Food, Family, and Memory

cooking101.jpgWhen my oldest son left for his senior year of college in September, he was leaving the comfort (or more likely uncomfort) of on-campus life and trading it for a 4-bedroom apartment. No longer able to rely on cafeteria food, he was going to have to cook for himself. Over the years I had taught him a few basic things about cooking but never really gave him anything resembling real lessons. I guess I was just hoping he was going to pick it up by osmosis. Though he has watched me cook over the years and picked up some basics I wanted to give him a little more formal culinary send-off. Starting in early August I began to think about what he liked to eat and what specific skills he would need to cook those dishes. We spent a few days going over the basics – heat control, knife techniques, etc. I also knew that there were certain basic tools and ingredients he would need for his kitchen. Stuffed into his luggage were three knives, a spatula, frying pan and pot. Finally, I drew up a few basic recipes and cooking techniques that I emailed to him. The result was a sort of mini- cooking "Cooking 101."

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chickendinnerWe had friends to dinner the other night, a nice little party with flowers and wine and Josie upstairs.  These days I like making it nice but not stiff, special without fuss – but just a few years back it was all fuss all the time – to a newly minted chef girl, married girl, grown-up girl, hosting meant acrobatic recipes, exotic combinations, an absurdly high drive to please.

Our first true guests were from my husband’s office, a funny and casual couple who were treated to undercooked, over-garlicked lamb and several under-mixed, over-ginned martinis.  The evening would feature a clogged sink, dishwater buckets, our crotch-poking Dalmatian and one seriously wailing fire alarm.  The last thing they saw was Greg broom-whacking the smoke detector and me at the sink, right hand down the drain and left hand in the air.  Bye, great having you! Everyone meets these horrors, but why?  When you turn 25 they should hand you a pamphlet called Hosting! Relax and Don’t Try Anything New. Let’s face it, the clues were there – the oven temp was off, I’d never mixed martinis, I tied that lamb loose as a blind butcher.  I could have seared steaks or made cheese fondue or even flipped omelets.  I could have used a standby.

A lot of people say they don’t do standbys, they prefer something new, something dazzling, an unknown mushroom or an expensive hunk of cheese.  Okay, dazzlers:  I don’t care if you’re Julia Child, there are people coming at seven.  That mushroom could taste like dung and the cheese might hit the floor, so do what you know.  Do what you do well, be comfortable and your guests will be comfortable, do a standby.

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cinnamon-clove-cherry-pieCherries are especially prolific in the Pacific Northwest. Just about every variety you can think of are currently available at the markets and farm stands. They are hard to pass up since they are so juicy and sweet. 

I have such great childhood memories of the cherry picking adventures I experienced with my family in Beaumont, California. My brother and I would climb up in the trees on these really high-rickety ladders. We would pick and eat cherries until the juice was dripping down our chins, hands and necks. It was always really hot, which means we were very sticky, sweaty and extremely dirty by the end of the day. You can picture it right? And for some reason we were always wearing white, something I still don't understand.

Anyway, I had a load of fresh, sweet cherries last week and I couldn't let summer go by without making a fresh cherry pie. However, I wanted to spice it up. If you have never experienced a "spiced cherry" anything...it's time.

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birthdaypresents.jpg Several years ago (about four), I threw a surprise birthday party for the Wild Boar.  All I really wanted was for him to be "surprised" and he was.  I ordered formal invitations and sent them out with the words, "No Gifts" on the bottom.

How could I expect people to bring him gifts when he and I do not even exchange birthday presents.  There is nothing we need/want!  I thought I was doing everyone a favor.

Of course everyone showed up with very generous, thoughtful and lovely gifts, even though it wasn't necessary.  It was a great party and we still have good memories of that night.

However, fast forward to now.  My children have just received their sixth birthday party invitation this year that says "No Gifts".  Ugh.

OMG, I will never, never, ever, never put that statement on another party invitation as long as I live.

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brewedchocolate.jpgI remember first smelling the scent of coffee roasting in North Beach. I was a teenager and it was exotic and intoxicating like the City itself. Even though I didn't drink coffee, I loved that smell. Over the years whenever I've smelled fresh coffee, especially during roasting, it's been a combination of soothing and exciting to me, like the promise of something wonderful and dangerous. Sadly drinking coffee has never held the romance that smelling it does.

If you take the Scharffen Berger factory tour, and I highly recommend that you do, you will more than likely be enveloped by the scent of roasting cocoa beans. It is such a warm and happy scent it reportedly makes those who work there giddy. Even a few minutes will give you a profound sense of well-being. Having taken the tour twice, I've often wondered, would it be possible to make a drink out of the roasted beans? Not the cocoa powder or chocolate, but the roasted beans themselves, like coffee? 

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