Friday, August 26, 2011

Up at the Headlands

Where has the Pie Queen been? Up in Marin, enjoying the donuts at Donut Alley, cruising the Pink Pearl apples at the Point Reyes Farmers' Market, eating meat at Cochon 555's Heritage Fire (best t-shirt slogan: Bacon Gives Me a Lardon), and cooking, cooking, cooking up at the Headlands Center for the Arts, where I'm part of the kitchen staff, now through December, entrusted with feeding the artists in residence who are doing their thing out on this fogbound beautiful place just across the Golden Gate Bridge.

The three of us, plus whatever artists and interns wander into the kitchen to give us a hand, have been making a lot of gorgeous food these last few weeks (I started officially in late July, after 2 years of frequent volunteering). Just about everything is made from scratch, even things I've never really thought you could make from scratch (macaroni! hot dogs! bloody marys!) Bacon is cured and smoked, sausage is ground, pickles are lacto-fermented--you get the drill. You want mayonnaise, you get out the eggs and oil, lemon and mustard and salt. Fresh herbs grow outside the kitchen door. There's an ice cream maker in weekly rotation, gravlax of local king salmon under salt, sugar, and fennel fronds in the fridge, a sheet tray of black plums ripening for jam and 3 bags of rumpled, bug-tunnelled windfall Gravensteins marked for apple butter.

So, yes, the artists here eat really, really well. It's a little mean to brag about how great the food is that we're making, because the typical weekday meals aren't open to the public. However, if you become a member ($30 yearly for students/artists, $50 and up otherwise), you'll get access to our quarterly members' dinners and other events, plus advance notice of public programs and other cool things, most of which come with dinner, brunch, or a more casual cafe meal attached. You can take a walk on Rodeo Beach, a hike through the hills, a skinny-dip on Black Sands Beach as part of your day, then come in and check out whatever groovy thing is happening in the studios and performance spaces. All this just 10 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge, but it feels like a complete getaway into nature, far from the city. (But still just as fogbound as Ocean Beach, at least right now. Supposedly, fall is the gorgeous time here, as the summer fogs recede and the Indian-summer sunshine emerges.)

But since I'm here, I can give you a day-by-day peek into the kitchen at what we're doing and making here. Right now, we're winding down, with just a few more days of the summer session to go. Officially, the kitchen goes on hiatus until artists arrive for the fall session on Sept 19. What this means, of course, is time for fun kitchen projects, the leisurely putting by that's not so possible when dinner's shallots need chopping and half-a-dozen chatty artists are breezing in and out, making pots of coffee and rummaging in the fridge for a bowl of leftover Vietnamese duck in ginger-and-five-spice-broth to throw in the microwave for lunch.

On the Pie Queen's list of Things to Do, then:
Plum Jam
Apple Butter
Sauerkraut, to go with all the sausage that the other 2 guys like to make. Sauerkraut is one of those things, like homemade croissants, that doesn't seem worth making in small quantities, and can thus be a bit logistically daunting for a small kitchen. How much fermenting cabbage can a single person co-habitate with? Not a problem here. Bring on the crocks!
Bacon, same deal. I'm not much of a bacon eater, not having been brought up with it (the Jew thing), but it would certainly be cool to know how to make it, since there are way too many creepy additives in most commercial versions, and I know my friends would be very impressed if I picked up this skill. Which seems to consist mostly of giving a slab of pork belly the odd salt-and-sugar rub, followed by a few hours of smoker-tending.

I'd also like to try making the sourdough starter and bread from the recipe in Tartine Bread, which I finally broke down and bought after Chad's talk at Toby's Feed Barn a couple weeks ago. Who knows when I'll have daily access to a Alan-Scott-built wood-fired oven again, plus lots of room for rising and kneading and several bread-baking professionals on hand for consultation? If I can pull something reasonably artisan-loaf looking out of our wood oven, I'll be very pleased with myself.