let's catch up a bit


i'm heartbroken to see that news about iran has practically fallen off of the front page. it's really discouraging to see that the cruel and dirty tactics employed by those in power in iran are working, but in my heart, i know that my generation isn't going to back down.

so many times over the course of my life, i've looked at my brothers and realized that it was essentially the toss of a coin that brought us to the states and gave us this (relative) life of luxury and freedom here while our cousins were left in iran. i'm well aware that if just a few things had been different, i might have been protesting in the streets myself this month.

marjane satrapi, who wrote the persepolis books, had a sweet op-ed in the nyt yesterday.


lately i've mostly been canning just to save things that might be going bad, less so than with the intention of putting up food for later. apricot jam yesterday, red currant mostarda (an italian sweet-spicy-sour condiment for meats and cheeses) the day before, and red currant jam last week. we've also been experimenting with indian-style beet relish and turnip kimchee.

i'm still waiting for my beloved dirty girl early girls, so it looks like tomato sauce season will be late and long this year.

outstanding in the field:

this week we had a dinner at green string farm with outstanding in the field. though i was really nervous about being organized enough to serve 100 people a five-course dinner in the middle of a field, everything ended up working out beautifully. (i cannot thank ross cannard enough for everything that he did to make this possible.)

the fantastic baker mike zakowski made loaves upon loaves of special breads for the event, and then baked flatbreads for the first course in the wood oven that bob built in front of the barn.

one of the most special people i speak to on a weekly basis, cindy callahan of bellwether farms, came and spoke about her perfect cheeses, which we use day in and out at the restaurant.

we served:
sunny slopes farm figs with chris lee's prosciutto (complete with a berkel slicer)
vella cheese co.'s oro secco with red currant mostarda (made with gs farm red currants)
summer vegetable salad with fresh coriander vinaigrette and marinated sardine flatbread (veggies from gs farm, star route, and martin bournhonesque. fresh coriander from county line)
roasted zucchini lasagna with sheepsmilk ricotta (zukes from terra firma. basil from gsf)
gs farm goat (spit-roasted and braised) with green beans, cherry tomatoes and shell beans (from martin, gs farm and terra firma)
hand-cranked peach leaf ice cream with roasted apricots and fresh boysenberries (all fruit and leaves from gs farm. can i just say how delicious peach leaf ic is?!)

breads from mike z.
wines from cline

nearly every one of our cooks volunteered time to make this event a success. the generosity of spirit that these guys and girls have never ceases to amaze me. i am so proud of and have such great appreciation for my cooks. thank you so much.

unfortunately, i was running around like a crazy person trying to avoid disaster the entire day, so no photos. luckily, diana sanchez (our fantastic server and a terrific photographer) was there to capture the entire day. she said i could post some of her photos when she gets them to me. i can't wait.

coming up:

i'm going to be blogging and tweeting from the roots of change summit next week. super excited.

i'll be teaching a canning workshop at hoes down this year. i think we'll do tomato sauce and perhaps some sort of jam...we'll see what's in season come october.

a little birdie (hee hee) told me that soul food farm is planning to start a chicken & egg CSA. please email alexis to show her your support if you'd be interested in joining. her pastured eggs are like a dream, and the heirloom pastured chickens are really, really tasty. and since chicken and eggs are staples in most households, i think this is a fantastic idea! she wants to make her stuff available to everyone, instead of just restaurants and shops, so let her know that you want in. trust me, there is no better egg in california.
forgive me, but i need to take a little break from all of my iranicizing. not because i'm not aware of what's going on, but because i'm too aware. it's overwhelming.

i want to catch you all up on what's been going on here for the past couple of weeks:

there were 700 or so jars of apricot preserves at yes we can, which we made at la cocina, whilst ryan farr taught handfuls of laypeople how to make emulsified sausages.

there was the couscous royale at asiya's goodbye party, where i finally met jessica, the woman behind rabbits and wrinkles.

a week later, there was an educational day of canning cherries and cherry jam for green string farm, wherein i realized that cherry jam could never be a money-making enterprise. fifty pounds of pitted cherries yielded 46 8-oz jars of jam. i don't even want to think about the math involved in that.

there was the day we went over to veller's house to kill four rabbits for our dinner celebrating the release of her book. this is the least graphic photo i had. notice the fraying nylon string veller saved from her hay bales and rigged up to the tree for hanging the rabbits to skin.

but as one might imagine, the cage the rabbits were in wasn't the most secure apparatus, so one bunny had escaped two nights before the big day. he was last seen at the liquor store down the street. we searched for him for 20 minutes to no avail, so we made do with three bunnies. as soon as we left, veller said, the smart guy showed up but she couldn't catch him.

there was my lunatic idea to cook a dinner using as many backyard and urban farmed and foraged ingredients as possible to celebrate the release of novella's book, which meant that i somehow had to find dozens of backyard farmers, figure out what and how much they'd have available the week of the dinner, set up drop-off times and make time to forage and harvest, and somehow write a coherent menu around it all. it was the most involved, challenging, invigorating and fruitful experience of my cooking career.

the dinner couldn't have been more lovely:

chris cutting into the prosciutto made with novella's pigs

novella's olives (which we served with the prosciutto)

cucu sabzi, a persian frittata (my mom's is better) i made with all of the leftover foraged herbs and greens

the second prosciutto (CL got a little carried away)

CL slicing prosciutto on the beautiful berkel slicer emilio lent us for the night

the experience of seeing those rabbits on the farm over the past several months, killing, skinning and cleaning them up, then cooking with them was something i hope all cooks have at some point in their lives. chris and cedric did a fantastic job with them. we dried sunny slopes farm apricots and made a moroccan-inspired stuffing. those are little heirloom carrots from novella's farm on the outside, with fresh chickpeas from catalan farm.

all in all, it was a fantastic night, with so many of our friends and neighbors present. the sense of community was so strong that night, with nearly every table scouring the menu for the ingredients that had come from their own yards. perhaps the most special contribution was the incredible sack of mulberries from suzanne's neighbor's yard in south berkeley. thank you, everyone, for filling that night with such authenticity and love.

and finally, yesterday there was the discovery of lola's ice creams & sundaes (via aaron), a sort of beautiful ice cream version of the moro books (not much of a surprise since they come from the same publisher). i might just have to get that for myself.
jam update: 

i left in a huge rush this afternoon, so i won't know if the jam set until tomorrow.  but it was awfully beautiful.  

other updates:

i'll be helping out this sunday at yes we can, with one of my favorite canners of all time, le fuerst. we'll be making apricot jam, and if i'm not mistaken, there are still spots available to come can with us.  i'm gonna bring my copper jam pot and lots of gossip.  maybe some burritos. 

veller's book got reviewed in the nyt yesterday, by someone who actually got it!  the fantastic death-to-the-possum scene was even mentioned!  excellent!

i have some sneaky writing stuff up my sleeves.  as soon as i have more to share, trust me, i will share it.  but it's pretty exciting!

did you see this article on canning in the nyt last weds?  

dirty girl albion strawberry jam

my love of dirty girl farm is no secret.

neither is my love of albion strawberries.  

so it would only make sense that dirty girl albion strawberries would be my, uh, favorites?  

i got a couple of flats of the berries yesterday, and jo helped me hull them.  i decided to try the christine ferber method, where you macerate the berries overnight, bring them to a simmer the second day, and make the jam on the third day by cooking the syrup down and quickly throwing in the berries at the last second.  this isn't so different than the june taylor marmalade method, which has worked beautifully for me in the past, so i feel pretty good about it.  

i even got to break in my copper jam pot.  yay!

the only weird thing about the christine ferber recipe is how much sugar it calls for: 85% by weight!  yikes!  i know strawberries are low sugar and low pectin, and so you need some extra insurance, but yeesh!  85%?  i started with 20%.  let's see how that works for us.  i'll keep you posted.

have you heard of the plastiki?  it's a sailboat made completely out of recycled materials (primarily 2-liter bottles) that will set sail in september from sf to australia, through the world's largest waste dump, to raise awareness of the sad ecological state of today's oceans.  the craft will be outfitted with many state-of-the-art green technologies to showcase just how much can be done with renewable resources and energies.  

i'm pretty excited to be helping the crew put up food for their voyage.  the skipper, jo, had the idea to stock up on foraged and local foods and preserve them for their journey.  we met the other day for the first time, and are planning an intensive canning and preservation schedule for the summer.  jo helped me work on my first batch of strawberry jam last night.  i'll let you know how it turns out.  

bricks and blossoms at soul food farm.  march 2009.

let's see: have we all seen melissa's blog?  she's still completely ridiculous, but also totally entertaining and informative on the topic of her home garden.  melissa, my oldest friend, started gardening in pots on her patio in venice beach several years ago.  the pots have traveled with her to san diego, and the gardening is getting out of control.  it's pretty great to see how much she is doing with how little--i've seen the garden in its most recent state, and it doesn't really reach much farther than her front porch and back porch.  yet the blog posts keep on coming.  

also, check out good evening thursday at bruno's in the mission, brought to you by sam & co. of open.  a once a week pop-up restaurant in the back of a dive bar--sorta like mission street food, but a little less sketchy and slightly more consistent.

in our own kitchen, canning season is about to get underway: brandied cherries, apricots and apricot jam, and even some early b&b pickles will hopefully be happening soon.  can't wait to get back into my element.

farm updates: first basil from martin, cukes from catalan, tulare cherries from twin girls and fantastic chandler strawberries from terra firma.


tomatoes01, originally uploaded by swardraws.

i gave mp and his wife some canned tomato sauce for her birthday last fall.

the other day, he told me in an email that he and his family had just enjoyed it at dinner the other night. he said that it was "delicious and unusual."

i'm really worried--what was so unusual about it? yikes. was it bad? i'd like to hope that if it were bad, they'd know and not eat it. i mean, there would be foam or mold, or a tingling sensation in their mouths when they tasted it.

i started to think, is mp's whole family dead at the dinner table? did i kill the great american hero at the start of his nationwide book tour?


i tried to remember which batch of sauce i gave him jars from, and opened some to taste it. it tasted fine. no fizzing, no mold, no tingling tongue. no botulism.

today, one of the farmers i was ordering from told me that she bribed her way into a talk he was giving last night in santa cruz with her organic produce. she said gave him a bunch of carrots afterward, and he's still alive and kicking.

i'm just really curious about what was so unusual about it.

today we made tons of tomato sauce, so i decided to can most of it for the winter.

we save all of our tomato scraps and ends, and all of the overripe tomatoes for sauce. i also buy lots of #2 tomatoes from farms like happy boy and dirty girl just for sauce (the dirty girl tomatoes are so beautiful and tasty right now! go out and buy some!).

we cut the tomatoes in half and roast them in the oven at about 300 degrees F for several hours, stirring them occasionally, until most of the juice has evaporated. this intensifies the flavor, and yields a less watery sauce.

then we cook a bunch of red onions (and i mean A LOT) in olive oil, letting them brown. we add garlic, every basil stem in the restaurant, a ton of olive oil, salt, and of course the roasted tomatoes. we let it all simmer for a few hours until the sauce is sweetsweetsweet. right at the end, we throw in a whole bunch of fresh basil, and then pass the sauce through the food mill.

then, i stuff sterile jars full of basil and pour the hot sauce over it. i process the jars for about 30 minutes, and let them cool at room temperature. it's a lot of work (each batch takes us two days), but the sauce is so sweet and delicious, and this way we can taste a bit of summer in the middle of the coldrainygray winter. it's totally worth it!

side projects

jams at the market, originally uploaded by ciaosamin.

i've been indulging my obsession with canning lately: 18 gallons of tomato sauce, 2 gallons of frog hollow suncrest peach compote, 3 1/2 gallons of yellow wax and romano dilly beans, and a bazillion gallons of nocino made with green walnuts we found in someone's front yard. i made some yogurt today, and hopefully it'll be set when i go back in the morning.

i just want to preserve everything. i don't want anything to go bad. ever.

i am totally freakish about the sterilization process, and have a heart attack whenever anyone even waves his hands over my canning space. botulism is my biggest enemy these days.

here are some canning tips, in case you want to make some of your own. i've learned a lot in just one year, and i still have a lot more to figure out.

--keep a diary (i learned this from june taylor). right after you process, open up a jar and taste to make sure that everything worked. take some notes. do it again in the winter. that way, next year you can make some changes for the better.

--wash everything you are going to use in the dishwasher. then, just to be sure, sterilize it all in boiling water for at least five minutes (except for pop tops--i just do them for 30 seconds). make sure you have clean towels laid out on your workspace to drain everything onto.

--make sure that everything you are working with is HOT--jars, sauce/jam/pickling liquid/sugar syrup/whatever

--i now skip the hot water process and go straight into a low oven--150-200 degrees F for about 20 minutes for pint jars, 30 for quarts, and 40 for half-gallons. it's so much easier, cleaner, and safer than boiling all of those jars. plus, it's much, much gentler on the stuff inside the jars.

i'll have to take some photos of the jars soon. it's getting out of hand.