Sunday, May 31, 2009


My love affair with France began at age sixteen. I was lucky enough to spend an entire week in Paris with my high school French class, thanks to the generosity of my father and step-mother. It was the Spring of 1976 and I fell in love with Paris and the French almost immediately. A lot has changed in Paris since those heady first days. I have returned often but somehow each time is like that very first time. Always exciting, always something new to see and discover. This time was no different. Once Robert and I stepped out of the cab in front of the hotel I felt that wonderful frisson I always feel in Paris. Somehow I feel more alive in Paris. I tell people often that France is my second home. I have traveled a lot, been to many foreign countries, liked most all of them but when I am in France I feel at home. Like I belong. Being back in Paris was like returning chez moi. I now feel so very comfortable there. I know how to communicate, how to order in restaurants, how to travel by métro, how to deal with the quirks of the French and France most Americans are confused by.

Our two days went by quickly and were filled with seeing friends who live in Paris. We ate well but that was not the focus of our time there. Because time was so short and because I was trying to see three French friends and two American friends we didn't have the chance to really focus on food. We did eat as much bread, butter and café crèmes as we could. We did grab wonderful leek quiches and fruit crumbles from the corner patisserie for the TGV ride to the Languedoc. We did walk more than we have walked in a very long while. The city enveloped us, wrapped us up in its magic charm and almost didn't let us go. I found it very hard to leave. But another friend in the Languedoc awaited us so I reluctantly boarded the TGV to Béziers.

The Languedoc was all about food (more extensive blogs coming when I return) due to my French friend Anne de Ravel of Saveur Languedoc. Anne has returned from the U.S. to her family farm near Béziers and now runs a cooking and lifestyle company that concentrates on the food and wine of the Languedoc. Those who wish to can spend five days with Anne learning to cook local food and eating in regional restaurants, touring wineries, and meeting local chefs and food purveyors. Because of her connection to food her home, and our stay, was food-filled. Fresh lettuce and Swiss chard from her garden, local seafood from the open air market in Narbonne, local cheeses, fresh bread bought in Montady, the closest village, each morning. Anne and I cooked together and we all ate like kings. Some of the dishes we prepared were fresh sardines barbecued over grape vine cuttings, or souches, a mixed grill of beef short ribs, fresh sausage, chicken that we picked up in Béziers - a medium-sized town close to Anne - also cooked over les souches; local delicacies like tielles, an octopus tarte. We also ate a lot of fresh vegetables either from Anne's garden or from the farmer's market. That is only some of what we ate.

I am going to stop this short as we have a train to Barcelona to catch but I wanted to get something posted at the mid point in our trip. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that my laptop doesn't accept the media card from my camera before I left so this post is without photos but I have taken hundreds that I'll be posting with new blog posts I add when I get home next week.

A bientôt!

My Status: Robert and I leave for Barcelona this afternoon at 3:45 p.m., and return home on Saturday, June 6.

Upcoming Posts: Spain: if time allows, I'll be posting blogs from Barcelona. The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce when I return. As well as several posts about our food experiences in France and Spain.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009


Seattle is most definitely a food (and coffee!) city. It's also a gateway city: to Alaska, to the Pacific, and Asia further off. Large numbers of people come and go from it. Several flights a day arrive and depart to and from Asia and Alaska; cruise ships embark heading north up along British Columbia through the Inside Passage to Alaska, or out into the Pacific to far off destinations; Canada is just over the border a few hours north. The city is diverse culturally, and cosmopolitan in feel, yet still has a Northwestern charm all its own.

The Emerald City

I spent this past weekend in Seattle attending the International Food Blogger Conference, sponsored by Foodista, a cooking encylopedia everyone can edit -- the Wikipedia of food. The last time I was in, or near, Seattle was when I was about fourteen years old. My mother took my sister and I on a three-month long driving tour around the Northwest. I have dim memories of the city itself but do remember stopping at the beautiful Olympic Rain Forest on our way north. In any case I was anxious to visit this city again. Especially considering that since the early 7os when I was last there it has become a food mecca. I found it to be quite wonderful. It reminded me a lot of San Francisco, the damp weather, the hills, all the water, and the food. When I was in the Capitol Hill and West Seattle neighborhoods, I was reminded of Hillcrest in San Diego. Quiet, friendly neighborhoods, like small towns set amongst a thriving city. Yes, there is quite a lot of rain, wet and cold to reckon with if one lives in Seattle, but the beauty and quiet pace of life seemed like a nice balance. The amazing, sunny, mid-70s weather we had all weekend probably helped weave an emerald spell but even on the one damp day I was still smitten.

Food & Eating

Now let's get to the food. My first night I ate alone at Spring Hill restaurant in West Seattle and I could not have been happier. The kitchen is open and I had a table at the very back facing forward into the dining room with the kitchen to my left. I sat, ate, observed, listened, ate more. I was quite impressed with the way the kitchen and dining room staff operated; with a quiet precision. Very few uneeded movements. Almost like watching restaurant choreography. Not something I experience often. The restaurant is owned by the very capable husband and wife team, Chef Mark Fuller and Marjorie Chang Fuller who handles the front of the house. I spoke to Marjorie and learned that they'd be serving us lunch at the IFBC on Sunday so I got to see them again which was a treat. I ate the Chicken/Shrimp Paté, Green Garlic Mayonnaise, Turnips, Asparagus as a first course, and the Handmade Tagliatelle, Spicy Pork Belly, Hen of the Woods, Grilled Green Garlic, Parmesan as a main and I was, sadly, too full to squeeze in dessert. It was as delicious and as perfectly prepared as it sounds. Both dishes.

Earlier in the day I went to Pike's Place Market -- something I'd wanted to see for quite a long time. It didn't disappoint. A lively, bustling and touristy place but it was all good. It was fun to see the original Starbucks and the not-quite-original Sur La Table store (it had moved from the original market location to where it is now). I had a very good lunch in a French place called Café Campagne. I sat in a window seat looking down the hill over the market to the water below and ate a delicious Burger d'agneau -- Lamb burger with balsamic grilled onions, roasted peppers, aïoli and pommes frites. A perfect late lunch.

Food Bloggers

The IFBC was a lot of fun, I met some amazing people, ate great food prepared by local purveyors and learned a hell of a lot about food blogging. I now have two new Los Angeles-based food blogger freinds, Jo Stougaard of My Last Bite and Afaf Serrato of Simply Heaven. The three of us had such a great time together. We all went to dinner at a great Italian restaurant, Spinasse, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, on Saturday night after attending a Q&A with Ruth Reichl who is out promoting her new book, "Not Becoming My Mother". It was a hoot to see her, we all got a copy of the book which she signed for us. At Spinasse we shared several dishes two of which were Tajarin al ragu (fine hand cut egg pasta with ragu), and Ravioli di tapinambur al burro e salvia con pignoli (ravioli of Jerusalem artichokes with sage butter and toasted pine nutes). Jo and I had another amazing meal at Le Pichet on Sunday night, a Molly Wizenberg of Orangette fame recommendation. We ate L'Assiette de charcuterie and a salad of greens with confit of duck gizzards, Jo had the Boudin blanc et sa salade tiede aux chou-fleur et pommes de terre (Chicken-pork sausage, roasted, on a warm salad of cauliflower, potato, cornichon and spring onions) and I had Onglet frites (Grilled Oregon Natural beef hangat steak, on escarole, sauteed with olives and garlic, rosemary-red wine sauce). Old-fashioned, wonderful French food. We both were quite happy with our meals.

One of the more interesting IFBC panels took place on Sunday: “Passionate Purveyors & Producers”. One of the passionate purveyors was Carrie Oliver of Oliver Ranch. Carrie and Oliver Ranch promote 'artisan beef', and knowing where your beef comes from. As they say on their website: 'Like fine wines, beef flavor & texture are influenced by breed, growing region, diet & the unique skills of those who raise it'. I'd never actually thought about it like that but it does make sense. I found all she had to say very interesting and wanted to know more. Jo, Afaf, Phil Nigash of My Life As A Foodie and I are hoping to do an artisan beef tasting this fall that Oliver Ranch organizes. It should be a lot of fun as well as informative.

Some of the amazing bloggers I met over the weekend: Chef Reinvented, Fork This, My Last Bite, Not Without Salt, Phoo-D, Plumpest Peach, Recipe Girl, Simply Heaven, The Well Tempered Chocolatier. A long list of local chefs, restauranteurs, and purveyors supplied the conference with wine, cheese, coffee, chocolate, breakfasts, lunches, drinks, snacks, hors d'oeuvres. All locally produced using local products when possible. We ate very well. There seems to be a nice community of food people who seem to support one another in Seattle.

There's so much more to tell and write about but this is long enough so I'll end it here leaving you with a little hodge-podge of things that happened during my frield trip to the Northwest. It was an amazing weekend and I am now a huge fan of Seattle, and all the food people who live and cook there.

My Status: Robert and I leave for Paris, the Languedoc, Barcelona and Madrid on Sunday, May 24, returning home on Saturday, June 6.

Upcoming Posts: France and Spain: if all goes well technologically, and time allows, I'll be posting blogs from Europe. The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce when I return.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009


There's something about a good, fresh, ripe, right-from-the garden cucumber. Bright green, a sort of forest green, small prickly bumps like cucumber acne, firm to the touch if picked properly. When you slice into it with a sharp knife there's a snap, and the unmistakable aroma that rises up quickly. The smell of a cucumber. I'm not sure how to describe it but it's distinctive. To me it's the smell of a garden. Actually the cucumber is a fairly simple fruit when it comes right down to it. One that always reminds me of summer and of my great-grandparent's garden.

I have wanted to write about my cucumber memories for awhile now but needed to find the right cucumber. I knew those over-ripe, too big, coated-in-wax ones at Gelson's would not be right. In fact they are all wrong. I looked at Whole Foods and nothing doing there either. I even checked several farmers' markets and came up empty. Now I hope the lack of product at the farmers' markets is due to the cucumbers normal May to August growing season but I doubt it -- not in this day and age of hot houses, hydroponics and God knows what else. I kept my eyes open for the right cucumber. I knew it was out there somewhere.

When I was growing up we often ate the fresh fruits and vegetables that my great-grandparents grew in their garden. I realize now that I didn't know any different. Going into the garden, pulling up a carrot, washing it off with the hose, and eating it on the spot was no big deal to my sister and I. The freshness and garden flavor we took for granted. It wasn't until I was older that I became aware of how different a carrot bought at the local Safeway and a carrot pulled from my great-grandparent's garden tasted. It was then that I fully appreciated their amazing garden.

Now back to my cucumber. At the family meals, usually midday on Sundays, when seven or eight of us all sat down together my great-grandmother quite often put a bowl of sliced cucumbers soaking in vinegar on the table. It always seemed to be there. We all helped ourselves. I guess it might be considered a side dish, or a condiment. What they were to me were little bites of garden freshness. Cucumbers picked that morning, sliced and put into a bowl with vinegar and salt. Simplicity at its best. A sort of faux-pickle: crunchy, greenly bitter, mouth puckering and refreshing. I loved them. And as simple as it is, the dish is a standout in my childhood food memories. I think in part because the simpleness of the dish is evocative of who my great-grandmother was; hardworking, self-sufficient and uncomplicated.

This past weekend Robert and I went to see the new farmers' market at the Americana -- a popular, outdoor shopping mall in Glendale, California. I'd heard they were starting a farmers' market but I was also in no rush to go to one in a shopping mall. It turned out to be quite delightful. It's called Gigi's Farmers Market, happens every Saturday, and is easily on par with other local farmers' markets. As we wandered through my cucumber radar was up. As we rounded a corner to the next produce stall, I saw them sitting there in a small stack. The right size, the right green, with cucumber acne. I picked one up, it smelled like a cucumber. It felt like a cucumber. It looked like I'd found my cucumber. I asked the growers where they were from: Oxnard -- about fifty-nine miles away. Organic? Yes. Waxed? No. I bought six.

When I got home I made my great-grandmother's faux pickles and Robert and I ate them with our lunch. As I peeled and cut into the first one that cucumber smell rose up to meet my nose, and memories of our long ago family meals came rushing back to me.


Gramma Ora's Faux Pickles

Serves 4-6


  • 4 medium sized cucumbers, garden fresh or organic farmers market
  • Apple cider vinegar, enough to cover the cucumbers
  • 1 tsp. salt, ground sea salt if possible
Peel the cucumbers and slice into 1/4 inch rounds. Place in a serving bowl, just cover with vinegar, add salt. Salt may be adjusted depending on personal preference. If possible allow to sit at room temperature for a 1/2 hour before serving.

My Status: International Food Blogger Conference: I leave for Seattle on Thursday, May 14 and return home on Monday, May 18. The conference is Friday, May 15 - Sunday, May 17.

Robert and I leave for Paris, the Languedoc, Barcelona and Madrid on Sunday, May 24, returning home on Saturday, June 6.

Upcoming Posts: The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. France and Spain: if all goes well technologically, and time allows, I'll be posting blogs from Europe.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

The Local Report - Say Cheese

1.7 miles, about 5 minutes, from my home in Atwater Village.

Some may think it odd but I like eating out alone. I enjoy sitting and observing: the activity in the restaurant, the staff, other diners. There's something to the anonymous feeling of being alone in public. I especially like to dine by myself when I'm visiting other cities alone. It's a way to really get a feel for a place. Maybe it's not having the distraction of someone else to interact with. You can sit and observe, watch and listen, take it all in. And I do, and have. I have eaten alone in Paris, Milan, Rome, Hong Kong, New York,and San Francisco among other cities.

Local, Solo Dining

One of my favorite local places to dine solo is the little cafe in Say Cheese -- a combo cheese shop and cafe in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. I moved to Silver Lake from West Hollywood in 1998 and noticed Say Cheese when I first went to shop at Trader Joe's which is right next door. I have been going to Say Cheese for lunch ever since. I probably go in twice a month; the regular waitstaff know me. They automatically bring me an iced tea. The funny thing is that after all these years I still don't know any of their names. And I actually like that distance. Of all the years I've been eating there, I think I've been in twice with someone else. The place has its regulars who I see whenever I go. I don't know anything about them either other than what I observe; one woman, also a solo diner, who always reads a book while she eats.

Sandwiches, Salads and Cheese

What I like about Say Cheese is the attention to detail in all they do. The food is fresh and well-prepared. They serve lunch and weekend brunch only. The menu is primarily salads and sandwiches. Lately I have been getting the Hyperion Submarine -- a sandwich with 'artisan salami, fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, shaved red onion, tomato and mesclun with balsamic oil on baguette.' All their sandwiches come with a side of greens with a good house vinaigrette. Other sandwiches I like are the California Melt, an 'oven toasted sandwich' of 'oven roasted turkey, jack cheese, shaved red onion, mustard and aoili on rosemary bread', and the Ham I Am: 'European ham, smoked cheddar, shaved red onion and mesclun with raspberry spread on country wheat.'

The shop is split into two sections; the cafe on one side and the cheese counter on the other. I knew when I first went in, having been a cheese monger myself, that the place was in good hands. The stellar selection of cheeses, not too many to manage, the way they were displayed and how the staff handled and spoke about them won me over. I stopped in a few days ago after eating lunch and they had some wonderful little crottins - small, aged disks of goat cheese sprinkled with ash. Little rounds of perfection. They also offer other gourmet items; owner, Glenn Harrell, has a good palette and great taste, and only sells items of top quality whether it's cheese, coffee, chocolate, or olive oil. Say Cheese also offers catering.

I tend to go to Say Cheese for their sandwiches more so than to buy cheese, however I have purchased cheese their many times. I am going to wait to write about cheese, and local cheese shops for a later blog post. I do, however, have a recommendation for anyone wanting to learn more about cheese: pick up a copy of Steve Jenkins' book, 'Cheese Primer' -- all you'll want, and need, to know about fromage!

Say Cheese
2800 Hyperion Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
323-665-0545 (phone)
323-665-6465 (fax)

Recommended Reading: 'Cheese Primer' by Steven Jenkins

My Status: International Food Blogger Conference
: I leave for Seattle on Thursday, May 14 and return home on Monday, May 18. The conference is Friday, May 15 - Sunday, May 17.

Upcoming Posts: The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Cucumbers: their season, history and a recipe for my great-grandmother's faux pickles.
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009


California is like food. Food for the soul. It gets under your skin like an ex-lover that never quite goes away. At least it has for me. Over the weekend I was trying to figure out what to write next. I haven't had time to research a couple of stories I'd like to write so I needed an alternative. On Sunday I drove from Los Angeles to the Central Coast to see my mother. She lives in Halcyon, a small town adjacent to Arroyo Grande. On the drive up it came to me. California. My state. The state where I was born, and grew up.


There's a stretch of Highway 101 just north of Santa Barbara that gets me every time. It's an unpopulated area that starts at Goleta and runs north to the Gaviota Pass. It's just incredibly beautiful. It is 'California' to me. On one side of the highway, down sheer cliffs, the Pacific Ocean crashes onto near-deserted beaches. On the other side the Santa Ynez Mountain range rises up. The distance from mountains to ocean is short. There are fields with oak and eucalyptus trees connecting the mountains to the ocean. Depending on the time of day and year, the colors of the fields, the mountains, the sky and the ocean are stunning.


California is deep in my blood. I have tried living elsewhere. I have lived in New York City numerous times, and absolutely loved it. The most amazing city in the world. I have lived in France and loved it too. I have been back often. I've spent extended periods in Italy and South America. But I always miss California. I always return to it. It is my home. I'm a fifth generation Californian on my mother's side. My mother now lives where both sides of her family settled in the Santa Maria area of the Central Coast. I grew up in San Luis Obispo, north of Santa Maria. My maternal great-grandparents lived in Orcutt, a small town fifteen minutes south of Santa Maria. When I was a child I spent a lot time at Grampa Rollie and Gramma Ora's house. They were simple people who lived off their little plot of land. Most all of the vegetables and some of the fruit we ate came from their garden. My other maternal great-grandparents, the Balls, whom I never knew, lived in Santa Maria. My father was a Dust Bowl Okie. In 1940 his mother, dirt poor and left alone with five children in Oklahoma City, chased after my grandfather who had taken off to California with another woman. My grandmother, my father and his siblings eventually settled in San Francisco -- the city in which I was later born.


Food enters our family history often. There's the story of my father, his four siblings and my grandmother crossing the California border and arriving in Southern California where they all picked oranges in the abundant citrus groves because they had no money for food. They cobbled enough money together to make their way to San Francisco where my grandfather was holed up with his new girlfriend. My mother also talks of trips to Los Angeles as a child in the 30s and 40s when L.A. was one big citrus grove; orange and lemon trees as far as the eye could see. Sadly, not the case anymore. I would have liked to have seen that L.A. One of my favorite stories my mother tells is about the trips she took with Gramma and Grampa Ball north on the 101 from Santa Maria to visit friends and relatives. Gramma Ball, quite the good cook, always packed a picnic of fried chicken and they would stop along the highway and eat lunch under an oak tree. It was always and only fried chicken never anything else. Back in those days and up to the 60s and 70s the family would stop along whatever stretch of road they were traveling to pick up produce that had fallen off the many trucks transporting fruits and vegetables. I remember doing this often as a child while driving through the Salinas Valley. Grabbing fallen celery, lettuce broccoli, and cabbage off the side of the road; it fed us for a week. When my mother was a child she went clamming with Grampa Rollie and Gramma Ora at Pismo Beach. They took clamming forks and old paint cans. Digging down an inch up came clam after clam. Sadly, clamming days at Pismo are over; it is all clammed out.

Photo: My mother, Dawn Goodman,
at Point Sal in the 1930s.


Because my mother is an inveterate explorer we took a lot of road trips when I was a child. I am lucky to have seen almost every corner of this amazing state. Now, when I travel the same roads three generations of my family have traveled I feel a part of the place like I don't anywhere else. It's part of my being; the fabric of what makes me. My mother knows the oak tree along the 101 near Paso Robles where she and Grampa and Gramma Ball stopped to eat their fried chicken picnic those many years ago. I know driving up and down the coast to visit my mother that generations of my family have traveled the same roads, or earlier versions, and it fills me with a sense of pride and belonging to place. My family is California. The story of California is the story of my family. It is without any doubt under my skin; in my blood.

I don't mean to be completely myopic here. I know that other people from other states and parts of the country feel the same way about their own little slice of where they were born and grew up, where their family hails from. They have their own pride of place. As well they should. But for me it's all about California.

California -- a definition: The name 'California' is most commonly believed to have derived from a storied paradise peopled by black Amazons and ruled by Queen Calafia. The kingdom of Queen Califia or Calafia, according to Spanish adventure writer, Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo, was said to be a remote land inhabited by griffins and other strange beasts and rich in gold. He wrote, "Know ye that at the right hand of the Indies there is an island named California, very close to that part of the terrestrial Paradise, which was inhabited by black women, without a single man among them, and that they lived in the manner of Amazons. They were robust of body, with strong and passionate hearts and great virtues. The island itself is one of the wildest in the world on account of the bold and craggy rocks. Their weapons were all made of gold. The island everywhere abounds with gold and precious stones, and upon it no other metal was found." From -- Wikipedia

Top Photo: Ora and Rolla Goodman, my great-grandparents, barbecuing at a local park.

Upcoming Posts: The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Cucumbers: their season, history and a recipe for my great-grandmother's faux pickles.

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