A Late Summer Sweet with a little S and P

My friend Leif Hedendal, a masterful underground chef with sharp blue eyes, a soft voice, and wit so dry it’s almost hard to detect, recently asked me to help him with an event. After working at restaurants such as Greens and Citron, Leif (pronounced “life”) decided it was time to leave the establishment and set off on his own culinary path. By cooking at underground dinners and supper clubs, catering events, and experimenting with the chemistry of flavors in his own kitchen, Leif has made a name for himself in the East Bay and San Francisco.

Some of his flavor pairings sound exotic and daring, and sometimes his deftness with the most simplest of dishes, such as Grilled Tahini Califlower, reveal his true prowess in the kitchen. The event he catered recently- the one where I served appetizers, opened wine bottles, and had a genuinely good time with both servers and party-goers alike- was for a company’s celebration of an installation exhibit in Hayes Valley.

The menu included Deconstructed Gazpacho (hallowed out Dirty Girl Tomatos with a spoonful of fresh garlicky gazpacho in each one), a Chantrelle Mushroom Galette, and crostini withfigs with fresh chevre. The most unique, and arguably the most successful, dish of the night arrived in the form of a provocative and somewhat controversial dessert. After arranging sliced tomatoes, tiny sweet strawberries, pluots, fresh mint, and fresh basil in a bowl, Leif spooned salt and pepper ice-cream from Humphrey Slocombe onto each plate followed by a thin drizzle of olive oil. The combination seemed to encompass all of summer, and the salt and pepper ice cream is truly, and maybe surprisingly, spectacular. An original pairing and one I will miss as strawberries stop appearing and tomatoes all but disappear until next summer.

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The Life of Pies

 

From Left to Right: Two, One, and Three

the entries

We were a household full of sugar-starved females in a season notorious for pie consumption, and somehow we gained access to cases upon cases of raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries for free.

 

I think you know the rest of the story.

I’ll give you two hints: Pie Competition.

It began with all of the donated fruit (Gretchen catered a tequila saturated event for Driscoll employees and in their hangover haze they left all of their product behind), and soon enough one of our friends casually dropped the whole “We should have a pie-making competition” line within earshot and soon enough there were twelve of us lined up around the kitchen, mouths watering, waiting to try three very delicious looking berry pies. A massive bowl of whipped cream and a pint vanilla ice-cream awaiting, we served a small slice of each pie to each judge and quickly got to work. 

Pie Notes

Pie #1

 

 

The Hot Shot making Pie #1

The Hot Shot making Pie #1

 

 

Contestant: The Hot Shot

Overall: Made by the local pie expert, pie #1 was all about the crust. With barely any sugar in the filling, this blackberry/raspberry pie had a classic delicate crust and tart, evenly cooked filling.

Process: The maker of this pie strut into our kitchen well before any contestant and had a crust rolled and ready in about twenty minutes flat. A seasoned crust connoisseur, he insisted on bringing his own pan and accessories. Better caught dead than without a pastry cloth. 

Secrets: Ice water in the dough; chilling the dough before rolling it out; barely any sugar in the filling; touching dough as little as possible to ensure flakiness

Results: The fact that there was the least amount of this pie left in the pan after the judges got to work might just speak for itself.

 

Pie #2

Hard at work on Pie #2

Hard at work on Pie #2

 

 

Contestant: The Artiste

Overall: The artiste came up with the idea for the contest and had his crust made the night before. Definitely the best dressed, this pie wins the beauty contest. Extra points for the cinnamon sugar on top.

Process: Making the crust the night before may have made the rolling-out process more challenging for him, but the artiste refused to complain. With furrowed brow and beer in hand, this meticulous contestant showed patience and perseverance as he wove a pie-crust worthy of children’s book illustrations or Martha Stewart Living.

Secrets: Sour cream and vinegar in the crust; cinnamon sprinkled on top

Results: Tasteful, tantalizing, and tangy.

 

Pie #3

Lemon was the key to #3

Lemon was the key to #3

Contestant: The Natural

Overall: This pie profited from a luscious, smooth filling made complex with the use of all three types of berries (blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries) and generous helpings of lemon zest. The most original of the three, The Natural’s pie also had an oat crumble crust making it a cobbler-pie hybrid.

Process: Ah, the process. Halfway through a compelling conversation, The Natural looked down to her bowl and realized she had stirred its contents into a marmalade mush. Almost at her mind’s end, she saved the day with an oat/brown sugar crust and plenty of lemon.

Secrets: Three kinds of berries; lemon zest and juice

Results: Most agreed that while sweeter than the other two pies, pie #3 also had the more complex and layered flavors, making it the most original and the best pick for late night leftover bite.

Grazing at the Goat Farm Gala

IMG_5022Moments after we’ve arrived the primary concern becomes the lack of a corkscrew. We are on Toluma Farms near Tomales in West Marin (see on map): eight friends, four who have been best friends for years and haven’t been all together in awhile, and four others who are related to or dating the original group (I belong to the latter category). The occasion demands sumptuous cuisine, cocktail attire, and close quarters. The party is to take place in Cory’s small yet classy trailer, a space that reminds me of a boat’s interior with its wood-paneling and tight turns. We’re all here, Cory’s finishing up his daily goat-feeding duties, and so far, despite two cases of wine patiently awaiting consumption, no amount of investigation yields a corkscrew.

 After one experiment with a bottle of rosé and a butter knife, Tom and I take decisive action and drive back to town to buy a wine key. On the way I spot blackberries on the side of the road. We find what we are looking for at the general store and tear back to the stretch of road lined with blackberry bushes. Picking berries is something I’ve been wanting to do all summer. Minus an occasional small strawberry, my childhood was not full of berries and pies as many are. Colorado provides peaches and plenty of greens, but berries don’t often survive the arid climate. Amidst the bountiful bushes in West Marin, I eat more than I pick and still we fill an enormous tupperware with ripe violet fruit to take back to the farm with us.IMG_4996

 The farm sits on a low hill and has several shabby sheds, a dazzling white wooden house, the goat barns, and Cory’s quaint mobile abode that still sits on four large wheels. Exploring around the house, I find a garden and a trail winding up to the top of the hill. Cory comes out and offers to show us all around. We’ve been waiting for a tour and I’m excited to see the goats. “Let’s go see the babies, they are more interesting,” says Cory after a brief stint meeting grazing mothers in a pen closer to his house.

 “Hey kids” and they are running up to the fence nosing through wire. IMG_5027The light flat like the bottom of a bowl, the kids nuzzling and bleating, nothing around but dusty brown hills and sheds tucked into them. Goats, unlike most farm animals, actually take interest in you when your approach them. These little ones bleat like it’s a competition and push at the hands we’ve rested on their foreheads. They are named after cheeses like Cottage and Gruyere and they nuzzle us in search of food. In the bigger barn, there are billy goats with wispy beards and even a peacock who struts arrogantly away from us. He is molting and his feathers beam only a hint of their normal brilliance.

 We trail back to the house and set up tents on mounds of sweet hay. Four ducks waddle by in tuxedos and sound their concurrent alarms, racing from the next calamity and rushing into their squat house. Hay everywhere. Earth. Sweet summer potatoes sunbathing on mountains of dirt. The wind whips and then sinks as dusk takes, and then the sky becomes a darker blank.

 We sneak into the back bedroom and pull out dresses. All four guys wear ties and collars and us ladies have violet, fuchsia, gold silk dresses and earrings. In some ways we’re a stark contrast to the bucolic landscape, but the formal dress validates the air of celebration and sense of romance floating through the farm tonight. Tom even has a vest. His suit was once his father’s, and it’s tailored in British fashion and therefore rather snug. We are eight twenty-somethings, most of us live in the city, and we are standing around on a Saturday night in formalwear on a farm sipping Manhattans. I couldn’t be happier.

 Over the next twelve hours, we taste fluffy cheeses, crisp radishes, two tarts, lemon cucumbers, butter whipped by mistake. Corporeal carrots. Swiftly cooling coffee on the porch. Blackberries with Hannah’s homemade goat cheese. Blackberries with Humboldt Fog goat cheese. Figs and ripe apricots. Salad made from perfectly fresh greens. Grilled eggplant, zucchini, sweet smoky peppers. Red, orange, yellow, green tomatoes.

IMG_4993

Fresh Ingredients

There’s no way to recount everything we eat. Suffice to say it is an array of the freshest food available; Northern California in all it’s delicious glory. Hannah had worked the farmer’s market stand in San Francisco in the morning and brought a case of fresh vegetables. She makes wonderful salsa with tomatoes, peppers, carrots, and cilantro, which was even better the next morning with breakfast.

 

I will lay out some more highlights:

  • Tom’s combination of radishes, sea salt, and butter (new to me but apparently a common favorite)
  • An excellent salad with purple carrots and delicious lettuce from Marin Roots Farm
  • An incredible pluot galette made by Nick as well as his heavenly Angel Peach Pie (click here for the recipe) with perfect peaches, almond meringue crust, and homemade whipped cream
  • An egg scramble in the morning with squash, tomatoes, onions, and peppers alongside rosemary and thyme roasted farm-grown potatoesIMG_4995

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California wine, Belgian beer. Immobilizing Manhattans.

 At night we grow rosy-cheeked from the cold (or was it the wine?) and stand out on the porch smoking and staring out into so much darkness. It’s not an overly eventful evening, just full of laughter and the most profound sense of contentment.  Just before midnight we take a tipsy hike to the top of the hill, looking for the stars that are unfortunately masked in fog. It is so quiet, the moon the only being besides our group. Back at the bottom of the hill I sink into a bed on hay that perfumes our tent with sweetness.

In the morning after an extended breakfast (see above) and several cups of coffee we take one more walk up the hill to look around in the daylight. It’s weird hiking up the same trail when I can see around me. It’s less imposing and adventurous and mysterious in the sun. The hills seem parched by the summer and so many months devoid of rain. The farms and cattle make the landscape look less post-apocalyptic, but I still feel as though I’m in a world entirely distinct from my normal consciousness.

 View from the farmRight before we go a group arrives to tour the farm. The large house lingers in the midst of the compound, windows empty and new. The farm remains unfinished, but it will soon house the owner’s family from San Francisco on the weekend and holidays. Both doctors, the owners bought the land mainly to preserve it and carry on with its traditional small-scale agricultural production. Hannah, who helps manage the herd, is starting a line of goat-cheese bearing the farm’s name. Each jar comes with a hand-drawn picture of a goat and she hopes to start selling them at the farmer’s markets in San Francisco and Marin.

 We pull out of the farm on our way to the promise of sun at Dillon Beach. There’s a cool breeze and we sail past the blackberry bushes, still laden with their tart souvenirs. There’s coastline to explore, Hog Island Oysters to seek out, windy roads to trace, a city to return to. Part of me wants to stay longer and wake to milk goats.

Nick, Norah, Tom, and Cory

Nick, Nora, Tom, and Cory

Storytelling and School Lunch Nostalgia

Bud Teasley is an unassuming chef with clear blue eyes, a mild Southern demeanor, and an intricate loom-like tattoo stretched across his forearm. A Georgia bred, Charleston-trained chef, Bud helped found Boccalone, “tasty salted pig parts,” the king of salumi stands at San Francisco’s Ferry Building Farmers Market, and he caters for a mishmash of events on the side. He will sweetly whip up the most complex of meals and act like he hasn’t spent more than five minutes on them.mail1

He has. He doesn’t hesitate to incorporate labor-intensive elements to his creative dishes, such as artisan honey mustard or homemade brioche. At a recent stint at Mission Street Foods, he even created bacon-flavored caramel covered apples to adorn a salad that tempted this mostly vegetarian out of her ascetic pretenses.

So it’s no wonder that 826 Valencia was thrilled to have him cater their storytelling dinner on March 19th. The event demanded a bit of creativity. Hosted by numerous donors and led by the energetic and ever-loquacious Jory John, Storytelling for Adults was a spin on 826’s normal storytelling fieldtrips, usually presented to classes of 3rd to 5th graders on schooldays. In the adult version, tables of eager adults, softened and encouraged by the wine donated by Quivera, got to partake in their own field trip and create a group-story with a chose-your-own ending.

If you haven’t noticed, adults sometimes take a moment to warm up their creative juices. Bud faced a challenge; how to satisfy paying guests with attractive gourmet victuals while also paying homage to the nostalgia for elementary school. And so he took on the device that inevitably ruled the school day for most of us way back when: the school lunch.

Appetizers consisted of bowls made of hollowed-out grapefruit halvesGrapefruit Salads filled with fennel, grapefruit chunks, and a tasty ginger dressing. The next course was ambitious: Bud created his own version of the chicken nuggets and dribbled homemade honey mustard and crème fraîche for dipping beside them. Also on the plate was crisp macaroni and cheese casserole squares, perhaps not the most delicate of dishes but certainly gratifying. 

Gourmet chicken nuggets and mac-n-cheese

For the vegetarians in the audience, Bud substituted the nuggets with his version of sloppy joe; made from seitan, slow-cooked vegetables, and seasoned with a delicious combination of spiced tomato and brown sugar, the veggie Sloppy Joe proved mouthwatering and should have been the envy of every carnivore in the room. To accompany dinner, each table also had a large bowl of simple peas and carrots, straight from the cafeteria-style.

Dessert abolished any lingering suspicion of a lack of complexity in the meal. Bud decided to de-create the ever-loved PB and J, taking the staple to a whole new level with his innovation. Starting with a handmade brioche, he then added a layer of peanut butter ice cream, topped it with a level of Welch’s grape jelly, and doused the whole thing with a thin layer of warm milk chocolate.

The story created by the end of the workshop turned out a bit weird: entitled “What We Have and Where We are Going”, it follows a depressed monkey named Ugabuga, his sidekick possum named Slick, and their arch-nemesis Goyal, a shape shifting lizard. The plot eventually devolves into a critical mass ride through the French quarter of New Orleans during Mardi Gras; schemes are hatched, instruments are stolen, and somehow outhouses are overturned. Most adults prove much less creative, open, and naturally funny than kids. But it seemed that attendees enjoyed the lighthearted ambience and stimulating group activity; the chance to be silly and get creative. Though the mood and decor inspired nostalgia for elementary school, the flavors on everyone’s palettes were definitely all grown up.

You can find out more about Boccalone on their website.

Also, check the Mission Street Food Blog for when Bud will be cooking at the England vs. Scotland dinner sometime in May. 

Bud’s (not) Recipe For Vegetarian Sloppy Joe

“I don’t have a recipe, but it went something like this:

  • 1 can whole peeled san marzano tomato 
  • 1/2 can tomato paste 
  • 1 cup brown sugar 
  • 1/4 cup honey 
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika (pimenton de la vera) 
  • Salt and Pep TT 
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion 
  • 2 cups TVP
  • splash of soy sauce 
  • splash of crystal… or any other hot sauce 

Method: Dice onion and bell pepper. Sweat in olive oil with a pinch of salt until translucent, then add all remaining ingredients and allow to simmer for about an hour. Mixture is better if allowed to cool overnight in the fridge, then reheat. Serve on garlic onion buns.