Wednesday, September 09, 2015

We didn't inhale

Isabel's new home
Boy, is it hot out here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hot and dry. Did I ever mention that our mulch caught fire last month on a day just like today? A day just like today except about 20 degrees cooler. A workman was reinforcing some concrete near the road and a warm piece of rebar he’d just sawed through fell into the fluffy, dry, redwood mulch. Whoosh! Instant fire covering about 20 square feet of the front yard. The workman came and banged on the door and I ran out barefoot and we extinguished the blaze, but it took 10 minutes or so of me spraying with a hose and him beating down flames with his shovel. We killed a lot of plants and broke some of the watering spigots. No point to this story, except: mulch? And: lucky.

California is ready for you, rain. 

I’m really betwixt and between right now, hence the lack of much interesting cooking or any posting at all. Life should straighten out next week. For real.

Here’s what’s been happening in the kitchen and out:

I've served several batches of the easy, delicious bread-and-tomato soup from Viana La Place's Verdura. According to my margin notes, I've been making this since August 1999, a year before Owen was born. That's the definition of a keeper. The recipe is at the end of the post and you should try it before the sweet summer tomatoes disappear.
almost effortless
I baked yet another kouign-amann from Gabrielle Hamilton's Prune. I love this cake madly, despite the fact that it always comes out looking burnt. 

it's all about the French butter and orange flower water
I think next week I have to write about my extensive and rewarding experiences with Hamilton's cantankerous cookbook. I've been putting this off.

One night for dinner I made the hearty riso al forno  (Arborio rice, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, olives, capers, provolone) from a recipe posted by The Wednesday Chef and it was really good. Recommend.
the kind of dish that is sometimes called "lusty"

That's about it for food.

At the very end of August, we went up to Washington and installed Isabel in her dorm at Whitman. Mark and I spent a few days observing the other kids (Birkenstocks, more bros than I’d expected at a little liberal arts school), listening to uplifting faculty speeches, traipsing from Home Depot to Walmart to Macy’s to Walgreens, buying fans, towels, sheets, et cetera. All is good. 

No. All is great. I'm not sad anymore. Not even a little. There’s a certain lightness you feel watching a very competent, composed child venture out into the world where she can grow in ways she no longer could in your care. I’ve been trying to explain it to people and this is the best I can do: Imagine you’ve spent 18 years teaching a kid to ride a bike, running alongside, encouraging, looking out for potholes, worrying she's going to fall and break her collarbone or get hit by a car.  You've really given it your all and she's gotten better and better and needed less and less help and finally you let go and now she’s disappeared to ride around the block, pedaling like a pro.

How do you feel? You feel lost for a few minutes, but then you sit down on a bench. You look around. It's a beautiful day. You gradually notice there are birds singing and there's a pleasant breeze and maybe you should wander over to that cafe and have a celebratory affogato while you wait for her to return some months from now. (It's a really big block.) You have that affogato. It is delicious. Where should you go next? So many options. Hmmm. Strange. What is the word for this bizarre feeling? Is it freedom? 

Suddenly you and your spouse start going out more, doing silly stuff you haven't done since you brought that first baby home from the hospital. You can't wait to hear what the girl has to tell you when she gets back from her ride and it dawns on you that you might have some new stories yourself.

I don't actually say all that to people. It's what I would like to convey without having to resort to a dumb bike metaphor.

Ok, speaking of silly stuff you might do with a spouse as your kids grow up, Mark and I went to a legal recreational marijuana shop while we were in Washington.  Is that what you call them? Marijuana shops? We were curious to see what it's like to buy cannabis in a store. In case you didn't already know, this is what it's like to buy cannabis in a store: You pull up in front of a nondescript building just off the freeway near a McDonald’s. You walk in and read signs telling you to put away any cameras. At a pharmacy window you show someone an ID. They admit you to a bland-looking back room with glass display cases that contain, among other things, cool little pipes. Other than the wares, it resembles a room where you might buy a cell phone. There is a United States map into which customers stick pins to show where they're from, and the whole country is dotted with pins. You somehow manage to squeeze another pin into the dense blob of pins on the San Francisco Bay Area. A friendly clerk hands you a menu with lists of marijuana products (cookies, joints, candies) and asks surreal questions like:  “Are you looking for something exhilarating? Or more relaxing? ”

I can’t remember what we said. We bought a caramel. Why not? 

surprisingly creamy and yummy
Anyway. Legal, guys! It was 100% legal. As legal as a bottle of Snapple. As legal as a Starbucks scone. And yet. I went to lunch with some casual friends the other day. I’m very fond of these two friends and we meet every few months for lunch, but I don’t know them that well -- which is a nice category of friend, the people you don’t know that well and may never, but are always pleased to see. I told them of my field trip to the marijuana shop because it seemed like a moderately interesting story. Not one of those great, urgent stories you tell when you first get together with casual friends, but the fourth or fifth story you bring out, when there’s a lull in conversation. I thought there was a lot to discuss, but my friends basically fell silent. One of them politely asked if I had a prescription for the pot and I explained that recreational pot is legal in Washington. Then there was silence again. I felt mildly embarrassed and wished I hadn't said anything. It occurred to me that some people probably still think marijuana is wrong, even if it's legal. Like abortion or gay marriage, I guess. On some level, I must think that too, given that my kids have seen me drink, but I would never smoke a joint in front of them.

Then again, I'm completely ok with them reading this post. The mental image of Mom and Dad buying a pot caramel is probably enough to turn them off drugs forever.  

Here's the soup recipe from Viana La Place. I feel like I've posted it before, but no. It's fantastic.

1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
a few basil leaves, coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
kosher salt and pepper
pinch sugar, if needed
2 heaping cups crusty bread, cut into chunks or torn. (A stale baguette works great. Even if you have to break it with a hammer, it will come straight back to life in the soup.)
shredded sharp cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino)

1. Combine olive oil and onion in a soup pot and cook over low heat until onion is softened. 

2. Add the tomatoes, basil, and bay leaves and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes over medium-low heat. 

3. Add 2 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Add the bread, stir, and turn off the heat. Taste. It might need a pinch of sugar. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Serve with cheese. Serves 4.

52 comments:

  1. You are a delight. I wish I was one of those people at your lunch! I would have clamored for more details and asked if the caramel actually tasted good.

    This -- Then again, I'm completely ok with them reading this post. The mental image of Mom and Dad buying a pot caramel is probably enough to turn them off drugs forever. -- made me laugh. Not an LOL, a real, belly laugh. Thanks for that.

    With much affection from Vermont.

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  2. Well, exactly what Melissa said. And I laughed, too. Out Loud, even.

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    1. Exactly! I laughed out loud too. My feeling about gay marriage, abortion, and pot is - if you don't agree with it, then don't do it. Let adults make their own choices!

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    2. Yes, live and let live.

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  3. Your photo of riso al forno looks much more delicious than the one on Luisa Weiss's site. Yours actually makes me want to make the dish. Had I been at your lunch table, I would have asked if you had any caramel left to share! :) I think about people abusing the marijuana "freedom" then driving a car, just as I do about alcohol. But, that thought doesn't stop me from drinking grown-up beverages and wouldn't stop me from tasting the caramel. Stay cool!

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    1. The older I get, the more cautious I am about driving under all circumstances. I don't like to drive after one glass of wine anymore.

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  4. hahaha! what a genius idea. definitely want to visit washington.

    and that fire story is CRAZY.

    lovely post. thank you.

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  5. I've missed your posts! Such an interesting description of your feelings about Isabel being released into the next phase of her life.

    Is that pastry really supposed to look that well done?

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    1. It's sort of burnt on the top. But it doesn't taste bad. Just a very thin layer of burn. I can't seem to get it quite right.

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  6. Wow. No, don't be embarrassed. At all. Good to see you back.

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    1. Hi Sara! TIFF. I'm so jealous.

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  7. My kouign-amman always looks like that too. I have thus far omitted the orange flower water because it sounds like a terrible distraction from the salty, caramelly flavor, but I will reconsider. I felt the Prune recipe left out a number of important details about making this and I find I have questions about it, even still. For instance: the interior inevitably seems a bit too soggy/raw, no matter how dark the outside seems to get. I've tried lowering the oven temp and baking it longer, with marginal improvements. I think my next step will be to reduce the butter block (other recipes I've seen do not use nearly as much butter). Anyhow -- I look forward to all of your thoughts on Prune.

    I made a version of that rice dish and also liked it. And I agree that your version looks much more appetizing!

    I always only comment on the food part of your blog but this is not because I don't enjoy the other things you post. You write in a lovely, often moving and usually very funny way about your world and it always makes my day a little brighter to have read your posts.

    Glad to see you back!

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    1. This last time, the interior of the kouign-amman was very creamy -- and I liked it. Like it wasn't 100% cooked, in a good way. In the past it's been dry, though still delicious. I love the orange flower water. I've been tempted to try other recipes that don't include it, but I think I would miss it.

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  8. I have such conflicted feelings about pot. This is coming from someone who has never even tried smoking a regular cigarette, much less ANY illegal drug or pot. I think pot had a huge impact on my childhood so it has some very negative associations for me. My mom was married to a man who was essentially dependent upon it for much of my childhood. He had a lot of issues and this, in turn, led to a lot of issues for me and my sister and my Mom. Also, it seems to me that people who smoke pot a lot just don't do anything -- I have not personally known any people who can use it recreationally and still be functional adults. My adult daughter recently told me that the young man she is dating has a prescription for medicinal marijuana because of ADHD, which makes absolutely no sense to me as the medication management for ADD/ADHD is stimulant medications not something that is a depressant. As a nurse I do think that there can be good reasons for medicinal uses of marijuana, but I am just too personally conflicted on the recreational side.

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    1. Interesting. I've had so much more experience with alcoholism in my world than marijuana abuse that it's hard for me to see why one should be legal and the other not. Of course, that's not a good argument at all for legalization. Does legalization lower the incarceration rate? Pot to fix ADHD????? That is baffling.

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  9. I've never tried pot or regular cigarettes, but have always thought given the choice I would rather try smoking a joint. I think I would enjoy it more. I would have found your store amusing.

    My older kid is only 9, but I admit a small part of me is already stressed about him applying for college and how will we will handle it financially....

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    1. There's more payoff from a joint. I smoked a few cigarettes when I was young and I never got the point. Thank goodness.
      Those tuition checks are unbelievable. It's like moving gold bricks out of the vault. You read about it and you think it's shocking and then when it's actually happening you're still unprepared. Crazy.

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  10. You have been missed! I really loved this post. Every time I read one, I wish I lived in SF so that we could have lunch and talk about everything and anything, no taboo topics! I loved the bike metaphor about letting go of Isabel. You had such a healthy and wise reaction to a life event that was going forward without you or not. The mulch story was a bit scary, and you are right, you were lucky. I wonder how the soup would be with really good canned tomatoes. I love tomato soup. I may have to try that. And, I loved the MJ story! Like Melissa, I would have had a million questions. Unlike others, I do know people who use MJ recreationally and lead normal, busy, productive, and successful lives. It is just like social drinking, IMHO. You can be responsible or not, your choice. I am looking forward to your arduous review of Prune.

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    1. I also know a lot of people who are far more productive and successful than I who smoke weed on a regular basis. And then sometimes I meet a gardener or a handyman who seems really smart and mellow and to have absolutely zero ambition and I think: POT. I don't know about canned tomatoes in that soup.

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  11. Glad you're back and all is okay. Tried making that cake and um.. I don't know what I did wrong. That said, pot is a plant. Why are we worked up about plants? Don't know anyone who has died smoking marijuana. I do know that my best friend was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. Your friends seem a little judgy. :)

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    1. What went wrong with the cake?
      My friends weren't actually judgy. They were just sort of silent, it was a non-click conversation so I'm not sure what they thought.

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  12. I am a MJ teetotaler and a lifestyle voyeur, so this (along with your other posts) was a perfect read for me. Your writing makes me think more clearly, judge others a little less, and want to try new things. Could there be a higher purpose? Thanks, Jennifer.

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    1. I love that description, "MJ teetotaler and lifestyle voyeur."

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  13. That fire must have been terrifying! Last fall, a few months before we were transferred out of SoCal , a pasture down the hill from us went up in flames because a mower sideswiped a guy-wire which sent out a shower of sparks into the dry grass. We had a plane and helicopters dropping retardant one block from our house. Needless to say, I have not minded the wet summer here in Indiana! I am eager to read more of your experiments with Prune. The cookbook did not make any sense to me until I read Blood, Bones, and Butter. What a memoir! What a writer! By the way, I love your thoughts about Isabel. Looking forward to my affogato next September...

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    1. It was so nice to be in Maui recently where it was raining torrentially and everything was green.
      Prune makes more and more sense to me. It really is a perfect companion to Blood, Bones, and Butter.

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  14. I knew you'd be okay once Isabel was happily in college. I felt exactly the same way. The bike metaphor is good. It's so nice to have my grown-up daughters off in the world conducting their lives in (mostly) responsible ways. We have great relationships with each other. We hang out. We lunch.

    As for your critical friends: pffft. Losers. What on earth is wrong with trying a trippy truffle in Washington? Have they never been to Amsterdam? Heck, have they never been to college? I am not a pot user in general, but I have indeed made various weed-infused baked goods--and even nougat. And I sampled them, too. Even my father uses marijuana capsules to help him sleep, and he's the most conservative person I know.

    BTW, the reason they asked you whether you preferred exhilarating or relaxing is that there are apparently now two different strains, Sativa and Indica. One is supposed to make you feel very mellow and perhaps sleepy, while the other makes you feel more intellectually stimulated and conversational. I can't remember which is which. I have a young hipster friend who makes candies for the dispensaries, and she clued me in on the two types. There's a very funny Louis CK bit about modern marijuana: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8FzGlgVGdo

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    1. Funny clip! Thanks.

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    2. Oh, that was hilarious. And sadly, very relatable. Thanks.

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    3. I laughed and laughed at that clip, Kristin. That was my experience with the caramel. Not like the old days. Interesting about the different strains -- I should read up for my next trip to Washington. I don't actually know where my friends stand on this issue -- it was just one of those awkward conversations that falls flat and makes you reconsider your assumptions about what other people are thinking.

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  15. I bought Verdura on your recommendation from a few years ago and am so glad I have it. All the soups are solid but the white bean with the tomato salsa is our favorite. On the page it sounds like it would be heavy and dense but is actually very light and bright.

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    1. That's our favorite too!

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    2. Oh good! I'll try that soup. I may have made it. I'll have to go look.

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  16. I can't believe you put that fire out by yourselves! Only scary thing for us was when we had the shake roof and a friend pointed out that we didn't have a spark arrestor on the chimney. He came back the next day and installed one.
    Love your stories and the fact that Isabel is so grown up and off to college. Time flies
    Riso al forno sounds and looks good too.

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    1. Pat, next time you're up here come check out the front yard. Different! We took out the ivy and put in drought-tolerant natives. I mean, ivy is pretty drought tolerant, but the natives are really beautiful.

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  17. I can't wait to hear what you have to say about Prune.

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  18. I just made the Riso al forno--incredible. Thank you for the link. I only wish I had made more. I substituted farro for the arborio rice and it was still delicious.

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