Tamale Claus

‘Twas the day before Christmas Eve, and all through the house, it was going down.

The kids were bickering and the wife and nanny cleaning, while in the kitchen a veritable assembly line of tamale production was stirring — chickens boiling, corn husks soaking, banana leaves being cut into squares, masa simmering on the stove.

Tamales steaming

Tamales steaming

I enjoy testing my ethnic and regional chops serving our very international community of friends and associates the food of their native country — as I did with our pal Brian’s Japanese girlfriend when I made a winter kaiseki dinner. Our nanny is from El Salvador, which I figured was close enough to Mexico to count her as a voice of authenticity for my Mexican tamale. More

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A Feast of Friends

Christmas is a lot of different things to different people — a celebration of the birth of Jesus for Christians and Catholics around the world, an orgy of consumerism for most Americans, a reason to eat Chinese food and go to the movies for Jews.

Der Weihnachten eve

Der Weihnachten eve

For me, like most holidays, it’s about food, family and friends. We had my wife’s family for dinner and presents Christmas eve, a tradition of theirs, celebrated this year at our house. I had enough to prepare for between Christmas dinner and our annual New Year’s Eve dinner, and might’ve done a stew or chili. But opted instead for a German dinner — homebaked rye bread, potato pancakes, house-fermented sauerkraut, spaetzle with roasted matsutake mushrooms and duck cracklings, duck confit, pan-grilled bratwurst and crispy duck breasts, paired nicely with a Swiss cheese fondue my sister-in-law, Laina, had made. More

The Christmas Disaster of 2013

All I can say is that I’m lucky I live in California.

We were in the early stages of Christmas dinner with our friends, Debra and Ernie, when the stove flickered off.

Frustrated, I moved the cauliflower and truffle soup I was preparing to a different burner, assuming that was the problem. But one after another, I tried all five burners and got no flame. And then a sinking realization washed over me — I rushed out to the propane tank, checked the meter. It read “0”. In other words, empty.

Cauliflower soup cooking on the Weber side burner

Cauliflower soup cooking on the Weber side burner

(For those of you big city dwellers who live your lives in piped-in natural-gas comfort and have no idea what this means, here’s a crash course: We country folk have big propane tanks outside our houses and have to have gas delivered. Usually this is no problem, as we pre-buy our propane and the propane companies are good about not letting their customers’ tanks run low. What a time for them to fail their charge!) More

Breakfast with Reindeer

The other morning, I was in the kitchen with my wife and 3-year-old daughter Imogen, when I noticed something small either rolling, hopping, flitting or scurrying through the grasses down the hill.

I stared at the object for sometime before I felt confident it was not an animal and was simply some piece of tumbling debris. Then my wife made a gasping sound and pointed. There, precisely at the point from which the mystery object had began its descent, standing stock still and staring in at us, was a deer.

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After a few moments, comfortable that we posed no threat, the deer continue munching on whatever portion of our garden it was decimating. More

Skinny Girls Roadshow from Sonoma — Hunting the Pine Mushroom

I like the thrill of the hunt. But not one for killing animals or dealing with blood, I mostly limit my hunting to wild mushrooms in the woods and groovy cowboy shirts at thrift stores. It was the former that had my wife and I up to our ears in Sonoma pine duff, hunting the elusive matsutake.

Orange jelly fungus

Orange jelly fungus

“Matsutake” translates as “pine mushroom,” since they often grow in symbiotic relationship with pines. “Take” is Japanese for mushroom, while “matsu” means pine — I have a friend named Kazue Matsunaga. I’m not sure what the “naga” part is, but she’s got something to do with pine trees. She’s a “Pine naga-er,” I guess. More

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