Oddities and Obsessions

cumcumber-tomato-and-garbanzo-bean-saladThis salad makes a regular appearance at my house. It looks very summery but I serve it all year long, assuming I can get decent tomatoes.

It's almost not even a recipe because there is nothing to putting it together. Some light chopping, opening a can and pouring the seasoned rice vinegar over the top. But it's so delicious, so flavorful. In fact, this would be enough for me to call it a meal. However, I have a husband who claims it's not a meal without meat. So yeah.

I always have these ingredients in my house. I often run out of lettuce but these ingredients are around...always.

The seasoned rice vinegar is the key (not the regular). It's the perfect dressing and it's so low in calories compared to salad dressing. No oil is needed either. Give it 15 minutes to marinate and you are done. I won't tell you how good it is with crusty garlic bread.

Cucumber, Tomato and Chickpea Salad
Serves: Serves 4


2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
1 English cucumber (this is the one without the seeds), chopped
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas (Garbanzo beans)
2 Tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1 cup chilled seasoned rice vinegar (more or less if needed)
freshly ground black pepper


In a large bowl gently toss together tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion and chickpeas with seasoned rice vinegar. Let sit for 15 minutes to marinate, stirring a couple of times. Season with pepper and serve.


Cathy has her own vineyard and winery in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  She is a food writer for Davis Life Magazine and blogs daily about wine, food and everyday living.  She lives with her husband and two sons.  You can visit her at noblepig.com.

bumpercropYears ago, before my second child was born and I traded in my paycheck as a freelance fashion stylist to change diapers, drive carpool and be the soccer snack provider, I used to joke that the only way I got to hang out with my friends was to work with them. So I hired my friends as assistants when I could. On a more serious note, I also said, back then, that the best way to find out who someone is, is to work with them. I'm now adding to that: Want to know who someone is behind the dinner party chatter, or as an English friend used to say, "What's that when it's at home?" Share a garden.

Last fall, at a lunch for my best friend Glynis, in town from her home in London with her husband Michael, the girl talk went from comfy Prada platform shoes to bumper crops. Glynis, obviously in love with the expression, which did indeed sound fabulous and a bit mysterious in her proper English accent, took delight in repeating the words bumper crop as she shared a picture on her iPhone of the largest tomatoes I have ever seen.

"Mark has had bumper crop, here look, isn't it fantastic," so taken was she about our mutual friend Laura Geller's husband, Mark's, tomato growing talent. Mark is known to us all as an entrepreneur, a rakish risk taker, a stylish man about town, a typical A type-er on the go. He has opened restaurants, managed his wife Laura's jewelry empire and invested in copper mines.

Mr. Greenjeans? Not in the profile at all. "Look, he's a bloody farmer" Glynis added with unabashed respect... and total surprise in our friend Mark and the tricks he has up his sleeve! "Hmmmm, let me look at that," said I, reaching for the iPhone with the picture of what looked to me to be a small red pumpkin.

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ImageThere’s no denying it – I am a pork-man through and through. Though I am not one of these 20 or 30 something dudes with a pig’s head tattooed on his forearm who from time to time is adoringly featured on Food Network, pigs and me go way, way back. Though I am a Jew, blade-cut pork chops, pickled pigs feet, Canadian bacon, rolled pork butt, breakfast sausage and the piece du resistance of my childhood – spare ribs (usually slathered in Duk Sauce – a sugary, vaguely fruity tasting, thin jelly with chunks of plums and something I later learned was ginger, that came in a tall jar with a label featuring a racist caricature of a smiling buck-toothed Chinese man wearing a coolie hat and sporting a queue [the Chinese government abolished the queue in 1911 but it seemingly persisted on labels of Duk Sauce at least through the early 1970’s]) were a staple of my New York childhood.

I carried on my affair with pigs when I went to the pork bastion, North Carolina, for law school. One Saturday in the fall of 1974, I was invited to a ‘pig pickin’ in Chatham County, outside of Chapel Hill. I arrived early in the day, fascinated by the prospect of actually witnessing the roasting of a whole hog – a feat that had fascinated me since my mother told me the story about how the Chinese created roast pork.

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flavor1.jpgI first heard of flavortripping last summer. I read an article in the New York Times about a substance that altered tastes of reality. People were going to underground parties for the experience. At these parties they would consume Synsepalum dulcificum, the Miracle Fruit. Once eaten, the fruit tells your taste buds to taste things differently. It makes everything sweeter sweeter.

Over the last year, I was passively trying to find a flavortripping party. I expected that my band of foodie friends would have a hook-up. Alas, nothing panned out. So I decided to take my tongue into my own hands, and I sought out the mister responsible for these berries.

11 keystrokes into a search engine, yielded quick results: Miracle Fruit Man. He supplied the participants at the party covered by the New York Times. His plan was simple. If you send him 40 dollars (plus $28 s/h) he’d two-day express you 20 frozen berries.

I just wanted one.

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welcome.jpgThis past January, something hot and sexy began creeping its way through the chilly winter snows in Idyllwild, California. Locals were struck with the highly contagious Caseymania, which is like Beatlemania but without the screaming hysterical teenage girls. Well, not in Idyllwild, at least. But to inhabitants of this tiny mountain town, it was close to the same thing.

The median age of the town’s 4,000 inhabitants is 47.2, so hysterical screaming might have been at a minimum, but instead, this all-American town offered up enduring and low-key pride. Casey Abrams is the town’s boy, they own him, they love him and they support him. Even now that he’s been “voted off”, their hope springs eternal.

casey_abrams.jpg“He gets to tour, bound to make upwards of a hundred-fifty thou,” you hear an old-timer say with the cantankerous certainty of a gold prospector. Poor Casey never stood a chance. He had three big strikes against him in the TV-blurred minds of the American Idol voters (them being tweenage girls).

Strike 1: He’s funny-looking.
Strike 2: He’s a ginger.
Strike 3: He’s undeniably talented.

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