Mar 27 2009

Another Photo from Nanita

This one is really sweet:

robin on the playground

Mar 27 2009

On Foraging

SFWeekly ran a really interesting story last week on ForageSF, the new service that offers CSA-like boxes filled with foods gathered from the wild. I think it’s a fascinating idea, but I won’t be signing up.

It’s not that I think foraging is too weird. As an ethnobotanist’s daughter, I grew up grazing on weeds. When my mom was here for a visit she reminded me of something I’d forgotten: the time I got in trouble at daycare for encouraging the other kids to eat Oxalis stricta, which I called sweet-and-sour, because it is. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible and tasty. I also remember going mushroom-hunting after rains with my mom, looking for white puffballs, and I remember her encouraging me to eat the ripe persimmons that had fallen to the sidewalk. She taught me which common berries are safe to eat (like sumac) and which are poisonous (like pokeberries), and which are okay to eat but simply don’t taste very good (like mulberries or false strawberries). I remember picking wild blackberries and wild strawberries for cobblers. Foraging is immensely fun.

But I wouldn’t eat something wild picked by someone I don’t personally know. Iso Rabins may really know his stuff. But I don’t know that he does, so I’m not going to eat the things he picks. Especially not mushrooms. You don’t fuck around with mushrooms.

And anyway, most of this stuff is immensely perishable. The point of foraging is to go out, scavenge, bring home your haul and eat it immediately, while the flavors are still strong and vibrant. Having a whole box of these greens at once would necessarily mean there was some stuff I couldn’t get to for days, and I’m pretty skeptical about how well it would last.
And on top of all that, I don’t see the point in paying premium prices to get someone else to do the foraging for me. Part of the delight of making a dandelion salad out of weeds from the driveway is that you feel like Sacajawea, wise and expert in the ways of the land, a real woods-woman. If I paid forty bucks for a box of weeds I’d only feel like a sucker.

But in spite of that, I kind of hope ForageSF is a success. I think it’s good for us all to realize how many common and overlooked plants are actually totally edible, to be aware of the possibilities all around us. It’s certainly a nudge to me to dust off my old copy of The Dandelion Celebration, and a reminder that when Robin gets a little bit older, foraging is something I really want to share with him.

Mar 25 2009

What’s for Dinner

In the box: chard, lettuce, collard greens, carrots, leeks, three bulbs of fennel, a bunch of slim asparagus, two heads of cauliflower, and a bunch of rosemary.

Last week’s standout success, from my perspective, was a Whole Foods recipe for quinoa stew with salmon and tomatoes:

I have trouble with fish because I’d like to eat it more, what with all you hear about those omega fatty acids, but I can’t stand that briny, fishy taste that can often occur when you’re, you know, eating fish. Fried fish is generally safe and I adore sushi, and bagels with lox, but fish cooked any other way is often just repulsive to me. Still every few years I buy a cut of fish and take it home to cook, because it’s definitely my culinary last frontier, and I want to keep pushing the boundaries. Two years ago I bought a big salmon fillet and cooked it en croute with goat cheese and herbs: it sounded like a no-fail recipe but two bites in, there it was, the fishy taste. We didn’t finish it, a huge disappointment for an expensive and time-consuming dish.

This quinoa and salmon stew was this year’s foray into fish-land (or fish-waters, whatevs) and I’m delighted to tell you that the dish is lovely, bright and citrusy and not briny at all. The salmon was on sale so it worked out to a reasonable price too. Robin demonstrated his opinion of fish by picking out all the biggest salmon chunks and eating them first! So, with this success under my belt I’ll be looking for more chances to work fish into my menus.

Tonight though I think we’ll start on the cauliflowers, in an Indian-style curry with chickpeas: since Delicious Living came through for me on the salmon stew, I’m going with this recipe.

Tomorrow for lunch Robin and I will have the other cauliflower, and the collard greens. For dinner, Panko-Crusted Catfish with Garlic Chard…unless they don’t have catfish at the fish counter. As noted, I’m not a regular there and I don’t have much insight into how fish seasons move. Maybe I’ll ask if there’s something else that can substitute.

Friday: Mushroom-barley soup (I intend to add leeks too) and salad. Saturday: an asparagus tart along the lines of what my fellow csa’er describes here (the chard version looks awesome too, doesn’t it?) And for our Sunday-night roast we’ll do garlic-rosemary pork loin, with fennel. That’ll provide leftovers for at least one night; if I need to improvise something on Tuesday, I will.

Mar 23 2009

Robin at Play

Nanita took these pictures of Robin while she was here—Robin at the top of the slide:

Robin on the slide

and Robin at the bottom:

Remember when I wrote a while back about how we can kind of identify what sort of overarching developmental projects Robin’s working on? Currently, he seems really focused on interactive games. He initiates all sorts of games now, all the time. I took that video of him playing peek-a-boo with us a couple months ago because it was so cute and surprising: now he plays peek-a-boo every time he gets near a curtain. He plays ball with me at the park, and chasing games (“I’m gonna get you!”) delight him. There are certain ritualized gestures he uses to initiate a simplified game of Simon Says without the verbal cues: it mostly just involves him making exaggerated gestures and us imitating them, which is highly amusing to him.

I think what he likes about all these games is a) the predictability; the idea that certain actions on his part will always prompt certain corresponding reactions from us, and b) the acknowledgment through gesture and action that a shared understanding exists between us, that something has been communicated.

His verbal skills are developing too, but he’s still far more fluid in gesture-based communication. He knows now that I’m “mama” and Sam is “dada,” and sometimes he’ll say “mama” or “dada” when he wants our attention, but more often he’ll just tug on our clothing or climb up on top of us. If he wants to be picked up he’ll pat my lap; if he wants to go to the park, he’ll climb into his stroller or bring me his shoes. If he wants to watch a Sesame Street video he’ll bring me his Elmo doll, and if he’s hungry he’ll bring me his empty plate. I know that it’s possible to develop all sorts of specific “baby signs;” about six months ago I was trying to formally teach him some of them, but he wasn’t ready, and now it just seems unnecessary since his own gestural vocabulary is already so expansive.

He also will often say “yeah!” in response to a question, although I’m not quite convinced that he understands it as a real word of affirmation/agreement, rather than just “a sound you make when somebody has addressed you with a rising inflection in their tone.” He doesn’t say “no.” If he doesn’t like something he finds it much simpler and clearer to howl loudly in protest.

The last thing I’ve noticed about Robin’s games is that he’s even started initiating them with other children at the park; I’ve seen him playing peek-a-boo or chasing games with other kids. This is a big step from the side-by-side parallel play that used to (and often still does) characterize his time in the sandbox. Of course he’s especially fascinated by older boys and it’s a little bit heartbreaking when he’ll try to toddle into a rowdy game of tag, offering his ball to the bigger kids: then I have to intervene and save him from himself. Playing ball with Mommy obviously isn’t as cool, but it’s something he’ll have to be satisfied with until he gets bigger himself!

Mar 19 2009

What’s for Dinner

Spring is really here in San Francisco: I can tell not only from the beautiful balmy day we had today, but from the fact that this week’s veggie box contained no chard and no kale! Instead we got a big bunch of spearmint, pea shoots, a little radicchio head, a small bulb of fennel, a bag of spinach, two bundles of leeks, and two huge bunches of carrots. I cooked one whole bunch of carrots last night in a mushroom-barley soup; I used the cooking broth left over from boiling our corned beef on St. Paddy’s Day, and it turned out really nicely. I was proud of myself since I’m generally such a rigid cook, hewing tightly to recipes; that soup was entirely improvised and it came out tasty.

Tonight we’re eating spinach salad with bacon and hard-boiled eggs; tomorrow night I think we’ll have the pea shoots and radicchio in another salad, with roasted fennel and carrots alongside. For Saturday and Sunday I just don’t know; we might be going to see more houses on those days, or we might not. We’ve made a formal offer on the bungalow I mentioned in my last post. There’s another offer already in for the property, so we don’t know if we’ll actually get it, and our realtor thinks it’s wise to have a second-choice property picked out. But, you know, we really like that one. We’ve gone back a couple of times just to wander around the neighborhood and we keep finding more to like: a park! a library! a coffee shop that makes beignets! It’s on High Street so in my head it’s “High House,” or sometimes “High Garden House” because the backyard slopes up steeply and I have dreams of a terraced garden. I also think “The House on High Street” sounds like a good title for a novel, although the goings-on in said novel would probably be sordid!

I truly believe that house is an excellent value. When it was last sold, two years ago, a bunch of inspections were done, which we’ve been able to see. The property is basically in solid shape. It has some issues that would be true of any house that age; the most serious is that earthquake retrofitting was never done, and some work would be needed to bring it up to modern standards. We’ve structured our offer so that some money would be set aside to complete that work. I’m a little worried that the bank might balk at that, and we might have to reconfigure the offer in order to get the loan finalized. Anyway, there’s some stress and uncertainty involved, but I guess there always is in these kinds of situations.

I’m still sort of amazed that a house valued at $500,000 two years ago is now selling for $150,000. It’s a short sale, which I don’t fully understand, but I think that’s better karma than a foreclosure: nobody is getting kicked out of the house. The bank has instead agreed to let the current owners sell for less (probably much less) than they currently owe on the mortgage; as far as I understand, it’s a way for them to walk away from an overpriced loan without damage to their credit, and a way for the bank to recoup some money on a mortgage that would otherwise likely default. Short sales are pretty complicated, but because there is this more-or-less amicable agreement between the sellers and the buyers, these houses generally don’t get trashed the way foreclosures often do.

I’m rambling. I’m nervous. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my spearmint. Mom, can you tell me exactly how you used to make mint sun tea? What kind of tea, and how much of it, and how long do you let it steep in the sun? And how much of the spearmint should I put in?

Mar 12 2009

What’s for Dinner

In the box: kale, collard greens, chard, spinach, fennel, pea shoots, carrots, cauliflower, endive.

Nanita, Marqueño, and my aunt Judy are all here for a visit, which has been very lucky as they’ve helped a lot with the house-hunting. We actually saw a place yesterday that we’re really interested in—a little Craftsman bungalow with lots of interior woodwork and built-ins, in a neighborhood we like (Jefferson, within walking distance of both the Fruitvale and Laurel shopping districts…at least it’s walking distance if you’re like me and don’t mind walking twenty or thirty minutes). Nicely laid out even though it’s small (1,000 square feet, three bedrooms, a lovely wood-paneled dining room). A small but perfectly adequate back yard. It has a yucky backyard pool that’s been boarded over and would basically have to come out, and it’s on a fairly busy street, but Sam and I don’t mind that and we both think the house itself is just a gem. It sold for $500,000 just two years ago; now they’re asking $150,000. The housing market, it is a crazy thing.

Oh, I was supposed to plan stuff for dinner. What with the whirlwind of house-hunting I haven’t been doing much cooking; we ate out the past two nights and I don’t think I’m cooking tonight either. But all these vegetables have to get eaten, so tomorrow I’ll plan on making that “winter pesto” with the kale and spinach, and some sort of salad with the pea shoots and endive. Probably I’ll saute the fennel and add it to the salad.

Chard and roasted cauliflower could make a nice light lunch. That leaves only carrots and collard greens to deal with: I could buy some pork chops and cook them up with the greens, and maybe roast the carrots too. Okay, done! My head is too full of bungalow to plan out any farther than that.

Mar 7 2009

Bed Head


Here’s a picture of Robin shortly after waking up from a nap. His hair was so tousled and cute that I had to snap a picture. He’s having a snack of bread and butter.

The big news in our family is that my rock-star husband is bringing home a fifteen percent bonus this year (in this economy! I know!) so we suddenly find ourselves with the down payment for a house. We have a real estate agent and we’re going to start looking at properties maybe as soon as tomorrow.

I’m thrilled and scared. It’s a big financial commitment in an uncertain economy…but I think it is actually not too bad a time to buy. We plan to stay in this as-yet-hypothetical house until we die so we don’t really care if prices continue to drop for a while. We need more space; and considering things like the low interest rates and the tax benefits for homeowners, I think we can actually end up with a mortgage that will have lower monthly payments than our current rent. Plus we’ll be doing our little bit for the economy.

We’re looking in Oakland. Prices there have actually dropped to what I consider reasonable levels: there are lovely little bungalows built in the 20s and 30s going for $75,000 to $150,000. (This compared to San Francisco, where $400,000 will just about buy you a one-bedroom condo). It won’t be good for Sam’s commute—we will most likely end up having to buy a car as well—but nowhere else in the Bay Area has, well, suffered enough in the recession for us to be able to buy. (And the economy has put any thoughts of moving away from the Bay Area out of our minds.) On one hand we are sort of like vultures circling over the carcasses of foreclosed homes. But on the other hand we’re exactly the sort of young family that, moving as a group, can help to revitalize a blighted neighborhood.

(Don’t get me started on my “gentrification” rant. Gentrification is good. Urban neighborhoods move in cycles from new prosperity to gradual decay to revitalization, and if you artificially tamper with this cycle you are deliberately engineering slums. There is a large contingent of well-educated, highly-privileged, young white people in San Francisco who consider themselves artists and activists, and who basically fetishize poverty even though they have never really experienced it. The anti-gentrification brigade is largely composed of these types and they drive me absolutely batty.)

Anyway! I’m finding it pretty easy to get psyched up about a move to Oakland. I have this nice article bookmarked.

And I am profoundly mindful that our personal good fortune comes in the midst of so much hardship for so many. I’m proud of Sam’s leet skillz but even more grateful for our simple good luck.

Mar 4 2009

What’s for Dinner

In the box: pea shoots, kale, collard greens, chard, fennel, spinach, radicchio, leeks, carrots, beets, and three endives—that’s new. Luckily the recipes tucked in the box include one for endive & radicchio salad.

Tonight I think we’ll do a repeat of that winter pesto with kale and spinach. I was a little skeptical but it came out really well last time. I think it’s the cheese: that ricotta salata stuff is really good! It’s nothing like the soft ricotta I was more familiar with; it’s more like feta in texture, but with a lovely mild taste. Anyway the recipe calls for a whopping half pound of it. To balance out all that cheese, I use the whole bunch of kale as well as the whole bag of spinach (instead of the 1/2 bunch they call for), so I end up with a lot of pesto, enough to sauce a full pound of pasta. Whole wheat pasta stands up well to the flavor of the greens.

Tomorrow night I want to try this recipe for pea shoot and smoked bacon soup, except I’ll use a leek instead of the onion. And I’ll also make a big salad with roasted beets and sauteed fennel. Robin and I can have a smaller salad for lunch from the endives and radicchio.

Friday: This “medley of greens with potatoes and leeks” looks appealing; it would use the beet greens and the remaining leeks as well as the chard. I will probably buy some sausages to serve with it. Robin and I will have the collard greens for lunch.

Saturday I’m out with friends, so dinner will be leftovers or delivery; Sunday night I’ll make a pot roast with parsnips and carrots. Generally these big roasts provide leftovers for at least a day and often two days, so I won’t plan out any farther than that…

Mar 2 2009

A Quote

From Ursula K. Le Guin, Voices:

I always wondered why the makers leave housekeeping and cooking out of their tales. Isn’t it what all the great wars and battles are fought for—so that at day’s end a family may eat together in a peaceful house?…This is part of what I meant about housework. If it isn’t important, what is? If it isn’t done honorably, where is honor?

I’ve been very happy lately, and wondering if the reason for my happiness lies in the lengthening days, or in Robin’s developmental stages; right now he’s more delightful than ever, sweet and cuddly and “talkative.” When we go to park he’ll toddle off and explore, and bring me back whatever he finds: leaves, or flowers, or sticks; he’s delighted to place them all in my lap, and grin up at me, and be kissed as a reward. He’s become so easy that Sam and I are talking about having another one. I know! It’s crazy!

I think another reason for my happiness is that I’ve settled into my new role. No, I haven’t gotten much done on my own creative projects. I’ve become more comfortable with just being a housewife. It’s a big job. It’s an important job. It’s an honorable job. I feel proud of the work I do. I want to do more, there’s other things I’ve left unfinished, but right now I’m proud of this. It’s real work. If it isn’t important, what is? If it isn’t done honorably, where is honor?