A Peek Into The Kitchen: Preparing Our Monday Night Thanksgiving Dinner

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James made this huge pot of cranberry sauce. Is it enough to feed 120, we wondered. Turns out it was. Later, we stirred in sliced kumquats which we'd candied in maple syrup.

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Since I’ve been blogging, my camera has become another of the tools I bring with me wherever I go to cook. Last Monday was no exception, as I hoped to capture a feel for what goes on behind the scenes in preparing our Monday Night Dinner Thanksgiving meal. Our Monday-before-Thanksgiving celebration is likely to be both the meal with the greatest number of dishes and the largest attendance of all the meals in a year. In short, there is the potential for stress! As usual, things started out well, and I got a number of shots of the early stages of prep, which I share with you here.  Later, also as usual, things got more intense, and I had to put away the camera and devote 100 per cent of my attention to cooking.

As you might imagine, a meal like this takes some planning. Two months ahead of time, James Holloway, our other Monday night chef, and I hash out the menu.  A week ahead, we divide up the menu, deciding who will be responsible for purchasing and preparing each dish. I bought the pie ingredients on Friday, and spent most of Sunday preparing the pies and the tofu cream. Monday morning I was up early, left my home shortly after 9 and made it to Berkeley Bowl, which was in full pre-Thanksgiving madhouse mode, to do my half of the shopping.  By noon I was pulling up in front of the First Baptist Church, our dinner venue. James was already on site, and had the cranberry sauce nearly done. Later, Paul Schmitt, who regularly serves as our prep cook and pot washer, joined us. He did a heroic job of frying our croquettes on the griddle, among other tasks. And thankfully, Jeff Coate, who volunteers occasionally, also came by to help out. We put him to work trimming the green beans and making up the croquettes (we welcome kitchen volunteers who are willing to pitch in and do whatever needs to be done). It was a real team effort and by 6:30 everything was done, and only the clean-up remained.  We have been working together so long, we are like that proverbial well-oiled machine.  It’s a lot of work, but because we like each other and get on well, it’s also a pleasure.  I should add, that it really does take a village to put on a community dinner like ours.  It only happens because of the faithful work, year after year, of our volunteers, supervised by dinner manager, Ilona Pollak.  In a future post, I hope to highlight what they all do. In case you missed it, yesterday’s post shows and describes in detail everything we made. All in all, it was a lovely evening.

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James gives the cranberry sauce a final taste (more photos after the jump).

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Test Your Produce IQ: Can You Identify These Unusual Fruits?

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Back in June, I asked you to test your knowledge of unusual vegetables which I’d photographed at Berkeley Bowl, the great East Bay produce market. Today, I’m asking you to have a go at identifying a dozen fruits, also found at Berkeley Bowl. The answers are at the end of this post, but try guessing and see how many you can come up with, and then send us a comment telling how well you did. Are you a produce whiz, or do you have room for improvement?  Take this quiz and let us know! My previous post of the vegetable quiz is here. Good luck!

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Berkeley Middle Schoolers Cook With Passion In Iron Chef Contest

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You’ve all watched the Food Network’s Iron Chef: two chefs have an hour to prepare five dishes based around a secret ingredient, and three judges award points based on flavor, originality and presentation. Last week I had the privilege of being a judge at an end-of–term Iron Chef contest at Berkeley’s Willard Middle School. Berkeley has the reputation of being a wacky place, but some great things happen in that singular East Bay City. I find it remarkable that, in a program funded mostly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Berkeley students learn healthy cooking and gardening beginning in kindergarten.  I’ve been an Iron Chef judge at Willard before, and I’m always impressed by how much effort and skill these kids bring to the contest.  They take it seriously. In addition to the criteria used on the TV show, Willard students are also judged on teamwork, recipe writing and clean-up. Of course, these are young people with still a lot to learn, but I have to say, the food was done on time, and looked and tasted good.  Among the dishes they made: muffins, stuffed potatoes, strawberry crepes, french fries, sugar cookies, fried veggies and fried rice, latkes, and fruit salad. I so appreciate everyone who contributes to this wonderful program.  We hear a lot about the problem of obesity and poor nutrition among our youth, but in Berkeley they are actually doing something about it, and the kids seem to love it. You’ll find lots more photos after the jump.

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Photos: Top, the winning table displays their dishes. Above, prepping the secret ingredient: peaches.

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Think You Know Your Veggies? Take This Produce IQ Test And Find Out!

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I imagine readers of this blog to be pretty savvy when it comes to produce, but take a look at the unusual vegetables I photographed yesterday at Berkeley Bowl, one of America’s premiere produce markets. Most every time I shop there, I see something new to me, and many of these veggies would have stumped me before I became a devoted Berkeley Bowl shopper. After the jump, you’ll see photos of ten vegetables.  How many do you recognize? The answers are at the end of this post, but try not to look until you’ve finished attempting to identify all ten.  Leave a comment, and let other readers know how well you did! In a future post, we’ll look at exotic fruits.

Photo above: Mystery vegetable number ten may not be what it appears to be at first glance.

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Travel: On a Hot Day, There’s Nothing Like a Ferry on San Francisco Bay

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Vallejo Baylink Ferry, one of the 300-passenger, high-speed catamarans which cruise to San Francisco in 55 minutes.

 

Right on schedule in the Bay Area, we’re having Indian Summer, some of our hottest days of the year. It was 85º F today in San Francisco–and most of you know how rare that is. On glorious days like this I can think of few better places to be than on the water.  And since I don’t own a boat, taking a ferry is how I make that happen.  I  think the best ferry on the bay is the Baylink Ferry between Vallejo and San Francisco because  at 55 minutes it is by far the longest time you will spend on the water.  Oh, and by the way, I live in Vallejo.  But even if you don’t live in Vallejo, this is something you should know about.

You can leave your car at home because a number of bus routes in Napa and Solano counties stop at our Ferry Terminal and on the San Francisco side, the Ferry Building is only two blocks from the Embarcadero BART and Muni stations and an easy Muni connection (or even walk) from the Caltrain Station at Fourth and Townsend.  There are a dozen ferries each way on week days and eight on weekends. For a foodie like me, a stop at the Ferry Building is always warranted (this time it was a quick, but completely satisfying lunch at Mijita).  Bicycles are welcome on board, and there’s even a full bar. If Vallejo’s not your destination of choice, there’s also ferry service to Sauasalito, Larkspur, Angel Island, Alameda, and Jack London Square in Oakland. I take the ferry as often as I can and find it a totally civilized way to travel–driving is just barbaric by comparison!  See more photos of the ferry trip my friend Adele and I made today from Vallejo to S.F., after the jump.

 

Our destination: San Francisco's Ferry Building, as seen from the water.

 

 

Our ultimate destination: Mijita for lunch, one of dozens of possibilities in the Ferry Building (vegetarian taco, strawberry aqua fresca, fish taco).

 

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Locavore: What’s Fresh, Local and In Season

SATURDAY AT SAN FRANCISCO’S FERRY BUILDING FARMER’S MARKET

At a time when it seems like everything is shipped in from China, it’s such a relief to shop where nearly everything is locally sourced, your nearby certified farmer’s market. And if you’re a foodie, or even just mildly interested in food, you are missing out if you haven’t been to San Francisco’s Ferry Building lately.  Inside, you’ll find more than 40 food-related businesses, outside on Saturdays a hundred or more additional vendors set up one of America’s most celebrated farmer’s markets.  As a cook, there’s no better way to find out what is local and seasonal than to shop at a farmer’s market, and as far as I’m concerned, nothing stimulates my creativity more than a trip to a great farmer’s market. While the Ferry Building market is the most well-known, there are, of course, highly regarded farm markets in Berkeley, San Rafael, Palo Alto, Mountain View and in most every city and town in the Bay Area (click here for farmer’s market locations in the nine-county Bay Area). One of the great perks of the Saturday Ferry Building market are the free food demonstrations given by top (and often famous) San Francisco chefs. Lots more photos of my discoveries this past Saturday, after the jump…

Buckwheat sprouts, one of hundreds of unusual items at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market

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Signs of Spring: Point Reyes and West Marin

Green hills of Marin line Tomales Bay

If we take the time to look and listen, there’s a lot of natural beauty to be experienced in the Bay Area.  I particularly love Point Reyes, an easy day trip. Because  we’ve had average or above rainfall this season, Point Reyes is vibrant, with streams running full and the woodlands and hills a lush green. Luckily, I was able to visit there this past week and my photo essay follows… Continue reading