assembling macho salad

Macho salad

24 October 2014

I love this hefty-not-heavy salad, featured in a number of Hillstone restaurants, in spite of its goofball name. I’m not sure what makes it macho – lots of dates; very corny? And shouldn’t a macho salad be beefy, not chicken? But name aside, it’s the mix of flavors and textures – greens, chicken, chopped dates, corn, avocado, toasted almonds, goat cheese – that makes this salad meal memorably satisfying.

When you have leftover roast chicken on hand, or you’re grabbing a rotisserie chicken as a shortcut, this salad won’t leave you feeling like you cheated on dinner. It’s easy to assemble – you can use frozen corn straight from the bag, skip toasting the nuts – and the dressing is just a dab of mustard shaken with vinegar and olive oil.

You’d pay $19 for this at the restaurant, or easily $50 for two after tax and tip. It’s as good or better at home – though at the restaurant they do have pretty great cornbread croutons.

For this salad, I bought medjool dates for the first time from the popular vendor at my regular Sunday farmers market. He is always there, giving out huge plump dates as samples. The whole dates are nearly as big as Halloween candy, and almost as sweet, too – chewy and caramelly. I’ve enjoyed the samples before, and though I’ve been intrigued to try using dates as a sugar substitute in baking, it took macho salad to inspire me to man up and buy a bag.

You could sub in another dried fruit – figs, cranberries, raisins, prunes – and this salad would still be good. But the dates add an indefinable brown-sugary chew that is so much more interesting. read on…


coastal run

Outdoor school

20 October 2014

I realize school can’t be fresh and different every day – goodness knows work and home aren’t either. But every once in a while the kids get a golden day – a break from routine to do something exceptional – and it reminds them how fun learning can be and recharges them for the regular daily grind.

In Ohio we had pioneer day, a day of old-time fun during which the kids stamp leather, churn butter, dip candles and make biscuits. Last month, my fifth grader went to outdoor school on California’s glorious coast, and I hitched a spot as a chaperone.

We’re lucky here in California. This coastline, much of it natural and undeveloped, is an hour drive but a world away from Silicon Valley. Pigeon Point lighthouse, one the tallest lighthouses on the west coast, is home to a hostel, where you can stay in a bunk for $28 a night and soak in the view from the spectacularly located cliffside hot tub. read on…

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fresh strawberry cake

Fresh strawberry cake

10 October 2014

When she asked for strawberry cake with strawberry frosting, I didn’t even try to convince my kindergartener to consider pumpkin cake for her fall birthday. It’s been unseasonably hot here in California, there are still plenty of local strawberries at the markets, and strawberry cake is pink. You don’t have to be missing your front teeth to see the logic in it.

For many years my standby for every harried birthday season was this blissfully easy chocolate cake. But my youngest doesn’t let me off so easy. Last year she mixed it up with lemon cake and lemon buttercream, but usually it’s strawberry all the way.

This year I’ve finally hit on a cake-frosting combo simple and good enough to keep. Fresh strawberry puree adds natural strawberry flavor to both the batter and the cream cheese frosting. And I knew the cake, based on the ultimate vanilla cupcake recipe from The Cupcake Project, was a winner when kids at the party didn’t just lick off the sweet stuff.

With some guidance, I made this cake twice, once with fresh puree and once with cooked. The color and flavor are stronger with the cooked, reduced puree, but though it’s not hard, it adds a lot of time. So in my 80/20 approach to cooking, I’ll take the 80% good for the 20% effort. I want to eat well, but I also have a life to live.

read on…

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If I made a pie chart of the food groups in my diet, feta would have its own wedge. I use it in everything but never thought to whip it up into a spread – and who knew that with a little bit of olive oil, the crumbly cheese would whirl up into a creamy, intensely savory feta cloud? Of course the Greeks already know this. It’s called kopanisti.

I was in Seattle recently and grabbed dinner with new friends at Tom Douglas’s Greek-inspired Lola. We ordered a tableful of dishes to share, but it was the nondescript little cup of white spread, flecked with tiny bits of green, that hooked us all. Lola’s kopanisti has the usual feta and mint, with just a hint of garlic, but it also has an unexpected snap of bleu cheese.

Before I got distracted by the watermelon languishing in my fridge, this is the recipe I wanted to share with you yesterday. It takes no time to make, and it’s destined to be a regular at our fall football Saturdays.

read on…


watermelon agua fresca

Watermelon agua fresca

2 October 2014

If, like me, you wistfully bought a watermelon recently, because it’s still warm where you live and you’re in denial about the sun setting earlier each day, only to find that the watermelon was only holding up a good face on the outside but inside its wan and pale flesh knows that summer is truly over – let me cheer you up with some agua fresca.

This is the perfect complement to my how-to-pick-a-melon post, because it’s far, far better to drink a mediocre melon in sweet, cool agua fresca form than to choke down tasteless pieces because you don’t want to waste the melon.

Agua fresca is awesomely easy and crazy refreshing. I would never hope for a dud melon. But sipping on this agua fresca, I’m glad I got one. read on…


I’m all about breaking bread these days. Not necessarily in a literal sense, since no one but me seems to eat wheat anymore. But in a figurative sense, breaking bread is increasingly how I like to think of eating with loved ones in my home.

It’s the antithesis of entertaining. No elaborate preparation, stress or fuss – breaking bread is instead a modest sharing of what we have with others. An outstretched hand, an invitation to join, breaking bread is more about the time shared than the actual food offered.

Maybe I’m getting lazier with age, or protesting against heightened expectations from having food blog. But I think I’m just getting wiser about what it is that actually matters.

If I waited to have friends over until I could prepare a really special meal, it would never happen. We’re all busy. More than food, we crave relaxed time to visit. Goodness knows no one is underfed these days, or at this age. What we’re often running low on is meaningful social connection. read on…


Zha jiang mian (noodles with meat sauce)

12 September 2014 Asian
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If the title of this post does nothing for you, stop for a minute and listen. The sounds you hear are squeals of excitement and moans of hunger from all the people for whom the three words zha jiang mian evoke yearning memories of their favorite comfort food, a deeply flavorful noodle bowl from childhood. […]

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Yogurt at home

29 August 2014 Breakfast
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If you don’t make yogurt at home, you may wonder why anyone does. Sure it’s cheaper, but yogurt is not expensive and you’re probably not eating enough to care. For me it’s the taste (pure and natural), the health benefits (DIY probiotics) and the digestibility (low/no lactose). You can’t buy the equivalent at the store […]

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Grilled peach and mozzarella salad

13 August 2014 Food
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It might be okay that I’ve discovered the perfect summer salad after summer fruit season is past its peak. When peaches are at their juicy prime, the kids devour them before I get a chance to cook with any. Now it’s my turn. I’ve had this salad five times in four days, and I can’t […]

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Melon divination

5 August 2014 Food
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A melon purchase is a commitment in a way that buying an apple, say, is not. A mealy apple can be philosophically tossed, but a mealy watermelon is a sloppy, head-shaking disposal project. Summer is the season to practice melon-picking skills, since your risk of getting a total dud is low. Even so, shipments vary […]

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