It Was All A Dream

At the beginning of October, I spent a week and a half at World's End Farm.  I'm not sure there is a more magical place in the world.  

My friend Sarah is the creative visionary behind Saipua and World's End Farm (and together with our friend Nicolette, Little Flower School).  One reason why we get along so well, despite being so different on the surface, is that we share a commitment to beauty, to community, to hard work, and to the highest standards.  

Those ten days filled me up with enough creative juju to get me through the next six months, at least.  The dinner was stunningly beautiful, a celebration of so much.  It all photographed so well.  But what will stay with me is how tirelessly so many wonderful people came together, working for a week straight to put on this party.  For the love of it.  We built tables and chairs.  We erected tipis, moved rocks, built paths, and constructed outhouses.  We stapled the most glorious Indian corn I've ever seen 25 feet up a tree.  We collected rusty nails and dyed napkins.  We butchered lambs, stacked wood, and cooked dinner for 85 people entirely over coals.  People drove ten hours and more to come help cook and put on this meal.  New mamas and papas camped with their babes in the woods to wake up early and help set up the barn.  We built fires to boil water to wash dishes.  I sent friends all over the state on wild goose chases in search of produce, bread, and cheese.  People from all over the eastern seaboard brought us homemade pie for dessert, including a pie made by Sarah's mom Sue with precious elderberries from the farm.  I was blown away by how eager everyone was to help at any moment, even though we were all exhausted from days of preparation.  

               Photo by  Sarah Ryhanen

               Photo by Sarah Ryhanen

Photo by  Sarah Ryhanen

Photo by Sarah Ryhanen

Perhaps most remarkably--and certainly most movingly for me--women were in charge of it all.  My friend Phoebe drove from Vermont to help me cook; we two women cooked stood in a firepit for 14 hours cooking everything--squash and corn in the coals, lamb from the farm cooked three ways, brussels spouts and kale from the garden, beans simmered over the fire.  Watching Sarah lead the meeting each morning with such clarity of vision, and the way her team responded to her, gave me chills.  Yes, there were wonderful guys there helping us, and we couldn't have done it without them.  But this was definitely all about the lady juju, in the very best way.  

Photo by  Holly Carlisle
Photo by  Sarah Ryhanen

Photo by Sarah Ryhanen

Photo by  Julia Turshen

Photo by Julia Turshen

Photo by Phoebe Halsey

Photo by Phoebe Halsey

I spent my first week at the farm working on recipes and headnotes from dawn to dusk in an attempt to finish another round of revisions.  Though I was working my ass off in my own way, as I watched everyone else schlep and saw and dig and move stuff all week long, I started to realize the grand scale on which we were working.  I began thinking to myself, "Man, I really have to deliver with this dinner!"  Sarah and I started talking about this dinner a year ago.  She knew the barn restoration would be done by this fall, and that she'd be ready to cull her first round of rams before this winter, and wanted to celebrate with a lamb roast.  World's End is a huge and beautiful place, but until now, there hasn't been a space for everyone to gather.  I can only imagine how special and powerful it was for her and Eric to finally invite everyone she's been wanting to invite up to the farm.  

                                                            Photo by  Holly Carlisle

                                                            Photo by Holly Carlisle

Photo by  Grace Bonney

Photo by Grace Bonney

Photo by  Nicolette Owen

I'll still be processing everything for months to come.  In the meantime, though, a shoutout to my World's End family: Sarah and Eric, Nikki and Genevieve, Dan and Deanna, Taryne, Alex and Vanessa, Phoebe, Mark and Jennell, Nick and Eddie, Amy, Robinson and Arlo, Fay, Sarah S., Julia and Grace, Kari, Nic, and Tamar, Ziggy, Nea, Blondie and Pucci, I am so very glad I could share this insanely beautiful experience with you all.  Heather and Holly, thanks for the photos.  Thank you, too, to Iceman and the other two rams who fed us so well.  It was the best kind of dream.

Photo by  Meg

Photo by Meg

Photo by  Sarah Searle

Photo by Sarah Searle

Photo by  Holly Carlisle

Sea Level Farm Tomato Flash Sale, Sunday, August 9th

My friends Jane and JP from Sea Level Farm grow some of the best tomatoes around, and they're up to their necks in them.  So they're having a FLASH SALE of their dry-farmed early girls, grown in Corralitos, California, this Sunday, August 9th.  Dominica has graciously agreed to host the pick up from 9am - 10:30am at Cosecha in Oakland (907 Washington Street, inside the Old Swan's Market).   

Pre-order your tomatoes by filling out the form below.  Don't forget to press "submit"!

WHERE: Cosecha (907 Washington Street in Old Oakland)

WHEN: Sunday, August 9th from 9am-10:30am

HOW: Fill out the form above to pre-order your tomatoes, and show up on Sunday with CASH to pick them up!

How this happened.

photo by coral von zumwait for O Magazine
I first heard of Michael Pollan before The Botany of Desire came out in 2002.  Someone at Chez Panisse had an advance copy of it and it got passed around from cook to cook, and eventually to me.  I devoured it, and started avidly following his career.  Next came Power Steer, the story that changed the meat-purchasing policies at the restaurant and far beyond, and of course The Omnivore's Dilemma.

This guy was saying things I could get behind.  I, along with pretty much everyone else in my corner of the food world, was thrilled to finally have someone on the national stage speaking so eloquently about the things I spent my days and nights pondering.  For the first time since Wendell Berry, we had a calm, studied representative out there drawing people's awareness to the issues we'd devoted our lives to.

For several years after graduating college, every spring I considered applying--or applied--to graduate school.  I'd always assumed I'd be an academic, and nearly enrolled in graduate school twice.  I wasn't really picky about what I wanted to study.  It was more about just returning to school so I could put off having to face real life.  At various points in time I considered an MFA in poetry, a PhD in English, an MSc in Biodiversity and an MA in journalism.  Like I said, I wasn't picky.

Eventually, I reached a point where I realized it might not happen for me, mostly for financial reasons.  So I asked Michael if I could simply audit his class called Following the Food Chain at the Graduate School of Journalism at Cal.

He said no.

Practical professor that he is, he said I was the lowest priority person on his list, after all of the paying GSJ students who wanted to take the tiny seminar, all of the grad students in other programs at UC Berkeley, and the undergraduates.  Community members like me were basically at the bottom of the barrel.  But as a consolation prize, I could come to the first day of the class.  In the unlikely event that a bunch of enrolled students dropped out of the class and no one else showed up to fill the spots, I could then audit.

No dice.  Over 200 people showed up, all thinking the same thing as me.  Michael tried to manage the chaos by asking us all to write on an index card why we wanted to take the class.  I have no idea what I wrote on there, but I filled it out, stayed for the class, and left knowing there was no hope for me to get in.

A couple of days later, I recounted the whole story to my friend Sarah, then a grad student in Architectural History at Cal.  It was obvious how bummed out I was.  She looked at me, totally confused, and asked, "What the heck is wrong with you, Samin?  Don't know know anything about academics?  You have to show him how badly you want this and point out to him all of the ways in which he would be a fool to NOT let you in.  This class is about your LIFE'S WORK!  Write him a letter and tell him everything you'd bring to the class precisely because you're NOT a grad student, but a COOK deeply involved in everything he's teaching about."

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I did exactly that.  And it worked.  He shrugged and said, "Okay, you're in."

Taking that class was one of the two or three best things I have ever done for myself.  It was tiny--I think there were twelve of us in there--and I forged relationships with many of the writers and journalists who comprise my tightly-knit group of literary friends here in the Bay Area through that class.  Most of my officemates, beach buddies, dear friends, and colleagues in this writerly part of my life came to me as a result of that class.  And then, there's also Michael.

Michael, who allowed me to browbeat him into letting me into that class, into forcing us to take a field trip to Cannard Farm, into turning my turn to make the weekly snack into a three course meal, has been a teacher, guide, mentor, willing guinea pig, and friend to me for the last seven years.

When in 2009 Michael came to me and said "I'm going to write a book that looks at cooking from all angles, and I'll need a guide.  Would you like to be it?"  I was ready with a big, fat YES.

We started cooking together on Sundays, sometimes shopping together at the farmer's market on Saturdays, sometimes using leftovers or vegetables from the garden or mushrooms he'd foraged, and always naturally drawing the rest of the family into the kitchen.  Each of us quickly found his or her place in the order of things--Michael as the eager student, me as the mess-making teacher, Judith as the keeper of order, and Isaac as the quality-control-know-it-all.  After a long afternoon of cooking together, we'd sit down to a lovingly prepared meal.  One of my favorite dishes from the whole experience was something we cooked that first time with porcini mushrooms Michael had found in Bolinas the day before--we simmered the trimmings in chicken stock and made a really tasty soup that we ladled over spinach, and then floated duck fat croutons piled with sautéed porcini on top.

We quickly realized cooking for half a day yielded way too much food for just the four of us, and soon Sundays became an excuse for dinner parties with people who, more times than not, ended up joining us and lending a hand in the kitchen.

I did my best to build our lessons around concrete themes, from browning to layering flavors, to specific chemical reactions, to various cuisines of the world, to seasonal ingredients available to us for fleeting moments throughout the year.  We cooked paella in the fire pit, roasted whole pork shoulders (and a couple whole hogs!), we cooked grains and meats and all manner of vegetables and fruits, we made mistakes and fixed them, and we had lots and lots of fun.  We cooked everything we could dream up and shared it all with wonderful people.  I couldn't have imagined a better job.

Michael quickly picked up on my obsession with Salt, Fat, Acid, and Heat and I told him of the book I'd dreamt of writing at the ripe old age of twenty.  He encouraged me to write a four-part curriculum for cooking classes and start teaching.  So I did, and eventually, he encouraged me to turn it into a book proposal.  So I did.  And now I get to share what I shared with Michael with the whole rest of the world.

When Michael wanted to learn about bread, I took him to meet Chad Robertson.  When we went in to observe the bakers at Tartine, I was so inspired by them I asked if we could collaborate sometime and Tartine Afterhours was born.  This experience has given me so much.  It's insane.  Some might even call it MAGIC.

I can't even begin to explain how wonderfully surreal it is to be captured in print by my mentor, teacher, and friend, who also happens to be a bestselling author and international authority on the subject to which I have devoted my life.  But what I can do is share with you one of my favorite bits of the WATER chapter, where I am the main character, teaching him about cooking in pots.  If you have ever met me--and even if you haven't--it'll be immediately apparent that Michael managed to get the exact right balance of my intensity, silliness, mischievousness and enthusiasm down on the page:
As usual, Samin had a white apron tied around her waist, and the thicket of her black hair raked partway back.  Samin is tall and sturdily built, with strong features, slashing black eyebrows and warm olivey-brown skin.  If you had to pick one word to describe her, "avid" would have to be it; Samin is on excellent terms with the exclamation point.  Words tumble from her mouth; laughter, too; and her deep, expressive brown eyes are always up to something.

As honored and excited as I am to be one of the main characters of this book, my favorite parts--the ones that make me cry--have nothing to do with me.  The introduction (which you can read or listen to here) and the conclusion include some of the most articulate, timely, and sensitive arguments for cooking and eating together that I have ever read.  Just as when I first discovered Michael's writing, I feel an ineffable joy at the fact that there is someone brilliant out there advocating my values, arguing for all of the things in which I so deeply believe.  The only difference is that now, that someone is practically family.  

Today is the publishing date for Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation Michael's seventh book.

You can buy it from any of these fine retailers, or, better yet, your local bookstore.  Read it and let me know what you think!
Barnes & Noble
Books Inc.

Here's MP on the Colbert Report last night.  Hilarious.
Here's a great interview with him and Adam Platt in New York Magazine.
Here's another great interview about how Wendell Berry has inspired his work.
Here's a super informative Cooking FAQ and list of resources on Michael's website.
And here's a list of his book events across the country and beyond.

In case you are interested, I put together a list of cooking resources and will continue to add to it as time goes on.  And I also updated my store (full disclosure, if you buy anything after clicking on an link I post, I make a small commission on that purchase) with all sorts of basic, useful, and luxury kitchen items and books.  

mini cuba.

here's a tiny visual cuba update, since if i don't put something up now, it may be months before i get anything "perfect" together.  i took lots of film photos, and we're all planning to get together and exchange photos and videos, so there is A LOT more to come.  please keep in mind, these are from when i actually managed to get the camera out and shoot, so there are a lot of times when we were working that i didn't actually capture anything.  

from the moment we landed, we were fully there, fully IN CUBA!  diesel fumes on the tarmac, uniformed taxi drivers, and warmth from every direction.  we befriended nearly everyone we crossed paths with.  

miguel, who varun dubbed the "bob cannard of cuba," who makes his own charcoal in the most beautiful way.

some of the best meals we ate (not this one, actually) were in driveways and patios, with mamas cooking in the garages and serving us our platillos right there.

 the cars were really excellent.

the organiponico we sourced most of our stuff from was on the outskirts of havana, called alamar.  beautiful, beautiful produce.

jerry was fully consumed by sugar cane after our cod project at parsons.  

so much incredible produce.  amazing, amazing herbs!

there was so much eggplant, we all used it in our menus.

cuban children are the most beautiful children in the world.

i managed to avoid eating this noni fruit, which tasted like blue cheese.   UGH.

the cubans seem to have a really special relationship with onions.

this was the "animal farm" where we sourced the meat for our dinners.  when we stopped in to choose the animals for slaughter, they were throwing a birthday party for a family member, complete with a pig roast!

could she be any more beautiful?

unsurprisingly, turtle befriended every child we met, not to mention this horse!  and she got all of the girls to ride in the carriage with her.

artechef, the culinary institute where we taught a workshop.

 the herb delivery from alamar at the last minute was stunning.  made me feel so utterly at home in such a foreign place.

chef jerry.

so many incredible home gardens.

cooking our first dinner, at le chansonnier.

in what i think was perhaps the greatest feat of the trip, charlie and steve sullivan snuck into a government run bakery to bake bread for the dinners, with a mixture of flours we found in havana and some that steve brought, as well as some sorta scary cheese i got at the fancy grocery store.  steve had made the dough in his hotel room bath room, monitoring temperature and humidity as only a master bread baker is wont to do.

also, this photo is really washed out--the bread was gorgeous.

i became obsessed with the artist Guayasamín for multiple reasons, not least of which was the similarity of our names.  he was pretty incredible, though.

i think the best meal we ate, and this may be telling, was in chinatown, at the luna del oro.  it was insanely fun, especially after the elvis impersonating guitar player showed up to seranade us.

our favorite event was our "pop-up," where we took over a friend's fritura stand for the night and cooked food and gave it away to neighborhood folks.  we grilled chicken and onions and made a bunch of different kind of fritters.  it was by and large the most "real" experience we had.  we were all exhausted, and going a little looney, but it was fantastic.

we all laughed so much our cheeks hurt.

this woman has the most amazing voice ever.  she sells peanuts by singing an amazingly catchy tune, and everyday her outfit has a different theme color.  we fell in love with her.

there was an incredible amount of beautifully decrepit colonial architecture to take in.  so much beauty amongst the brokenness.  i came to feel like they couldn't exist independently.

sorting through beans.

on our last night we made it to a baseball came.  it was so alive, so lo-fi, so fantastic!

something out of nothing: raised waffles

one of the strongest traits i've inherited from my paternal lineage is a love of junk.

my grandmother has scoured garage sales every saturday morning since she moved to the states in the seventies.

my dad is not only a lover of the junk shop, but also a hoarder.  don't even ask for details--i can't go there.

i love junk.  i love the idea of uncovered treasure amongst someone else's discarded bits.  i love making something old new again, giving what's been exhausted a second life.  and of course, i love finding a use for something thought to be useless.  that is, after all, the way i cook.

every town has a junk store (and i'll readily admit that east coast and midwestern junk is far superior to california junk), but berkeley's

urban ore

has no equal as far as i'm concerned.  it's humongous, relatively organized, and has a constant stream of new junk.  there are those devotees, i'm sure, who visit every single day.  there are those, i know, who have renovated entire homes and businesses solely using materials from urban ore.  and then there are people like me, who go there when we need a new filing cabinet or just pull into the lot on a whim when we're in the neighborhood.

the other day, i did just that, and i found this beauty for $5:

the sunbeam w-2, produced from 1945 to 1955.  after a little web research, i learned that the same machine can now go for $295!  score!

it was a bit scuffed and greasy, but i got up close and personal with a stainless steel scrubbie and shined it up.

what next?  waffle party, of course.

and since i was planning ahead and had my wits about me, i made the best waffle recipe ever*,

marion cunningham's raised waffles.

the thing i love most about waffles is that even someone like me, whose refrigerator is usually populated with nothing other than two dozen half-empty condiment jars, reliably has all of the necessary ingredients on hand.  and even when i don't have maple syrup around, i do have all sorts of other sweet and delicious things to put on top.

this time, i made some berries with beaumes-de-venise and whipped cream, pulled out all of my jams and honeys down from the cupboard, fried up some bacon for the amy-dencler-original-bacon-in-waffle, and told everyone else to bring things to put on top of the waffles.  guests showed up with butters, coffees, and even maple syrup made by an old friend.

i was so busy running around, i didn't get a chance to take any photos to share, but they didn't look too far off from


(though molly's appear to have been made on a belgian waffle iron).  trust me when i say that much fun was had.

marion cunningham's raised waffles


the breakfast book

, one of my most treasured cookbooks of all time)

yields about 8 waffles

1/2 cup warm water

1 package (1 tablespoon) dry yeast

2 cups milk, warmed

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 eggs

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Use a large mixing bow, as the batter will rise to double its original volume.  Put the water in the mixing bowl and sprinkle in the yeast.  Let stand to dissolve for 5 minutes.

Add the milk, butter, salt, sugar, and flour to the yeast mixture and beat until smooth and blended.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.

Just before cooking the waffles, beat in the eggs, add the baking soda, and stir until well mixed.  The batter will be very thin.  Pour about 1/2 to 3/4 cup batter into a very hot waffle iron.  Bake the waffles until they are golden and crisp.

This batter will keep well for several days in the refrigerator.

*even though most who taste these marvel at their amazing lightness, crispness, and all-around amazingness, there are those who are disappointed because they were expecting a chewy interior.  if that's what you're looking for, i suggest

marion's classic waffles

, which are also good for those times when you didn't plan for waffles ahead.

new website...

after a year of dreaming and hard work, i am brimming with pride as i unveil  please let me know me what you think!

it may look simple, but let me tell you, simple is really hard to pull off!

this could not have been possible without the help of the following amazing people:
tracy lenihan--graphic designer, dream shepherd, and general wonderful person
aya brackett--photographer extraordinaire
charlie hallowell--for letting us take over his house for the shoot
erin fogg--programming
ulan mcknight--hosting
dana velden--for lending me that dreamy typewriter (if you ever want something out of me, i'd pretty much do anything for a classic olivetti valentine that types in cursive)
nancy roberts--for her help on the day of the shoot

a new kind of practice

picking mulberries

i've been writing.  a little bit, each day.

it's an attempt to get through the seemingly never-ending cycle of angst in which i find myself each time i begin a new story, application, or essay.

maybe practice will get me through it.

maybe, with practice, i'll be able to work through the crippling fear i have that i'll never be able to capture the tiny bits of beauty that make me love this life, the bits for which i live, and which i want to share with all of you.

a couple of weeks ago, i found myself at sunny slope orchard with two other writers, both more experienced than me.  we were on a rescue mission, picking up apricots that had to be picked in a rush in order to save them from water damage from an unexpectedly late rainfall.

so we drove up there, with a plan to make jam over the weekend.  i'd just been to sunny slope a few days earlier, and having experienced the magic of that place, did my best to prepare my friends without spoiling the surprises that i knew waited in store for them.  you see, bill spurlock is a magician, a mechanic, and an all-around genius.  and fern, well, she's made of gold.

our morning was filled with ripe royal blenheim apricots, plucked from the branches of hundred-year old trees and eaten straight away; perfect plum popsicles in a treehouse built of dreams; tastes of fruit gently dried by sunlight; and a host of ingenious contraptions constructed to make farm life just a tiny bit easier and a dose more entertaining.

we left in a daze, with a car full of apricots and a sugar-high to remember.

a few minutes into the drive home, i started to lament that one could never capture such beauty, such magic, in mere words.  no story i could ever write would ever do that place justice.  it simply could never be done.

the most experienced writer among us looked at me as if i were nuts.  he said, "of course it could be done, as long as you concede that you'll never be able to adequately describe the taste of the apricots.  but the experience was certainly rich enough to craft a compelling portrait of a farmer and his fruit."

i didn't say it, but thought, "whatever.  maybe you could do it, but not me.  it's just not possible."

later, when i recounted the story to another friend, he pointed out how crazy i sounded.  he said, "if after eating a delicious pesto that you'd made i said, 'i could never do this, never in a million years make a pesto as good as this,' you'd look at me and say, 'of course you can,' and then walk me through the steps.  you might tell me about the history of pesto, describing the different ways it's made on the various hillside towns in liguria.  you'd tell me which farmer to seek out to get just the right variety of piccolo fino basil, and how many months the parmesan and pecorino you'd used had been aged.  and of course you'd tell me where the olive oil had come from, and why that delicate gold-label oil is so crucial for a lovely pesto.  then you'd show me just how to prepare it, step-by-step, and tell me to go home and practice until i got it right myself."

i started to see that with writing, it's no different. you just break it down into manageable chunks and then you practice.  you write, and you write, and you write some more, until you get there.  it might take a really long time, but you'll never know unless you start practicing.

so now, as painful as it might be, i'm committed to doing that hard work.  practice.  i get it.

wish me luck.

Benefit for Conductive Learning: Eat, Drink and Be Merry

even though i haven't spent more than half an hour of my life with this little girl, she means a lot to me.  her name is archer, and she is the sweet daughter of liz and chad from tartine.

over the past year, liz and chad have shown me immeasurable generosity, allowing a near stranger to come into their bakery and take the place over for the tartine afterhours dinners i'm so pleased to cook each month.  they've doled out advice and money, bought us glasses and heath platters for us to serve with, and made special breads, desserts, and cocktails to make each dinner better than the last.  they've made a home for me in the fantastic bakery that they've spent over twenty years working toward and running, and for that i am greatly indebted to them.

being pretty lovable and loving, they've also become my friends.

and so, it's with that undercurrent of love and gratitude that i wanted to mention the fundraiser that they are hosting on monday night at bar tartine.  you see, besides running an insanely popular bakery and restaurant, with another bakery on the way, they've decided to open a special school, called a conductive learning center, in san francisco.  conductive learning is a type of physical education for people, mostly children, with motor disorders such as cerebral palsy, which archer suffers from.  though conductive learning has proven to be effective, the approach was developed in eastern europe and isn't widely recognized in the us as a preferable method of treatment yet.  there's just one other conductive learning center in the states, in michigan.

over the past couple of years, liz and archer have spent more time on the road at trainings and far-flung conductive learning centers than at home.  having seen the positive effects on archer, liz and chad decided to start a school here.  it's a huge undertaking, and they'll need a lot of help to make it happen.  so the first fundraiser is a special hungarian-style feast at bar tartine, cooked by chef nick balla.

if you're not busy and have a little dough to spare, please come.  it'll be fantastic!

there's also an online auction with all sorts of incredible food experiences and other great items to bid on.

if this is strictly out of your budget, then stay tuned--there will be more (and more affordable) ways to support the school in the coming weeks.

at the very least, please spread the word!


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.

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.

in honor of your birthday

because i love you so very much,
and because you are the best birthday rememberer i know,
because you always manage to get a card to me on my birthday,
and yet somehow i can't ever get my act together enough to do the same for you:

kelly, melissa, spanish and french/octet tryouts/everyone i met my first year in berkeley was in love with you, and with good reason/you taking me and melissa to san pablo ave./ oh, the drama with kelly/ melissa and i got you that strange wwf thing for your birthday out of sheer randomness/nursing your first true broken heart/ london, nice, monaco and italy/ those panini/ tweezing hairs on the beach/ coming to san diego--the answering machine/ YOUR ACCENT!/ you were the one who led me to cp/ the slides/ japan, italy, spain, new york/ working together in the kitchen (and amazingly we are still friends)/ trips to the farm/ walking out on the berkeley pier/ late summer dinner on the porch/ beehouse teapots!/ just so much randomness--you warm my heart.

you are so much more than i could have ever dreamt for in a friend--you let me be my truest self with you, and i hope that i do the same for you. i love you. happy birthday.


Paperwhites, originally uploaded by schönwandt.

a friend brought me some paperwhite bulbs the day after my surgery. they're not quite to this point yet, but hopefully, when they are, i'll have the presence of mind to snap a photo or two of them.

i've been thinking a lot lately about my insecurities.

ok, who am i kidding? i think a lot all of the time about my insecurities.

three times (and twice very recently) people have told me that i use silliness and humor to avoid having to be my true self around people, and to distance myself from people.

it's completely true--i don't deny it.

on one hand, it's a protective measure--if i don't have a serious conversation with you, then there is no way for you to know what i am really thinking, what i am sensitive about, and there is no way for you to hurt me (or at least hurt me as severely).

and on the other hand, i feel like i am more in touch with my true self and my real emotions than most people i know, and more willing to share that part of me with people i trust. but that can make people REALLY uncomfortable. one of my dearest friends (and i think that some of you will know who i mean) cannot deal with my rawness. she actually, visibly, twitches with discomfort. it's a sacrifice for me to have to keep my true feelings from her, and it's set limits to our friendship, but i realize that it's something i have to do for her sake. it is mean to gush when i know she can't handle it. i won't do that to her.

i sometimes make jokes to avoid uncomfortable situations. the most tightly wound person i know is someone i love and respect a lot. she is one of the most critical people i've ever met, but also one of the most sensitive. sometimes, she says things i completely disagree with, but i can't disagree with her directly, because i know how much it would hurt her. i also don't want to agree with her because it would betray my own feelings too much, so i usually make a joke to lighten the mood or change the subject.

i'm so serious in my own head all of the time, i want to spare other people from that. i can't deal with all of my time spent with friends being as intense as the time i spend alone with my thoughts.

a friend (not the clairvoyant one i mentioned a couple of weeks ago, but one who i really do believe can see things on another level than most people) told me recently that i have inherited a legacy of worry, and that things don't have to be so hard for me. he said he can see right through my silliness to the reasons for it, and that i don't have to be that way so much.

it's good to know that some people are okay with the truth and intensity. it's scary, because there can be a lot of pain wrapped up in all of that. but if you can't ever be your genuine self around your friends, can't show them your grief, or pain, or sadness, then what is there?

alright, i promise this is the last time i'm going to mention sunday. i just felt like i need to write something to be able to look back on and remember how lovely it was.

i think the reason why it was so great is that everyone was included. i kind of purposely didn't want to have everything done so that i could put people to work when they got there, and involve everyone in making the meal. that's what the farm is about--connecting with land, and people, and food--and i wanted everyone to experience that. so everyone just jumped right in, cleaning pomegrantes, shelling beans and popping favas, pounding baba ghanoush and rolling pita, stuffing spanakopita, grating beets, washing lettuces, making the dressing, and cleaning tomatoes and artichokes.

so many of my friends are "city folk" and probably had no clue why i keep on yammering on about this farm, and these people who live there. but it's pretty much my favorite place in the world, and i think it's apparent why to everyone the second they arrive. like deeann said, the universe gave us a perfect autumn day, and it really was incredible.

the other thing is that all of my friends are so, so, so different--different ages and backgrounds, different places in their lives, different ways we met. people who normally would never be seated at tables together came together on this day, and helped out, laughed and told stories, were generous and kind, and shared a bit of beauty with me and each other. friends from restaurants, and college, the j-school, italy, high school, people i met that day--it was all just wonderful.

i promise that's all. no more gushing. thanks to everyone who came and shared this day with me. i won't ever forget it.

for my parents and distant friends....

the farmhouse

deeann and glasses


looking toward the ridge

rolling spanakopita

juj with spanakopita

ready to roll the pita

rolling pita

fried broccoli and artichokes

grilling eggplant

pounding the baba ghanoush

plating the tahchin


salad and bean ragu

time to eat

at the table

kids at the piano

ross churning ice cream

tres with the pinata (for whom he cried)


snippets of emails i've been meaning to write

i think you'll be able to figure out which was meant for you:

i'm rooting for you. i have always been rooting for you and i always will. no matter what choice you make, in this, or in anything, i will love you.

what the eff are you doing working in a meatless cooperative? are you on crack? wait...don't answer that.

i just heard about this place--doesn't it sound awesome?

how's the new job? and what are you doing exactly? are you planning to come visit anytime soon?

how are rehearsals going? did you start the performances yet? are you used to florida? does anyone ever get used to florida? and what about the geckos?

i snuck a taste of the honey (don't get mad). it is so fricking good. and i love the chunky bits of honeycomb floating around.

i know you are going to think this is ridiculous (i already do), but i kind of can't stop thinking about buying this bag. don't worry, i'm not going to. i just can't stop thinking about it, though. ugh. i'm disgusted enough for the two of us.

since at this rate we are never going to meet, i'm going to give you a list of places i like and times that work for me, and you can choose one from each column. here goes: bakesale betty, ici, gioia, arinell's, michelle's yogurty yogurt, scary large whole foods, cam huong, saturday market. 10/13 morning, 10/14 afternoon, 10/21 anytime, some weekday late afternoon/early evening (not weds. or fri.) this week or next week. i think those times are good. i'm confused. as usual.

thank you. thank you. thank you.

how did the race go? are you alive? are you still paddling in your sleep?