Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Chylde is Born!

Just a quick note to let you know that Flour Chylde is now open, as of 6:00pm yesterday. The walls are still bare, and they're still getting things set up, but the bakery case has lots of delicious items in it already.

I bought a mininature gluten-free lemon-coconut cake there last night. It was delicious; moist and lemony, and covered in a soft, fluffy coat of coconut flakes. Yum.

So if you're near Grant Street, stop by and welcome them to the neighborhood!

Address: 850 Grant Avenue. (415) 328-5522

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

New Reasons to Visit Grant Street

New things are happening in Novato!

The long-awaited Trader Joe's is now open, so I only have to travel 5 minutes to replenish my supplies of Fage 2% Greek yogurt and TJ's sea salt-black pepper-lemon blend (with grinder built in!). Their produce selection is still largely non-organic and sourced from places far, far away from California, so I generally steer clear of that section, but their wine guy is cute and sweet, and last week he pointed me towards a Cabernet Sauvignon that happens to be made from one of my favorite winemakers, at a price that made me smile.

With the Trader Joe's came yet another Starbucks. I haven't been inside, because who would want to when Dr. Insomnia's is just around the corner on Grant Avenue? Not only do they know how to make espresso drinks (they know to ask if I want my cappuccino wet or dry), they also have a house-made coffee cake that is so moist and buttery and cinnamon-y (is that a word?) that I was absolutely crushed a couple of weeks ago when they ran out of it on a Sunday morning.

Grant Avenue is becoming more exciting all the time! Yes, I really said that.

The Novato Farmer's Market takes up much of the street on Tuesday evenings from 5pm-8pm, and although it doesn't attract nearly as many quality vendors as the San Rafael Civic Center, it is worth stopping by if you live in the neighborhood. Every week, a different band plays live music, and Roli Roti is there with their addictive roast chickens, which they pop into a bag with lime slices. Mmmm... Perhaps in time, we'll see more of the high-quality organic vendors here as well. My guess is that current demand for fresh organic produce in the Bay Area might be exceeding supply...

One of my favorite vendors at the Novato Farmer's Market is Flour Chylde, a Novato-based bakery that creates an assortment of delectable breads, pastries, and desserts, including a selection of wheat or gluten-free offerings. Up until now, they haven't had a storefront, but they are opening up on Grant Avenue later this summer, which will make a fabulous addition to the Old Town "scene."

You know how I love Kitchen. Their short ribs send me into rapture, and I've been known to sneak into one of their two counter-top tables for a quick bite when B is out of town. Now they've opened up Finnegan's across the street. It has a cozy pub-like feel, with framed pictures all over the walls and flat-screen TV's near the bar. The menu is a mix of expected bar food, like Irish potato poppers and giant burgers, with somewhat more sophisticated offerings like cherry-glazed pork loin and an antipasto platter with buffalo mozzarella and roasted red peppers. Their Cobb salad isn't the same as Kitchen's was when Kitchen was open for lunch - I couldn't wait to see if it might be! - but it is beautifully presented and quite delicious.

I keep on driving past the alleged site of the Novato Whole Foods, but alas - not a single scoop of dirt has been removed from the site. It seems that now their projected opening date is 2008, so we'll have to wait a bit longer.

But hey: things are looking up in Novato when, along a single street, one can find a perfectly-made cappuccino, a loaf of bread made with organic flours, a nice lunch and a fabulous dinner. I'd say that's progress!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Let Them Eat Soup

When you're mostly confined to the house, your menu options are considerably limited. Hopping through a farmer's market on crutches with a swollen, throbbing knee is somewhat ill-advised, and so you resign yourself to not cooking with entirely local ingredients, even though it is Eat Local Month, and you had the best of intentions before The Fall. Given your inability to stand for long periods of time, you might even incorporate a pre-made thing or two into your recipes.

Like the beef broth in the French Onion soup recipe that you've been perfecting. Making beef broth from scratch is a commendable task, but one that requires far more planning and forethought and standing at the stove than your pain-addled leg will allow. And so you decide to buy organic, pre-made beef broth, and hope that the blogging community will forgive you.

The soup, incidentally, tastes no worse for the fact that its broth was made in some vast unknown kitchen in an unspecified location. In fact, the soup tastes heavenly. You've ordered French Onion soup from countless dining establishments in San Francisco, and have found most of them to be thin and flavorless, topped by a soggy raft of bread with a greasy slick of cheese clinging the surface. This seemed to indicate that the recipe was terribly to master, but now, knowing better, you resolve to never again accept a mediocre bowl.

Whether the soup is truly French or not, you aren't sure. Your amour has told you, with a shrug, that it is "not really French, bebe; you wouldn't be able to find it in most restaurants in France," but being American, and a daydreamer besides, you pretend that you didn't hear him, and take another rich, onion-y mouthful. He told you the same thing about French fries, insisting that they are actually from Belgium, but you didn't listen to him then, either. Whenever you are lucky enough to find hot, crispy frites, you dream of Paris, and while you eat your soup, you remember the countryside in Bordeaux, and you think: what's the harm in that?
French Onion Soup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 sweet onions, sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 tablespoons sweet butter
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Freshly ground salt
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 1/2 quarts organic beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached flour
  • 1/8 cup water
  • 3 thick slices of a good baguette
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated cave-aged gruyere
In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the onions and sauté for about 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until they are limp and translucent. I like it when some of the onions on the sides of the pan develop brown edges, because it adds a bit of depth to the flavor.

Stir in the butter, allowing it to melt and bubble up through the onions. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Add a generous glug of red wine; it will make a lovely hissing-and-steaming sound. Stir again, continuing to sauté for about 3 more minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Add the beef broth and raise the heat to high to bring the mixture to a boil. Let it boil gently, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and place the lid on top. Depending on the type of pan you have, you may want to crack the lid just a half inch or so. Mine creates a powerful seal that doesn't allow liquids to reduce, and so I like to make a little gap to allow evaporation to occur.

In a small cup, mix together the flour and water to form a thin paste. Add a few tablespoons of the soup broth, then slowl incorporate the mixture into the soup.

Let the soup continue to simmer until it has reduced to about half of its original volume. Remove from heat. Ladle the hot soup into individual soup tureens, leaving about one inch between the top of the soup and the top of the tureen. With a pastry brush, brush both sides of the baguette slices with olive oil. Place one slice directly on top of each tureen of soup, so that the bread is floating on the soup. Sprinkle liberally with gruyere.

Arrange the tureens on a baking sheet, and place beneath a broiler. When the cheese bubbles and turns a fetching shade of golden brown, remove from the oven. Serve immediately.

Makes 3 individual tureens.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Novato Update

I'm not lost. I haven't moved away from Novato. I haven't been lounging on a tropical beach. I'm not fed up with blogging, nor any such thing.

I did, however, develop a case of Overcommitted-enza, in which I took on a bit more than I could handle in projects and responsibilities. For weeks, I've been setting the alarm clock for an ungodly hour, and sinking in to bed, exhausted, many hours later.

But that's okay. It's good, even. I'm all for periods of intensity, where much is accomplished, and the air is a-whirl with activity and motion.

I had another such week scheduled this week. But then... I went to a dinner party on Saturday night and had little accident. It involved a wet floor, some slippery sandals, and my right knee. I've spent the past few days lying about with my leg propped up, groggy with Vicodin, dreaming of running through grassy meadows. My enormous, puffy knee looks like a Jackson Pollock canvas. Today it's purple and yellow, with a tinge of green.

I'll be fine... the doc says that he thinks it will heal without surgery. He's going to keep an eye on it. In the meanwhile, I've got my laptop propped up on my, well, lap, and I'm cruising the blogsphere once again.

I've been in the kitchen a lot over the past few weeks ~ perfecting a recipe for French Onion Soup, feasting on fresh produce in a variety of salads, and creating a ritual meal for Sunday evenings at Chateau Novato. I'll write about all of that... soon. Just now, I need to find my crutches and hobble over to the medicine cabinet.

PS: That's my pineapple sage in the picture above. Isn't it pretty? The hummingbirds love it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Bachelorette of Novato

My man is back home after five long weeks. He frequently travels far, far away for business - one week here, three weeks there - but this trip was decidedly longer than usual. When we first started seeing each other, and for quite a while after that, these trips were awful trials for me. I'd mope about, counting down the days until he returned and generally feeling blue.

I'm happy to report that I did not do any such thing this last time. Instead, I took full advantage of my long stretch of Alone Time. It would be quite accurate to say that I luxuriated in it. Every day, I asked myself: What do I most want to do today? I had no one else to consult; no one else's feelings to take into consideration. It was my time, and mine alone.

Of course I still had obligations. It wasn't like I had five weeks of vacation. I had my Monday all-day gig, my Thursday very-early-morning obligation, and various & sundry deadlines to meet. But there were hours, and pieces of hours, and evenings, and Sundays, when I could do anything I wanted to. And I did not mope, except for that one time, which hardly counts.

I'd like to tell you that I drove to the city every night and danced my bootie off, or that I shopped until I dropped, but my preferred indulgences are of a rather different nature. To wit:

I haunted my favorite bookstores and came home more than once with my arms full and my heart dancing with excitement over what I would find beneath their covers. I piled books on my bedside table and read until the wee hours of the morning, and picked up where I left off when I woke up, and it was absolutely delightfully selfishly fantabulous.

I made an enormous roast chicken every Wednesday. The first night, I ate it straight out of the roasting pan, while standing up at the counter. The meat was hot and juicy, the skin crackly. Sigh. It's not that I can't do that when B is home, it's just that... well... On the subsequent nights, I used the leftover meat to make chicken salad with butter lettuce & mustardy-tart vinaigrette; Thai salad with cabbage & peanuts & carrots and a lime-chili dressing; corn tortillas stuffed with shredded thigh meat and melted Cheddar.

I spent hours in the gym - because I could, and because I didn't need to go home - taking all the odd classes that had always looked intriguing on the schedule but that I never seemed to have time to try. Hip-hop, anyone? Or Capoeira, perhaps?

I wrote - wrote and wrote and wrote! - because I had nothing at all to distract me. Obviously, I was not blogging - the short form is not my specialty - but I got lots of ink on paper.

And in between stuffing my face with chicken, and gym-class-hopping, and writing, I left my clothes on the floor and took my sweet time picking them up. I left my dishes in the sink instead of immediately scrubbing them off. I took long baths. I played Liz Phair and Marcy Playground and REM very very, loud. I watched, or attempted to watch, all of the Academy-Award-nominated films. I learned the words to "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." I ate lots of chocolate.

But lest you become worried: I did not drink wine straight from the bottle. Not this time.

And now he is back, and I am glad.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Leslie's Plight

Poor Leslie Harlib. I don’t know the woman, or a single thing about her, other than the fact that her name appears after virtually every one of the restaurant reviews in the Dining section of the Marin Independent Journal.

That this lone woman must review the majority of Marin County’s restaurants is tribulation enough in and of itself. That the paper didn’t have the imagination to concoct a pseudonym for some of her work, a la early Ruth Reichl, only makes her singular burden more unfortunate.

But a girl has to do what a girl has to do, and Leslie Plays Nice. She seems to live in Emily Post’s world of etiquette. She will not describe a dish in more downbeat terms than “a tad dry” or label an environment as anything worse than “somewhat uncomfortable.” Afterwards, she hastily writes about what was delicious or fun or hip about the experience, so as to balance out the negative vibes. Leslie is fond of adjectives; you’ll find “lavishly lush fondue” and a "funky marsh of a wild mushroom risotto” in Leslie’s world.

Perhaps, knowing all too keenly the dearth of skilled food preparation in Marin County, she writes in hopes that more encouragement will fertilize this sparsely-populated soil.

Sadly, I am not so sunshiny as dear Leslie. Her recent review of Matsuyama in Novato made me dig my fingernails into my palms. B and I drove by there a few times after we moved to Novato, debating whether to stop or drive 30 miles into the city to sit at sushi counters that we knew and loved. We opted to drive, until one very cold night when we decided to pull over and give it a try.

We walked in to a square room divided by rice paper partitions. The person who greeted us suggested that we sit anywhere we liked. We chose one of the faux-wood-grain-formica-topped tables and sat down, eyeing each other nervously.

The menu was replete with the usual rolls – California, Dragon, Rainbow - and udon noodles in various broths. We settled on two soups, a tempura sampler and a nigiri plate, a world away from what we would normally order, with the hopes that we could gain a sense of what the kitchen had to offer.

Alas. Alack. The sushi was cold and tasteless, indiscriminate lumps of fish slumped over cold knobs of rice. The soups were thin and insubstantial. The tempura was the best dish, but even that was unremarkable. The floor around us was littered with stray paper chopstick wrappers and the odd grain of rice; several tables sat empty, piled high with the detritus of the previous meal, while we dutifully tried to eat ours.

The man I love just might be the most ardent sushi eater I have ever met, but that night he flicked the pieces about on his plate. After three bites, he could not bring himself to eat more.

When our sweet waiter came back to check on us, he asked if we wanted anything boxed up. “No!” We both said, in unison, and then, apologetically: “I guess we’re not that hungry tonight. So sorry.”

Ah, Leslie. I know you must have a mandate to Promote The Few Good Places Up Here, and for that I salute you. I just won’t go to any of the places you recommend. Alas.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Tagged by the 'ho

The fabulous Joy tagged me for this meme, and since it has been a while (ahem!) since my last post, I'll do what I can to bore you silly with meaningless details from my life.

Four Jobs I've Held:

* Strawberry picker. What can I say? I was twelve years old. My knees still hurt.
* Checker at Food 4 Less. I was in college, trying to make a little extra money. I lasted all of 2 weeks. When I quit, the manager said: "But you were our fastest checker! We were going to give you a raise!" I didn't walk out; I ran. I still have a horror of large, overly bright grocery stores.
* Research assistant. Post-college, the follow-up to my senior thesis. Think lab coats and pipettes and cute pre-meds running around. Why did I leave that one? I'm still wondering.
* Restaurant manager. Have I mentioned that I recently gave this up? I'm still taking care of the wine list, and my feet still hurt.

Four Films I Could Watch Over and Over:

* Breakfast At Tiffany's. Here's to the joy of doing something you've never done before!
* Much Ado About Nothing. Sigh no more, ladies. Sigh no more.
* Shawshank Redemption. That Morgan Freeman: he's good people.
* Fargo. The accents, the plot, the wood chipper. Ya know what I mean, then?

Four Places I Have Lived:

I'm afraid I haven't lived anywhere terribly exotic. Like now. Is this a pattern? Am I stuck? Why did my therapist have to go on vacation?

Four TV Series I Like:

I watch so little TV that I honestly couldn't think of four. So here are three:

* Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I cry my head off during every single show. It's my way of expressing the emotion that I too often keep bottled up inside. Those sick/bereft/courageous people need help! Look, Ty is coming to the rescue! He's so handsome! Ooh, he made that little girl a princess room! Her bed has a crown on top! *Sob*
* Grey's Anatomy. Once upon a time, I was going to be a doctor. Now, for one hour a week, I pretend that I'm dressed in scrubs and leaning over a operating table next to Patrick Dempsey. That's almost the same, isn't it?
* The Amazing Race. Joy and I have this one in common. The show last season didn't do much for me, mainly because they didn't choose my sisters and I to be one of the teams, plus the challenges were h-o-k-e-y. But one of my friends is in the upcoming season! Go, Tyler!

Four Places I’ve Been on Vacation:

* Paris. What can be said about Paris that has not been said already?
* The Burgundy region of France, in which I ate the most wonderful food of my life.
* Rome. The Sistine Chapel made me cry. We had maybe the best guide ever, and she brought the whole place to life with her stories.
* The Sonoma Mission Inn, just last week, which is all of 27 minutes from my home. I couldn't pull myself out of the bathwater-warm Watsu pool. There's music under the water! Music! Under! The water!

Four Foods I Love:

* Roasted Chicken, hot and crackly from the oven, preferably ripped apart with my bare hands and devoured while standing up.
* A huge scoop of 2% Greek yogurt drizzled with wild honey and toasted pine nuts.
* Tomatoes picked off of the vine and eaten while standing by the plant, salt shaker in hand.
* Michael Rechutti's Rose Caramels. Oh! I want one right NOW.

Four isn't nearly enough.

Four Websites I Visit Daily

* The New York Times. I'm not a fan of their premium content model, but they have a roster of damn good writers.
* Even though I don't like the new design, I love their gutsy-ness.
* Maud Newton. 'Cause the only thing better than reading a book is reading about books.
* French Word-A-Day. If I'm going to live there some day, I'm going to have to be able to speak the language!

Four Places I’d Rather Be Right Now:

* In Paris
* At the ballet
* With my sweetheart
* In a beautiful dress