Freezer Pickles


My original recipe for this, passed down from my mom on a handwritten 3×5 card, is named “Ice Box Pickles” for the days when large blocks of ice were cut during the winter, buried in straw through the summer, and delivered house to house on a horse-drawn wagon. A modern-day, electric-powered freezer works just as well, though, for one my favorite ways of highlighting the season’s crisp cucumbers.

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Finding Oakland’s Pho Ao Sen

(Photo by brandondesigns)

As summer reaches its August peak (yes, it’s foggy this morning in San Francisco) and as families get desperately creative with their staycations, I’ve been reminiscing about those old car trips of my youth: my mom hopelessly lost somewhere between Denver and St. Louis, my sister and I — oblivious in the backseat — singing “Popeye, the Sailor Man!” over and over and over and over, and our many stops at Church’s Chicken and Taco Bell, the two places we were guaranteed to find spicy food.

Remember those days, long before Chowhound and Yelp, Google and Mapquest, when forays into new culinary terrain were truly crapshoots? (Cue up the old-timey nostalgia music…) To find good food in an unfamiliar town, you had to depend on three important tricks: Identifying well-fed locals with a keen sense of direction. Quickly judging a restaurant by the number and types of vehicles parked out front (or be strong enough to enter, scope out the menu and dining room, and then opt to leave a restaurant with absolutely no shame at all). And, most crucial of all, befriending taxi drivers and policemen.

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Druze Cuisine and Korean Chicken in NYC

druze1.jpg My visits to New York City are usually hectic, overscheduled, and downright tiring. Between friends and family, the pressures of “researching” restaurants and visiting everyone’s favorite museum, vacations to the Big Apple are hardly leisurely affairs. This time, though, I resolved to take it easy.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to find good food as long as you schedule meetings for mealtime. Even a late-night rendezvous will uncover good eats.

Two places that I was delighted to try this past weekend, with the guidance of friends, are Gazala Place in Hell’s Kitchen (or, as the real estate agents have been calling it since the new high-rises came in: Midtown West) and the infamous Bonchon Chicken in Koreatown.

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Infusing Hibiscus


My drink of choice at taquerias has always been a large, refreshing glass of jamaica, the brightest and probably healthiest agua fresca in the glass barrel lineup. The beautifully scarlet infusion of hibiscus flowers is rich in Vitamin C and carries a tartness that I love. The dried flowers can be found in any Latino market, or, if you prefer, organic flowers are sold in bulk at markets like Rainbow Grocery. Brewed in boiling water, sweetened with honey, spritzed with a touch of fresh lime or orange, and then served over ice, it’s a delicious and healthful way to banish soda and other bottled drinks.

Abundant in Australia, where it’s known as roselle, hibiscus has recently been exchanging its Mexican and health-food togs for an elegant spin in the world of cocktails. A Sydney-based company, Wild Hibiscus, has begun preserving the whole flowers in syrup. A single bud and a spoonful of its sweet, rosy syrup transform a glass of prosecco into one of the prettiest drinks around. It’s just as easy to dress up a seasonal bellini or brighten a vodka martini.

For now, you can order online — a small jar of 11 flowers and a serious party pack of 50 — but keep an eye out for the jars soon in local markets.

Provencal Beef Stew

As a member of a recently formed meat club, one that divides up monthly deliveries from Marin Sun Farms, I have been revisiting some of my favorite beef, lamb and goat recipes. After a few years of rarely cooking big pieces of meat in my kitchen (the meat lover in my heart is always duking it out with the vegetarian of my brain), I had a large roast in the freezer that required some attention.

An invitation to a Provencal-style patio party helped me decide what to do with that hunk of tri-tip. Beouf en daube, anyone?

There are as many ways of making this classic dish as there are stew pots, but one version, with big chunks of carrots, glossy shallots, and briny green olives is my own favorite. Gentle cooking in an airtight pot is the key, and purists will insist that you make it three days before serving it, reheating it along the way to meld and then re-meld all the ingredients into a rich, complex stew.

I have been known to simmer a stew for a mere two hours on the day of serving. It really does make a difference to let it mature for a couple of days, however, as the leftovers just keep getting better and better.

A few tips for making a daube so good that you will not actually have that much left in the pot after your dinner party…


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