Monday, September 26, 2011

Another Taste of A Homemade Life

I would not normally do two posts from the same book but when the Cook the Books club chose Molly Wizenbergs A Homemade Life, I couldn’t resist another go at it.  Some of you will remember back in January when the other online book group I take part in, This Book Makes me Cook, did the same book.  The fact that I have tried and loved quite a few of Molly’s recipes, either from her blog Orangette or from the book was my driving force in doing another post.  Unlike some other food related pieces of literature the recipes from A Homemade Life have not only all worked for me but have often been very nice surprises.

You have all had that moment (I hope) while reading a book, memoir or fiction, where you stop and start taking stock of your life.  Not in a bad way, not to look at your life and say that it is not good enough or nitpicking all  the faults.  But in the good way, in the way that makes you look in every corner for your potential.  This is what reading "A Homemade Life" does for me.  Reading about Wizenberg’s life, from her childhood through her college years, a studio apartment in Paris, a long distance relationship started with a fan of her blog, and settling down in Seattle, all I think is that I want to know her. 


I tend to embrace anything that makes me take stock of life, and when you have your eyes open most things probably do.  The breeze as you walk down a city street, a certain song playing at a certain time, a good bookmoviephotographmusician.  The sun hitting me in just the right spot on the back of my neck that made me decide to ask my husband to marry me (I promise to tell you more another day).  So you see, I was happy to chat with you again about A Homemade Life

This time around I chose not to re-read it, though I found myself taking quick little bites as I flipped through trying to decide which recipe to do.  How do you pick between all these recipes?

Wizenberg on tomatoes:

They were fleshy and deep red, with edges crinkled like smocking on a child’s dress.  When we bit into them, they shot rich, vermilion juice across the table.  We were sold.”

Wizenberg on getting married:

“First, when you get engaged, a few things happen.  You agree to marry someone, for starters.  Also, your head sort of explodes. Third, you are handed a ticket--rather sneakily, I should note, with no warning at all-- to an amusement park ride known as THE WEDDING.”

Wizenberg on trying new recipes:

“I have a lot of cookbooks, and they demand my attention.  You wouldn’t believe how pushy they are.  They lie next to my bed like fat, lazy dogs.  They stretch and yawn all over my lap.”
I don’t know if I picked the best sentences, but do you see what I mean?  You want to read more don’t you?  I hope you do, and you should.  Please come back when you are done so we can chat about it.  Which recipes did you try, which could you already taste before you had even finished the page?  Why sections made you cry, did she make you want to live in France?  Enjoy!

Trying to pick between the recipes is fruitless, I want to try them all, and so I have placated myself by saying that eventually I will try most of them I just need to pick one for today.  Okay maybe two.

If you remember I recently posted about having trouble with the heat in Sacramento when I am so ready for fall to start.  I have countered my feelings by picking all the incredible fruits and produce that California has to offer and canning them.  Well not all, but a lot (you will read all about it in the next week or so) figs, peppers, plums and, thanks to A Homemade Life, carrots and grapes.  Grapes?  That’s right, pickled grapes.  And I am sure glad I did.

The quotes and recipes are directly from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life

Spicy Pickled Carrots with Garlic and Thyme
from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

2 cups apple cider vinegar plus more         1 ½ teaspoons red pepper flakes
    for topping jars                                      heaping 1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 cups water, plus more for topping jars     heaping 2 teaspoons brown mustard
¼ cup granulated sugar                                seeds
6 (5-6 inch) sprigs fresh thyme                  1 ½ pounds small (finger sized)
5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced                 carrots, or standard-sized carrots,
1 ½ teaspoons black peppercorns               cut into sticks about ½ inch wide
   cracked                                                    and 3 inches long

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar, water, sugar thyme, garlic, black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, salt and mustard seeds.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat, and let cool for 5 minutes.  Stir in the remaining ½ cup of vinegar.
     Put the carrots in a large, heatproof bowl, and pour the warm brine over them.  Cool to room temperature.
     While the carrots cool, wash 2 quart-sized canning jars and their lids in warm, soapy water.
     When the carrots and brine are cool, distribute the carrots evenly among the jars, arranging them snugly. (Hands and fingers work best for this tongs make a mess.)  Using a ladle, divide the brine evenly among the jars.  The carrots should be covered completely  by brine.  If they are not, add a mixture of 2 parts vinegar and 1 part water to cover.
     Seal firmly and refrigerate for at least 3 days, or, preferably, a week; carrots are dense and take time to absorb the brine.
Note:  Covered and refrigerated, pickled carrots will, in theory, last indefinitely, but we try to eat them within a month or two.

Yield: 2 quarts

Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper
from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg Adapted from Susan Kaplan

1 pound red or black grapes,            1½ teaspoons brown mustard seeds
   preferably seedless                         1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 cup white wine vinegar                  1 (2½ inch) cinnamon stick
1 cup granulated sugar                    ¼ teaspoon salt

Rinse and dry the grapes, and pull them off carefully from the their stems.  Using a small, sharp knife, trim away the “belly button” at the stem end of the grape, exposing a bit of the flesh inside.  Put the grapes into a medium bowl and set aside.
     In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil over medium- high heat, then pour the mixture over the grapes.  Stir to combine.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.
     While the grapes cool, wash 2 pint-sized canning jars and their lids in warm, soapy water.  When the grapes are cool, ladle them into the jars.  Chill for at least 8 hours or overnight.
     Serve cold.

Yield: about 3 cups
 (Wizneberg recommends eating these in the first few days, though she mentions that others have really enjoyed them after a week or two)

If you would like to read about the last time I read A Homemade Life and tried the recipe for Dutch Baby Pancakes with Lemon and Sugar you can check it out here.

To read the other blog posts from this months book group, or to join this great little collection of bloggers come on over to the Cook the Books Club

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Friday, September 16, 2011

A Sad Farewell to Red Fox Books

I remember walking by the brick building for the first time knowing that there was going to be a independent bookstore opening up and I did a dance out there on the sidewalk.  I did a dance not knowing that this store was going to change my life, or that the people opening it would become my dear friends.   I don’t remember my first impressions of them, I was so nervous on the interview I don’t remember much of anything, including whether or not I made a fool of myself.  It was my first job outside of temping since I graduated college, and though some people would not consider working at a bookstore to be the next logical step after college, but to me nothing else could possibly make that much sense. 

Years before a travel partner asked me what my dream job would be if money was not an issue.  Everyone else in our group had exotic answers, I answered that I wanted to open a bookstore/poetry venue.  So to find myself four years later working in a fairly brand new independent bookstore was the hands on experience that I could never get in college.  I was also lucky enough to be working for two incredible people that were more than happy to show and teach me all they could about the business.  They were also comfortable enough to give me room to be creative and start my own projects within the walls of their wonderful bookstore. 

Since opening its doors in 2006 Red Fox Books truly grew into an integral part of the small town of Glens Falls.  The downtown is only a few blocks and all of the small businesses and restaurants feed off of each other making what was not that long age a sad deserted little town into a place to come and spend the day, shopping, eating and walking around.  In my years there I saw a few businesses close, but I also saw many more open up.  All of these businesses have been independently owned and run by some very brave and creative people, who understand what a local business can do for an area.

I know that people in this country are finally coming around, I see it everywhere I go.  You see more and more people focusing on eating locally, and wanting to know where their food comes from.  Willing to pay that little bit more, to know how there food is raised and the people that are raising it.  You see this with other independent business as well but not nearly as much.  When it comes to a book people have a fairly easy time justifying going online at all hours and buying a book from an online retailer that has the ability to sell it for a few dollars cheaper. 

I don’t think that I need to go into the whole lecture about all the many reasons you should support an independent business, it would be like lecturing a smoker about why they have to quit.  Believe me I understand, I was a smoker for a very long time.  I know you all know better, and I also know that many of you will continue supporting nameless faceless businesses for the sake of a dollar or two.  I get it.  You can blame it on the economy or on E-readers, but the truth is there are just too many people that don’t much care where their belongings come from or who they are supporting, though I hope some day soon we will start to see those numbers change.

Today will be the last day of business in Red Fox Books in Glens Falls, NY.  Next month the store would have hit it's fifth year in business.  They have had some incredibly wonderful and loyal customers, who I have missed dearly since I moved away.  I am sad for those customers, Ann and Keith, Matt, Gary, Jon and Liz and so many more of you that have loved this store as much as I have.  That found a home there as I did, a place that was safe and comfortable that always made you happy to be there.  I know how lucky I was to have had Red Fox in my life, and to have been able to work side by side with Susan and Naftali for the three+ years that I was able to.  I am pretty sure that most people don’t get that lucky.  I can't tell you how sad I am not to be there right now, though for what reason I don't know it just feels like I should.

I hope all of you, no matter where you live will go into an independent business today, I don’t care what kind, and buy something.  Make sure you ask the person working there for a recommendation because for once you will actually get a good one, from someone who is doing this for a lot more reason than that it is just a job.  Stay and chat awhile, because they will actually be willing to chat instead of moving you along to get to the next person, or selling you a membership or store credit card.  I know it is easy to go to the larger store where maybe you can get more things done.  But I promise you the more you do that the more you will look back on your life and see a blur, because none of those shopping moments (and we as Americans have a lot of them) will be of any substance, and more likely than not the things you buy in those places will not last you long enough to remember. 

So today, for me, Susan, Naftali and Red Fox Books, go to an independent business.  I have the feeling you will thank me. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

An Olive Oil Education: "A Taste of the Good Life" at The Greek Village Inn

When my husband and I made our original life altering drive into California, we entered the state from the North traveling on Route 97 and then connecting to I-5.  Our conversation on that first monumental drive went something like this:

Me: oh my God it’s snowing, how can it be snowing, we have to go home!

Husband: I think it’s just the elevation, yeah, it has to be the elevation.

Me:  but we’re in California!

2hrs later

Me: what are those trees?

Husband: I don’t know maybe Oranges?

Me: they don’t look like oranges, look at all the little ones in white tubes, what are they?

Husband:  maybe nuts, I think they can grow almonds here.

Me:  really wow, almonds, that’s cool.

And thus the idiotic conversation of two New Yorkers entering a state that can actually grow things, lots of things, things that even New York big chain supermarkets don’t always carry.  Those trees, for those of you that don’t know, were olive trees, which I now know are abundant in California and specifically in this part of the state.

So the irony of now, a year later, being invited to an olive oil tasting and dinner put on by STAR Fines Foods olive oil, is not at all lost on me.  Along with the Olive Oil that gave them their start, the company also imports and sells pepperoncini, anchovies, Onions, Capers, vinegars and much more.  This summer they debuted their first grown-in-California olive oil, and  as part of STAR’s “A Taste of the Good Life” tour, I was lucky enough to be invited to a dinner and olive oil tasting at the Greek Village Inn here in Sacramento featuring a six-course tasting menu created by Greek Village Inn Chef Matthew Martinez.

To say I was thrilled is a complete understatement.  Not only did I get to try out a restaurant that I had never been to, I also got to meet members of Sacramento’s incredible food blog community and spend a few hours eating and talking about food, blogs and everything in between.  STAR and The Greek Village Inn put together a wonderful  evening and I think highlighted the beautiful relationship between olive oil and great food quite well.  The fact that I am Italian and sometimes feel as if I was born with the taste of Olive Oil in my mouth just heightened my enjoyment of this event even more.  Some of the other bloggers that I had the pleasure of sitting near and sharing wonderful conversation with were: Charlotte from The Grand Adventures of a Food and Wine Diva, Dawn from Kitchen Travels, Doug from Javaholic, and Stephanie from 52 Kitchen Adventures, plus many more.  Special thanks to Catherine over at Munchie Musings for getting it all together.

And now for the Food!

Along with the full menu we also had a wine pairing from, Sean Minor Wines, supplying some very unique wines.  I never thought to get any good wine shots, but you can see by the stems of the wine glasses surrounding the food just how many we got to try.

I know, I know and yes you should be jealous.  Now I don't know if you can recreate this evening exactly but you are more than welcome to try.  If you are lucky enough to live in the Sacramento area head on over to The Greek Village Inn and give it a try.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Missing the flavor of you (Fall)

What is it that I have been missing?  I admit that technology has made moving so far away from New York easier to deal with , between facebook and email I am kept up to date on the little details, thanks to unlimited long distance, Skype and even Google Earth I am able to hear my families voices, see their faces, go on tours of new apartments and even spy on them from above.  It is my memory though that I rely on the most when I start feeling homesick

I have a very good memory for detail and can mentaly reenact entire scenes and moments of my life, often getting caught “daydreaming” in public while I do so.  Sometimes this is terrible, just recently I went mentally step-by-step through the process of lighting and smoking a cigarette in a windy car, and though I quit over a year and a half ago this little memory dalliance left me craving nicotine like I had just quit.  I have been doing this a lot lately (not as destructively as smoking a cigarette) and it is what first cued me in to the fact that I was missing New York.

I caught myself mentally getting of the subway (in New York City) at Astor Place and walking through the village looking at all the piercing shops and restaurants, wandering my way through until I would find myself waiting in line outside of the Nuyorican Poets cafĂ©.  I would be walking outside in the 95 degree California weather thinking about walking to work in the snow, my chin tucked tight to my chest as I watched each boot encase foot plow through the fresh flakes.

Mostly, though, I have been envisioning fall.  Fall is my weakness.  Fall could probably push me back to the East Coast faster than anything else, though hopefully I would have the sense to remember that after fall comes winter and I would not trade in a Sacramento winter for a New York one for all the Fall in the world.  This does not stop my romantic little mind from reminiscing on all of the things that I love about this upcoming season and missing New York.

Yesterday I had a wake up call from all of my fall musings in the form of peaches…  and figs…  and peppers and melons and almonds and tomatoes and plums.  It might have hit 100 degrees today and yes I might find that a little hard to deal with but I live in a place that I can go pick all of those glorious treats on September 6th.  Fresh, ripe and begging to remind me of just why I chose this place I now call home, and why it was a damn good decision. 

I have plans to make a spiced peach butter that I found here, and maybe a plum sauce if I find a recipe I like, I am also thinking of jarring some roasted red peppers and maybe some pickles.  In New York fall would be coming soon, and normally that would mean I would start baking, here in California I am just getting around to canning the summer bounty, and I am not even late!  I will always be in love with New York fall and I really hope that next year I will get the money together to fly home just in time to get a little taste of the season.  In the meantime I will rely on my memory, and keep myself afloat with the flavors of fresh figs.