The Road “Home” to Cooking.

My Road Home to Cooking looks like this. Photo by Sarah Deragon

My Road Home to Cooking.
Photo by Sarah Deragon

Sur La Table “Bigwig Cool Chef Man” Joel Gamoran (I’m pretty sure that’s his title) asked me “So Abi, how did you come to Cook?” I’d flown up to Seattle to tour Headquarters and talk shop. We wore sweaters and munched Cookies freshly baked by icon Dorie Greenspan as TV cameras cooled from her demo.

Dorie's "Jammer" Cookies are really good.

If Dorie wasn’t already lovely enough, her “Jammer” Cookies are really good.

The painter in me watched purpled, gray rain clouds roll in and my food-geek side wondered, how in the hell did I get here? I’m a stay at-home Mom. With two kids. And a fat, lazy dog.  Sure, I make a little wine and LOVE to cook. But trained, professional chef, I am not. (I stifled crazy-person laughter.)  For I am sure the hallowed halls of Sur La Table ought command more reverent reactions than idiotic giggles.

I’ve written my answer to Joel some nine times, happy with none. Tonight though, I poured myself a “local pour” of our Sauvignon Blanc and envisioned women and men like me, out there wielding spatulas and tongs. COOKING — alone or for family.  (Hopefully) Loving the very act of taking raw ingredients and creating something lovely.  Nourishing.  How carrots feel freshly peeled or how broccolini crisps up with solid amounts of salt. That duck confit is surprisingly easy to make.  And if you add green peas to anything starchy, kids love it.

My Apple Thief. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

My Apple Thief. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

I looked back to how I learned to cook in my kitchen — this gorgeously old Victorian, farmhouse remodeled last sometime before 1939. First cooking with my now-husband and then alone with my cookbooks, pencil and post-it’s at hand. Now repopulated with toddlers under foot.  And gave renewed thanks to Sur La Table salespeople for helping me learn the ropes around my own kitchen.

Mixing Fine and Kids' Art. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Mixing Fine and Kids’ Art. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

*Big Side-note: Please know this piece is in no way sponsored, written only in appreciation from this home cook to a store that helped me answer my questions. And still does.*

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Grateful to cook every day here at home, Annadel Estate Winery in Sonoma Valley, California.

Readers of my column Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen know that I quit NASA after 10 years in public service, took about a 92% pay cut and embarked on new life as a “Cellar Rat” making wine. Trading high-heels for steel-toe Wolverines and a pallet jack. Committing myself whole hog to a healthier, seasonal, fully artistic life in Sonoma Valley (Oct. 2007). I literally could cook one thing then.

Harvest is a family affair. The kids skip school to pick one row each. (October 2016, picking Cabernet Franc in the lower blocks.) Photo by Rachel Hairston.

Follow along on Instagram to see more winemaking and winery life: @abisfarmhousekitchen or Annadel Estate Winery on Facebook. Like Harvest is a family affair. The kids skip school to pick one row each. (October 2016, picking Cabernet Franc in the lower blocks.) Photo by Rachel Hairston.

You laugh, but really, it was not even my recipe. My grandmother, Mima, made buttermilk Waffles every Sunday (recipe and tribute)…. Traditions we continue today, albeit with champagne vs. Folgers crystals instant coffee.

Christmas Bells on the side door. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Christmas Bells on the side door. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

It was Love that brought me “home” to Cooking once Dean and I met one summer night at the Farmers Market. I’d gone to town to buy flowers and instead, met the most handsome Man (ever). Tall. Strong. Wearing long shorts and a Stetson with just the right amount of sweat on the brim. Searing blue eyes……………… I stood there in wine-stained work boots. Smelling like Chardonnay lees. Remembering my deodorant failed hours before when cleaning barrels with a gamma jet.

It must be love. Still at it, nine year's later of harvesting estate grown grapes. "Punch Downs" Merlot and Cabernet, October 2016... We made wine here at Annadel for the first time in about 110 years this past Fall.

Still wearing those boots, years later harvesting estate grown grapes. “Punching Down” Merlot and Cabernet… Making wine at Annadel for the first time in 110+ years (Oct 2016) Photo from epic machinist and family friend Garage Metallica, Chrystiano Miranda.

Dean and I moved in four days later.

And started cooking.

First, I cooked to flirt. Food can be quite the passionate exercise, have you noticed?  But lust & love soon expanded into one powerful marriage, babies and circadian Life built near the cycles of our Vineyard.

Proud Wife: Dean rode this beautiful 1914 Harley across the country in September. Winning Division 1 in the Cannonball. Riding the oldest motorcycle ever to cross America. And he did it. Video here of Annadel and our Team Vino.

Proud Wife: Dean rode this beautiful 1914 Harley across the country in September. Winning Division #1 in the Cannonball. Riding the oldest motorcycle ever to cross America. Video of Annadel Estate &  Team Vino.

I really do consider myself a kitchen cook. A Mom and Wife, trying to keep up with the day. Mapping out my grocery list by quadrant, according to the market floor plan (that NASA side lives on). Nerding-out on Food, cooking away earnestly in our farmhouse here at Annadel Estate Winery. We literally live “Between Wars.” Our walls are horse-hair and plaster and my 1941 Occidental Automatic — we found in the Carriage House — we modernized to a 6 burner, 2 stove Wolf Range.

My oldest Sous Chef and little girl. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

At first, I cooked mostly Italian as Dean is 1st generation American-Italian, though I first stepped out when our daughter, Anni, was little to make Julia Child’s Cassoulet from scratch. It took me 28 hours. I fell asleep at the table.

Cooking.

Cooking. Shot by wonderful Sarah (again).

Then fellow home cook and neighbor a few vineyards down, Gail Ross, started working part time at Sur La Table and brought me Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. “Try it!” she said. “You’ll love it.” And I did.  Making “Roast Chicken for les Paresseux” (pg 200) most weeks still (+extra garlic and garden-cut herbs.)  More importantly, Dorie’s cookbook expanded my home-cooking-horizons. A beautiful gateway to French food. Which then led to Curries, Thai or Mexican, Japanese, Jams and Canning, Southern, and yes, Italian once or twice a week: Much new fare mixed in with Dean’s family heritage dishes.

Long running favorites. Dorie's French Table, Ruth Reichl, and turned on to Hugh Acheson thanks's to friend Deborah's Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Club on IG (@rainydaybites) Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Still in heavy rotation: Dorie’s French Table, Ruth Reichl, and Hugh Acheson thanks’s to friend Deborah’s Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Club on IG (@rainydaybites) Photo by Sarah Deragon.

From my pre-War, ghost-winery Kitchen, I then started to write, first urged by TV food star Heather Christo who visited Annadel some years back. And more recently, by Indian Chef sensation Asha Shivakumar to really take up Instagram (@abisfarmhousekitchen) Thanks to social media, and writing about food, food history, and Winemaking, I’ve connected with such wonderful food lovers, like Naomi’s The Cooks in the Kitchen series, or finding Susana best Carnitas recipe, Potato and leek soup at Jen’s Lemon Apron, and Malaysian style fish stew by Hazel plus many others. All sharing our loved, home-kitchens and earnest -cookery. I’m not talking “perfect shot” kind of bloggers but rather, warm-hearted, apron-clad souls similarly appreciating good living, wine, and home cooking. “Shaking hands” by proxy from our very agrarian spot in northern California’s wine country. Which is how I came to meet the wonderful directors at Sur la Table.

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Collecting herbs for a quick lasagna (see below) with Sarah Deragon

Sonoma County — really, the whole national Food Movement — is a return to basics. One giant step away from gridlock and desks and clocked-in/clocked-out days. A blue-skies return to the clean rhythms of seasons and harvests in grapes, vegetables, olives and food stuffs. Eating “close to the source” becoming increasingly a way of life. How we cook. Shop. Menu plan. Even potluck.

Marrying into an Italian American family, I've learned a thing or ten about Pastas. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Marrying into an Italian American family, I’ve learned a thing or two about Pasta. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Through reading food (& art) history, I’ve also learned we American cooks did not pioneer this approach to cooking. I now research (&write short pieces on) how famous Artists curated their own tables, if you will. How their respective Art directly influenced their Food.

Read more of my Creatives and their Kitchens series: Frida was first. Monet second. O'Keeffe is next.

To Read more: Creatives and their Kitchens. Frida was first. Monet second. O’Keeffe is next.

As for me and our little family, good food, art, and real wine are proof of Love. For each other. Our Family. And Friends. And thanks to Sur la Table, I’m whisking proof that real food knowledge makes all the difference as a Mom once asking “timer questions” between blanched and oversmushed Asparagus. I was glad Julia’s words read warmly from the Test Kitchen walls. Making me feel like just another Cook talking shop, eating cookies. Global icons or not, all of us ardently still in love with Food. And our Kitchens.

“Learn how to cook — Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have fun.” ~ Julia Child

Vineyards Sunset. Annadel Estate Winery. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Vineyards Sunset. Annadel Estate Winery. (12/1/16) Photo by Sarah Deragon.

 

Read on for an easy weeknight lasagna recipe. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Read on for an easy weeknight lasagna recipe. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Easy, Weeknight Lasagna:

Ingredients:
3 cloves garlic (peeled) (We use 5)
1 carrot (peeled & quartered)
1/4 yellow onion (peeled & quartered)
1 stalk celery (quartered)
1 26-28oz jar/box of fine Italian diced tomato, or puree
1 bunch Broccolini (5-10 stalks) (Spinach or Kale)
1 bunch Asparagus (5-10 pieces trimmed)
2 handfuls dried pasta (shells) or five lasagna sheets
1 16oz bag shredded Mozzarella
2 balls fresh Mozzarella
Handful shaved Parmesan
Dried Italian herbs
Handful chopped Italian Parsley and Basil, if you have it.

Fall foliage beautifully caught by Sarah Deragon.

Fall beautifully caught by Sarah Deragon.

Preheat oven to 350’F. And set pot of water to boil. (Do NOT salt it).

Puree garlic, carrot, celery, onion, and drizzle of olive oil, then heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté veggie mixture 3-4 minutes. Stir in dash of Italian herbs. Cook until fragrant (30 seconds). Add tomato puree, stir well 2-3 minutes to “BROWN” sauce. Remove from heat.

Step 1: Quick Sauce

Step 1: Quick Sauce Photo by Sarah Deragon

Pot of water should be boiling. If not, wait. Then add one giant pinch salt. Add pasta and briefly pre-cook according to directions (about 4 minutes). Drain quickly. (Do not rinse with cold water!)

Think "bite size." No stress. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Think “bite size.” No stress chopping. There is no wrong size. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Finely Chop Spinach/Broccolini and Asparagus. Quick sauté in butter or olive oils until greens brighten but retain crunch.

Slick casserole dish with olive oil. Layer smear of your quick tomato sauce. Toss in half the pasta (or three of the lasagna sheets). Layer Half vegetables and evenly distribute 1/2 hand torn mozzarella. Lightly layer with half of your shredded mozzarella and dust with shaved parmesan. Repeat for a second layer and top with chopped Italian parsley.

Lasagna in process. Note coarse chunks of Mozzarella? (Burrata can work too). Italians often skim fattening Béchamel sauces and focus on simple cheeses for thickening.

Lasagna in process. Note coarse chunks of Mozzarella? (Burrata works too). Italians often skip Béchamel sauces to focus on simple cheeses for thickening. Apron at Sur La Table (casserole too). Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Wrap with tin foil. Bake 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20-25 minutes more, until cheese browned. Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Happy Eating! Happy Eating & Sipping: Cheers!

Dressing.

A New Era.

A New Era. Dressed by Bella Vita.

I pulled on my beloved, well-worn beach cover-up today and felt… Silly.  I looked…SILLY. Like my old beach combing shift was too… “Young” for me. I mean, I have been wearing it since my late 20s… But how on this random Sunday, did it no longer “fit?” My husband charitably said casually later, “well, you’re not a kid anymore.” Well DUH.  And thank God for that. When I was a “kid” I was too busy wearing professional crepe suits and heels from Barney’s, working my way up through layers of earnest California government and into the hideously lighted cubicles at NASA. When I embraced my mid-life crisis at 30– seven years ago– I threw out all suits, all panty hose, all badly fitting khakis from my days as an “adult”. Trading them for steel-toed Wolverines, a room-for-rent with friend Ben, and a Whitney Abbott painting of my Tomales Bay. (I love oysters.) Trekking into the world of wine, art and food as the carefree, unburdened hedonist I’d always yearned to be as an “adult.”  And now?  Seven years later, I am properly ensconced as that unbridled, no apologies hedonist of Taste. A properly cooking, painting, food writing, winemaking, bread baking, (and now) Mama to two and Wife to one feisty Italian Winemaker. So what the hell happened? I have lost all but 17 of the 80 + lbs of Baby Weight (thanks French Cheese and Butter). My cover-up fit me yesterday… Why not today? And it dawned on me:

Oh Shit. I am too OLD for this 20-something cuteness.

Dammit.

I looked around me at the beach today. All the flat little tummies of sun bathing beauties. I pulled on my hat a little snugger. I took stock. Strong legs? Check. Awesome rack? Check. Strong hands albeit always in need if a manicure? Yep. Great hair? Yep. Plump tummy? Slightly-loose thighs? Two c-section scars? Check. Check. Check. I made a mental note to go to the gym more and then realistically turned my thoughts towards what to make for Dinner.  Because… I am no longer that taut little unburdened Twinkie, I realized with warmth. I’m a Mom. And a Cook. A Painter. A Wife. Someone who loves vintage-inspired frocks now and Panama Hats. Bigger jewelry and strong lipsticks. Because dammit, I’m about to be 37.  I am HAPPY. And that’s a hell of a lot better than being Me at 27.

So I am leaving my little Twinkie beach cover-up here in Hawaii when we leave. Come to think of it… It might be the last thing I still wore from my 20s.

Moving on. Xo

Pursuing the Local Dish.

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Locally caught wild Ahi Tuna Sandwich at Local Dish in Hawi Town, Hawaii

Korean Chicken at CSC Cafe

Korean Chicken at CSC Cafe

I know this may come as kind of a shock, dear Foodies, but my husband and I like to eat. Like really love to eat. Try new recipes at home. Grow new kinds of vegetables. And when we can, select and savor new restaurants…and visit beloved old ones. But with two kids 4 yrs of age and under? We’ve not had much opportunity for the latter. Luckily my Mom popped over this week to play with us and help us eat out with the wee ones in tow.

When traveling, Dean and I scout for gatherings of local cars around off-the-path cafes, diners, and restaurants. Dean is SO good at it. Since so much of Yelp and restaurant reviews can be sadly purchased nowadays (just like wine reviews) Locals don’t lie. And where locals spend their money? That’s where I want to eat.  Not just because the food more likely tastes good but in our experiences prices are lower, our money goes straight into local pockets, and? As parents, eating as close to the source is a valuable lesson to keep teaching our Littles.

First up today? CSC Cafe down the road. You might miss it buried behind the middle school as you blaze down the road at a blistering 30 mph but the telling gaggle of dusty trucks caught our attention. We parked to the rather curious, but not unfriendly stares, from local men drinking coffee (or beer) in front of a large patio TV. An odd contrast considering the Cafe is painted a girly Pepto Pink.  Inside the bowed, creaking screen doors stood a lovely Mama named Jamie. She took our nutty order as you can order lunch even at 9 in the morning — which was good because I really wanted something Asian. Not eggs. Kids had me up too early and even though I should want eggs, my belly was growling LUNCH.  Jamie suggested the Korean Chicken. The Owner’s family recipe and a “locals favorite.” Sold. I only wish I’d ordered a full plate instead of a “mini”. Three wings was not enough.  I wanted SIX pieces of island bird perfectly fried, elegantly seasoned with sesame, hints of fresh ginger and muted garlic. Fried up decadently in what I am sure to be some kind of lard rendered from magical baby unicorns.

We didn’t intend to really eat a lunch later and thought we’d only browse galleries BUT after parking, our collective noses inhaled lovely aromas wafting from cafe Local Dish here in Hawi. More of an upscale cafe featuring local produce, salads, wild fish and meat and wine and beer, Local Dish is the brainchild of Matt VanderNoot, an accomplished restauranteur from the mainland who cut ties with his hectic yet acclaimed foodie life in Sun Valley and Bay Area for the glacial pace of bohemian, food-centric Hawi.  For the very same reasons which we vacation here every year. Only we didn’t know all of this yet. We only knew baby Coltrane erupted into a colloidal meltdown JUST as we sat down.  Thankfully, to all patrons, Dean took our little son home and let Anni, Mom and I stay to lunch in iced-tea peace. The nice, tall man who took our order was kind enough during the row and we chatted away to learn he was the owner. Open since August, tourists and locals have flocked to Local Dish to eat his sandwiches, salads, local guacamole, and banana breads. Brightly dressed and lovely, you’ll find Matt behind the cash register or serving. We feasted on Island Chicken Salad tucked into fresh Croissants, garden green salads, wild caught Ahi Tuna Sandwiches with tomato and sprouts, and a slice of Banana Bread with macadamia nuts. Lunch was SO great, we actually stayed on to order a glass of Grenache Blanc each (a luscious Rhône varietal) AND to try Matt’s Banh Mi signature sandwich: pulled pork (slow roasted 20 hours), jerk chicken, and island sauce. Yum yum yum.

Today was a GREAT day for food! Now to find room for dinner… It’s Date Night! Luckily my dress is rather roomy.

Something wonderful just happened!

One Giddy Cook!

One Giddy Cook!

Something wonderful just happened. Right now. Like 15 minutes ago. I’m on a one hour break from the kids — who after a great beach morning opted to turn into dervishes. So much so that Dean said “go to town! Go! Go shopping. Read something!”  Well! You didn’t have to tell this Mama twice. And off I went. First, to my favorite art and local jewelry shop called Elements where I found my annual necklace.

And second? To Bamboo for an iced tea (read “mommy code” for Mai Tai) and catch up on some back issues of Archaeology.

Behind me, this lovely couple was trying to figure out her new iPad camera so they could take a selfie. I volunteered to take the picture for them.  And a few minutes later, she taps me on the shoulder and says “Excuse me? Are you Abi?”  She reads my blog! In CANADA! I was stunned. I STILL am! I mean, I’ve been hearing good things from new corners of the globe about the recipes and meeting people at our Winery who know me/us already thanks to Social Media and the consuming love of Taste we foodies share. But I’ve yet to meet someone out of the blue who knew me by my recipes and writing. Especially since day-to-day you’ll find me on Facebook and Instagram. A blog post takes time and careful thought, recipe testing.

But here she was! My first “fan!” She was glad to meet me and I her.  In a hippie bar no less — far from our respective stoves. I hope she’s reading this and knows how glad I am for her. This Mama is one thrilled Cook today, let me tell you!

Local made by artist Leighton Lam and sold by Elements@elementsjewelryandcrafts.com

Local made by artist Leighton Lam and sold by Elements@elementsjewelryandcrafts.com

 

Boudoir Birds

"Boudoir Birds circa 1952" 16x20" oil

“Boudoir Birds circa 1952″ 16×20” oil

I’m stuck in Southwest-SFO Hell. Trying to make it to Santa Barbara for my part in tonight’s fun Opening for the 100 Grand Show at Sullivan Goss Gallery. I am all set. Cute dress, new lipstick… If only we could take off! Trying to not go nuts. So instead, focusing on what to paint next for my Solo Show this coming June at Easton Gallery in Montecito… Thumbing through my iPhone archives brought some interesting thoughts to mind. Namely, what art seems to sell and what does not.

Now I work very, very hard on each piece. Working for weeks often before dawn. Trying to catch the light and the feeling of each scene and subject. And I am deeply thankful that after 20 years of earnest painting, my art supports itself. I try never to think of a new painting as “I hope this will sell.”  I think selfishly that dilutes whatever creative essence and creative flows within me as I surrender to canvas, brushwork, shading and colors. I seriously LOVE Color.  And Light. Beauty. Atmosphere. But occasionally I stumble upon a scene that I know will likely never sell.  And for the very life of me, I have to paint it anyway.  Feeling so moved by that moment, whatever moment “that” is, I know it will become a piece of my art.

As they are. Since 1952.

As they are. Since 1952.

 

Such a moment happened in October when I was lucky enough to meet Ralph Benson, Executive Director of the Sonoma Land Trust when he came in to my Art Trails Open Studios. He invited me to tour Glen Oaks, a previously unknown spot to me 100%  old California. In fact, the Civil War era home has remained largely untouched since 1952 when the last owner deeded the property to our beloved Land Trust.  I remain honored for that private step back into time. And I vowed to paint Glen Oaks in all of her glory — and have since.

But one facet of this old place, was the old woman’s bath and Boudoir. Still intact. Hairbrush still on her table. Bath salts on the tub ledge. That touched me deeply. Here, this woman is long dead yet her most intimate beauty ephemera remains in place. From 1952.  I had to paint her aging bath bottles with a piece of decorative Mexican sculpture caked in dust. Knowing full well the finished painting might never find a home. And that I bloody well don’t care. Such moments are rarely given and when given to an artist? We must act and act well.

 

Why You Haven’t Heard from Me…

I am sorry for Radio silence from me here in this old kitchen.  Life has been so nuts and it’s odd that on the first day of Harvest 2014 (Merlot blocks came IN today!!) and on this very same day I pulled on my big girl panties and faced my fears: I got my Epidural on the very lower left side of my Spine, my L5 disc. And today of all nutty days…including puking all too close to a lovely (and totally cute Doctor) coming out from anesthesia that I feel compelled to write to you all lovely, lovely Foodie Friends.

First Harvest — Merlot SO divine, I wear it around my neck as pendant every single day, thanks to sculptress and artist friend MIchelle Hoting (Michellehoting.com )

Scultpress friend Michelle Hoting has created custom made pendents out of pure chunks of Silver for us here at Annadel from our Cabernet and Merlot leaves. (Sold Out but visit here in October during Art Trails http://www.sonomacounty.com/sonoma-events/artrails-open-studios ) or at michellehoting.com

Scultpress friend Michelle Hoting has created custom made pendents out of pure chunks of Silver for us here at Annadel from our Cabernet and Merlot leaves. (Sold Out but visit her in October for Art Trails http://www.sonomacounty.com/sonoma-events/artrails-open-studios ) or at michellehoting.com

Anni and baby Trane helped IMMENSELY today “Bringing In The Fruit”.

Little People + Great Big Helpers at Harvest here at Annadel

Little People + Great Big Helpers at Harvest here at Annadel

Annadel Estate Merlot picked at day-break.

Annadel Estate Merlot picked at day-break.  Hand picked, hand sorted and headed for crush at Deerfield Ranch Winery in Kenwood where we custom make our wine!

Truth is, we’ve been too busy to write something even remotely worth reading.  Summer ended and Anni started Preschool at Moldovan Academy.  Dean is racing the Cannonball 2014 right NOW from Daytona to Tacoma, WA on his 1923 Harley with dear friends on Team Vino.  The Open Road is his very first love and beyond good for his Soul! Yes, I hear you: “a month without your husband with two kids under 4 and a winery to run…what?what? what? Are you NUTS?” The answer is YES, totally.  But trust me, the Cannonball is a gloriously rare adventure of the finest vintage bikes in the world.  If you can’t hand-weld a metal part over a traffic cone? You can’t be there. Besides, I’m fierce too.  In my Mom, yoga pants, paint brushes turned apron and kitchen spoon sort of way.

Dean is racing in the Cross Country Cannonball again this year! GO TEAM VINO! From Daytona to Tacoma for the most of September on his 1923 Harley and totally fun period garb made for him in North Beach, SF.

Dean racing in the Cross Country Cannonball again this year! GO TEAM VINO! From Daytona to Tacoma for the most of September on his 1923 Harley and totally fun period garb made for him in North Beach, SF.

Here I sit. ‘Holding down the Fort”– Making wine, running tours, weddings, and crazy kids.  Speaking of, Coltrane turned 1&1/2 officially yesterday! Both of our babes are great.  But since August, my back got worse and I scheduled today’s procedure.  Weathered the American Canyon earthquake aftershocks. Rehung the Art Gallery in the Barn including amazing art by Dennis Ziemienski (Ziemienski.com ).  We DID manage to take our first “kids free” vacation — first one in four years! Yay us! And I’ve been trying to keep up with our garden and cooking as much as my body allows…and discovering that every year that we unplug more. I become more free and open to Universe and all of her crazy colors like some giant pseudo-Hippie now.  I do promise to forever remember the under-wire and Chanel lipgloss though.  Have no fear.

I LOVE Table Linens. Like LOVE. Found this beautiful Indian pattern stitched from saris at the Alamdea Antique Market with dearest friend Sondra Bernstein of beloved Girl & the Fig.

I LOVE Table Linens. Like LOVE. Found this beautiful Indian pattern stitched from saris at the Alamdea Antique Market with dearest friend Sondra Bernstein of beloved Girl & the Fig.

RECIPES: Lots of Tomato Crack (http://abisfarmhousekitchen.com/?p=99 ), Garden Green Pesto “Lasagna” (http://abisfarmhousekitchen.com/?p=508 ), and Easy Pea Soup (http://abisfarmhousekitchen.com/?p=434 ) around here.  Last night, I thawed some frozen pancetta and sauteed it with the aromatics (onion, shallot, garlic) in EVOO then crap white wine (perfect for cooking) for heart warming “umpf” to the pea and wilted kale lettuce soup. Paired it with our 2008 Estate Blend (the earthquake revealed we had a whole palate more!) as well as Spinach and Feta Cheese Puffs.  Hell, I needed some butter and carbs last night to face the big needle this morning. If you haven’t made these yet? Here’s the link. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/spinach-puffs

Pea/wilting Greens Soup made with chopped pancetta this time and served with those crazy amazing Spinach Puffs.

Pea/wilting Greens Soup made with chopped pancetta this time and served with those crazy amazing Spinach Puffs.

But those of you following Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen on Facebook and on Instagram (@abisfarmhousekitchen) see me every day.  I hate to tell you, the domain here dumped 95% of my subscriber emails.  So if you’ve stopped receiving any recipes and essays from me ALL Summer? That is why.  I urge you to either save this Food Blog to your Bookmarks or better yet, Follow me on Facebook and Instagram? Then we won’t lose touch!  I’m the one with Kermit the Frog cracking up over Sandwiches…

Me on Instagram! Or follow Abi's Farmhouse Kitchen on Facebook -- I'm doing lots of pictures and easier recipes than a full blog warrants.

Me on Instagram! Or follow Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen on Facebook — I’m doing lots of pictures and easier recipes than a full blog warrants.

Tuesday: Champagne and the Safeway Restroom

I have a secret.  I like Champagne. On Tuesday mornings.

Not every Tuesday mind you.  But every so often, after I drop Anni off at school, baby boy and I have some quiet time together.  By 9 o’clock, we share a chair at Sunflower Cafe.  His warm pudgy legs slung over mine.  I order Trane a yogurt and fruit parfait and for me? One hot latte and one delightfully cold glass of sparkling wine.Delicious Latte from Sunflower Cafe

For one hour, we cuddle, share breakfast, and mommy gets a bit of bubbly.  I cut up his strawberries, apples and blueberries, eating the hard nuts in the granola and spoon feeding him banana yogurt.  It’s our hour…just the two of us.

An hour of cuddle time at Sunflower Cafe

An hour of cuddle time at Sunflower Cafe

By about the time I finish my grocery list (our Tuesday afternoon stop), Coltrane starts throwing his raisins.  Time to leave.  Now it’s usually warm enough for the playground and I’ve had more than my fill of his half masticated bits of apple that he has recently started trying to feed me (blah!)  We play on the swings before picking Anni back up from school awhile later.

It is these quiet times that give me strength and calm to deal with the occasional stresses of being a Mommy.  And I am profoundly grateful for our secret hour this very past Tuesday … because once we reached the Safeway market, poor little Anni exploded with such a ferocious round of runny-tummy that we sat stranded in the Women’s Toilet.  For an hour.  Baby Trane ate unpaid-for Kale Puffs while locked in the grocery cart’s safety harness looking mildly alarmed.  I stood by poopy Anni, hoping she’d feel better enough to get home.  We had no cell service in that florescent restroom so there we sat. A sick 3 year-old, a baby eating essentially stolen food, and this Mommy.

Finally, I was able to make a run the Baby aisle for Pull-Ups!!

Dodging a pinhead restroom attendant calling out “hey lady! No merchandise into the restroom!!” I wheeled my grocery cart back into that Safeway potty with such finesse, locked the door, whipped Rapunzel Pull-Ups onto my sick toddler, and raced for home.  Stolen puffs in hand. Not my finest hour.  But once I had Anni back on the porcelain throne, I said a deep moment of Thanks for that one hour of calm and those happy little billowing bubbles in my secret glass of champagne…

a bit of liquid calm this past Tuesday

a bit of liquid calm this past Tuesday

 

Living Life In Art

Abi’s Farmhouse Gallery: ANNE ZIEMIENSKI

Anne Ziemienski & PersphoneEach artist finds his or her own path.  Some go to art school.  Some apprentice.  Some lock themselves away to toil relentlessly in obscurity.  Others come to Art later in life after success frees them to explore passionate hobbies.

But few, if any, can claim a first life as Belly Dancer.  In Europe.  In the Middle East.  And Egypt.  With her own 13 piece band.  Now? Acclaimed Mosaic artist celebrated from Sonoma to the pages of the New York Times.

Anne Ziemienski is a colorfully vibrant person, a dear friend, and an inspiration to artists.  She and her husband, famed painter Dennis Ziemienski, have done the near impossible – they live by art alone.  There is no day job.  There is ART.  And their Mediterranean home in Glen Ellen surges with it:  with creative vibrancy, warmth, and sweat equity.

It was here that Anne turned her love of Old World’s mosaics into decoration in her family’s home – works that celebrate nature, lore, and mythology.  Like Anne’s 8-foot-tall- Persphone at their front door, a grand stone fountain for their garden, and splendid Aphrodite for the Master Bath complete with tub reclaimed from the Old Chevron Building in San Francisco.

“Mosaic art has ancient roots and a rich cultural heritage,” says Anne.  “I particularly love the Greco-Roman style that was popular 2,000 years ago.”Portrait

Anne absorbed the ancient world’s “lost art” first as a young girl living abroad in Italy with her parents and then again as a flourishing Dancer in Cairo, Europe, and the Middle East. A chance encounter at the Salute to the Arts Festival gave Anne her first (huge) commission (3 installations) and brought her talents into the outside world.  The rest, they say, is history.

Commissioned Pebble PathsAnne is lucky (and very hard working).  Her art is coveted.  It is also great source of joy for her.  And it is this quality that I think fires the soul in viewers when looking at (or living on) each of her pieces.  You can feel the drama or love or lust in each subject and installation. This makes Anne’s work truly unique and I think, very valuable.

Wyrm of Inverness“Every aspect of my work intrigues me; picking out the marble and stones, hand cutting each piece, designing and implementing the design.  For some mysterious reason I am very drawn to work in this ancient art form as it connects me to all the cultures that I have lived within, whether it be Egyptian, Italian or Celtic.”

If you want to reach Anne, you can email her at az@ziemienski.com

She is probably in her studio, hand-slicing marble with a wet saw.  Or something equally fabulous…!

Salads & Cheese

My New Pairing Favorite

My New Pairing Favorite

I sat next to this awesome French guy last week.  As we ate my Roasted Chicken with Lemons and Winter Root Vegetables, I took note of a spot of cheese standing solo on the edge of his plate.

Now I bought that fancy cheese because he and his prominent food family and friends were coming for a special meal here at Annadel.  Since I’m still learning about food and cheese and wines, I let in a pause of insecurity.  I wondered if this cheese I bought and served was too “something” for a fancy French foodie? But our guests were just so lovely that my lame little thought vanished.

THEN We moved on to baby Kale and Arugula Salad with mustard vinaigrette… My lunch date served himself a healthy heap of greens.  And only then did he move the cheese.  Into position.  Jerome F. next did something so completely fresh, to me at least, that I stopped mid-bite to watch him.  He used his knife and fork to slice thin slabs of this delicious cheese onto speared dark leafy greens and ate it. From his fork.  All together.  I tried not to stare.

Great flavors!

Great flavors! From Oliver’s Market in Santa Rosa

How have I never done this??

We love our cheese around here (sans the crackers) and fancy butters too (revelation ca. 2011).  Sure I’ve crumbled the blue  and goat cheese over salads for years.  But this? An Epoisses de Bourgonge — one of the more wonderfully feral French cheeses I’ve had to date — paired with… baby KALE?

Couldn't resist this web image...!

Couldn’t resist this web image…!

Was he crazy or just so super cool, awesome food guy? Since he is one of the more respected Chefs anywhere, let alone France, I chose the latter. So I copied him.

And converted.

Born anew!  I went to my trusty cheesemongers at Oliver’s and spent 1/8 of our weekly grocery funds on cheese and kale.  With some asparagus and artichokes for extra flavor too.  Dean thinks I’m nuts.  I’m hooked.

Cheesemongers at Oliver's are my go-tos! Note Derek's mohawk.

Cheesemongers Sharon and Derek at Oliver’s are my go-tos. Note Derek’s mohawk. 🙂

We chose a yummy blue cheese washed in red wine, an incredible Chambertin, and a Soumaintrain from a huge array of options… At least that’s what the labels tell me.  I’m sure there is some proper types of cheese to pair with greens but here’s the thing, so far they all taste great to me. Cow, goat, blue, pasturized or not, Itlian, French, Danish or Californian… they seem to really go well with baby greens, drizzle of mild dressing, and a fork.

CHEESE at a gourmet or regional fine market like Oliver's will be vastly better than a super market. I promise. The artistry is here. I promise.

CHEESE at a gourmet or regional fine market like Oliver’s will be vastly better than a super market. I promise. The artistry is here. I promise.

My Food Lesson of the Week is this: Fancy cheese is ridiculously delicious  with dark, baby greens.  Darker the better.  Kale, spinach, arugula, herbs mix, even radicchio, endive and frissee.  I’ve used our regular salad dressings (chopped garlic, EVOO, Balsamic and salt), the mustardy one, my white Balsamic dressing too.  And they ALL go.  The only time great cheeses didn’t pair well was with the whiter parts of a romaine.  Blah.

This may be totally normal to you and you now think I am an idiot.  But I am so happy with these consistently delicious pairings, without the added carbs of crackers, that I had to share… Happy eating!

Starting out? Ask for advice or opt for an Espoisses. But let your gourmet cheesemonger ask you what you like and go from there.

Starting out? Ask for advice or opt for an Espoisses. But let your gourmet cheesemonger ask you what you like and go from there.

Eggs & Birdies

Few things bring me back to my grandmother’s table than eggs and toast.

My amazing grandmother in mid-2000s

My amazing grandmother in mid-2000s

Mima wore her 1970s vibrantly swirly, totally rayon, neck-to-floor dressing gowns to make breakfast.  She called them “Eggs & Birdies” — slightly morbid now that I think about it as a grown up (arguably) — but she and Dida soft boiled the eggs and timed the toasting of bread to perfection. Every time.  Seventy plus years of marriage will do that to you….  Then: They lightly cracked the eggs open in an upright position and spooned the goodness over toasted slices of Orowheat.  Egg yolks running smoothly over toasted exteriors.  Cracked pepper and iodized salt.  Served with piping hot mugs of Folgers Crystals instant coffee and breakfast was served.

 

Eggs & Toast

Eggs & Toast

Dean made me and the kids this amazingly simple, old school goodness this morning for breakfast.  We’ve made it a regular weekly staple — this fried eggs over toast — but somehow this morning was different.  Eaten by hand, my first bite transported me back to Linda Ridge Road, to my grandmother’s table.  I almost cried.  I was 11 years old again in faded acid wash jeans, a hot pink t-shirt, and rubbing sleep from my eyes.

Somehow these fried eggs had the perfect flavor of a soft boiled and our 2-day old toasted slices Ciabatta from Costeaux Bakery in Healdsburg did the trick.  Today in our kitchen, we use local eggs, fancy rustic sea salts and fresh cracked rainbow peppercorns… But you get the drift.

Early days of little me and my Mima

Early days of little me and my Mima

I WORSHIP my grandmother.  Always will.  Peg Palmer was a force to be reckoned with.  Glamorous, loving and willful.  At home in a Marshall’s special as she was in Evening Attire or blue jeans.  Mima was fearless, funny in private circles, suffered ZERO social-climbing, and channeled much loving energy into us.  She had a special spot for us grandchildren.  As well as the color coral (in lipstick!!), water aerobics at the Valley Hunt Club, a mean chopped salad, forever being a size 10, and Asian art.  When life had me briefly down in my early 20s, Mima advised, “You go wash your face and put on fresh lipstick.  You’ll feel better.  Stick your chest out, tuck your rear end under and glide.  Glide.  Glide…” She was right.  Still is…. And I may still do this today whenever I need an inner boost.

I hope this breakfast kicks your day off right…without the need for 1980s coral lipstick!

Ingredients:

  • Farm fresh eggs or at least organic.  *You are looking for golden yolks.
  • Pat of butter (1-2 tablespoons)
  • Kosher or French sea salt
  • Slices of real bread — about to be toasted — 1 slice per egg

Heat a frying pan (or non-stick) up over medium-high heat.  Turn up heat to lower-high and melt butter.  Once butter begins to boil, crack eggs into pan and let cook 1-2 minutes until whites “set”  Remember: Cooking eggs is purely subjective.  Trial and error is the way to go.

Toast bread.  Butter bread and put on plate.

Using a smaller spatula, flip the eggs over and cook for 1 minute in reverse.  I look for a light gold “crust” to form on the edges.  Slide eggs onto each slice of buttered bread.  Dust with salt and pepper.  Serve IMMEDIATELY.

Additions include: flash sauteed kale or spinach, a drizzle of arugula aioli, or thinly sliced tomato works every time.