Shakshuka!

What to do with a gift of canned tomatoes

My husband’s uncle gave us three beautiful jars of tomatoes from his friend’s farm, Happy Boy in the Santa Cruz area. I knew immediately what I would use them for. But I had to let them sit on our counter for a week or two at least so we could enjoy how picturesque they looked all lined up in a row.

Preserved tomates

I first discovered Shakshuka by accident, and it was long enough ago that I don’t remember all the details. As I recall, a friend posted a recipe on her blog about poached eggs in tomato sauce served on toast. This was a completely new concept to me, and it looked like a dream dinner. From there I was compelled to research further into poached eggs in tomato sauce and found Smitten Kitchen’s write up on on the Israeli dish Shakshuka.

Shaksuka recipe ingredients

Although the recipe is simple enough, in all that time since discovering it, I had yet to try it. I’m a slow chopper, so this took me a little while to prepare, but if you’re less fastidious than I am, it’s a quick meal to make.

Ingredients
Tomatoes
Onion
Chile peppers
Garlic
Parsley
Cumin
Paprika – I used plain but I will try it with smoked next time
Olive oil
Salt (which I forgot to add and didn’t even miss)
Eggs
Feta cheese

Preserved tomates Shakshuka recipe

One of my favorite steps was mashing up the whole tomatoes with my hands. I love every chance to get tactile with my food. The recipe called for whole, peeled tomatoes, but the ones I inherited had the skins on and were just fine that way. The recipe also called for two 28-ounce cans with the liquid, and I had three 24-ounce jars. I used the tomatoes from all three jars and the liquid from two and it worked out great. I think it’s a very forgiving dish as far as adjusting quantities and proportions.

Shakshuka recipe

Once I had everything prepped, it was a matter of sautéing it until softened. It was only the two spices, but they’re so aromatic it made the kitchen smell amazing. I used three Serrano chiles, measuring the quantity by eyeball to keep the flavors proportionate. They weren’t particularly spicy, so I might throw a jalapeno in next time for a little more heat.

Shakshuka recipe saute

Then I dumped in the mashed up tomatoes and liquid and let simmer until it had a more stew-like consistency. There’s a restaurant in Palo Alto called Oren’s Hummus Shop that I LOVE, and they have Shakshuka on the menu. I’ve only been there twice and haven’t tried it yet, but I would like to now to see how mine compares, especially knowing how well they do everything else.

Shakshuka recipe poached eggs

I cracked the eggs in a small ramekin then carefully poured them into the dish to keep them as whole as possible. The Shakshuka was pretty think with onion, pepers, and tomatoes, so I spooned some of the sauce liquid on top of the eggs once they were mostly set so that they were evenly cooked. I made sure to dish up the meal while the yolks were barely medium since they continue to cook in the hot sauce.

Shakshuka!

I added a sprinkle of parsley and feta and served with pan-fried polenta on the side. I was sure it would be bland with so few ingredients, but this simple dish surprised us! It had so much flavor. There was enough left over for lunch the next day, and even without the eggs it was still delicious and satisfying. Whether you’re lucky enough to get local preserved tomatoes or you buy them canned at the store, this dish makes for a fabulous dinner.

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Monte Rio Supper Club Makes its Debut

Pop-ups are all the rage these days. If you don’t know what a pop-up is, let me catch you up. It’s a restaurant that isn’t a restaurant. It’s a dining experience where you least expect it. It’s a bit of spontaneous adventure added to your mealtime. And the pop-up has come to our little corner of the world via the Monte Rio Supper Club.

Monte Rio Supper ClubWe had been to a previous Supper Club incarnation in Camp Meeker a couple years back, but a new flier posted at the stop sign in Occidental caught my attention on my drive home on March 25. Dinner happened to be that night. We abandoned whatever we had been planning on eating and drove over to the Community Center for our first Monte Rio pop-up dinner. The main room was packed with diners at long communal tables. A soundless movie played on a screen hanging on the far wall. A couple of guys played music up front under the screen. I found out later they were Brothers Gadjo (members of Dgiin – if you’re local, you’ve surely heard of Dgiin).

Monte Rio Community CenterThe best part, of course, was the food. The evening featured food from Hi Five, a real life pop-up in Guerneville. That means that Pat’s Diner, iconic greasy spoon breakfast and lunch spot on the main drag, transforms into a Korean/American diner by night. It would be a separate blog post to describe the Hi Five experience properly, but you can read what it’s all about from this owner David Blomster himself in this Bite Club Eats post.

Hi Five in Guerneville

Chef Eugene Birdsall was plating up food behind the counter when we first entered the Community Center. Even though he was serving a huge roomful of people, it felt like we were walking into someone’s home for dinner. We paid our $15 each, grabbed our heaping plates, and joined the crowd in the dining room.

Hi Five Korean Fried CrackThe fixed menu was what Hi Five calls Koren Fried Crack (the other KFC), kimchi daikon slaw, tofu kimchi stew, and rice. Plus a root beer float for dessert. The chicken is all the goodness of crispy fried chicken with the sweet and spicy of a soy ginger glaze coating it. And it came with THREE pieces of chicken! For $15 I had dinner, dessert, and lunch the next day. Awesome.

Sadly, we missed the April 15 Supper Club with Jambalaya by Trip Fuchs, but this Wednesday, May 15, we can try again – and you should check it out too! The organizers are posting signs around town regularly now, so there’s no excuse for any local River folks to miss it. Dinner is going to be served by Gabe Nahas of Awful Falafel. Come on over to the Monte Rio Community Center between 6-9 for good food, good music, and good people.

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A Former Vegetarian Goes to Meat Heaven

It’s true. For about five years, mostly teenaged ones, I chose not to eat any meat. No chicken. No fish. No pork. At around age 20, I wondered why it was that I wasn’t eating meat, and I started up again with poultry and fish. Then bacon. Bacon is always the gateway. And even though I soon removed the ban on any item of food – I’m now open to try anything, including the tire-rubber delicacy of sea cucumber in Japan and Verona’s regional specialty of stewed horse meat – I don’t do red meat all that often. But that’s not to say I don’t appreciate it.

Franklin Barbecue

As you may have read in my Austin wrap-up report, I was first introduced to Franklin Barbecue via an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. The story of this place was interesting, but the way the fatty brisket pulled apart between greasy fingers in what I remember as a slow-motion close up mandated that I try that meat. The trick about it is getting there before they run out for the day. This place opens up at 11a and serves until they’re sold out, which has happened every day since they’ve opened. Every. Single. Day.

Franklin Barbecue hours

Our first attempt on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was a fail, arriving nearly two hours before opening, which was far too late with a crowd intent on purchasing large quantities of meat for the holiday. We planned more carefully on Saturday, arriving just after 8a – and we still weren’t the first in line. There were maybe a dozen folks in front of us.

Franklin Barbecue early morning

It may sound absurd to wait for three hours for a restaurant to open, and maybe it is, but I needed to find out if this barbecue was really worth the wait people committed to again and again each day. And if it was only hype, well, at least it would be an experience. Hubby held our spot so I had a chance to wander around and check out where the magic happens – the smokers, housed in old metal trailers with piles of chopped wood lining the fence. I chatted with one of the guys loading wood, and he said they would probably serve about 500 pounds of meat that day. 500 pounds!

Smokers at Franklin Barbecue

Later research turned up the following facts on Aaron Franklin’s smoking methodology. He smokes his brisket, apparently only rubbed with salt and pepper, at a low temperature (250-270 degrees) for 18 hours. Talk about waiting for lunch. He uses post oak wood and beef from Montana that’s been raised humanely without hormones or antibiotics. Want to try yourself? Check out this article in Texas Monthly where Franklin shares some of his secrets. You might think barbecue commanding crowds like this might require some fancy equipment, but his smokers are pure Texas.

Close up of smokers at Franklin Barbecue

Fire in the smoker at Franklin Barbecue

As the story goes, Aaron was bit by the bug back when his parents owned a barbecue stand in Bryan, Texas. He worked for John Mueller for a stint, another barbecue legend (NYT, June 2011) , but it was his own experimentation that led to the unique pit style that instantly caught the attention of food bloggers and media when he started serving from a food truck in a vacant lot in December 2009. Less than two years later, he and his wife, Stacy, expanded to a brick-and-mortar location, only months after that earning the title of Best Barbecue Restaurant in America from Bon Appetit magazine (July 2011).

View of the line from the deck at Franklin Barbecue

The success I read about was clearly still on the rise. Every twenty minutes I would step out of line to marvel at how much it had grown in that short time. With well more than an hour still to go until opening, the line was around the building to the end of the block. Hospitality factored hugely into the waiting experience, leaving customers with the sense that their patronage was highly appreciated. Restrooms in the restaurant were made available, and staff came around a couple times selling soda and beer. This is how long the line was just before opening:

Line at Franklin Barbecue just before opening

The ridiculous thing about the length of the line was the fact that the last 25% of it was unlikely to even get brisket or ribs. And most of them knew it but stayed, probably in the hope they would at least get some turkey or sausage. A staff had come down the line asking each party what they planned to order and how much. From that she was able to judge about how far down the line they would be able to serve with what they had on hand. Once that limit was reached, this sign was handed out:

Last Man Standing at Franklin Barbecue

And even once that was announced, there were still this many people in line after that woman:

Line after the Last Man Standing at Franklin Barbecue

Finally, it was 11 o’clock. I have to say, it didn’t feel that long. Maybe it was the collective excitement in the air, like when you’re in line for a concert or a ride at Disneyland. Or maybe the absurdity of it all was entertaining enough in itself to pass the time. Either way, when the doors opened it felt like we were about to win an award. Even though there weren’t that many people in line before us, it moved slowly. A large group ordered a huge amount of food, and it was all cut to order with the same patience and precision as it had been cooked with. We knew what we wanted, but we studied the menu on the wall where we waited.

Menu on the wall at Franklin Barbecue

We admired the down-home ambiance and not overly kitchy décor. The shelves of logo merchandise at the door suckered us into an impulse buy of matching tshirts in different colors. I spotted Aaron Franklin himself at the counter talking with people as they ordered, casual in a tshirt and shorts like any one of us. He’s the one in the green shirt and glasses.

Aaron Franklin at the counter

We couldn’t help but notice that the guy in front of us was sporting a shirt from Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa, so I had to get over my stranger danger and talk to him. Turns out they were from Emeryville, but love to come up to Sonoma County for the great brews. Small world!

Pliny the Elder shirt in Austin

When we were only a couple people away from ordering, within reach of the counter, the guy with the brisket sliced off an end, chopped it to bite sizes, and put in on the counter for us to try. I knew we were in trouble right away. The quantity we planned to order basically doubled.

Whole brisket getting sliced up at Franklin Barbecue

I can’t even explain it. The usual words won’t suffice to describe the tender texture, the rich flavor, the chemical reaction doing somersaults in my brain. I experienced the same emotional response I have when eating the most bitter and delicious dark chocolate. Except this was meat. Meat!

Close up of sliced brisket at Franklin Barbecue

We knew Franklin’s was famous for the brisket, but it wouldn’t be fair to judge it based on one meat alone. So we got a little bit of everything. We would be meeting up with friends later, which meant ordering extra could be leftovers to share instead of simply decadent overindulgence. Everything included sausage, turkey, ribs, potato salad, coleslaw, and beans. And white bread. It seems sliced white bread comes with everything in Texas. It was nearly noon when we sat down, and the perfect final touch to the meal was a cold pint of beer.

Full plate of meats at Franklin Barbecue

The food was fantastic. There was nothing I didn’t like, but the brisket by far outshined everything else. I was ashamed at how much food was still on our plate once we started to get full. But even more I was sad to not be able to continue riding the climatic high of satiation achieved with those first bites. No matter because the memory of it is so powerful I am still enjoying that lunch now. Best of all, Aaron Franklin came by our table to check in and I got to tell him just how much I loved the food he had worked so hard to perfect. Thank you for this once-in-a-lifetime food experience!

Me and Aaron Franklin

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Our Austin Food Adventures

If you ever wonder what Food as an Experience looks like, wonder no further than Austin, TX. As the Live Music Capital of the World, the density of musical talent has created a magnetic force field around the city, attracting creative types in any and all mediums, and food is no exception. But they’re adding an ingredient uniquely Austin to the plate on that front. Driving through the hip parts of town, it’s clear the Keep Austin Weird motto is a principle to live by at all costs. Eclectic, homegrown originality thrusts itself at you until this homogenous stream of weird becomes normal.

Maria Loco greets you outside Taco Xpress.

Maria Loco greets you outside Taco Xpress.

The week of Thanksgiving found us in Austin to visit a friend. Now, we have been known to plan our vacations around our meals, making sure to find and experience the top-rated locales in an area. But with the focus on spending time with our friend and a strict budget guiding our activities, for once I did not do all our dining-out research and itinerary planning in advance. We agreed to surrender the dining reigns to our host. After all, she’d lived there awhile, knew we loved good food, and wanted to take us to her favorite spots. Once there, however, the foodie siren call was nearly impossible to resist. We could not help influence at least a little of what we would eat for the next six days.

IMG_4156

As with food scenes everywhere, there are the professional culinary experiences, sure to cause some pain in the wallet but guaranteed to wow the palette, and there are the budget-friendly hot spots whose popularity mushrooms virally for a variety of reasons. The latter were the focus of our outings, and I noticed quickly that the quality of the food wasn’t always the primary ingredient to a venue’s success. A long native-Austin history, unique ambiance or an excess of decor, or simply a new approach to old standards all contributed to word-of-mouth frenzy. And though we didn’t get a chance to fully explore the city’s lauded world of food trucks, it was clear they were the center of a true foodie orbit. Sign at Taco Xpress, Austin, TX

We landed on Sunday evening, and our friend already had a suggestion for a quick and inexpensive dinner on the way to her house. We stopped at Torchy’s Tacos, a joint that started out in a food trailer and gained such popularity it now has multiple brick-and-mortar restaurants in Austin, Dallas, and Houston. It’s a regular ol’ story of entrepreneurial spirit, and founder Michael Rypka’s experimental creativity is really what put him on the map. Wanting to taste as many combinations as possible, I ordered four tacos and shared each one with my husband. We had the Migas, eggs and chiles; the Trailer Park, fried chicken and chiles; the Democrat, shredded beef barbacoa and avocado; and the Crossroads, smoked beef brisket with grilled onions and jalapenos. It was tough not to throw in a Fried Avocado taco also, but they’re good sized and four to share was plenty, along with chips and green chile queso, of course. My favorite was the Democrat. I don’t know what barbacoa is, but damn that beef was juicy and flavorful.

Franklin Barbecue, Austin, TX

Vacation truly began with sleeping in late on Monday. Without TV at home, I was excited to have access to the Food Network and other food-related entertainment, and our friend started us off with the recorded episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations during SXSW, featuring some of the most mouth-watering barbecue imaginable, including Franklin Barbecue where people stand in line for hours – literally two to three hours –  for a chance to eat ridiculously tender, juicy brisket. Who stands in line for hours for a meal? People on vacation, that’s who. We immediately started calculating what morning we had available to go to Franklin. (Let me not forget to mention that Franklin started out in a food truck!)

Barbecue at The Salt Lick

Meat on! The Salt Lick BBQ tempts you right as you enter.

Instantly, the theme of the trip had been set, and we needed a barbecue fix right away. We eased our way into it with a visit to The Salt Lick for a sampler platter of ribs, turkey, sausage, and brisket. Though it was better than any barbecue I’ve had anywhere at home, our expectations had been set by the image of that falling-apart brisket, and it wasn’t quite up to standard. However,  the quaint ambiance was highly reminiscent of Big Thunder Ranch at Disneyland with a full outdoor seating area and stage for music. Interestingly, they also had some grape vines and a tasting room for their own wines!

Sign at The Salt Lick

Tuesday we laid low most of the day, concluding with a movie at an Austin landmark – the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Every theater should be run this way. You can reserve your exact seat when you buy your tickets online. They offer a full bar and food service throughout the movie. The popcorn is served with real butter (the best I’ve ever had!). And they will kick you out if anyone complains you are talking or texting. Seriously. How can you ever go to another theater after that? I most definitely took advantage of the full bar and loved the Moscow Mule: vodka, lime juice, and Maine Root Ginger Brew – spicy enough to linger after each sip.

The Alamo Drafthouse, Austin, Tx

When we got back to the house, I was craving something sweet. A little late-night project in the kitchen sounded fun, so I searched my go-to trusted recipe source, smittenkitchen.com, for something with either blueberries or strawberries, since that’s what we had on hand. I found a strawberry cake requiring very little of anything special and got right to it. The only glitch was the hour it took to bake. It was 1 am when I finally pulled it from the oven. It smelled like a bit of summer in November, so even though I was tired, I had to wait for it to cool to try it before going to bed. Those warm, fresh bites were so worth it.

Strawberry Cake

Wednesday was our attempt at Franklin Barbecue. I had read on Chowhound that the unofficial cutoff to be in line and get food before they ran out was 10a (they open at 11a). We had planned to get there by 9:15, just to be safe, but we didn’t get there until 9:45, and we hadn’t accounted for the pre-Thanksgiving crowd. I went over to check out the smokers and talked to a guy loading firewood. He said today was definitely a longer line earlier than usual for a Wednesday, and they had been getting pre-orders for entire briskets. They expected to sell 500 pounds of cooked meat that day. Back in line, there was a girl going down the row taking orders. About five people in front of us, she handed a guy a hand-scrawled sign saying, “Last man standing.” The people in line after him were not guaranteed that there would be any food left for them when they got the to front of the line, and it was certain they would not get any brisket or ribs. Saturday would be our second and only chance for the Best Barbecue in America (Bon Appetit July 2011).

Loading wood into the smoker at Franklin Barbecue, Austin, TX

Line at Franklin Barbecue, Austin, TX

We’re at the back of this still growing line.

After our Franklin failure, we were hungry. Our friend suggested breakfast tacos, one of my favorites to make at home, and apparently a common staple of the Tex-Mex menu. We went to the kitschy Loca Maria Taco Xpress, where my camera came away more satisfied with what it took in than my belly did. The decor and atmosphere definitely capture the artsy, quirky mood typical of so many restaurants there, but my burnt egg scramble covered in the orange cheese that melted into pools of grease didn’t live up to the hype. I can’t say if other menu items might fare better, and they very well might based on the salsas available. There were a couple standard ones, but the roasted tomato salsa had a unique and complex flavor, and one other heated me up from the inside out while still titillating the taste buds.

Maria Loco Taco Xpress, Austin, TX

Not wanting to spend all of Thanksgiving day in the kitchen (what?! why not???), our friend had ordered a smoked turkey from her favorite barbecue place, Rudy’s. We went to pick it up that afternoon, along with a little one-pound-of-brisket snack. Politely, we did not rip into it in the car, though the rich, smoky smell was a cruel tease. Back at the house, we opened the butcher paper on the eating bar, and it made it no further. We hovered over it, picking with our fingers at beef so tender it broke apart when you tried to grasp it. My mind was blown. I could not tear myself away long enough to even take a photo. Sorry. I’d never eaten meat so tender, certainly not brisket. The edge bites were crusted heavily in pepper and melted in your mouth with dazzling flavor. How on earth could there be brisket better than this? We would have to commit to the wait at Franklin to know for sure.

Mozzarella, tomato, basil caprese bites

Even though our host did not want to spend Thursday in the kitchen, I couldn’t imagine what else I would do. Watch football? Please. So I volunteered to make a few dishes: deviled eggs, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese, green beans with pancetta and sage, and stuffing (or dressing as technically proper since it wasn’t going inside the turkey prepared for us by Rudy’s). And somehow, I can’t imagine why, I gradually found myself more and more responsible for the other parts of the meal. Like making the caprese bites and the cheese and salami plate, investigating whether the Sweet Potato Casserole delivered from Casserole Queens needed to be thawed, looking into how long the turkey needed to heat up, figuring out what else required the oven (two lasagnas brought by a guest, the stuffing, the casserole, and crescent rolls), calculating coordination of all these times and varying temperatures, and getting the little details like cranberry, rolls, and gravy on the table. Oy vay. And I didn’t really realize I was taking the lead until the day was already half over. I decided to scrap the green bean dish.

Blue-cheese filled dates
Bacon-wrapped blue cheese-filled dates

Baked bacon-wrapped dates

The appetizers were a piece of cake, having done the eggs the night before, the dates requiring very little work, and hubby helping with the caprese and cheese plate. The stuffing – bacon and mushroom from Epicurious.com – was a little more involved, and the arrival of guests introduced more action to the small kitchen dance I was choreographing. After about five hours, I finally enlisted further support so I could take a break. The last hour of preparation pulled it all together as you might hope from a houseful of friends and strangers sharing this precious meal, and we feasted.

Thanksgiving dinner

Friday we slept in late again. It was glorious, and our last good sleep before an early-wake up for Franklin Barbecue on Saturday and a 6:45a flight on Sunday. It was after noon by the time we finally pulled up to Hill’s Cafe for our first meal of the day. It’s been around since 1947, and it looks like the walls have been collecting since then. Some of the booths are named after famous locals, adorned with their image, and I imagine it is where they sit when they come. What kind of food? Comfort food. Sandwiches, burgers, sides. The must-try dish was an appetizer called Mexican Boneless Wings. It’s chicken breast nuggets wrapped with a serrano pepper and bacon then drenched in hot sauce. Pretty damn good, and I even went so far as to dip it in ranch. Hubby and I shared a club sandwich with chicken breast, ham, and bacon. It was pretty tasty, but my body was seriously screaming for vegetables. I added a side salad, but it was such a sad plate of brown, soggy lettuce I could really only pick off the cucumbers and tomatoes. Friday night dinner was Thanksgiving leftovers, of course, and just what you would hope of leftovers.

Backyard at Hill's Cafe

Out back at Hill’s Cafe

Saturday morning the alarm went off at 7a. I rolled over, still full from every previous day, and wondered if it was better to get a few more hours vacation sleep or go sit on cold concrete for three hours for the best smoked meat I might ever eat. Hmmmm. Tough one. Tuesday morning we were a lot more gung ho for this adventure. But we had committed. Our friend agreed to get up early to drive us there. We’d been talking about it all week. And the mystery of how good it really was remained. So I got up and took a shower, still unsure of whether I would just go back to bed after that. But my partner in adventure got up too, so I knew were were doing it. I will save that savory story for another post, since I’ve already strained your eyes enough here. Stay tuned!

The Salt Lick vegetable section of the menu

Here’s Texas barbecue’s idea of what a vegetable is.

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More mouths means more fun

Cooking Christmas dinner for 11 with my sister

The whole reason I wanted to start this blog in the first place was to share what food and cooking means to me.  The story behind every meal contains so much more than the ingredients and the process. It hints at the complexity of relationships, emotions and personal histories. When my sister Malia and I started talking about plans for Christmas as early as summer, it was because this king of meals is the pinnacle of the relationship between family and food for us. Just to clarify, I am talking about LAST Christmas dinner, which I realize is old news. But I really do believe in “better late than never,” and with the holidays here again already, now is the perfect time to reflect back on those meals and memories.

Me with brother Sammy (don't worry, it was just a seasonal moustache) and sister Malia

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Let’s try this again…My Year in Review

I started this blog a  year ago with so much gusto and momentum, a wealth of culinary adventures ahead of me, a sense of purpose, and a firm resolve to make something of it all. It began so well with regular posts those first couple of months. I was beside myself as I sought content, aka amazing food, to fuel the blog, and it presented itself in abundance.

Champagne and cheese every night...

And then life happened. I continued the quest for edible experiences, photographing all the way. But now here I am 12 months later with more dining and cooking episodes patiently trapped in my memory than actually freed onto this site. And really, everything that was left out is the cream of the crop. The really juicy stuff I wanted to spend a lot of time on to do it proper justice.

I'm really sorry you don't know about our extraordinary dining in Italy in May. This is a real candle at a restaurant we ate at!

To hell with all that. I’m no fan of New Year’s resolutions, and let’s face it, it’s August. Nevertheless, I’d really like today to renew my vow to share my indulgences and experiments and start with a clear slate. The only way I see to do that right is to catch up. And the only way I can realistically do that is to reject all notions of perfection and thoroughness. So, in the spirit of short cuts, I present a solution: To create a structure of accountability, I will list below all the joyous meals you missed out on due to my lazy selfishness. In this way, expectations and anticipation will inevitably develop, and motivation attributed to guilt at letting devoted readers down will spur me to action. I will then commit to writing disjointed, likely inaccurate snippets of my memories. Rest assured, there will be photos to rely on for an attempt at faithfulness to the true experience. Continue reading

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Potato salad for the masses

After my initial success with Harriet’s potato salad recipe, I was feeling confident. Maybe a little too confident. I decided to go big. I committed myself to making potato salad for a 4th of July BBQ expecting about 30 guests.

Here's how my brain works: "Fourteen potatoes should be good for 30 portions of potato salad..."

The first small batch I had made served four good-sized portions, so I figured it would be as simple as multiplying those quantities by seven. Sure, increasing a recipe seven-fold is no big deal.

Seven-times eggs, celery, parsley...doesn't look so intimidating.

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Harriet’s potato salad

Now that it is finally BBQ weather, I am craving potato salad. It’s that side dish that can either capture your heart or leave you full yet unsatisfied. I have not found a store-bought potato salad that gets the job done, so this weekend I knew the only option was to finally make my first homemade potato salad. I turned to my husband and asked, “What do you like in your potato salad?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Simple. Call Harriet and get her recipe. Her potato salad is my favorite kind.” Harriet is one of our neighbors with a vacation home here on the Russian River. She and her son Dave and his wife Nicole spend a great deal of time in Vacation Wonderland, no matter whether it’s winter or summer. We’ve been to their house for a Memorial Day barbecue the past two years, and each time my husband was left with an impression of Harriet’s potato salad.

So I called her. And he was right. Simple.

Quick and simple potato salad

It’s one of those real recipes that lives in her head without precise measurement or documented procedure. True to form, I took her rough guidelines and went on instinct. Continue reading

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