Another look at saag. On the days when I don't feel like making Indian food from scratch or going out to dinner, we eat packaged Indian foods that are really quite great. Tasty Bite, Gits, Super Kohinoor, Trader Joe's and other companies make fully cooked Indian entrees, which are sealed in metallic/plastic aseptic pouches that require no refrigeration and are shelf-stable. These are dishes we often take backpacking, since they cook by submerging the unopened packages in boiling water for two minutes. We eat these entrees (two per meal) on at least one night of each trip with either rice stick (noodles that cook in two minutes in the same water used to heat the entrees) or with packaged, cooked rice.
These dishes are an incredible luxury to us on the trail, while other people are eating dehydrated chili and trail mix. But they're also good enough to eat at home, and are easy to make: you just empty the pouch into a bowl, cover it, and microwave for two minutes.
Each brand has a different overall flavor and style, and there are a few dishes that I haven't found convincing (which I've written about previously), but for the most part the dishes are worthwhile.
We had Gits-brand palak paneer a few nights ago, which was nice, but it made me think about other styles of saag/palak, and how I might want to expand the style of my saag a bit more. This is a strange comparison, because palak paneer includes dairy, which I'm not especially enthusiastic about, but it's still worth looking at. The ingredients for their version are: spinach, cottage cheese, onion, tomato, water, cream (some people use sour cream (homemade), soy cream, or yogurt), sunflower oil, garlic, green chilies, salt, bay leaves (!), cumin, turmeric, coriander, fennel, black cardamom, pepper, star anise, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, green cardamom, mace, and clove. The temptations that appeal to me in that list are: fennel, cardamom, and perhaps mace.
Hmmmm. Another excuse to make saag again!
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:48 PM
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
I [heart] bhartaI haven't quite worked up a recipe that gets the right flavor, but I am performing experiments on the delicious Indian dish known has baigan bharta. (Bhaigan bharta has more of a ring to it, but apparently isn't a common spelling.)
Indian food is fabulous and highly personal: every cook has their own set of rules and recipe variations, which makes the dish at one restaurant so different from another. All good, yet all with subtle differences. I'm moving toward my own version, which has been waiting for eggplants AND tomatoes to be in season locally. That time is now, but I'm not quite there.
My last version was tomato-less (the tomatoes at the farmer's market were underripe), and close but not quite right. My problem: I used too much eggplant!!! That is silly, I know, but the dish is largely onions and spices. So my zealous use of 2 pounds of eggplant went awry. (The other ingredients were: 1 large onion, 5 small cloves of garlic, 1.5 teaspoons of ginger root, 2 fresh green chilies, 3.5 teaspoons of garam masala, 2 teaspoons of turmeric, .5 teaspoons coriander, and a pinch of asafoetida.)
My next version will have less eggplant, fresh tomatoes, more asafoetida, and a touch of cumin.
I'm so close...
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:23 PM
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Think big. So I'm fussing around with various home made camera designs, but all of my sketches are of small, very portable cameras. Other people think bigger: they are using... aircraft hangers as cameras. ABC News: Jumbo Camera Taking World's Largest Photo (abcnews.com, 6/14/06) is rather inspiring, and will result in the world's largest print - "a nearly 31-by-111 foot piece of white fabric covered in 20 gallons of light-sensitive emulsion..."
I like the joke at the end: the hangar will be demolised when they're done, so they say they're using the world's largest disposable camera. (Hopefully, all that metal will be recycled.)
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:58 PM
Monday, June 19, 2006
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:56 PM
Sunday, June 18, 2006
An unusually hot SundayAs if I hadn't been outside enough this weekend, the impossibly warm weather continued when we went to see the opening show of the summer from the Stern Grove Festival 2006 (sterngrove.org). The show: the mellow and danceable Seu George, whose Portuguese songs made his fellow Brazilians in the audience go wild, and Aimee Mann (aimeemann.com).
Though I thought the musicians had completely different styles, and didn't really complement each other, I enjoyed both shows. (This was probably the only chance I'll get to see women in halter-dresses made from the Brazilian flag at an Aimee Mann show.) Seu George seemed best for an outdoor festival: his band sounded GREAT, something I'd definitely like to hear more of, and the enthusiasm of the Brazilians in the audience was infectious. Mann was very good, but her songs were more solemn and indoorsy, if that makes sense: the constant outdoor crowd noise periodically drowned out the quiet moments in her quiet songs.
My advice if you're going to go to Stern Grove concerts: get there about 5 hours early to stake out space. Seriously. It was bedlam. We got a three food wide, six foot long space abandoned by a family with young children who wanted to join friends elsewhere, half grass, half paved, surrounded by others on three sides, and never managed to be completely comfortable for the 5 hours or so we were there.
Do I need to mention that I have my first sunburn of the season, despite SPF 45 sunscreen? Of course I do. Even 1% of the sun's rays are too much for me...
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:41 PM
Saturday, June 17, 2006
A Perfect San Francisco Saturday AfternoonAfter stuffing ourselves at the farmer's market, we went to 22nd and Church Street to the street party in honor of Mona Caron's botanical mural (monacaron.com). Mona is a local muralist whose work has brightened San Francisco. (Hey! She belongs on my list of artists I admire! I sense an update coming on...) I had only seen the mural under construction in the early phases, and had missed it as it neared completion.
It is GORGEOUS. There are all sorts of beautiful colors underlying the red on the rough wall; there's a magnificent bee hovering on the Church street side; and the plants that she's painted so much larger than life are both precisely and beautifully rendered.
The street party itself was delightful. There were lots of SF Bike Coalition people, as there are at ALL good events, plus food and live music.
The Genie (thegeniemusic.com), played some of his gorgeous, ethereal guitar repeats. His music is fun to listen to, and he's amazing to watch: he can control the faders with his toes, and sounds like several musicians playing at once. (I referred to this to a friend as "playing with himself... but in an acceptable way." There are things you say that you know you're going to have to clarify as soon as they're out of your mouth...) Payday is around the corner, and I'm buying one of his albums pronto.
Rupa and the April Fishes (rupamarya.com) played next, with beautiful French, Spanish, and English songs in a sort of French Cabaret style. Rupa is has a lovely voice, is energetic, and has perfect accents in each language she sings in. It was fun to listen and dance to her band. She also gave us the classic San Francisco moment: she was there with her band playing in the intersection, a woman of Indian descent singing a French song with her multiracial (white and Asian) band behind her, with a mixed race couple doing a Spanish tango in front of her on a beautiful day, when two guys pulled up in a truck. And Rupa said, "Ay! Don't you just love San Francisco!?"
Oh, do I ever.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:10 PM
How I love the farmer's market: let me count the ways.It really is summer. The solstice is just a few days away, and the stalls at the farmer's markets are filled with chili peppers, a certain sign of summer. Sweet purple bells, pale green sweet bells, poblanos, the long wrinkled crunchy peppers with the thin walls that I love so much, jalapeños, Hungarian wax peppers... They're all so beautiful, and smell so GOOD.
Stone fruit also fills baskets: nectarines, peaches, apricots, and plums. PLUMS! The last time I was at the market, there were some very, very tiny apricots, still tinged with green, but now all the stone fruit look great - and the samples are sweet and juicy enough to make your eyes roll back into your head.
Everything looked so delicious, it was hard to stop at two full tote bags. This week's selections:
-red grapes (sweet, crunchy, seedless, perfect)
-nectarines (possibly my favorite non-tomato, non-avocado fruit)
-purple sweet peppers (they smell spicy)
-avocados (5 for a dollar, but the farmer gave me six because a couple of them were small; he also gave me a mix of ripe-now, and ripe-soon; *joy*)
-Thai basil (a bunch as large as my head with my hair out)
-onions, young and tender, with the greens on top
-Hungarian was chilies (small, conical, pale green)
-long purple eggplant (!!)
-red cherries (I prefer the red-gold Ranier kind, but haven't had luck picking those in recent years)
-irises, the deep purple kind, just ready to open on very long stems
-and plenty of prepared food from Sukhi's: a half dozen samosas (lunch, before we continued shopping), spinach parathas, pumpkin parathas, tomato chutney, and fresh cilantro chutney).
There were plenty of other attractive foods, but this was enough for us for now. (Of course, there's another farmer's market in Civic Center on Wednesday, so if I run out, I can always go again...)
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:48 PM
Friday, June 16, 2006
Tung SingIn another chapter of 'eating out too much weekly,' we had dinner at Tung Sing Restaurant at 4015 24th Street (near Noe). I don't seek out Chinese food very often in restaurants, since my favorites closed years ago and I tired of mild Cantonese food, but Steven had high praise for this place. I thought it was only a small steam table take out restaurant, but there is a dining room behind a wall-sized screen that's quite comfortable, where you can dine on food made to order.
Also, there was an item on the menu called 'spicy basil tofu,' so I had to go in.
It was good AND reasonably priced! So it's on the list of places to visit again.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:36 PM
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
ApertoAs part of my commitment to researching the restaurants in the area around where I work, I took Steven to Aperto (apertosf.com) at 1434 18th Street (on the corner at Connecticut). The restaurant has huge windows with the late afternoon sun shining in, great service, a pleasant atmosphere, and delicious food.
We had the house version of bruschetta: toasted bread with a fava bean and artichoke spread (unusual and really tasty) as an appetizer; and our entrees were artichoke ravioli with toasted leeks, and the risotto with asparagus, sweet peas, and manchego cheese. It was extremely good: the tastes were wonderful and fresh, the serving sizes were just right, and we were enormously satisfied. We were foolish enough to try dessert, which was also superb, but was just too much food.
It was a great treat, but the next time I go I'm going to JUST have an entree. And maybe gelato. Maybe. I want my pants to fit!
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:04 PM
Movies at night in the park!San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation - SFNTF Presents FILM NIGHT IN THE PARK 2006 (sfntf.org)
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:54 PM
Sunday, June 11, 2006
My books page is actually gaining words!I heart books is an ongoing project which is finally showing a few words. This is my third time working on it, and already one particular shelf had gained four books since the previous update. And I want more! Really, the more I think about the books I have, the more I think about the books I want...
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:18 PM
Dosa: delicious South Indian food on Valencia.San Francisco's Valencia Street restaurant corridor finally has a South Indian restaurant! Dosa is an attractive space at 995 Valencia St (between 20th and 21st, just a few doors down from Herbivore).
South Indian food is dramatically different from other Indian food, which makes perfect sense: 'India' is a political creation that encompassed hundreds of cultures, and regional/cultural specialties abound. South Indian foods are characterized by plentiful chilies (yaaay!); some intensely flavored types of lentils (such as toor dal), which imbue the dishes with deep, unique flavors and a thick texture; increased use of coconut; and treats like dosa, which is sort of like a tortilla filled with a thick curry, but much more flavorful.
Looking in, Dosa could be a very hip bar, but the wonderful smells wafting out tell you otherwise. They do have cocktails: the Lychee Lush is delicious, and kept me busy while waiting for our tasty appetizer, our tasty daal, and our dosas (masala for me, cheese for him), which came with a small and delicious bowl of sambar and a tasty yogurt. Everything was flavorful; everything was delicious; we left VERY full. It was all wonderful.
As is traditional on Valencia Street, this restaurant is more expensive than others of its kind (or for other sorts of Indian food) elsewhere. Being the only South Indian restaurant in the area, and serving delicious food in a fashionable location allow them to charge what they like, and the tasty food impresses folks like me enough to believe it's worth it.
My only warning: it's a loud space.
posted by Arlene (Beth)5:37 PM
Crepes!Savor. Savor is an all-day crepe place, located at 3913 24th St (near Sanchez) in Noe Valley. They have several tasty crepes, including a one with a smoky chipotle sauce, stewed tomatoes, and cheddar. Several of their Mediterranean-type crepes, with olives and cheeses, are also pleasant. It's pleasant, casual, immediate (no waiting), and affordable. They have all sorts of sweet breakfast foods (French toast, etc.) and salads, too.
I've eaten there twice, and while I didn't have a religious experience over it (as I do over many Indian meals), it was satisfying. These crepes are "American-style," which means they are thick and fluffy, like pancakes, and slightly eggy.
posted by Arlene (Beth)5:36 PM
Cafe Grillades.Cafe Grillades is yet another crepe place, this one at 501 Hayes Street at Octavia Street in Hayes Valley. (They have another location in San Bruno.) The crepes served here are the most like the ones I had in Paris, made with organic buckwheat and folded into squares. Unlike the heavily-stuffed American-style crepes, these are still largely flat when filled, yet still fill you up. These are the best crepes I've had in a while.
Of particular wonderfulness: the ratatouille crepe (eggplant, sweet peppers, onions, cheese, squash) and La Greque (baby spinach, carmelized onions that are oh-so-sweet, sun dried tomatoes, and feta). The espresso drinks are also very good.
When you're done eating here, you can go for a little walk around the neighborhood and marvel at how many cute little boutiques there are. You can also enjoy the public park on Octavia, a hard-won concession by the neighborhood to keep the street from turning into a freeway (again).
posted by Arlene (Beth)5:35 PM
Siam Dish revisited (yum).I may have mentioned it before, but Siam Dish at 757 Monterey in the Sunnyside neighborhood (west/southwest of Glen Park) has some very tasty curries which differ slightly from other Thai places. Their curries can all be made vegetarian (with or without tofu), and have a very pleasant flavor that is never overwhelming. Their Panang and green curries are special standouts. I recently ate there again with friends, and came away with a wonderful, warm feeling inside.
posted by Arlene (Beth)5:35 PM
One Stop Essential Climate Change Info in Movie Form.An Inconvenient Truth (climatecrisis.net), the new documentary film showing Al Gore's traveling lecture on global warming, is engrossing and excellent. Everyone out there who has been paying any attention at all knows that global warming has been creating a crisis in the far north for a while, disrupting weather patterns, making the permafrost upon which so many human structures are built melt, sabotaging the traditional ice-based lifestyles of northern peoples, raising the temperatures of lakes to the point that fish eggs cook rather than hatch, etc. You may KNOW these things, but it's quite tidy to see them all in one place, with good photographs and graphs.
And you might learn something new: even as someone who has written many letters in support of California's higher-than-national emissions standards and zero-emission-vehicle programs, I was stunned by the chart showing how far ahead the rest of the world is with fuel economy. Stunned. I knew that GM was lying when they claimed that achieving CA's standards in the next decade was impossible; I didn't know that China already has those standards in place, and GM can't sell its dirty cars there NOW - but other, smarter car makers are meeting or exceeding those standards. The graph used to show this is so simple, but really, really great.
You may flinch at the idea of paying money to see a movie with Al Gore narrating, but it's a good one. Even the closing CREDITS are well done. Just go.
posted by Arlene (Beth)5:34 PM
Did I mention that I've been taste-testing chocolate?For science, of course! Well, okay, for my own personal satisfaction. I recently paid a few visits to Chocolate Covered at 3977 24th St (between Noe and Sanchez in Noe Valley) to write an article on the shop's impressive cyanotype photographic print collection. The prints adorn lovely boxes, which are convenient receptacles for chocolate.
An article about my visit, and interview with the proprietor, will appear at the end of this month at alternativephotography.com. But in the meantime, every so often, I will discuss the chocolate here.
I am not someone with a sweet tooth. As anyone who has watched me eat knows, I have something more like a "hot tooth." Of course, this shop happens to carry a variety of chocolates which contain chili peppers or powders, including a very tasty flat of chocolate with almonds and chili, which is sweet, with a warm undertone. The chilies don't drown out the flavor: they just underline it in red.
There are many other chocolates with chilies available, but this one I got to sample, and then couldn't refuse.
Then there is the white chocolate with orange stripes on top, sold under the store's own label. It is not only one of the best white chocolates I've had: it's the most wonderfully orange-tasting bar ever. Absolutely delicious.
There are bags of chocolate-covered dried berries, which are fabulous, of course.
There is the Dolfin milk chocolate bar with Sencha green tea. This is FABULOUS. I'm very partial to green tea desserts, and this one is quite remarkable. It has a minimum 32% cocoa content, is smooth, has a good texture, and the tea taste is just heavenly.
We've sampled several other goodies from this shop, but I didn't intervene to save the packaging early enough, and so I'll have to go back so I can get the names right. For you. Yes, I'm willing to do that for you. I knew you'd understand.
posted by Arlene (Beth)5:33 PM
Thursday, June 08, 2006
SonomaOn the weekend of June 3rd, we visited Sonoma so Steven could enjoy the Hit The Road Jack Wine & Cheese Country 2006 running race on Sunday morning. Steven had chosen the 2.2 mile race (there was also a 10k), and was hoping to place in the top 3 in his age group. We drove up to Sonoma on Saturday to walk the course, eat, wander around Sonoma's town square, and lounge in a cozy bed and breakfast just a block or two away.
It turns out that I am allergic to Sonoma this time of year. While my allergies had largely abandoned me in SF, Sonoma was in lush bloom, and its grassy hillsides reduced me to a series of sneezing fits within a few hours of arriving. An over-the-counter antihistamine was luckily available from local drug stores, and I spent much of the trip able to breathe, but barely awake. There were a few moments when I stared deeply into the bunches of white climbing roses that seemed to adorn every wall in Sonoma, and wondered if they'd be soft enough to sleep in...
Nevertheless, Sonoma's lushness is lovely. The town is okay, with most of the more charming homes located in the old part of town, and the more boring recent homes and strip malls relegated to the outskirts (some of which are, technically, other towns). Old town Sonoma is a tourist spot, and so there are plenty of places to eat, and there are short walks to vineyards along public trails nearby.
We had lunch at The Red Grape, a friendly-family California/Italian-style restaurant at 529 First Street West, just off the square. My asiago and multi-cheese ravioli in a pesto cream sauce were quite lovely, and the serving was small to make up for the richness of the dish. Steven had a cracker-crust pizza topped with Kalamanta olives and fresh cheeses, which was also quite fabulous. the Italian-style sodas, made with local syrups, were also great (pomegranate for me, Meyer lemon for Steven). My only distraction was that the very next table wound up being occupied by a lawyer from my old law firm, who I decided not to make eye contact with to avert talking shop.
We had dinner at A Taste of the Himalayas (himalayanexp.com) at 464 First Street East, accessible from a restaurant-alley near the theater. I am quite partial to Nepali and Bhutanese food, so I was quite excited to eat here. Overall, the style of this restaurant is quite Indian-influenced, with the saag paneer and chana masala-type dishes that lovers of Punjabi-style Indian foods are already fond of.
We had veggie momos, which are steamed dumplings with spinach and spices, served with a perky, creamy red tomato sauce. (The nice men at the next table advised us that the staff doesn't offer the really good, really hot sauces unless you claim that your dishes are too mild. We received this advise slightly too late to act on it.) Steven ordered the saag paneer, which was much like Indian-style paneer; I ordered the alu bhanta, which is a stewed eggplant and potato dish in a tasty, spicy red sauce. (Though we ordered both dishes spicy, only mine was, but I think it can be tricky to make saag spicy in advance - it needs to simmer a long while for all of the flavors to meld.) Our dishes came with rice and a very tasty daal (dark with brown lentils): we also order garlic naan, and cold marsala tea, which was quite refreshing.
The meal was quite good: tasty, satisfying, and filling. The food was more Indian-influenced than that of Little Nepal in San Francisco, but definitely a treat. It was also a very vegetarian-friendly venue in an area of meat-based, French-influenced cuisine.
There's also a good-yet-mild California-Mexican restaurant on one corner of Sonoma Plaza called Maya (mayarestaurant.com), which has tasty meals. We've eaten there during past visits.
I was happy to see that the Two Visions Gallery on the plaza had photographs by Lisa Kristine (migrationphotography.com) on display. Kristine specializes in portraits of people in gorgeous traditional costume, taken during her travels around the world. Her prints are spectacularly rich in color. She now co-owns this gallery, which shows her work off in large scale, to great effect.
I own a print of hers, with the silhouettes of young men in Zanzibar jumping from sculptural rock islands into a blue-gray sea, which is quite lovely. It was fun to see a larger version of the print, and some of her beautiful newer work. I don't take photographs of people, but I very much like her style of work, and her use of color in such a lovely way.
Yes, Steven did well in the race: though he missed the top 3 for the men in his age group, his times are continuing to improve, and he's pleased with his performance.
The trip was a bit hard on me: between the allergies and a bank of high clouds which ruined the evening light Saturday, I didn't get to take many photos, and wasn't completely awake. Our room at the B&B was quite comfy, however, and I relaxed deeply. (Ah, Benadryl.) After the run we visited one of Steven's sisters in Hidden Valley Lake, and went swimming in a pool, which reintroduced me to swimming laps, and to rotator cuff (shoulder) pain afterward. (Ah, old age.)
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:26 PM
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
SaagOne of our favorite Indian dishes is the stewed spinach dish known as saag or palak paneer (or tofu), a stewed dish of spinach, onions, ginger, garlic, and spices that is so wonderful with rice or bread. Every restaurant that serves it has its own recipe, and each tastes different from every other version I've had. I've been trying to come up with my own recipe, and I think I have a version that I really like. This one is non-dairy, putting it more firmly in the saag category - palak tends to have yogurt or sour cream mixed into it. It's simple and delicious.
-spinach, one large bunch (about 5 cups of leaves), washed thoroughly, stems removed
-one large onion (1 - 1.5 cups), quartered
-a tablespoon or so of fresh ginger root, sliced
-4 to 6 cloves of garlic (peeled)
-a tablespoon of canola oil
-two teaspoons of garam marsala
-1 teaspoon of turmeric
-1/2 to 1 teaspoon of coriander powder
-a pinch of asofoetida
-1 or more fresh green chilies (optional).
Instructions: steam the spinach leaves until they are thoroughly wilted, about 5 minutes.
While the spinach is steaming, put the remaining ingredients into a food processor and puree until smooth. Put the puree into a hot pan (a wok is good) with a little more oil, and cook over medium heat, stirring often.
When the spinach is wilted, puree it also, and add it to the onion and spice mixture in the pan. Stir well. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer 15 or more minutes, stirring periodically. [Late postscript: the onion flavors really don't mellow unless this is simmered about half an hour.]
Service with nan or rice.
Variations: add diced tomato to the spinach at any point.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:25 PM
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
I am busy taste-testing chocolate right now. For someone who doesn't have a sweet tooth, I sure do get fussy about sweets.
I've been working; I've been watching Steven participate in foot races; I've been swimming; I've been saved from an unpleasantly incoherent drunk by a youth who hurls epithets with elegant, marksmanlike skill; I've been pooped on my a pigeon who got a perfect score for the top of my head; I've rediscovered what serious allergies feel like; I've engaged in a gay marriage to a straight man; I've received my notice to attend jury duty; I've had dessert, and it was good.
So little time, so little sleep, so many cameras, so little film, so much to write about.
Now it's (2 hours past) bedtime, and in a few hours, it will be time to go to the polls to drop off my absentee ballot.
Sleep tight & vote right.
posted by Arlene (Beth)12:21 AM