Inspired By A Trip to Spain, We Celebrate a New Year

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I think it was my grandmother who first told me that the older one gets, the faster time goes by.  Back then, it didn’t mean much to me, but it surely does now. It seems like we’ve barely celebrated the start of one year, when the next one slaps us in the face. For twenty years, I’ve marked the beginning of each year with an open house, inviting friends and acquaintances to come for food, drink and conversation. Perhaps it is my hope that through this ritual we can, if only for a moment, quiet the forward rush of time. Also, I love the idea of  colorful characters from the many parts of my life coming together, and getting to know one another. This year, on the second Sunday in January, upwards of forty people dropped by mi casita. Having had the privilege of spending two weeks in Spain last fall, and taking a cooking class in Barcelona,  a Spanish theme seemed inevitable. And so, inspired by the food of Spain, I created a menu, not authentically Spanish perhaps, but rather my impression of a few Spanish dishes, cooked in my style. So, here in pictures and words, are the dishes I served, with a couple of recipes and the complete menu following at the end.

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Photo at the top–Vegetable Paella. Medium grain brown rice sautéed along with diced onion, garlic, tomato and a pinch of smoked paprika and of saffron, cooked in lightly-salted vegetable stock. When the rice is nearly done (about 5o minutes later), I added in diced, steamed  carrot, butternut squash and  sweet potato, and continued cooking for about ten minutes. At this point, I seasoned the paella with a generous sprinkling of umeboshi vinegar (find this in a good natural food store, or substitute a bit of lemon juice and additional salt). Just before serving, I stirred in thawed frozen peas.

Photo above: Seafood Salad.  Surprisingly, I found an exceptionally nice seafood mixture (raw shrimp, scallops, calamari and cooked mussels) at Costco. A day ahead, I briefly steamed some diced fresh fennel and then marinated it in a mixture of orange and lemon juices (along with the zest), mirin, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper (save the feathery fennel leaves for garnish). Separately, I marinated thinly-sliced raw red onion in a similar mixture. The morning of the party, I quickly cooked the shell fish (when the shrimp is firm and thoroughly pink, the seafood is ready). Then I combined the briefly-cooked shell fish with the marinated fennel and red onion. The marinade from the vegetables was almost enough for the entire dish, but I did add some more orange and lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. This can be served chilled or at room temperature.


All photos by Robert Starkey

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Q: What Would You Do If You Had Only One Afternoon In Paris?

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Paris, ancient as it is, has endured a great plenty of violence, war and revolution. But given the relative peace of recent decades, bloody scenes from the Charlie Hebdo shooting have been shocking indeed. Once again we are reminded that even in one of mankind’s most civilized places, primitive horror can still strike. However, all that was far from my mind on a glorious day last autumn when at the tail end of a European holiday I was privileged to spend a few hours in Paris. I’d been to Paris before and taken in the obligatory sites, so with no agenda, I set out to explore once again a city which never disappoints. Paris really is as gorgeous as the postcards portray. My day ended perfectly too, with a dinner at the atmospheric Left Bank home of my friends, Annette and Robert. So, here are some photos from one afternoon spent wondering the streets of Paris…

___________ P1090901 Photos: Although millions of tourists traipse through the Cathedral of Notre Dame every year, most seem to miss the lovely park just behind the Cathedral, seen here in two views. There are many more of my photos after the jump.

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Michio Kushi Dies at Age 88




Sadly, I’ve received news that  Michio Kushi died in Boston on December 28th, at age 88.  Those of you familiar with macrobiotics or the history of the natural foods movement in America, will surely have heard of Mr. Kushi. Beginning in the 1960’s, he was a leading advocate and teacher of a way of eating which was then controversial but now has become almost mainstream.  Back in the early 1970’s, when I first encountered macrobiotics, little had been written, and what little there was came mostly from Michio. So, although I didn’t always agree with his teachings, he certainly influenced my life in ways I may not have yet even realized.

Living far from Boston, the center of his teaching, my association with Michio and the Kushi Institute was at a distance. I’ve heard him lecture a few times, and once had the privilege of meeting with him at the family home in Brookline, Mass.  Although it was nearly 30 years ago, I remember that day vividly. On a chilly Sunday afternoon in January, Michio invited 8-10 gay men to have what turned into an hours-long discussion of how macrobiotics could impact the then rapidly-growing AIDS epidemic. I will always appreciate how Michio gave of his time and hospitality that day.   I should note that he had been working with AIDS patients for several years by that time, even in the early days when many feared that the disease could be spread by casual contact. For his courage in advocating early on for AIDS patients, I salute him.

The New York Times obituary is here:

Photo: via Wikipedia

Quick, Easy and Seasonal: Try This Udon Bowl with Salmon and Spring Vegetables




If there’s anything better than a Farmer’s Market to stimulate me to get into the kitchen and create a fresh, seasonal recipe, I can’t think what it would be. Warm weather and long sunny days have already descended on the Bay Area, and with that comes an abundance of early-season produce.  This morning I found leeks, garden peas, fava beans, green onions and shiitake mushrooms, all of which figure in this light, yet comforting udon noodle recipe. At my local Asian supermarket I picked up a package of fresh udon noodles. Using these precooked noodles makes an already easy dish go together even faster, and I find these noodles to be thicker and more succulent than noodles cooked from dry.  A caution: often these noodles come with a favoring packet full of weird ingredients–just toss it away! Start with a well-seasoned stock, and you’ll end up with a hearty, satisfying lunch or dinner. I’ve added only a little soy sauce, there’s no ginger or garlic or spice or oil, so the favor of the fresh vegetables, salmon and noodles really shines. And I think you’ll appreciate that this recipe requires only one pot, and comes together in under 30 minutes.  Happy Spring!  (Full recipe after the jump)

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Journey Back in Time: Take The A Train to The Cloisters


As a newcomer living in New York some 45 years ago, the city seemed like like an alluring, unknown wonderland, and I felt like an explorer ever ready for a new adventure. And so, one weekend day, a friend and I set out for The Cloisters, not knowing what to expect. What I found was a series of ancient-feeling rooms filled with medieval art, and set in a park on river bluffs high above the Hudson. It was magical, and I made a promise to myself to someday return. Last week, I finally did. And on a chilly, blindingly-white and amazingly clear day, it was magical all over again.

I didn’t know much about medieval art then, and I don’t now, but you don’t need to know a lot  to appreciate the beauty and mystery of the centuries-old sculptures, stained glass windows, tapestries, carvings, architectural elements and religious objects on display. To visit The Cloisters is like taking a condensed tour through medieval France, Italy and Spain, with a bit of the Netherlands added in. Last week, it was empty enough that one could have a chapel all to oneself to sit and meditate, a wonderful luxury in a city like New York.

So, if you find yourself in New York with a half day free, take the A train (yes the same train which famously goes to Harlem) nearly to the tip of Manhattan, exit at 190th Street, and step into another world.



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Life Between Snow Storms: A Wintry (But Fabulous) Week in New York City




What kind of crazy Californian goes to New York in February? Especially this year, during one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent memory? Well, I guess that would be me.  Yes, I’ve just returned from a week in the Big City where I had a chilly, but fabulous time. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in Minnesota that the cold in New York doesn’t scare me. I knew enough to come prepared with a warm jacket, stocking cap, gloves, scarf and insulated boots. Thus prepared, I found temperatures in the 20’s to be invigorating rather than chilling.

Fresh out of college, I lived in New York for three years back in the late sixties, and I’ve visited a number of times since, so New York is not unfamiliar to me.  But New York is so vast and ever changing that each visit is a perplexing mix of the familiar with the new and surprising.  I come as both a returning ex-resident and a wide-eyed tourist.

And as much as I love playing tourist in New York, I come, most importantly, to be with friends. Two of my dearest friendships, with Bobby Quidone and Phil Magnuson, I made when we lived, briefly, in the same apartment building at 84 East Third St., in the East Village.  Somehow, we’ve kept a friendship alive for more than 45 years, and it is a joy to see them on the rare occasions when we get together. My other dear New York City friend, Mary Morgan, is a friend of more recent vintage. Until about three years ago, she lived in the Bay Area, and she returns here yearly, so I’m able to see her more frequently.

And so when I do find myself in New York, I’m torn between rushing about to see what is new and exciting, and just wanting to hang out with friends. In the end, I do a little of each.  With only a week to spend, any rational person would compile a precisely-choreographed list of what to to and where to go, so as not to waste a moment.  That’s not me.  I tend to make it up day by day, but I manage to pack quite a lot in, even so.  Here in photos with captions are my impressions of New York c. 2014. See more after the jump, and check back tomorrow for my post on eating in the Big City.


Photo above: I’d never been to the top of the Empire State Building or the top of Rockefeller Center (The Top of the Rock), so that was on my agenda this time. This photo is from the Top of the Rock observation deck, looking south to the Empire State Building and beyond.  I feared it would be frightfully cold and windy up there, but it was surprisingly pleasant.

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A Week of Eating Out, And In, In Manhattan and Brooklyn

Food and New York just go together. New Yorkers clearly love to eat. On some Manhattan blocks, every single storefront is a restaurant. As cold weather always stimulates my appetite, you can be sure I did my share of eating. So, I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t share with you a little bit of what happened food-wise during my week in the big city.

P1080929There are not as many hip and welcoming coffee-shop type cafés in Manhattan as one might think. One that I found and liked quite a bit is Think Coffee, 248 Mercer St., between 3rd and 4th Streets. They have four other locations in the Village and one in Seoul, Korea. Starbucks is present, of course, but for a chain coffee place, I found The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf stores to be less crowded and more comfortable. One place I stumbled upon and wanted to try for lunch was The Clinton Street Baking Company and Restaurant, 4 Clinton St. near East Houston, on the Lower East Side. However, at 2:30 on a Wednesday afternoon the waiting line seemed long, so I decided to pass. I hope to make it back to this popular spot some day because it looked like it would be really good.

P1080761P1080766One of the relative new-comers to the Manhattan museum scene, is the Neue Gallerie, Fifth Avenue at 86th St., which specializes in showing art and design from Germany and Austria. I was amazed by a show of  early  20th Century German posters. The museum’s popular restaurant, Café Sabarsky, offers a Viennese menu and ambiance in a space with views of  Central Park. Photos above: My friend Mary Morgan samples the excellent beet borscht, and lunchtime in the café.


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