Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Summer of food

September 9, 2013
The fresh produce available in northern California is incredible, especially in the summer. There were farmers' markets all over the city several days each week. (This claims to be a full list.) Our favorite was the Heart of the City market at Civic Center: It's huge, cheap, and has great quality produce.

This was a typical weekend haul: peaches, nectarines, tomatoes (Early Girl, pink cherry, yellow cherry), arugula, lettuce, yellow onions, red onions, lemons, limes, green peppers, chili peppers, corn, garlic, and zucchini. The peaches and tomatoes were particularly great. On other weeks we got cilantro, avocados, apples, oranges, and lots more.

We also bought a grill this summer, a Weber Q100 propane grill. (We compared a dozen models online, picked that one, and bought it from Cole Valley Hardware, which had it in stock.) We decided on propane rather than charcoal for two reasons: First, I had a basic Weber charcoal grill in Cambridge and cleaning up the soot each time was a mess. Second, our porch is really a fire escape, and despite several neighbors having grills, and the landlord never complaining, the flying ash and embers that come out of a charcoal grill would probably be a bad way to maintain that questionably-legal status quo.

We had talked about getting a grill for a while, but the final prod was listening to an On Point episode interviewing grill chef Barton Seaver. He talked about his new book Where There's Smoke, and his description of all the amazing food he grills left me inspired and very hungry. We bought the book and have made some great recipes from it so far.

One of the tricks that Seaver recommends, both on wood-burning grills (which he prefers) and on gas grills (to make them more wood-like), is to burn wood chips to infuse the food with woody smoke flavor. We bought a bag of maple wood chips, which the book describes as, "offering the most classic smoke in terms of the balance between bitter and sweet... for flavorful seafood, ... pork and beef." That seemed like a good all-around starter wood.

At first, the grill sat on the metal grates that make up the floor of the porch / fire escape. It needed a better home, so we built a shelf into the porch's metal bars. (We later added a little solar lamp, for grilling at night.)
This was one of many grilled dinners recently: salmon steaks, zucchini, eggplant, and lemon (with wood chips in foil in the corner). The lemon becomes sweeter from caramelization, and can be eaten after squeezing on the fish. For dessert, we grilled peaches. With the wood chips, a low heat, and the cover closed, it cooks similarly enough to a charcoal grill.

Off the grill, this pasta with seared zucchini recipe is one of our favorite new meals, using all the great produce I mentioned above. (We've been substituting whole wheat pasta for farro, and parmesan for ricotta.) The cherry tomatoes are key here, and when they're good, this dish is incredible:

We spent a recent Sunday cooking and canning peach butter:

While we were canning, we also made tomato sauce, chili pepper-infused olive oil, and preserved lemons. I first read about preserved lemons, aka lemon confit, in Eric Ripert's cookbook A Return to Cooking, but I never actually made it. Then Seaver recommended it in Where There's Smoke"Of all my experiences I had in Morocco, none made as lasting an impression as my discovery of preserved lemons... The difference between fresh lemons and a good preserved lemon is akin to that of a pork chop and proscuitto." So I decided to finally try it. It's supposed to preserve for 4-6 months before using, so it's still got a while to go.

The weather here is never too cold to grill, so we're looking forward to a new palate of grilled meat and vegetables every season.

- Ben

Dog days of summer

September 8, 2013
Back in July, I went home for a week to visit with friends and family. I even made it down the Cape for a few days for a mini-family vacation. And unlike during many other family vacations on Cape Cod, the sun shone the whole time.

My mother joked that "I came home to see the dog." Wouldn't you fly across the county for such an adorable dog?

He even knows how to play soccer.

- Steph

Camping at China Camp

September 7, 2013
I started the summer with big dreams about all the camping we would do. As a San Francisco newbie, little did I know that I'm not the only one around here with summer camping ambitions. And the other campers were much more on top of their game, booking basically every campsite within 200 miles of San Francisco months in advance. When I found one remaining available campsite at China Camp State Park for a Saturday in August, I jumped on it.

Located in San Rafael, China Camp is only 25 miles from our apartment, but it sits at the intersection of two of our favorite destinations: Point Reyes and Sonoma. The first day we took Lucas Valley Road over to Point Reyes, where we stopped for lunch.

We spent the afternoon relaxing at a picnic area at China Camp. We were pleasantly surprised by our campsite, which was the only one available and had appeared on the map to be right next to the bathroom. In reality, it wasn't close at all and we had plenty of privacy, though we played host to a family who used the area near our campsite for a game they called "Ga Ga." Uninitiated in the games of kids today, we thought it resembled modern dodgeball. Apparently it's popular enough to warrant its own story in the NYTimes:
Believed to have originated in Israel, the game — which translates to “touch, touch” in Hebrew — has been a standby of Jewish summer camps and community centers in the United States since at least the 1970s. Now, to the surprise of parents who recall the game from their youths, gaga is solidly mainstream. ...
In gaga, players lob the ball underhand, trying to hit one another below the knees (or below the waist, depending on where you’re playing) to eliminate their opponents from the court. If the ball goes over the wall, or if it is caught before bouncing, the person who launched it is out of the game.
The next morning we explored Glen Ellen, a town in Sonoma Valley and a bit farther north than we normally go. Our new wine tasting guidelines came in handy when the Valley of the Moon Winery wanted to charge us $15 to taste five wines that ranged in price from $17-$25. We said no thank you, and enjoyed a tasting at Little Vineyards instead. After lunch, we headed home, again via Lucas Valley Road to avoid the traffic. (We're very proud of how well we're getting to know the roads around here — our quest to find interesting roads on the motorcycle pays off when the highways are clogged and we want to circumvent the traffic.)

And even though we only got to pull out our tent once this summer (in addition to camping on our road trip), we aren't despairing. The fall is even nicer than the summer here, so we have three months for camping before "winter" sets in.

- Steph