Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mulligatawny Soup

Quote from Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey

Here I am in Agra in my pinafore, gazing at the Taj Mahal

Traveling in India in 1972, I did not have the pleasure of tasting mulligatawny soup, at least that I can remember. In those days I was more interested in art history and dance than in food, so most meals in India are long forgotten. What remain with me are the vibrant flavors. the scrawny chickens in Delhi,  the red-hot vindaloos served in Goa, and the heavenly lobster in Kerala on the Southern tip. Though I was careful to eat only cooked food, no unsterilized water, and no yogurt, I got bolder as the months-long trip wore on, and by the end I was indulging in street food with no disastrous results. I came home craving the flavors of the places I had visited.

I  took this photo of a fish market in Goa in 1972

After traveling for three months in India and Nepal, I returned to Berkeley, an aficionado of Indian food and culture. But  unlike today, there were no Indian restaurants in my neighborhood and few in San Francisco. I can only remember The North India Restaurant, specializing in tandoori dishes, in San Francisco and The Khyber Pass in North Oakland offering nearby Afghanistani cuisine.  I seldom indulged. In addition, there were few Indian cookbooks available. The famous Time/Life series," Foods of the World," published a lavishly photographed volume in 1969 called Foods of India by Santha Rama Rau, which I devoured. Then, in March 1975, when Sunset Magazine printed a recipe for "India-style Chicken Soup (Mulligatawny)" in a section called "You use every bit of the bargain chicken," I tried it. After faithfully completing the numerous steps in the recipe, I found the result to be quite special. The finished soup had a haunting, exotic curry-like flavor and texture that I had not encountered before.

     At this point, I have collected  many Indian Cookbooks, both recent and rare, so for another description of mulligatawny soup, I referred to one of my favorites, Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni. She writes, "I first tasted this soup sixteen years ago in an elegant restaurant in Frankfurt Germany... Contrary to what the name suggests (mullaga means pepper, and tanni means water or broth), what I tasted was an exquisitely delicate broth, faintly laced with spices that brought back the familiar aromas of home...
     Because of its unorthodox origin, Indian cooks have had a field day exercising their creative genius with it. As a result, there are innumerable interesting variations of this soup around the world today...       
     This is the one occasion on which I set aside my spices and use a commercial curry powder blend, because then only am I able to re-create the flavor and aroma that once captured my senses."

Longing recently for something exotic, I unearthed the old Sunset Magazine recipe in my files and set about adapting it to my present tastes and habits. This meant using less butter, leaving out the flour, and using freshly cooked garbanzos instead of canned. The idea of utilizing the canned garbanzo liquid didn't appeal to me.  Here's the adapted recipe:

simmering chicken legs in broth with veggies
First, I made "stewing broth" as instructed. I used two large whole chicken quarters, though the recipe calls for one whole chicken. I simmered them in 5 cups chicken broth and 3 cups water, with one small onion, a stalk of celery, one carrot, 1 t. salt, 2 cloves, 1 T. coriander seeds and one half cup grated coconut. I skimmed fat from the broth and boiled it for 30 min. until the chicken was just done. Then I  removed the skin, took the meat off the bones, reserved it and strained the broth, pressing on the contents through a metal strainer. That was my broth.

I chilled the meat and broth til I was ready to make the Soup: In a soup kettle, melt 2 T butter. Add 1 medium sized onion, finely chopped, 2 cloves minced garlic, 3 t. curry powder, 1/2 t. turmeric and saute until onion is soft. I decided to add three thickly sliced, parboiled carrots to the soup at this point. Stir in prepared broth, and simmer for 15 minutes. Whirl 1 can garbanzo beans with their liquid (or about 2 to 3  cups cooked bulk garbanzos) in the food processor with some water to thin the mixture. Add to soup with all reserved chicken. Cook about 15 minutes, stirring often. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add prepared brown basmati rice, lemon slices and chopped cilantro to soup bowls before serving. (serves 4)

The recipe, printed in 1975, concludes: "At 49 cents a pound, our whole chicken cost $1.47, serving 4 for 37 cents each." 

Mulligatawny soup adapted from the Sunset Magazine recipe

My two favorite Indian cookbooks, pictured below, are: Julie Sahni, Classic Indian Cooking, New York, William Morrrow, 1980 and Madhur Jaffrey, An Invitation to Indian Cooking, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1973. Both authors have written many other excellent books on Indian food and cooking.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Feral Cat Rescue

Cat lover that I am, I've been feeding a feral cat in Tilden Park for the past few years. The site happens to be across from the Botanic Garden on Wild Cat Canyon, where I have spent many happy hours. See Here.

My original feral friend in some blackberry brambles, eating nibs I provided 

     This sweet, gray cat is very timid, but she's a survivor. On clear summer evenings when I would come to visit, she would be sitting alone in the gravel parking lot in the dwindling sun. I never saw her during the day when the lot was bustling with cars and people visiting the botanical garden. Any motion, even laying down a plate of food, would scare her off; but when I kept my distance she would come back and eat.
     Then, about six months ago, the feral population increased alarmingly. Cats seemed to wander in from the neighboring Tilden golf course, siding the parking lot.

Tilden Park habitat for feral family near golf course
Across the road from feral encampment

Over four months ago two adorable fluffy gray kittens arrived on the scene. They were less skittish than the adults and they would sit on the rocks or a branch waiting for a handout. They didn't seem to associate with my favorite, shy feral friend. In fact, they would scare her away from the communal food bowl, so I started to divide the food and place the containers in different spots, allowing all the cats to eat peacefully.

On days when I arrived at dusk, I noticed another woman observing the cat activity and she warned me not to leave food containers around because park rangers might be alerted. She explained that it is actually illegal to feed ferals and I could be cited and fined if caught. I wasn't too worried, since weeks ago I had approached a ranger in the parking lot about the growing feral population and he told me to contact an organization that dealt with the problem. He implied that the park service would not do anything. However, my new friend would pick up any plates that I left, and on days that I missed, she would feed the cats. She had named them all and was totally familiar with their habits. We commiserated about their difficult living conditions and agreed that we should call Fix Our Ferals, but I never did.

 Saturday evening I was chatting with a young couple relaxing in the parking lot after a long hike. They had spotted the two kittens playing in the woods near their car. I was telling them the saga of the feral encampment and bemoaning the fact that we had yet to call any organization, when a blue Prius pulled into the lot with a bunch of cage traps in the back. The woman who got out was wearing a  "hopalong" tee shirt, (a bay area rescue organization,) so I knew what was happening.  She explained that she worked for Fix Our Ferals, and that Eli, my fellow cat-caretaker, had finally called. Soon sweet Eli also arrived and Liz got the traps out and started smearing irresistible cat food on newspapers lining the bottoms. She placed a trap in the woods and one of the kittens entered immediately and was caught. Liz covered the cage with a blanket and put it in the car. There was no struggle at all. Then she repeated the operation with another cage, and in went the second kitten, which we also blanketed and carried to Liz's car. She caught one more cat, but my favorite was too street-smart or cautious to enter a trap.  I left at that point asking Liz to email with the final results. They caught only those three that evening, but they were returning the next night to get my elusive gray. She sent me the following snap shot of one of the kittens in the basement of her home, waiting to be taken to a clinic to get neutered. Both kittens were males.

One of two male kittens patiently awaiting his fate

Sunday evening I couldn't stay away.  I arrived in time to see Liz and Eli catch my favorite and one other cat. Liz took them away to her "kitty ranch" to join the other captures waiting to be spayed or neutered at a clinic in San Francisco. At this point  Eli had decided to take the three adults and had persuaded her sister and nephew to take the two kittens. She couldn't stand the thought of returning them to their precarious outdoor feral life, which is what would occur if no one offered to adopt them.  I admired her for her generosity, knowing she already had seven cats.

By Thursday all the cats had been spayed and neutered. It was not a minute too soon because it turned out that the two females were pregnant and  about to deliver eight more kittens. The vet euthanizes the fetuses when he spays the adults. I was invited to attend the send-off and I went to Liz's home in Berkeley, also known as the Kitty Ranch, to see them all depart for their new homes. Eli promised to keep in touch, with news of the socialization process.

Elusive Gray, my favorite, minutes before she left the kitty ranch for her new indoor home

Each evening as the sun starts setting I feel the old familiar tug on my heart strings, and I have the urge to drive up to Tilden with food for my Kitties. Then I remember that they are safe and well fed and I can relax. Perhaps one day they will be socialized, but I still remember those wild creatures as they were— lurking in the woods and racing around the driveway as dinner was served.

 I'm grateful to Fix Our Ferals— life is tough in the wild

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Spring has Sprung in Green Bin

                             Spring Onions, Green Garlic, Leeks, Orange Peels, Carrots, Celery Stalks

In Just- Spring by E. E. Cummings

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cat Pyramid

Allie dozing on her cat pyramid

A gigantic scratching post, originally designed for my first two kittens, Sparky (below right) and Wolfie (left), stands proudly at the far end of our present kitchen. We call it the cat pyramid, for obvious reasons.

Wolfie and Sparky, having outgrown their pyramid, relax together on a danish-modern chair

Eric Steinhauer, who designed the pyramid, reminisced about his inspiration and construction of the post. He made it for my first two kitties, black and white littermates, who were energetically tearing up our house on College Avenue. It consists of four plywood sides, a square top and larger square bottom.

After cutting out the six plywood pieces with a power saw, he stapled carpet scraps onto all the outer surfaces, and screwed them together to form a tall pyramid. The kittens loved it. They raced up and down the vertical sides, chased each other to the top and scratched and jumped with abandon during their young, rambunctious years. But then they outgrew it and went back to napping and artistically scratching the furniture, as is so humorously described in the book Why Cats Paint. Since it was no longer being used, Eric took it apart and stored it in the basement and forgot about it until I found Allie— a darling calico kitten—at the Pinole shelter, five years ago. By this time, I had moved several times and was now living in an in-law addition in the Berkeley hills. From the moment Allie entered "her" home, she was a terror. While most cats would be drugged and drowsy right after being spayed, Allie tore around on every surface in the long, narrow apartment, squealing with glee at having been freed from her cage at the shelter. After several weeks of kitten pandemonium, I thought of the long lost pyramid.

Pyramid sits in back, right corner. Green Bin stays on kitchen counter

    Fortunately, the object was still stored in the basement of the College Avenue house and still in great shape. I moved the heavy pieces to our Shasta Road dwelling, Dean reassembled it, placed it in a comfortable kitchen corner, and introduced it to Allie. It was love at first sight! She scratched it ferociously, she bounded up, jumped down, leapt across and, best of all, held court on top. Now she naps blissfully on her perch while I prepare dinner. She can look out at the kitchen or through the small windows into the office (at right) or out the bayview window. She often lies on the floor at the base.
                                                                  She plays on top
A young Allie plays atop her carpeted roost (2009)
                                                             She stretches out at the bottom

                                                        She is queen of all she surveys
Full grown Allie looks out at the kitchen from her pyramid
                                                         A perfect place for a cuddle
Dean calls it "pyramid love"

All sorts of cat furniture is available in pet stores and online, and all too often these expensive objects are rejected by house cats who are particular about their perches. Below are two stylish examples from the website Hauspanther.

Frankly,  I think Allie looks much more comfortable on her very own designer cat pyramid. She refuses to outgrow it.

For a hilarious account of cats demolishing household upholstery in the guise of artistic endeavor, check out Why Cats Paint by Heather Busch and Burton Silver, Ten Speed Press, 1994.

                                      After all, not every cat is lucky enough to have a pyramid!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In Defense of Bread

Bread, traditionally known as the staff of life, is now public enemy # 1. It's under attack from all sides. Many Americans, some of whom are having trouble digesting wheat, are now espousing a gluten-free regimen (which forbids wheat), and the Paleo Diet, which eliminates bread altogether. But let it be known that I'm holding my ground amidst the growing number of nay-sayers. I'm a carb lover—I still eat bread, pasta (made with wheat flour and eggs,) whole grain cereal, muffins, cookies, and more, and I feel fine!

  My friend Anna, artist and soup-maker,  sent me an interview with Michael Pollan which originally appeared as a podcast on "Inquiring Minds." In the interview Mr Pollan—best selling author and agricultural activist—debunks the Paleo Diet and offers five concrete suggestions for eating healthfully. Below, I've printed suggestion #2, which speaks about the healthful aspects of my topic, bread.

2." Humans can live on bread alone. Paleo obsessives might shun bread, but bread, as it has been traditionally made, is a healthy way to access a wide array of nutrients from grains.
In Cooked, Pollan describes how bread might have been first created: Thousands of years ago, someone probably in ancient Egypt discovered a bubbling mash of grains and water, the microbes busily fermenting what would become dough. And unbeknownst to those ancient Egyptians, the fluffy, delicious new substance had been transformed by those microbes. Suddenly the grains provided even more bang for the bite.
As UC-Davis food chemist Bruce German told Pollan in an interview, “You could not survive on wheat flour. But you can survive on bread.” Microbes start to digest the grains, breaking them down in ways that free up more of the healthful parts. If bread is compared to another method of cooking flour — basically making it into porridge — “bread is dramatically more nutritious,” says Pollan.
Still, common bread made from white flour and commercial yeast doesn’t have the same nutritional content as the slowly fermented and healthier sourdough bread you might find at a local baker. Overall, though, bread can certainly be part of a nutritious diet. (At least, for those who don’t suffer from celiac disease.) "    

      I was introduced to good bread by my mother, who started baking her own loaves in the 1950s when she couldn't find delicious, healthy bread in Milwaukee. Wonder Bread was ubiquitous at that time, but somehow she discovered the recipe for Cornell bread, developed by Professor Clive McKay at  Cornell University's Dept. of nutrition, and she started baking bread regularly. Her loaves, with healthful additions of soy flour, wheat germ and dry milk, emerged from the oven yeasty and fragrant. But truth be told, my sister and I preferred packaged white "cardboard" bread for our sandwiches. What did we know?

Even when I moved to Berkeley, except for the famous crusty San Francisco sourdough loaves from commercial bakeries like Toscana and Colombo, it was difficult to find good bread; so I followed in my mother's footsteps and started baking my own.

The Complete Book of Breads by Bernard Clayton, 1973

Luckily, Bernard Clayton, a writer and editor in the Business School at Indiana University, had just published his Complete book of Breads. Baking my way through his well-organized roster of recipes kept me busy and well-fed for a decade. At that juncture, bakeries were springing up that satisfied my particular standards. In 1976 Joe and Kass Schwin started grinding whole wheat flour and producing healthy, 100% whole-wheat loaves at their mill in Berkeley; they named their company Vital Vittles. They later sold the bakery to faithful employees, and the bread is as good as ever. I especially like the three-seed and the flax-seed oat breads.  

During the '80s I read rave reviews about the bread made in Paris by Lionel Poilane. On a trip there, I made a special effort to visit the boulangerie at 8 Rue du Cherche-Midi to sample the "Miche," their signature loaf,  and the beguiling apple tarts hot from the oven. I was very impressed and have remained a life-long devotee. The Poilane ovens and boulangerie are in the fashionable sixth arrondisement. When I visit Paris I always stay near the bakery, at Hotel de Sevres, a quaint little hotel I found while wandering around the quartier that first magical time. I still like to pick up breakfast goodies from Poilane every morning— just add cafe au lait and I have the perfect petit-dejeuner

Poilane at 8 Rue du Cherche-Midi, Paris
The signature Miche Poilane

 Times have changed here in the Bay Area and throughout the US as a swell of artisan bakers are busy producing fabulous breads that equal those of Poilane in Paris. Husband and wife team Chad Roberts and Elisabeth Prueitt traveled to France after graduating from culinary school and studied with French bakers to master breadmaking in the Poilane tradition. When they returned home they chose Point Reyes Station, CA to build a wood-fired oven and bake bread. They first sold Chad's bread and Elisabeth's pastries at the Berkeley Farmers' Market where I was lucky enough to encounter them. Immediately, I was smitten. The chewy, sour, tangy loaves with a spectacular crackly crust were unsurpassed. In 2002 the couple opened Tartine Bakery in San Francisco's Mission District and the combined bread bakery, pastry shop and cafe was an instant success. They have now added a sandwich shop and written three books. There are always long lines for their superb products at Tartine.

  I could rhapsodize at length about the quality and depth of flavor and texture of Bay Area breads but I think I will just list my personal favorites. One bite into a warm, crusty slice is worth a thousand words!

Tartine Bakery's country loaf in all its glory

Phoenix Pastaficio's olive loaves gleaming in the sun at The Berkeley Farmers' Market
Another personal favorite  is the olive bread from Phoenix Pastificio in Berkeley. They sell their  pastas, pastries and olive bread at farmers' markets in the area.

I can't get enough of the delicious olive bread from Phoenix Patificio

Epi baguettes from Acme Bakery owned by Chez Panisse baker Steve Sullivan

Seeded sourdough baguettes at the Cheese Board in Berkeley

My sympathy goes out to friends like Hali, Lee and Lynn who can't tolerate wheat and many other substances without extreme discomfort. But I have noticed that the gluten-free contingent is growing by leaps and bounds and is now well represented both on the web and in the marketplace. Thus, I feel compelled to weigh in on the side of wheat and share my love affair with bread.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Spring Cleaning in January

 Monday evening when I opened the garage door, this pile of overflowing plastic garbage bags greeted me.  I should preface this by saying that my father-in-law Myron died peacefully in his house in August at 92. His caregiver left without cleaning, so finally lovely Dixie, the trustee's assistant, was good enough to clean out the freezer and kitchen cupboards. She placed everything into these large plastic bags and left  them in the garage hoping I would dispose of them. She fully expected me to dump the bulging bags into the trash, but being the avid recycler that I am, I took up the challenge and decided to separate the contents and dispose of them properly.
The next morning I tackled the recycling project. Curious about how much room the contents of all seven full garbage bags would actually require, I set to work unpacking, "unpackaging" and separating each item into its simplest form. This would be fun!

Bags of Kasha and Ghanaian Prekese

There was some good stuff: bulk bags of kasha, prekese, which is a sugar cane product from Ghana (used by the Ghanaian caregiver), brown and jasmine rice, whole wheat pasta, bulk walnuts and almonds. All of these were rancid and I tossed them into the green bin. Even the healthy food was packaged in plastic bags and had to be extracted before the final toss. One whole bag was filled with fiddle-leaf fig leaves that had fallen from the indoor plant due to lack of water. That was an easy one.

garbage bin full of bad stuff

There was bad stuff:  processed junk food, invariably packaged in plastic bags and containers. All but the actual food went into the garbage. Myron was an inveterate shopper at Costco and, unfortunately, almost all the products at Costco (and also Trader Joe's) are packaged in various types of plastic. None of this information is earthshaking or even original, but it isn't often that I must discard this quantity of junk food in my own back yard. It is sobering to see how far we are personally, as a community and as a nation, from "zero waste." I resolve to do better. First I intend to find cloth bags to replace the plastic bags I still use and reuse.

Plastic yogurt containers, all recycle level 5, ready to be taken to Whole Foods

Then there was good stuff in bad containers: Yogurt! Those hard, impermeable containers are the  prime offenders. Marked "5" in the triangle on the bottom, they are bothersome to discard because they aren't supposed to be combined with recyclables marked "1" or "2". I go through about two quart containers of yogurt per week. Where should I discard them?
Because Straus Family Creamery in Petaluma packages their milk in glass bottles, I emailed them asking if they could also package their yogurt in glass.  Here's their reply:

"Thank you for your email, we appreciate your inquiry and your kind comments. Unfortunately, our current facility is unable to accommodate yogurt in glass. We simply do not have the space for another piece of equipment. In addition, we ship our yogurt much further than we do our glass milks - therefore if we had our yogurt in a glass container it would cost us more to ship it, then costing the customer more for the product. We do hope one day we can offer a glass option locally - but we will need to build a new creamery first.

As far as our current container - we unfortunately have no way of getting them back from you, however there is a program out there called Gimme 5, by the company Preserve and they will turn the #5 containers into toothbrushes, etc. You can find out more about that program 

We are in the talks with a local toy manufacturer that makes green toys out of recycled yogurt cups. It might be a while before it's set up, but it's something we are trying to set up. Keep checking back with us!"     

         Whole Foods markets, bless them, have bins that take the plastic containers marked "5".

Whole Foods bin just for  "5" recycling
 After trucking all our yogurt  (and cottage cheese) containers across town to Whole Foods, I had completed my project. Miraculously, when deconstructed, the entire collection of white garbage bags didn't  begin to fill our three curbside bins.

Paper compartment not even full of cardboard snack packaging

garbage bin full of junk food and plastic packaging 

Montage of fiddle-leaf fig leaves, guacachips and popchips covering only the very bottom of the curb-side green bin

And then there was one last item to be dealt with. It was an old cardboard box of musty sheet music used by my late mother-in-law Ros, who was a talented pianist. This was all paper and perfectly recyclable, but of course I didn't toss it out.

 German sheet music for Beethoven piano concerto #2

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


                                              Greenbin starts 2014 with a bang!

(Maybe you didn't know that cork is compostable)