Monthly Archives: August 2011


When the weather gets hot, I crave somen for lunch.  Somen are very thin Japanese wheat flour noodles served ice cold with a bit of somen base, a salty sort of broth.

When I was growing up, we had Japanese college students stay with us for a few years.  They introduced us to all sorts of things we had never experienced before.  We learned to mix sticky rice with vinegar and sugar, then roll our own sushi.  We splattered and streaked thin rice paper with inky calligraphy.  We tried desserts made from rice flour and bean paste.  We knelt on the living room floor and learned to whisk green tea powder and perform a traditional tea ceremony.  We folded stacks of origami  paper into cranes and ate endless boxes of Japanese candy.  The students were generous in sharing their language and culture with us.  Somen was one of those new discoveries.  Cold noodles!  So exotic!

Nowadays, somen doesn’t seem exotic at all.  It has become a familiar comfort food.  After all, I have eaten since childhood—it is as much part of summer as popsicles and fresh tomatoes.   Whenever the weather heats up, I boil the noodles for three minutes, rinse under cold water, and top with a few glugs of somen base.  A quick stir with the chopsticks and I’ve got a simple, refreshing lunch.

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Grilled Pizza

The seeds of the grilled pizza dinner party were sown a few months ago, at my tapas party.  After a few glasses of wine.  I think it went a little something like this:

Rowdy to Heidi: “We should all get together for a grilled pizza party.  At Sally and Victoria’s, that is.”

Heidi to Victoria: “Hey!  Grilled Pizza?  Your house?”  And she made a sort of spinny finger gesture to encompass the intended guest list.

Victoria: “Okay!”

Victoria had told me about her grilled pizza and I really wanted it.  And because that’s just the sort of gracious folks they are, last Saturday evening was grilled pizza night.

It was the best sort of dinner party, to my mind.  The kind that involves a sunny afternoon, and free flowing wine, and plentiful pre-dinner snacks, and a whole lot of laughter.

Oh, and did I mention grilled pizza?

The pre-prep had involved setting the pizza dough to rise, and preparing a variety of toppings: a mixture of prosciutto and figs, pesto, tomato sauce, peppers, anchovies, goat cheese, paper thin slices of chorizo, parmesan, olive oil.

The actual grilling process was fast and furious.  The dough was patted out into oblongs, then lifted onto the grill over medium flame.  After only a minute or so, they were removed, flipped, and topped on the cooked side.  Then back onto the grill for another quick minute and they were done.  Because grilled pizza cooks so quickly, the toppings must be precooked.

The pizzas were cut into narrow slices, the better to sample all of the varieties.  The crust was crunchy on the outside, yielding on the inside, with a hint of char from the grill, and just thick enough to provide a good foundation for the toppings.

As the summer twilight slowly deepened, we finished dinner and moved on to fresh peach pie.  When at last, nobody could eat another bite and coffee had been drunk and it was time to say good-bye, my mind was full of plans.  I will definitely be grilling pizzas of my own soon, and often.

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Peach Jam

The lawnmower stops its roar, then the line trimmer ceases, and finally the leaf blower.  In the relative silence, as the crew moves toward their truck, I walk toward their boss with a jar in my hand.  “Thanks so much–I want to give you this marmalade I made.” “Mmm, orange?” he says.  “Thank you!”  Then, after a pause he smiles shyly, “I like peach jam a lot, too.”

They hop in the truck, wave, drive about ten feet, and park again.

My next-door neighbor has a landscaping business, and during the summer he stops by once a month or so with his crew on their way home from work.  They do my lawn in the gathering dusk before moving on to do his own yard.  I’m sure that it is abundantly obvious to him that I could not keep up with the lawn on my own.  He has always refused to accept money for this service, so I try to repay him in some measure with cookies, muffins, or fresh tomatoes.

In the decade or so that we have been neighbors, I have seen his children grow up and have children of their own.  His wife and I exchange waves and hellos as we pull out of our parallel driveways.  But it is Tomás who has come over to investigate, with his dog at his side and a shovel over his shoulder, when he has heard my security alarm go off.  And it is Tomás that I see regularly, as his guys whip around my yard with professional speed, leaving order in their wake.

I live in a neighborhood of good neighbors—the kind who chat in front yards and exchange pet-sitting duties and cross the street with a snow shovel to lend a hand with clearing the driveway or even shoo the occasional bird out of the house while I cover my head with my hands in panic.  But there is something special about this steadfast, consistent kindness, this willingness to take a few extra minutes at the end of a hard day’s work to do one more lawn, to keep an eye out for a chance to help.

So, of course, I had been keeping an eye out for the first peaches of the summer at the Farmer’s Market.  And finally they arrived, big, golden piles of them from farms in Eastern Washington, and it was time to make peach jam for Tomás.

This is just about the most straightforward peach jam recipe there is.  Four ingredients, a couple hours of your time, and you’ll have jars of pure sunshine.  I made a second batch using some Earl Grey tea, boiled in a muslin bag with the fruit, for a little bergamot flavor that adds complexity to the sweetness of the peaches.  But you can’t go wrong with this basic version.

Peach Jam

(adapted from 175 Best Jams, Jellies, Marmalades & Other Soft Spreads, by Linda J. Amendt)

Makes about seven 8-oz jars

  • 4 cups ripe peaches, pitted, peeled, and crushed (about  4 lbs peaches)
  • 2 tbsps lemon juice
  • 1 box (1.75 oz) powdered fruit pectin
  • 5 1/2  cups granulated sugar, divided

To remove skins from peaches:  bring large pot of water to a boil.  Fill large bowl with ice water.  Cut a shallow X through the skin on the bottom of each peach with a paring knife.  Working with 3-4 peaches at a time, place peaches in the boiling water, cover, and cook for 1 minute.  With slotted spoon, remove peaches to ice bath for about 2 minutes.  Remove from ice bath and skin should peel easily from peaches.

Remove pits from peaches, then crush with a potato masher.

  1. Prepare canning jars and lids and bring water in water bath canner to a boil
  2. Pour peaches into an 8-quart stainless steel stockpot.
  3. In a small bowl, combine pectin and ¼ cup of the sugar.  Gradually stir into the fruit.
  4. Bring fruit mixture to a full rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  Gradually stir in the remaining sugar.  Return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute.
  5. Remove pot from heat and skim off any foam.  Let jam cool in the pot for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace.  Remove any air bubbles.  Wipe jar rims and threads with a clean, damp paper towel.  Center hot lids on jars and screw on bands until finger-tip tight.
  7. Place jars in canner, making sure they are covered by at least 1 inch of water.  Cover and bring to a gentle boil.  Process 4-oz jars and 8-oz jars for 10 minutes; process 1-pint jars for 15 minutes.
  8. Remove jars from canner and place on a wire rack or cloth towel.  Let cool for 24 hours, then check seals.  Wash and dry jars, label, and store in a cool, dry, dark location.

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Pickled Sea Beans

Last weekend we traveled down to the Bay Area for my nephew’s wedding.  I have many remarkable nephews, so just to clarify; this is the one who can juggle fire.  Somehow he went from a tiny little boy in red overalls and an impish grin to a fine grown-up man with a career and a house and now a family (but still the same impish grin).  Go figure.  Auntie’s proud.

It was a quick trip, but we were able to spend Friday afternoon in San Francisco.  Oh, that breezy, magical city.   We had lunch at the Zuni Café.  Although I have visited San Francisco many times, and I have The Zuni Café Cookbook, and Michael has been there before, this was my first time at the iconic restaurant.  The experience was everything I anticipated, and more.

Sunlight poured through tall windows, glinting off the polished copper bar.  At every table, casually elegant patrons chatted as they ate.  The wait staff glided cheerfully past at just the right intervals, never obtrusive, but always available.  And the food—adjectives fail me.  I had spaghetti with roasted cauliflower, fennel, and capers.  Michael had a burger on focaccia bread with pickled onions and zucchini on the side, and shoestring potatoes.

Then we absorbed a caramel pot de crème and a cheese plate with toasted almonds and chunks of bittersweet chocolate.  All of this was accompanied by a series of what-the-hell-I’m-living-this-one-up drinks–from aperitif through digestif.  So maybe it was the grappa that filled me with a giddy sense that all was utterly well in the world, but I think it was more than just the buzz of that firewater in my veins.

As our meal drew to a close, I leaned back in my chair for a satisfied moment.  A platter of oysters arrived at the next table, then a bottle of champagne.  The waiter poured, then retreated.  The couple raised their glasses and toasted each other, “To the greatest day, ever!”

I’ve been pickling like crazy this summer.  Several weeks ago, inspired by The Zuni Café Cookbook, I tried my hand at pickling Sea Beans (also known as glasswort).  Sea Beans are a succulent that is foraged from coastal areas during the summer.  They are delicious sautéed–a bit like asparagus.  It turns out that they are also delicious pickled.  Pickled Sea Beans are delicate and crunchy.  I like them on a sandwich, in the same way that I would top a sandwich with cucumber pickles, peppers, or olives, to provide some sharp, vinegary bite.  They are also excellent–chopped up a bit–on a potato salad or pasta salad, or anywhere you want a little kick.

I am not specifying amounts for this recipe, because it all depends on the size and quantity of jars you intend to fill.  If you find Sea Beans at the farmer’s market, buy some to sauté fresh and a few more handfuls to try pickled.


Pickled Sea Beans

(adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook)

  • fresh sea beans
  • white wine vinegar
  • peeled garlic cloves

Sort through sea beans, pinching off and discarding any woody stems or discolored sprigs.  Rinse well, then pack in glass jars with 2-3 peeled garlic cloves per jar.  Add vinegar to cover.  Put lids on jars.  Let sit for two weeks in a cool, dark cupboard, then refrigerate.  The sea beans are ready to eat at that time, but will keep well in the refrigerator for quite a while.

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I did not labor

I did not find a pair of shoes to go with the dress I will be wearing to my nephew’s wedding on Saturday.  I did not finish painting the windowsills on the guesthouse.  I did not make myself a nutritious dinner, nor a lunch for the next day.  In fact, I took myself to the couch with a book for the evening. 

Lost in a different world, I didn’t even think to check the mail until just before I went to bed.  When I did, there was a package I had been eagerly anticipating.  I opened it to find a jar of Debra’s White Cherry & Peach Jam.  Such beautiful jam—an indescribable color somewhere between a tropical sunset and a little girl’s strawberry blonde curls. 

I did not labor in a sticky hot kitchen full of fruit and mason jars, I just opened up the mail and there it was.

The next morning I topped my bowl of homemade yogurt with a few spoonfuls of the jam.  Studded with cherries and bits of peach like jewels, the jam was a little sweet, a little tart, perfumed with a hint of vanilla—in a word, perfect. 

Go to Smithbites for the recipe!

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