Breakaway Cook

Hot Salad of Long Bean, Carrot, Habanero, and Tofu

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I was editing some of the photos I took during our recent swap in Mendocino, including one of a portly looking breakaway cook in a hot tub, so I decided to have a big bowl of vegetables for lunch.  I don’t think I’ve spent a single minute of my life thinking about how to lose weight, but that question is now residing quite squarely in the center of  my frontal cortex.  I’m inclined not to worry too much though, and figure I’ll just up my veg consumption to even more prodigious quantities and drag my ass out the door and up the lovely Mt. Baldy trail quasidaily. (This is the second time I’ve lived at the foot of a Mt. Baldy — the first was in Claremont, about an hour east of Los Angeles).

And thus was born today’s hot salad, made by peeling then slicing a large carrot lengthwise and then into long thin half moon, and sauteing it with

  • a handful of long beans
  • some spring onions and green garlic
  • a few batons of ginger
  • a whole habanero, seeds and veins removed, cut into large chunks
  • a few tablespoons of very soft tofu
  • some green fruity olive oil

There’s something about the fire of a hab on a hot day, counterintuitive though that may sound; it seems to open up the pores and, oddly, let heat escape. Try it sometime! The soft tofu dampens the heat quite a bit, and acts as a loose binder for everything else. With a big glass of bubbly water with plenty of Sicilian lemon in it.  Which reminds me: an update on my adventures in bubbly water should be forthcoming soon; I’ve changed my thinking on it.

A satisfying lunch on lots of levels.

Would love to hear your all-time favorite quickie lunches. And, just possibly, can’t-fail methods of losing weight. Besides, you know, eating less.

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Fennel, Green Garlic, and Gojiberry

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With my obsession with garlic confit, each year I forget that garlic is available, for just a few weeks, in its young, green, adolescent form. I was jolted out of my somnambulance, as I often am, by my box from Mariquita Farms, which was teeming with a gigantic bunch of green garlic. The smell of green garlic is unlike anything else, including very fresh garlic cloves; if anyone has ever had the pleasure of sticking one’s face near the soil of garlic plants, it’s kind of like that. Earthy, grassy, slightly garlicy, yet sugary; wildly enticing, in other words, at least to this olfactory processing unit!

Also in the box were three beautiful baby fennel bulbs. Sometimes my method of getting through my Mariquita box includes using up whatever is most voluminous, so that I can actually see what else is in my fridge. So my worms got most of the fennel fronds and branches, and we got an incredible tasty side dish of sauteed green garlic, fennel, and gojiberry.

It was just a matter of slicing the fennel (the bulbs were so young and tender that the entire thing was consumed; usually, I slice around the rather-tough stem and discard it, but this stem was very good), slicing the green garlic (the only prep is peeling back a layer or two of the outside covering, and trimming off the root end and the too-fibrous top), and tossing in a handful of gojiberries. Why gojiberries? For texture, taste, and color: I like the chewiness of them, in contrast with the snap-crunch of the fennel, I like their raisiny taste, and I love their bright red color, which contrasts nicely with green). A drizzle of green olive oil,  some tangerine salt, and a light dusting of chopped chives were e only other things happening.

Green garlic lovers: please give us your favorite ways to use it!

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On Recharging One's Batteries, House-Swapping, and Oysters

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Nothing like a little ocean air and long walks with a hyperfriendly dog to rest the soul and recharge. We spent a long weekend in Mendocino, house-swapping with our friend Rod, and had a blast. What is it about getting away from the home base and decompressing? I read two books (including Jonah Lehrer’s magnificent How We Decide), got caught up with my New Yorkers, cooked some simple meals, drank a bunch of wine, and soaked in a hot tub. Total heaven.

House-swapping is such a wonderful thing; I’ve probably done at least 20 of them without a single problem arising. It’s so great: you show up in some great locale in someone’s home, which is almost always a hundred times better than a hotel. I like finding homes with pets that need care, because OUR house comes with cats! You can even find people, like Rod, who are keen on repeat swaps, especially when things go as swimmingly as they always do with us. The only money we spent was for food, which we’d spend anyway, and gas to get there. All of the benefits of having a second home somewhere, and none of the hassles/expenses/liabilities. If anyone reading this would like to know more or has a specific question about house swapping, shoot me an email. We’re doing another one — in Amsterdam! — in a month or so. I’m especially interested in hearing from people familiar with Amsterdam — must-sees, restaurants, food-related stuff.

We also recently visited the Drakes Bay Oyster Co, where I caught the drillers doing their thing. The oysters grow in these big clusters, which are broken apart by dudes with pneumatic drills and sent up the assembly line for sorting (into small, medium, and large).  Clusters are formed individually, by hand, by the workers,  by setting oyster larvae on shells saved from the shucking and packing operations. These “inoculated” shells containing the oyster spat (baby oysters) are then strung together on wires and suspended in the pristine and nutrient-rich waters of Drakes Estero, inside Point Reyes. Most oyster farms just chuck them on the bottom; fewer than five percent use this Japanese-inspired “string” method.  They were exceedingly tasty! Owner Kevin Lunny, whom I’ve written about before,  once told me  his oysters came out on top in a blind tasting of more than 100 different producers. I believe him! It’s like eating the essence of ocean nutrients. Favorite topping: a simple mignonette made with very finely diced shallots that have been soaked in ice water, freshly toasted and ground black peppercorns, and pomegranate vinegar, though I also like a reduced citrus sauce (ginger syrup, orange/tangerine, meyer lemon).

There is much happening in my little world of breakaway cooking, but I’ll save that for another post. I will be requiring your sage collective advice!

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