around the back, just a half a mile from the railroad track...

"...we went back to the church, had another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat, and didn't get up until the next morning, when we all had to go to court."

It was on the way home from BART last night, after delivering three pies and having 2 Thanksgiving dinners that couldn't be beat, that I realized what was missing. Arlo Guthrie! We had a fondness for some hippie folk music in my house growing up--Odetta, the Weavers, Peter Paul and Mary. I can remember my parents taking us to Pete Seeger concerts on the Clearwater, a sailing ship promoting awareness of the Hudson River ecosystem, which is a lot cleaner now than it was then, back in the 70s, when pollution and PCBs were killing the shad and the striped bass. Pete Seeger had, of course, been a pal of Woody Guthrie, and so Arlo used to play with him a lot. Every Thanksgiving, one of the public radio stations would play the entire 20-minute-long original version of Alice's Restaurant, and we'd sing along as my mom chopped celery and my sister Amy folded the napkins (remember? She's my middle sister, the one from Chicago who's good at ambiance).

So I sang the whole thing to myself in my head, and then watched part of it on YouTube.

Because I had promised pies to both Shifra & Stephen and Shar & Jackie, I did manage to sit down to 2 Thanksgiving dinners, one at 3pm and one at 7:30pm. Or, to quote Cheap Eats columnist Dani Leone, on her habit of following an omelette with a plate of ribs, "That was breakfast. This is lunch." Or lunch and dinner, in this case. Well, I did take dainty portions, or so I'd like to think.

Anyway, turkey, mmmm. I do love turkey, and don't know why it's so heartily maligned. These were some delicious birds--braised and moist at Shifra's, crispy-skinned and chestnut-brown at Shar's--with all the appropriately brown and white gravy vehicles, also known as stuffing, mashed potatoes, mashed rutabagas, and sweet potatoes. Shannon, Shar's cousin, was there with his husband, and brought his Southern expertise to the perfect biscuits. Which I know are being sopped in leftover gravy for breakfast right as we speak. At both houses, it was a happy confluence of birth and chosen family--Shifra, Stephen, and Stephen's aunts, uncle, and cousin in Berkeley; and Shar, Jackie and a dozen assorted family, friends, spouses, and kids--a happy biscuit-, pie-, and Cool Whip-fueled chaos.

And special mention must be made of Omar's sweet-potato pie--his first, I believe, and absolutely delicious. Omar is the cool teenager of the household, keeping all the 40+ geezers up to date on Beyonce and Girlicious.

And except for me, and Jackie's sister and her husband, all the grownups there were married gay couples, almost all with children. There were kids eating cookies, kids playing kazoos, kids climbing up the back of the sofa, babies lolling half-asleep on shoulders. I could say "Look, gay families! Just like straight ones!" and on one hand, it would be true. On the other, I don't know that the goal is to be seen as "just like" straight families--that seems too much like whitewashing assimilation to me. And what's a straight family norm, anyway? There are many, many ways to be a family, and the genders of the parents is just one part. All I can say is that these were families, and every bit as married as anyone.

And the eggless pumpkin pie? A hit! It was a little soft, I think--more creamy than custardy, but rich in flavor. I would reduce the amount of evaporated milk, I think, and toss in a tablespoon of flour, and possibly chill it before serving. Overall, though, a treat, especially since for once, Shifra didn't have to bake her own desserts in order to enjoy them. Here's the revised recipe.

Eggless Pumpkin Pie
This pie does contain dairy. My neighbor Jen, however, had to cook up a dairy-free pumpkin pie, in order to accomodate her kosher sister. Her replacement? Vanilla hemp milk, richer and creamier than the usual rice/almond/soy milk options. So if you need to make a vegan or dairy-free pie, and can find hemp milk, give it a try.

2 cups mashed squash (I roasted one small butternut, one small kabocha squash, and one sweet potato)
1 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
big pinch of salt
1/2 cup pureed silken tofu (or 2 eggs)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp flour

Whisk all ingredients well until thoroughly mixed. Pour into partially baked pie shell, and bake at 350F for 35-45 minutes, until well set. Let cool to room temperature. For a firmer set, chill for several hours before serving.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

still not live blogging

Ahhh! The pies, almost done! I just missed burning the cherry pie by kibbitzing with Jen and Phoebe over tea and cranberry bread, while Phoebe sat with the massive black chunk that is the Twilight series (hey, she's 12) on her lap and we all watched Miley Cyrus dance around on the Bolt float. Luckily, though, I scampered home just in time-- it was looking a little lava-esque, but settled down once out of the oven.

Next up, the tofu-pumpkin. I have to say, the raw filling tasted AWESOME, and hopefully will be just as good cooked. 2 cups of mixed roasted butternut, kabocha squash, and sweet potato, whisked with 1 tsp pumpkin-pie spice, a little salt, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 12-oz. can evaporated milk, and 1/2 cup pureed silken tofu. The baked texture is not quite as smooth as the eggy version made last week--it's a little wrinkly--but it still looks pretty cute.

Then it was on to make a speedy apple, after t-day dinner #2 at Shar & Jackie's got added. Of course, Jackie said I didn't need to bring a thing, but when I offered an apple pie, made with fresh organic farm apples, well, a last-minute butter run was in order. Now Mr. Apple Pie is in the oven, and I've got the real challenge: how to carry 3 hot-to-warm pies on the 67 bus, the BART to Berkeley, and then another bus.

But first, time to rinse all the flour off my sticky self. Happy Thanksgiving!

p.s. Am I secretly relieved that Kim S. is FREAKING OUT, burning things, and getting lumps in her gravy? No, of course not!

Not Live Blogging, Pt 2

Coffee, mismatched pajamas (crossword puzzle below, psychedelic pink Victoria's Secret on top), cranberry bread.

The squash has been put through the strainer, last night's dishes washed, and the cherries (two jars of Trader Joe's excellent Morellos, drained) sitting around getting comfortable with the tapioca, in the hopes of softening up the little cassava balls enough so that they'll disappear in the baking. Talked briefly to my mom, Alex, and sister in Rochester, where it's been raining and snowing off and on all week. According to the family report, my sister, who is a scientist and very precise, has made a beautiful apple pie, and my mom is snapping the ends of a few pounds of green beans for some kind of casserole.

"Is it the kind with the cream of mushroom soup and the onion crispies on top?" I asked, just to tease her, since my mom is a really good cook. Sure, we had canned cream of mushroom soup growing up, but only as actual soup.

"No!! It's from Lidia. There's fresh mozzarella in it, and all kinds of things."

That's Lidia Bastianich, of Food Network/Felidia's/multiple cookbook fame, with whom my mom considers herself on a first-name basis, ever since we shared a table with her at the James Beard Awards one year, and she gave me advice about the food markets in Bologna.

Actually, come to think of it, my aunt used to be very fond of that classic kind of green-bean casserole,and always brought it with her to Thanksgiving at our house, since she knew that my mom was much more likely to have some kind of new-fangled steamed green beans with almonds or other inappropriately crunchy green thing. They must have wrangled over this one--or perhaps my aunt Karen has promised to have the real thing on hand.

But back in the kitchen, it's time to put on the Poi Dog Pondering and Hank Williams, and git these pies in the oven!

Not Quite a Live Blog

So, I'm not exactly live blogging the pie-making here in Bernal. Then again, unlike Kim Severson, I'm not getting paid, nor am I expecting Eric Asimov to bring the wine or Scott Peacock to make the biscuits.

Actually, I'd love to post photos of my kitchen right now, because it is SUCH a mess, and bloggers, in their quest to be as Food & Wine-like as possible, never show messes. There are bits of kale all over the floor (red Russian, she sheds! Especially when there are 3 bunches from the Free Farmstead squashed into one bag in the fridge, and I'm squatting down in front trying to extract just enough for dinner), cooked squash in a colander, used lemon halves on the table, random butternut-squash carnage and swelling green plastic compostable bags full of scraps waiting to go out to the green-waste bin. Not to mention the squash-baking cookie sheet, encrusted with carbonized squash juices and poking out of the sink. No, no, by all means, go back to Kim and her pair of "little turkey earrings," aka her twin 9 1/2 lb heritage turkeys--although she did post a rather yuck-inducing snap of her bro deveining shrimp.

But the spelt-flour dough is made and chilling, and tomorrow will be just all cherry pie, all the time, with fingers crossed that it doesn't come out like cherry-flavored bubble tea. And, of course, silken-tofu pumpkin pie, with dairy but w/o eggs.

Moving over to the (mostly tidy) living room, where Fluffy the meowy grey cat is sleeping a blameless, long-haired doze on a couch pillow, was anyone else a little disappointed that Pushing Daisies didn't have a thanksgiving-pie theme tonight? Since the main character's supposedly a pie baker, after all. But he did have a good line about "stress baking," after he'd already filled the Pie Hole's kitchen with pies.

"There's no more room on the counter, so I'm stress-baking in my head."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Baking for T-day

So, it's raining, it's chilly, the housemates are gone to San Jose and New Mexico, and I can do anything I want, right?

Which means, of course, that I'm baking and making a mess. So far, two loaves of cranberry-orange bread, one for breakfast and one to give to my neighbor Jen, for her Thanksgiving breakfast. It makes pretty much the best T-day morning toast you can imagine, all bright and citrusy-cranberry sweet.

Next up: Shifra's spelt-flour crust (thanks, Rainbow Grocery, for stocking both whole-grain and white spelt flour), for the eggless pumpkin pie and cherry pie. Turns out that I bought small-pearl tapioca, rather than granulated (Minute-style), which makes me worry that the cherry pie will have big, chalky, undercooked starch globules in it, instead of an imperceptively-thickened filling. The solution? Spinning the pearls in the mini-grinder--which was just like trying to puree metal ball bearings. Spin, spin, spin--to almost no effect! Oh, well. Meanwhile, a couple of squash and a sweet potato are baking, making the house smell cozy and sweet.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

where's the cranberry sauce, Chuck? Where's the pumpkin pie??

Lowdown and blue, that's PQ today. Maybe it's the weather, gray and lowering, gloomy and misty, without either stay-in rainy coziness or crisp autumn-y sunshine. Or maybe it's everyone winging back to see their families, while I'm here with the waifs and strays. OK, not really--I've got a very nice invite to join Shifra and Stephen at their Berkeley apartment for Thursday turkey. But what I'm craving is coffee in flannel bathrobes, family chaos and bustle and that sense of inclusion, not lonely crust-rolling by myself in this dim Bernal kitchen.

Well, anyway. Last Thursday was Farmie Thanksgiving back down on the farm, and what a thanksgiving it was. Since my old farmie pal Hollywood was in town from Durango, I even got to skip the crawly-slow train n' bus and ride down with her in style. And when of one of his many Santa Cruz meetings got cancelled, S. even came up to join all the wide-eyed farmie types, dirt on their boots and innocence in their hearts, for turkey, stuffing, kale salad, infinite bowls of greens, and many pies, some made, you will not be surprised to hear, by PQ herself.

Yes, I had pies on my mind at the farm. It was a stunningly clear autumn day, warm and bountiful, with all the chard and straw-mulched flowers glistening under a deep blue sky. Hollywood and I cruised the farm for pie timber, filling bags with late Granny Smith apples from a tree by compost row, an armful of fresh rhubarb stalks, and a few butternut and red kuri squash from the field's onion/potato/squash stash. Then she went off to hike to the ocean through Wilder Ranch and I headed to the Up Garden chalet, to roll and bake all afternoon. The final production:

One apple pie
One pumpkin (actually squash) pie
One crustless pumpkin custard (aka the leftover pumpkin-pie filling, baked in a bain-marie, and much appreciated by the wheat-free guests)
One pink and pretty rhubarb lattice pie
One apple crisp

All in all, a lot of very nice pie, all made with farm produce, which was very satisfying. I roamed through the Up Garden, picking more Braeburn, Granny Smith, and Pink Lady apples, along with some oranges, lemons, and peppers, all in lush abundance.

The real stunner was the rhubarb, though. Not just because there was rhubarb--not a usual November harvest--but because it was slim, smooth, and juicy, and a ravishing deep pink inside, like a Pink Pearl apple. I made the pie with nothing but rhubarb, sugar, and a little flour for thickening, and it was amazing--full of clear, tangy rhubarby goodness. I think cornstarch works better as a thickener for rhubarb, giving a better, clearer set to the pink juices, but this was pretty darn good just as it was.

The pumpkin pie was pretty swell too--the recipe was based on one from Williams-Sonoma 's Pie and Tart book, only I doubled the amount of squash and used evaporated milk instead of the called-for milk and cream. And so can you.

First, roast a couple of your favorite squash. I'd recommend butternut, red kuri, kabocha, or blue hubbard (in which case you'll just need a piece, since those babies are huge). Nix to delicata (not enough meat) and acorn (too pasty and fibrous). Split, scoop out the seeds, and place face-down on a lightly oiled or parchment-papered cookie sheet. Make sure the sheet has at least an 1/2" high rim, as squash can release a lot of liquid while baking. Bake at 350F until really soft and collapsing. Take out and let cool until you can scrape out flesh from peel. Discard peel and dump flesh into a colander in the sink or over a bowl. Let drain for several hours or overnight. Then, mash the squash through a fine-mesh strainer, or spin through a food mill (much easier, with smoother results). Buzzing in a blender or food processor is not really an alternative; the point is not just to mash the squash but to make a velvety, string-free puree, and this only happens via a method that leaves the strings on top and the puree below.

Why all the bother? Because it's nice to use fresh squash in all its multicolored, stripey cuteness, and because a fresh-squash pie has a springy fluffiness that rescues it from the usual heavy-custard stodge.

OK, so you've got your squash puree. Measure out 2 cups, and put away the rest for use in a tasty pumpkin bread or pumpkin pancakes.

Make a single crust the way you do. Line with foil or parchment and pile in the pie weights. Blind-bake for 8-10 minutes at 375F, then remove foil and weights, and bake for another few minutes, until crust is set, dry, and pale blond, like Cindy McCain. Set aside to cool.

In a big bowl, mix up 2 eggs, 1 can evaporated milk (or 1 3/4 cups of a mix of milk, heavy cream, and/or half-and-half), 1 tsp pumpkin/apple pie spice (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves), pinch of salt, 2/3 cup brown sugar, packed, and 2 cups squash.

Pour pumpkin mix into shell and bake at 375 until custard is just set, 30-35 minutes. Let cool on a rack.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thanksgiving Memories

So, are you dreading the family Thanksgiving yet? Personally, I miss it. I miss coming downstairs in my flannel jammies, to where my mom--in her flannel robe and nightgown--would be rubbing butter and paprika onto the big, bald, pale turkey, and chopping up onions and bell peppers for the stuffing. The kitchen would smell like coffee and celery and onions sauteeing in butter, and I'd get right down to my T-day job: peeling the freshly boiled whole chestnuts. This took forever, and after an hour or so your thumbs would be bruised and your nails caked deep with mealy chestnut meat. But it had to be done, since only chestnut stuffing (first made with bags of those Pepperidge Farm herby bread cubes, then later with torn-up Acme levain I'd bring back from CA) happened in our house. No oysters, no sausage, no Laurie Colwin cornbread and proscuitto. (I still find the idea of shellfish or meat in stuffing very weird, although probably very tasty.)

As any chestnut-peeler can tell you, there's something very satisfying about getting a big chunk of the tight, monkey-haired inner shell off in one piece. More often, though, it took painstaking effort to wrest all the clingy scraps of inner peel off the wizened, brain-looking nut. The treat was sneaking crumbles of pasty-sweet chestnut, playing guess the composer on WQXR (Aaron Copeland, always a good guess on Thanksgiving), and blabbing and/or arguing with my middle sis, who was usually good for about 20 minutes of peeling before wandering off. (To this day, she doesn't cook. Ambiance is her forte, she says; otherwise, her kitchen skills are limited to reheating lattes and making Mommy's Pink Dip--ketchup and mayo, and held in high esteem by my nieces and nephew.)

I still remember, vividly, the first Thanksgiving spent away from home--besides the one pre-adolescent year when my parents got a wild hair and packed us all up to a cold and chilly Nantucket, to play on the beach in our parkas and have creamed onions and pie a la mode at the red-brick Jared Coffin House, and clam chowder and shoestring fries at the Brotherhood of Thieves tavern.

I was just 21 and sharing a futon with that same chestnut-peeling sister in a studio apartment in Chicago, back when she was a carefree, miniskirt-wearing 24 yr old with a lot of dates. My sis was off to Joliet with the boyfriend of the moment, an actor named Dan whom we called Dan II (to separate him from her previous boyfriend named Dan) and that she called Binky. (He called her Binky, too, and me Spud. So phone calls tended to start, "Hi Spud, it's Binky. Is Binky there?") I had gotten an invite from Heather, my bookstore co-worker, who was something like 26--older than me, anyway, and wildly cool.

She had brilliant red hair, came from Florida ("You know Tampa, home of nothing"), wore a black leather jacket, wrote for the New Art Examiner, and had friends who were poets and junkies. Her boyfriend was an artist with silky shoulder-length black hair whom she called Max, although, like Binky, I don't think that was his real name. In a few years, these kind of people would be my tribe in SF, but at the moment, they were my first real post-suburbia bohemians, and I was dazzled. Heather invited me to stay over at her and Max's place on Wednesday night, and gave me directions for the bus.

She called back a few minutes later to tell me to go to a different stop, a few blocks further west.

What's at the first one, I asked.

Gangs, she said succinctly.

I was suitably impressed. Her neighborhood, Wicker Park, is groovy and gentrified now, but back then, in the late 80s, it wasn't.

We went to the enormous Jewel supermarket a few blocks from her house, squeezing down the aisles to buy potatoes and Cafe Bustelo alongside big Latino families pushing two or three carts at once. Out on the back steps of their sprawling two-flat were buckets of oysters keeping cold. There was no turkey; instead, she casually mentioned, we were having fish. Fish for Thanksgiving! Like I said, they were cool. The next day, Max was installed on the back porch with a potholder and an oyster knife. There was cheap wine and a dozen or so of their equally cool, broke, artsy pals, all eating from mismatched plates, drinking and talking at a long table snaking its way through most of the house.

Later, I would throw a lot of Thanksgivings like this myself, collecting dozens of unmatched plates and folding chairs to go with the motley assemblage of waifs and strays all gathered for turkey and mashed potatoes, or quiche and vegan gravy (not at my house, I might add--I still do not believe that quiche is an adequate festival entree, even for vegetarians), or pepperoncini chicken and a huge pot of potatoes boiled and beaten into lumpy submission with the single wooden spoon in the house.

I still remember the legendary mashed potatoes made one year by my chef pal Sugarkill, who ransacked the fridge for every dairy product he could get his hands on-- butter, half and half, ricotta, feta cheese-- and made what still live in memory as Best. Potatoes. Ever, possibly because everyone was so starved for anything by the time the turkey was ready, some 3 or 4 hours after dinner had been promised, and long after every black olive and baby carrot had been snaffled up. When dinner was finally served, it turned out the supposedly dripless candles had taken the extra time to run all over the platters of salad below, so everyone had to pick out chunks of cooled wax from among the roasted beets and walnuts.

This year, much of my small clan--my mom, her sister, my eldest sister and her boyfriend--will be convening in Rochester, at the home of my aunt Karen's family. Karen and my uncle (my mom's younger brother, and a recovered bohemian himself) live in Ohio, so I rarely see them, which is a bummer as they are really, really nice. Should I use my free Jetblue miles to zip off to Rochester for a few days? I had been toying with the idea of going to see my mom (and deal, yet again, with the remaining Stuff in Storage) for a few days around Christmas, using those same miles. But the specter of a family-less Thanksgiving, even one spend with sweet friends, is looming large in my brain right now. What to do?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Get Right with Sweet Potato Pie

The cool fog is coming over the hill and it finally feels like fall. I'm a little sad not to be going East next week for Thanksgiving, since it's one holiday that doesn't feel right without family (mine, or even better, somebody else's, as long as there's lots of bustle in the kitchen) and crackling leaves, but there's still farmie thanksgiving down on the farm this Thursday. For which, I hope, I will be baking numerous pies in the Up Garden kitchen...pumpkin? Apple? Sweet potato? Apple-quince-pear?

Got to go see Lucinda Williams last night at the Fillmore, and she rocked her silver guitar and knee-high biker boots well, having left the country-girl cowgirl look behind. And almost as fun were The Whoreshoes, a four-gal old-time band twanging upstairs, complete with washboard, stand-up bass, and songs like "Cigarettes, Whisky, and Wild, Wild Women." My old pal Lala, freshly mohawked, was playing right in the middle, and a good time it was.

Then, on to lunch at Brown Sugar Kitchen, and dee-lish pulled pork and smoked mashed yams with brown sugar butter, and of course, all the sweet tea you could drink. The smell of the smoker alone could bring in a crowd, to say nothing of the fried chicken and the sweet potato pie.

And speaking of pie, are you looking at the calendar and having fear of pie-ing? Are you dreading standing in line to buy an overpriced, over-sweetened, bland-as-cardboard bakery or supermarket pie to serve to the pie-craving hordes next Thursday? Oh, the PQ can help! This year, I'm available for in-house pie consultations. Get a one-on-one cooking class with PQ to conquer your terrors of the crust and the filling. We'll go over pastry basics, try out hand vs. food-processor methods, and learn how to judge dough consistency. We'll make as many "demo" pies as you want, in your favorite flavors. And you'll get clear, step-by-step recipes to keep. Get a few friends together and we'll make an afternoon of it!

Monday, November 17, 2008

We Now Interrupt Our Regular Scheduled Programming

UPDATE: The legality of same-sex marriage in CA goes back, yet again, to the courts. More info here. Having just ruled that same-sex marriage was, in fact, legal in May, here's hoping the court remains of the same mind. No hearing date set, but the Supreme Court will be taking on the case, and also deciding whether or not the 18K same-sex marriages performed since May will remain legal. Attorney General Jerry Brown, in an amazing display of batting for both teams, will be arguing both FOR Prop 8 (no same-sex marriage!) and FOR the legality of past same-sex marriages performed in the state.

Today, California State Attorney General Jerry Brown will be deciding whether to allow the State Supreme Court to hear and review the current lawsuits filed against Proposition 8, which was recently passed to ban same-sex marriage in California.

We need to let Brown know how important this issue is to ALL Californians. Please use the link below to contact the Attorney General's office, and request that he recommend that our Supreme Court hear these most important suits and allow us the opportunity for equal protection under the law. Please pass this along to your friends for additional support.

California General Attorney's Office Comment Form

Make sure to add your comments or insert the following text:

Attorney General Brown, I request your support for the lawsuits against Prop 8 and recommend that the California Supreme Court hear and review the current lawsuits filed against Prop 8. Please allow all California citizens the opportunity for equal protection under the law.

Thank you. Because civil rights are EVERYONE'S concern.

Quince Cake & Sunshine

Well, how 'bout that weather? It was warm, sunny and gorgeous all weekend, with everyone basking in a last chance to throw on tank tops and sundresses and take the bulldogs, babies, and tattoos out for an airing. It was a blast of Indian-summer redux, ending with a giant golden wheel-of-cheese moon dangling over the Bay.

Went to 2 Prop 8 rallies on Sat--first in S.F., which was predictably jammed (and white), and then over to Oakland, which was awash in families and, you know, family values--like honoring diversity and appreciating (and trying to understand) people different than you, proffering love in the face of hate, respecting faith but also standing up for everyone's civil rights. There was impassioned, crowd-moving poetry, great signs ("My Other Husband is a Mormon"; "Just Give Us the Same Rights as the Chickens"; "Keep Your 5 Wives; I Just Want One"), and inspiring words from Oakland city councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who insisted on respect for "people of faith" but also used the bacon defense for keeping church away from state: her religion, she noted, forbade the eating of pork, but she wasn't trying to put that into the state constitution. And then she blew a shofar! This is how I imagine K. (minus the shofar) a few years down the road in NYC, fighting the good fight in public office. (And speaking of smart brunette butches, can we all just take a moment to admire smarty-pants Rachel Maddow in her pajamas?

Even if Jon Stewart's more your honey, it's worth a click.

But back to the Biggity O: Molly was there, of course, working the Marriage Equality table, her thousand-watt smile undaunted by all the amazing activist work she's been doing, not just these past few heartbreaking weeks but for years now. The Red Meat Ranger and Papa Sueno were there too, as were Shar, Jackie, Papa Steve and the kids, two beautiful, locally-adopted boys who wouldn't be in the warm two-mama home where they are loved, played with, and cared for 24/7 if they lived in Arkansas or Florida, where adoptions by gay couples (or, in the case of Arkansas, any unmarried couples) are specifically banned, even though both states have many, many more kids in the state-custody and foster systems than they have adoptive homes for. Kids who are, for the most part, in the system because of the failure of their heterosexual bio-families to create safe, loving homes for them, as writer and gay dad Dan Savage pointed out in a recent NYT op-ed.

So, we clapped, we cheered, we vowed to keep working, and then we went to Alameda and went bowling. A fabulous discovery: gutter bumpers! These railings keep kiddie meltdowns away, since every roll is nearly guaranteed to knock something down--helpful when you're four and the ball is bigger than your head. They're also pretty helpful when you're 41 and Not a Bowler.

Sunday was a day for breakfasting on ripe figs from the friendly tree overhanging my stretch of Cortland St., hiking over the hill and down the many secret staircases on the south side, slurping strawberry agua frescas from La Taqueria, browsing along 24th St to the back garden of Le Zinc in Noe Valley, admiring many, many babies and poodles along the way, and finally lolling on the green grass of Dolores Park with the rest of the hipster city licking pomegranate popsicles from Bi-Rite Ice Creamery.

Followed, as promised, by Soup Night at Leslie's, which was a Chronicle Books reunion and an all-around fab time. Having spent the day out in the sunshine, I had no time to bake dessert before riding over to Rockridge. So I took the performance-art route, and packed my flour and quinces to go. Because pastry requires space and makes a bit of a floury mess, I opted for this super-easy cake instead. Once the crush had cleared out in the kitchen, I creamed the butter, threw in eggs and vanilla, peeled quinces and threw the cake in the oven. And, of course, like any baked thing, it smelled fantastic and got even those guests sated with minestrone and Beard Papa cream puffs to take a slice. Here is Sara, Leslie's pal and backyard-cottage tenant, holding the semi-devoured remains:

As promised to everyone in the kitchen, here's the recipe. It's the simple-as-a-cookie fruit torte recipe adapted from Bakerina and Marion Burros, mixed and matched and topped with quince instead of prune plums. Since the quince is already cooked, it gets a dense, almost candied texture during baking.

Easy Quince Cake

1 stick butter (1/2 cup, 4 oz., 8 tbsp)
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 quince, cored and poached (instructions below), then peeled and sliced thinly; you could also use an apple or a pear, cored and sliced
1 tbsp sugar mixed with 1/4 tsp mixed (pumpkin or apple pie) spice or cinnamon

Grease a 9 inch round baking pan. Preheat oven to 350F. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir flour lightly into butter mixture until just combined. Spread batter (it will be thick and sticky) over prepared pan. Arrange fruit slices in concentric circles over batter. Sprinkle with spiced sugar. Bake 35-45 minutes, until tester comes out clean and top is slightly puffed and golden brown. Let cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes; serve warm for best appeal.

Master recipe for poaching quince

Preheat oven to 300F. Using a heavy knife or cleaver, hack quince into quarters and core. Tuck quince chunks into a small, heavy oven-safe pot. Add water to barely cover. Add 1/3 cup sugar, half a cinnamon stick, a couple of cloves and/or a couple of allspice berries. Bring to a boil over medium heat, swirling pot to dissolve sugar. Cover and let poach in the oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until liquid is reduced and quince chunks are rosy and tender. Let cool in liquid, then refrigerate. Peel quince before using.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Agent Provocateur, less Jockey for Her

I know, I know, you're wondering where all the pie-baking has gone to. Does PQ just flit from hot tub to theater seat these days, with nary a flour trail scattered behind her? Happily, my old pal Leslie from Chronicle Books is having a soup party this Sunday, so I'll be making a quince galette from S.'s recently poached quinces to bring across the bay to her sweet little cottage in Rockridge. And Sunday may be the day to try out the rough-puff (or "ruff puff" as the pastryettas call it) recipe in the Tartine cookbook and see what happens. And speaking of Chronicle, they've now got an entire puff-pastry cookbook out, to go with their other in-depth studies of toast, snowmen, and grilled cheese. Surely my soon-to-be-written tome, Everyone Loves Pudding, could find a happy home there!

I've also got to liberate my lard pastry from Paige's freezer, where it went when I chickened out over using it for the Sebastopol Gravenstein apple-pie contest. And with T-giving coming up, it may be time to search out more lard (Mexican markets? Fatted Calf? Boccolone?). But not for t-day proper, since I'm going over to Shifra and Stephen's, where trayf is, well, trayf. (For you goyim, that's Yiddish for un-kosher. And it's not just for the Orthodox; many Jews who don't keep kosher still get a little squeamish about having some of the obvious dietary-law no-no's--like pork products and shellfish--in their homes. Even as a lax baking Jew, I still very rarely buy porky things to cook at home, a hangover of growing up in a no-ham/no-bacon kitchen. The exception being, of course, my recent infatuation with lard for baking.)

In fact, because Stephen can't eat eggs, I've got to test-drive an eggless pumpkin pie. I'm thinking pureed silken tofu--the same solution used for their eggless lemon wedding cake, a few years ago. Any other suggestions for eggless custard? Dairy OK, just no cornstarch or eggs. Of course, I could just do my usual apple pie and cranberry tart, but I know how people get about a Thankgiving w/o pumpkin pie.

I also feel that it's bad form to bring a dessert that the host can't eat. So eggless pumpkin pie it is! And if I can find something like the heavenly sunshine kabocha squash that we grew at the farm last year--which tasted, I swear, like chicken, or at least like the marvelous sticky drippings left in the pan in which the chicken was roasted--I will use that instead of Libby's canned, or even a real sugar-pie pumpkin. If not, roasted butternut squash mashed and drained it is, because b-nut squash has much, much more flavor that any kind of pumpkin.

And speaking of the farm, it's Farmie Thanksgiving down there in Santa Cruz this Thursday, and I'll be there, hanging out with my fellow farmies and making pies from whatever I can get my hands on--quinces, apples, pears, sweet potatoes, winter squash...

It's also the time that you should finally get all the pie accouterments that you rue not possessing every time you start baking in earnest. Like a really huge, heavy rolling pin. And a crust shield, so you don't have to fiddle around burning your fingers while draping scraps of aluminum foil over the pastry edges that are browning too fast. And actual reusable pie weights*, which are heavier and better than old beans, especially the chain ones that look like jumbo-sized drain chains.

Of course, what I really want/need is a two-level pie basket (like this one) for carrying those pies on Muni and BART. Over the years, I've had an assortment of garage-sale picnic baskets and cardboard boxes that more-or-less did the job, but I still believe that a basket like this will come my way by serendipity.

*You know what pie weights are, don't you? They sail the seven seas in search of pwunder! Like this!

Songs for Pumpkin:
1. Kate Nash, Pumpkin Soup
2. Tori Amos, Big Wheel
3. Vampire Weekend, Bryn

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


What's on the calendar? Hot-tubbing with Shar & Christina tonight, not at the now-gone Osento (sob) but at the Piedmont Springs, in Oakland. Three ladies, one tub, much chat. Ah, California, how I love you. The serious lack of hot tubs in NYC--and the crappy, expensive lettuce-- were just 2 reasons why I nipped back here to the best coast. Last night, I was out at the Bay Guardian's Goldie Awards at 111 Minna with Paige and her pals, celebrating the best-theater award that Cutting Ball, Paige and Rob's theater company, had gotten. Great stuff, and if you haven't seen a Cutting Ball show yet, you should! Their current show, Ionesco's rarely seen Victims of Duty, is running at Exit on Taylor through next weekend. It was a pretty fun party, even if there were no samosas left (and no sign of the SF Cupcake Company's program-touted wares) after the thank-you speeches were done. And there was a cool set by the unfortunately named band Citay (not to be confused with High School Musical alpha-girl Sharpay, and sue me for knowing this, but I do have an 8 year old niece), 7 sweet-looking rumpled hipsters who really deserve a less chihuahua-ish name.

S., my produce connection, showed up the other day with two enormous, aromatic quinces and a pomegranate the size of a baby's head. Lover of poms that I am, it took restraint to make that pom last for 2 whole days. The ravishing, snappy garnet seeds got eaten straight out of hand, dappled into yogurt, and sprinkled into a butternut-squash saute. But honestly, I could have eaten the whole bowlful of seeds in one go. The quinces were oven-poached, one at a time, in a light sugar syrup with a a few bits of crushed cinnamon stick, allspice berries, and cloves. This is my standard way of dealing with quinces, since they need long, slow cooking to get tender enough for use. Hack up and core, then drop the chunks into a small pot. Barely cover with water, add about 1/2 cup sugar, and then 1/2 cinnamon stick, 2 or 3 allspice berries, and a couple of cloves. Bring to a boil on the stove, then cover and bake in a 300F oven for at least an hour, until the liquid is reduced and the quinces are deep pink and tender. Let cool in liquid and refrigerate until needed.

This gave a nice result. But the second batch was stupendous. Why? Because I used the original batch of quince-poaching liquid (plus more water and sugar as needed) to poach quince #2, AND I left the quinces in the oven for way too long, which made them deep, deep rosy-red, and reduced the poaching liquid down to a nearly-gelled slick. Ravishing, and you could put that quince jelly on toast and sing the hallelujah chorus before you'd even had your first cup of coffee.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Food, Books, Wine, & Cary Grant

Some fun things to do this weekend, after you've made your Friday night challah:

8pm. North by Northwest at the Paramount Theater in Oakland. Usually used for concerts, this classic movie palace is showing great old movies again for just $5. Eva Marie Saint, Cary Grant, Mt. Rushmore, popcorn, AND the place has a bar! Even better, Luka's Taproom is just up the street, with great beers, oysters, and killer mac n' cheese.

4-6pm. Opening party for SF's new (and only) cookbook store, Omnivore Books, at 3885a Cesar Chavez St between Church and Dolores. Run by Celia Sacks, the co-owner of nearby Noe Valley Pet Co., and a longtime antiquarian book fiend.

7:30-9:30pm. Writers with Drinks (aka "Writers Who Drink") does a cross-genre show at the Makeout Room, 22nd St between Valencia and Mission Sts. Michelle Tea reads cyberpunk! Stephen Elliot reads poetry! Other people read, you know, other stuff they don't usually read. I've read here and it's always fun.

8pm. 12th Anniversary Show, K'vetch, held at Eros SF, of all places. K'vetch, a longtime (yep, that would be 12 yrs now) queer open mic show, used to happen at Sadie's Flying Elephant, in Potrero. But now it's at Eros, a men's bathhouse/club on Market St. I know this place pretty well for a girl, since along with a bunch of pals I helped run Club Cream, a women's party, here in the mid-90s. 2051 Market St at 14th St, Doors at 7:40, show at 8pm.

Chris Vargas and Greg Youmans--new short film!
Charles Vasquez--reading original material!
Zara Thustra and Siobhan--performance art!
Sara Seinberg--amazing writing!
Rhiannon Argo--awesome excerpts of novel!
Cindy Emch--poet!
Heathen Machinery--beautiful monsters!
Vero Majano--Mission Media Archive footage!
Devon Devine and Jenna Riot--debut of BrownDownCrownTV show!
Kari Orvik--footage from BART station mobile portrait studio!
Danny Levesque--tales from the world of hair!
Margaret Tedesco--words and images!

After this show, the regular K'vetch will continue on the first Sunday of every month.

Alas, I'll probably be down in Santa Cruz on Sunday, finally picking up my farmie tools and going to Bonny Doon's annual Day of the Doon winery hoo-ha, from 1:30pm-5:30pm at their new tasting room, 328 Ingalls St on the west side. Also happening on Saturday afternoon, too.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Happy Happy, Sad

It was a beautiful night for a few minutes there. Shar and I were sitting on the couch, drinking red wine and watching reruns of Tina Fey do Sarah Palin on SNL (since I'd never seen any of her parodies) when all of a sudden Jackie was on the phone, telling us that Obama had WON. We flipped over to CNN and there it was, the 270+ electoral college votes that he needed, not to mention big numbers on the popular vote. We couldn't believe it.

The boys were running around whooping with us, and for the first time we could tell them to look at the TV and see a president who looked just like them. Fireworks were going off above the trees on the next blocks, cars were honking up and down Fruitvale. My sister in suburban Minneapolis was shrieking with joy out on her front lawn, even if all her (mostly Republican) neighbors were inside with their curtains drawn. There were the Obama and Biden families on the stage, black and white, trading hugs. The President-elect acknowledged from the podium in Grant Park that it was all kinds of people, all colors, "gay and straight" that put him there. I remember being in the Castro during Clinton's first acceptance speech when he actually mentioned AIDS, something that Reagan and Bush Sr. had hardly ever done through 12 years of a raging epidemic. I never thought I'd hear a President mention gay people as just one part of his America-wide constituency, much less as part of a momentous acceptance speech.

So it was a very uplifting 20 minutes. Until the results starting coming in for Prop. 8. A lot has been said already, and I'm not interested in repeating blame or finger-pointing. It's going back, again, to the courts, where it should have stayed--since it's very, very rare that the popular vote ever enacts real boundary-breaking change. (Votes for women? Ending segregation? Legal abortion? Left to the popular vote, would we have any of these now? Maybe, but it would have taken a much, much, much longer time. If ever.)

When I was in college, several social/dining clubs on campus (part of a system to which the majority of jrs and srs belonged; the university didn't have facilities to feed these students otherwise) were still all-male, even though the university had been co-ed for nearly 20 years. It took a long, arduous legal case, brought by a student who had long since graduated, for the NJ Supreme Court to finally rule that the clubs had to go co-ed. I remember talking to a friend of mine, a member of one of the clubs in question, before the ruling. He wasn't sexist, he insisted, he and his fellow members just liked things the way they were.

Life in Conn. and Mass. hasn't changed for straight people now that gay marriage is legal there, and it wouldn't in California, either. I am sickened at how much money came into this state from other places, expressly to deprive us of our legal and court-mandated rights and freedoms. I am heartbroken for all of the people I know who have worked so tirelessly on this issue, for years and years, working to open people's hearts and minds all across the state. Obviously, there is still more work to be done, especially out in rural communities in the Central Valley and around LA. How many times does this issue have to go to court? How many times do we--straight, gay, bi--have to fight for recognition of all our unions, not marriage for some and second-class, limited privileges and invisibility for others? How many times can our marriages disappear overnight?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


OK, I voted, and I hope you did too. Over to Shar and Jackie's now, to eat chili and drink red wine and sweat out the election results.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Vote Early, Vote Often, Eat Doughnuts

Of course, it's illegal to pay anyone to vote. But you can, ahhh, REWARD folks for doing their civic duty, as long as you're not requiring them to vote the way you want. Right? Well, it sounds a little fishy--and kind of like giving your kids money for dong their homework, which, like cleaning their rooms, is something they're already supposed to do for their own good.

Be that as it may, though, Ben and Jerry's, Starbucks, and Krispy Kreme will all hook you up tomorrow if you say you voted. Yes, pull the lever or poke your chads tomorrow and you get a cone, a tall brewed coffee, and a star-shaped, red-white-and-blue-sprinkled doughnut for nada. And if you're lucky enough to live in NYC or Seattle, you can go to Babeland, the fab lady-run sex-toy store (which is actually based here now, although sadly they don't have a retail operation in the Bay Area yet--especially a bummer now that Good Vibes is no longer the groovy women's/queer co-op it once was, but is owned by a large and allegedly sleazy corporation with questionable business practices and much lower standards) and get a Silver Bullet vibrator or a Maverick (heh, heh) sleeve. So, go, vote, and get your swag. And please, if you live in CA, Vote NO ON 8. Equality and chocolate fountains for all!

Know of any other vote-for-goodies going on in your neighborhood? Let us know!