fontas food

eating my way through suburbia

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Remember that old saw, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"

Practise! Practise! Practise!

Well, the Spawn has made her first trip to her own Carnegie Hall in the guise of a piece of her art on display at the Crocker Art Museum here in Sacramento.

Her pen and ink drawing:

has been included in a display of local students' art on the theme of "The Family Farm". This is in conjunction with "Remembering the Family Farm: 150 Years of American Prints".

(Note: I don't know how long the Crocker keeps their exhibit info online but that link should be good until the exhibit ends on November 9th.)

Monday, September 29, 2003

It's not just the weather that's cooler in Canada ... or so says a columunist in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Of course, since Canadians are always rather pleased with themselves when noticed by their neighbour, this has been making the rounds in the Canuck circles.

Who knows? maybe this is just another front in the Bright revolution.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

What kind of thinker are you? (or, as I first found, Was für eine Art Denker man ist? ... found while reading a German blog about Tighe's pup, Yankee.

According to the BBC, I am a Linguist Thinker and a Logical-Mathematical Thinker.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

The most useful website ever

Okay, maybe it just fills a niche market ...

(but still pretty cool, no matter how you slice it)

What would be a really cool website would be one that would teach me how to speak German. I've been brushing up on my German lately and I think I'm getting better in the written department. I realise though that, because I'm only corresponding in German, I have no idea how to pronounce the words!

So off I went to Yahoo to try to find out what is available. Lo and behold, if there isn't a category called Directory > Social Science > Linguistics and Human Languages > Languages > Specific Languages > German > Lessons and Tutorials Online. Cool!

The first listing is for a site called The default is to show the site in German but it is also available in English. The site includes German grammar lessons, exercises, orthography, and two (count 'em) online tests.

Obviously, I need to work on my German more ... I tested at 46%. Yikes!

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Last night, we hit "The Streets of London" for a pub-style dinner. The home-style food on the menu gave me flashbacks to my childhood: Scotch eggs, ploughman's dinner, bangers and mash, Cornish pasties, shepherd's pie. I ordered a pastie for dinner with mashed potatoes on the side. It was alright (my own pasties are better tasting) but at least they had brown sauce on the table!

I laughed while looking at the menu and commented to my friend that it was like a dinner from my childhood. She thought that funny because she'd never had any of the entrees before!

I'm still working with Dayton, getting him ready for the trip. We're doing the river walk two or three times a week and then an extended neighbourhood walk on the off days. The "dog walker" is taking the others for their walks too.

There was a great article in today's Bee about panzanella. It mentioned a tomato stand out in Diamond Springs--Tomary Tomatoes. It sounds like a great source for heirloom tomatoes so perhaps I'll try for a visit this coming weekend. Panzanella sounds like a good dish to try out too!

Who knows? Maybe a trip to Apple Hill is in order!

Monday, September 22, 2003

I had a wonderful food shopping experience yesterday ... a trip to a Certified Farmer's Market. This wasn't just any farmer's market; this was Sacramento's largest.

We've been going to the CFM near our house for several years but, other than a source for Bariani Olive Oil, it never seemed too exciting or too interesting to me. Last week, I read an article (or something) that discussed modern farming and (more importantly) the distribution of produce as a commodity. The article claimed that the modern North American has no idea what is "in season" insofar as produce is concerned because we are so far removed from the growing cycle.

I'm afraid I couldn't come up with any arguments against that!

Instead, I decided that I would see if there were any other farmer's markets in the area. I found that the major market is on Sunday mornings, downtown.

And so we went.

It was huge. We made one lap of it (picture me ogling all the stands and oohing and ahhing over the veggies) and then started over, this time with shopping in mind.

I bought an heirloom tomato (cannot remember the variety, although I definitely remember looking at the sign and thinking "Remember that!"), peppers, patty pan squashes, multi-coloured summer squashes, chard, herbs, eggplant (small green and white ones, not the usual purple ones). What a treat!

Tonight for dinner, I used some of the veggies. We had pappardelle with sauce Bolognese. I'd made the pappardelle on Friday and let it dry on the counter until tonight. Served with that was a salad made of the tomato, lemon cucumbers, and red bell peppers, dressed with a wee bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. I also steamed a couple of squashes to go along with that.

It was way too much food (we couldn't eat it all!) but very tasty.

And now I know what is in season right now.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Imagine my glee when, immediately after reading a great article in the NY Times on North Carolina's country ham, a fellow race enthusiast who lives in NC and who I happen to know will be in Ohio next month made a general offer of assistance. Sure, he meant in the face of Hurricane Isabel but, since that doesn't affect me one way or the other, I took the opportunity to ask him to bring me a country ham.

I've requested an uncooked, salt-cured ham and I plan on doing something with it for Thanksgiving. Today, I spent some time looking at various country ham websites.

Johnston Country Hams
is the ham producer mentioned in the NYT article. There's even a national country ham association!

I have read that country ham is not the easiest thing to cook so I will have to research things before I cook that pig part. I think Calvin Trillin and Jeffrey Steingarten have something to say about them!

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Today's topic is a natural follower of food ... well, a natural follower of dog food. I spent a fair bit of time yesterday reading up on composting pet waste and thought it might be of interest to any dog-lovers who happen upon this.

Some weeks ago, I installed a Doggie Dooley Pet Waste Digester. I've heard some good and some bad about these systems but I thought it was worth a shot. Temperatures here rarely drop below 40 F so I have hope that it will work year-round. So far, I keep shovelling the shit in and it doesn't seem to be filling up too much!

I'd found the Doggie Dooley on sale but my research yesterday showed that there are other affordable options out there as well.

* Pet-D-Posit In-Ground Waste Digester: this one seems to work on the same principle as the Doggie Dooley

Searching the Internet will turn up a lot of information on composting pet waste, which doesn't require any purchase at all!

* City Farmer
* King County
* Thurston County

All composting sites contain the same warning, so I'll repeat it here. Never use compost containing pet waste on vegetables or edible fruit-bearing trees.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

More bread success!

I gave the smaller loaf to neighbours as a means to preventing myself from eating an entire loaf. I found my self rationalising how I could eat the entire loaf but, luckily, stopped myself in time. I'm going to start more bread tomorrow but I will try using weights, rather than volume, to measure the ingredients. I'll also scale the recipe somewhat so that I can make two larger French loaves.

(And I will be prepared for temptation this time and put one of the loaves in the freezer.)

Can't wait to use that funky digital kitchen scale I bought!

I spent more time on conditioning for Dayton today. It's hard to believe that we'll be leaving in three weeks! Because the other dogs have seemed a little put out by being left at home while Dayton and I go for our long walks, I've hired a dog walker to take them all out for a shorter walk in the evenings. She didn't come cheap but she's handy!

I've got most of the trip planned out now. The itinerary was lengthened as G. wasn't sure about taking only four days to drive there. So now we're taking five. The benefits outweigh the added cost as, besides getting us to Beachwood in time for corned beef at Corky and Lenny's, we'll have shorter driving days and more time to walk dogs.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Perhaps I'm destined to make bread on days when the pollen count is astronomical. Another day of breadmaking and another day of allergy symptoms.

For today's bread, I followed the proper eGullet recipe and used more flour and less water. The dough is in its final fermentation right now and it is much more like bread dough than the batch from last week. I plan on dividing the dough into two and baking two loaves in a French bread pan. I'll shape them and retard them in the pan but will line it with a cloth so that I can top one of the loaves with porridge oats.

My first loaf is almost gone. I think I will soak the remainder in milk and feed it to the whippets tomorrow for their breakfast. Apparently, this is an old greyhound meal. We shall see!

As planned, we investigated the "semi-abandoned" horse track in Pleasant Grove. Alas, luck is not on our side. The track is a dirt one but with far too much gravel and stone in it to be suitable for the dogs. I am tempted to put someone on CalExpo's case though and see if we can't just run on the thoroughbred track! Come to think of it, they might be harness racing by the time we want to hold our meets; that would make for an even better racing surface for us.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Well, my first attempt at breadmaking succeeded in spite of me!

The loaf is far from perfect but it is far more flavourful than a commercial bread.

I lasted about ten minutes before I sliced it open, purportedly to check the crumb, but really so that I could taste it. Unlike commercial breads, it does not have an overly yeasty flavour. The crumb is moist and chewy but not dense and gummy as I'd feared it would be.

I'm a happy girl.

Tonight, while we still have light, W. and I will drive out to Pleasant Grove. We've heard there is a "semi-abandoned" horse track there. If at all possible, we'd like to investigate the possibility of hosting races there. What a bonus that would be ... to find an existing track in a rural area!

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Maybe it's a law of Nature that all first attempts at breadmaking are doomed to failure.

My starter is lovely. I refreshed it today, as per the course instructions. Everything is a-okay. Then it came time to make the dough. I dutifully followed the recipe given on the eGullet site. No problem.

Hmmmm. or is there a problem? The dough was very, very wet. I added more flour. Still wet. I added even more flour. Still wet. I don't know how much extra flour I added but it was a substantial amount. I'm sure I've ruined the dough.

I did find my mistake though. The recipe given above differs from the recipe given in the course materials. The former calls for 2.5 cups of flour and 1.5 cups of water while the latter calls for 3 cups of flour and 1 cup of water. Of course, I used the one with the extra water. Sigh.

I reckon I used just over 3 cups of flour to 1.5 cups of water; I'm pretty sure the dough is still too wet. Oh well, we'll see what too much water does to bread. I think it will make for a very heavy and possibly gummy crumb. If it's too terrible, I will just start over again as I do have lots of starter.

Between feeding the starter and starting my dough, I spent most of the day in bed. Another nasty headache laid me low today. I finally found some relief though -- from an antihistamine! There must be some allergen in the air. Tomorrow, I will take a Claritin when I get up and see if I can avoid getting a headache at all!

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

I have hope for the sourdough!

I checked on it periodically throughout the day yesterday, mindful not to emulate Steingarten's obsession too closely. It bubbled, I stirred. It bubbled more, I stirred some more. It didn't seem particularly "sour" to me until I got up this morning and found it had bubbled and foamed and soured while we had all been sleeping.

I've stirred it down once more and put it into a plastic container in the fridge. Tomorrow will bring lesson 1 from the eGullet Culinary Institute and I am ready!

Dayton's conditioning regimen began in earnest this morning. No more leisurely walks with the rest of the whippets for him. I've found that Streaka uses her bad leg as a handy excuse whenever she gets bored of the scenery. Not interested in walking down that street? Fine, start limping! Not enough squirrels on this walk? Great, go completely lame on one leg! Tighe would love to go on a longer walk and certainly wouldn't malinger at all but he does tend to slow things down with his competitive urination.

And so, Dayton and I left alone on a brisk 45 minute walk. I had planned out an extension to our usual route and Dayton was happy for the change in scenery.

Here's something I pondered during my walk ... what happened to the potato?

When I was a kid, I loved potatoes. They had a wonderful flavour and texture. Baked potatoes were made with russets or some other high starch potato and were fluffy and dry. Potato salad was made with new potatoes, had a slightly different flavour, and had a firm and waxy texture. The potatoes I buy today mostly taste like dirt.

This past summer, I'd bought some small, waxy potatoes at a farmer's market and, when coated with olive oil and sprinkled with freshly ground pepper and some kosher salt, roasted up to a wonderful treat. I had hope for potatoes again so I bought some "baking potatoes" at the grocery store. They were the mushy, dirt-flavoured potatoes that had turned me off for so many years.

On Monday evening, while at Whole Foods getting my sourdough supplies, some pretty darn good-looking potatoes caught my eye as I walked through the produce section. They were russets and had the characteristic netting pattern on the skin. Hmmmm. Could they be worth another try?

Last night, I baked nine of the potatoes: three for dinner and six for today's soup. They were everything I remember about potatoes ... fluffy, flavourful, and (best of all) tasting of potatoes and not dirt.

Before making tonight's soup, I will re-read John Thorne's essays on chowder. Knowing that I have good potatoes, I can read his words about using potato starch to thicken the pot with at least some hope of having life imitate art!

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Food has been my occupation today.

After reading about the upcoming sourdough bread lessons on eGullet, I decided this might be something I'd like to try. A trip to Whole Foods was in order!

I bought some organic unbleached flour (Bob's Red Mill) and, not trusting my starter to chance, some Goldrush Sourdough Starter. When I got home, I re-read Jeffrey Steingarten's essay "Primal Bread". Thank God I bought the starter packet because Steingarten scared the crap out of me!

Was I really ready for sourdough bread? A friend told me about her experiences with breadmaking; she was convinced that the temperature of the kitchen was crucial. I'd read Steingarten and he mentioned temperature several times. The instructions for the starter mentioned temperature. Hmmmm. I might be in trouble.

We always open the house up wide at night in the summer, taking advantage of every particle of cool air we can introduce into the house. There's no way our house would stay above 70 degrees overnight. As I was pondering this question, one of the dogs informed me that he needed to go out. On my way through the laundry room, the lightbulb came on. Yes, the laundry room is always warmer. Ahhhh. Temperature problem solved.

And so I've got a bowlful of flour, water, and sourdough starter resting comfortably in my laundry room. Like Steingarten, I've been in to check on it several times (even though it's only been there for an hour). The starter instructions say to leave it for 24 hours and so I will. Tomorrow it will be transferred to the fridge for 24 hours and then, on Thursday, the eGullet lessons begin.

(I still don't believe I managed to time something correctly!)

With the starter taken care of, I spent some of my time this morning researching road food for the upcoming trip to Ohio. I'd been directed to and took some time to peruse the forums there. One post that caught my eye read, "But! one of the best places I've ever eaten is in Winnemucca, real Basque food served family style at the Martin Hotel."

Last year, on our way through Nevada, I'd relied upon a casino buffet to provide the "regional flavour" for the day. But this Basque connection sounded far more interesting and so I spent a little bit of time looking into it. I learned that Basque sheepherders emigrated to Nevada and kept flocks in the hilly landscape. On their trips into town, they congregated at Basque-owned hotels, where they could eat their traditional dishes family-style.

I found some great information about the hotels offering Basque dining in Winnemucca. I just hope we're there during their lunch hours!