This Page

has been moved to new address

Awake at the Whisk

Sorry for inconvenience...

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service
Awake at the Whisk: August 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Watermelon Stories

Tap the bottom to see if it makes a hollow sound. Look for a creamy yellow underside. The fruit should feel heavy for its size. How do you tell when a watermelon is finally ripe?! I have struggled with the above tips as a home gardener. Allow me to illustrate…

In early July, my watermelon vines had made their way out of the garden bed, into the neighboring bed, up the fence, and nearly to the neighbor’s yard. I watched excitedly! This excitement peaked when I noticed giant, green orbs beginning to poke through the foliage. They grew larger and larger until one day I was sure they must be ready to eat. (I think I waited a whopping one week.) I selected the largest melon from the pile—a heavy monster that I just knew was going to make my summer! It made a hollow noise when tapped. That was a sure sign of readiness. I practically ran to the kitchen, grabbed a butcher knife, and prepared for surgery. One large gash down the middle, and the melon fell gracefully open.

That’s when I had to hold back the tears. I was staring not at the deep pink of a ripe garden watermelon. Instead, I found myself looking into a white abyss. Perhaps I unknowingly planted a white-colored heirloom variety? Yes, that must be it! I sliced off a chunk and took a bite: lots of water, but almost no flavor. Why me?!

So, I waited. And waited. About a month passed. In early August, the watermelon vines became loaded with aphids. The sneaky pests were taking over. I decided to trim back any vines that weren’t feeding large melons. I accidentally snipped a vine that fed into a small watermelon. He had a creamy yellow bottom and was very heavy for his size. Bingo! Watermelon season has arrived! My mouth watered in anticipation.

Meanwhile, upon closer inspection of my remaining watermelons, I noticed that three of the beauties were sliced open, rotting on the ground. How did that happen? The openings looked like precise cuts. Did a bird do it? Did the watermelons themselves break open because they were overly ripe? Such a mystery! But that left one thing certain in my mind… the watermelon I had recently taken from the vine was sure to be ripe through and through!

In the kitchen, my discovery did not match my hypothesis. Once open, the melon revealed a pale pink flesh. This was a far cry from the pure white a month earlier, but certainly nowhere near ripe. My disappointment became palpable. Even my cat wanted to cry. Two watermelons that had gone under the knife did not make it out alive. Three lay on the ground, rotting. I am left with six fair-sized fruits that I am anxious to eat. I absolutely love that juicy splendor of deep, ripe watermelon. But I fear I am destined to be denied due to my amateur gardening skills.

I will make another attempt in a week or two. This time, I’ll try watching for the browning of the curly vines near the stem of the fruit. Maybe this will be the tip that finally works. Cross your fingers for me, and stay tuned to find out whether I ever discover ripe watermelon as the saga continues…!

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Lounge on 20

Just six months ago, Lounge on 20 was a mere twinkle in the eye of owner Ali Mackani. Working at warp speed, the restaurant emerged from concept to reality, opening officially in late June. The creative genius behind this upscale addition to the MARRS building bubbles at every level. Mixologists prepare innovative, succulent beverages; the menu boasts nearly 30 kinds of champagne by the glass; and Chef David Boswell, hailing from Napa, provides local, seasonal fare with an elegant sophistication.

Mackani’s passion for combining fine cuisine in a socially-focused lounge setting stems from his background as an engineer at Intel. In that role, Mackani traveled a great deal. Upon returning home to Sacramento, he would yearn for dining experiences reminiscent of those in cities like San Francisco. Rather than wait around for someone to bring the experience to him, Mackani opened 55 Degrees—and now, Lounge ON20. Mackani beams with passion as he describes his vision for the lounge, a zeal that permeates the experience visitors can expect. I certainly experienced it during a recent chef’s tasting with other local food writers. We enjoyed a fun, zestful evening filled with laughter and fine flavors.

Bathed in pure white, the lounge is sprinkled with bright red accents and blond wood backgrounds. Seating is arranged in a variety of living-room styles: large, family dining tables for groups, or intimate, leather lounge chairs and coffee tables for smaller gatherings. Mackani wanted to create an atmosphere that invites the feeling of visiting a friend’s home for a cocktail party.

Yet, I’m guessing your friends can’t cook like Chef David Boswell! The lounge offers its delicious fare in a unique small plate menu: a “taste,” which serves one or two; a “small plate,” which serves about four; or a “platter,” for groups. On our visit, we sampled the house roasted olives, which slid easily from their pits in a glistening oil with a hint of herbs. The Roasted & Salted Marcon Almonds came naked in their whiteness, but sufficiently cloaked in a shade of salt.

We tasted a sparkling Schramsberg rose—a clean, light bubbly whose color and cool fit perfectly on a warm summer’s eve. The Bella Fragola, a cocktail of muddled strawberry, basil and gvori vodka refreshed and amazed simultaneously. With no added sugar, the beverage tasted of pure, sweet summer joy—a cocktail that could as easily been gulped as sipped. Delightful! The Feminine Mystique cocktail was fit to put hair on your chest—a bit heavy on the vodka and missing the pear flavor the menu promised.

The Local Strawberry Asian Pear Salad was served in a single, crisp, red endive leave with a blend of fresh herbs and spices, including chicories—a fresh, yet pleasantly biting dish that also whispered with artisan blue cheese. The Arincini “Fried Risotto” with White Truffle Oil sent our group of food writers (an otherwise sophisticated lot) to licking our plates—literally. We couldn’t help it! The plating gave the appearance that we were being served spaghetti meatballs—and the smell wafting heavily from them made our mouths instantly water with the scent of melted cheese and tomato sauce. Yet, these were no meat balls—these were crisply crusted risotto with a divinely moist, cheesy middle. The taste was reminiscent of hash brown potatoes, because of the starchy, onion-y, comforting flavor. Move over Grandma! Chef David needs room in my heart for this dish!

Next up, a Fennel-Spiced Seared Ahi paired with a lovely Desante Sauv Blanc, California 2006. One sip of this wine sent me immediately back to the Midwestern clover and grass fields of my youth. It paired perfectly with the spicy licorice and bright salt of the tuna, and the subtle sweetness of the heirloom watermelon: all a seasonal charm.

Chef David describes his Pan-Seared Diver Scallop as his personal take on “bacon and eggs.” The sweet seawater scallop sat under a tiny poached quail egg from local, small farmers, served with a parsnip puree created to taste of cream. What a whimsical dish!—full of that “bacon and eggs” flavor, but scaled to the likes of a tea party.

We finished the evening with the mixologists, who were turning out original, inventive concoctions that made my mouth spin. My favorite: Ginger Spice topped with handmade cardamom foam, turning the icy cold beverage into a peppery, five-star chai latte—my new, favorite cocktail. They also served a Sugar Mama, which should bring Carrie Bradshaw running from New York for a taste of this better-than-a-Cosmo pink, tart drink. The lounge also works with small bottlers to provide alcohol not found elsewhere. A straight taste of their vermouth hinted with sweet notes of chocolate, caramel and vanilla—unlike anything imaginable!

All the sophistication and dress-code aside, you shouldn’t fear over-scale pricing. Drinks run between $7-14 (and higher). While small plates start at $3, you could feed yourself a “meal”-size for $9+.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, August 11, 2008


Anchovy Pasta

I’m not an anchovy girl, but my husband’s parents are from the East Coast, so he grew up eating the salty fish. He likes it on pizza, on sandwiches, as a snack—just about any way he can get it. Lately, I’ve seen several recipes for anchovy pasta and decided to attempt my own, using the bounty of vegetables fresh from my garden. It turned out quite delicious—my husband gobbled up all remaining leftovers, which he ate cold, like a pasta salad. It turned out to be a very versatile dish. If you don’t like anchovies, reduce the amount in the recipe to just a few as a base flavor. The fishy taste should cook out if you only use 2-3. This recipe, however, was made for big fans. The anchovy is very prominent, even though I used the softer-flavored white anchovies (they almost have a herring taste, though not quite as sweet). If you’re using regular anchovies, you’ll definitely want to cut back on the amount used or your dish will be overly salty.

1 each green, yellow, and red bell pepper, cut into large chunks
1 zucchini, cut into chunks
1 large, red onion cut into thick strips
1 eggplant, cut into chunks
1 bulb of garlic, minced
1 or 2 hot chili peppers, finely diced
15 white anchovy fillets, divided
¼-cup white wine
1-1 lb. package cooked pasta
1/3-cup plus 2 Tblsp. olive oil, divided
½-cup pasta water reserved from cooked pasta
1 or 2 sprigs fennel, cut with a scissors into ¼-inch bits
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat a very large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add 1 Tblsp. olive oil and sauté the veggies until tender crisp and the eggplant is cooked all the way through. Remove them from the pan and set them aside.

Add another 1 Tblsp. olive oil to the hot pan, and then add the garlic, chili peppers, and 5 anchovy slices. Allow the garlic to soften. The anchovies should fall apart as you stir. Add the white wine and cook for another 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the remaining anchovies into smaller chunks. Add the cooked pasta, olive oil, pasta water, anchovies, fennel, and salt and pepper. Return the veggies to the pan. Stir it all together and serve.

Tip: If you have any remaining anchovies in the jar, you can lay 2-3 full fillets on top of each serving of pasta.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Tomato & Avocado Salad

Who doesn’t like avocado? How about vine-ripened tomatoes? This simple dish celebrates the best flavors of summer. Throw it on top of chopped lettuce, and you’ve got a big, satisfying salad. Dip tortilla chips into it, and you’ve got a guacamole-style salsa. Serve it as a side dish, and watch your guests ooh and ahh. I sometimes eat this for supper, splashed with hot sauce and served with a slice of bread and cheese. However you choose to enjoy it, welcome to a new, easy—and pretty—favorite!

1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced into large chunks
1 large tomato, or a handful of cherry or pear tomatoes, cut into large chunks
Juice from ½ a lime
Pinch each of salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro

Gently toss all the above ingredients in a small serving bowl and serve immediately.

Note: This is the perfect amount for one person. The math to increase for two to 20 people is pretty easy—and just as fast to make.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Books that Have Changed My Life: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Grow your own peanuts! Make your own cheese! Pluck your own turkeys!

This is the stuff of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a memoir in which her whole family devotes a year to living off the land. The tales of their strict locavore diet make for humorous and delightful reading, but importantly, this story will invoke action.

The book marches the reader through the seasons on Kingsolver’s Midwestern farm, unveiling at each page turn a new garden discovery or pleasant culinary surprise brought from their local lifestyle. Her teenage daughter provides seasonal recipes, and journal-style entries of a modern youth wholeheartedly embracing what might otherwise seem a quaint, hippie parent’s fad. Kingsolver’s husband contributes sidebars to each chapter, providing statistics and historical research that will send you running (not driving) straight to the farmers’ market.

For instance, he explains that "If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That's not gallons, but barrels."

Part of the charm of this tale lies in its ability to entice the reader with the joys, but also the manageability, of eating locally. Kingsolver describes making homemade mozzarella cheese at home (she claims it can be done in under 30 minutes!), growing bean sprouts on her window sill, or using their bread maker on a regular basis. Also, for those not ready to dive head-first into a “purist” locavore lifestyle, she offers suggestions to make the transition easier. For instance, each of her family members selected one must-have product that would not be grown locally. From coffee to spices to chocolate, they each chose an item that could be shipped in dry, bulk form, thereby creating less ecological damage than, say, shipping bottles of orange juice cross-country.

The book also provides guidance for finding heirloom seeds for your garden, and reviews of farmers and restaurants that are committed to sustainable practices that support a locavore lifestyle.

Chock-full of advice, information, and tasty tales, this book will satisfy your reading cravings, while inspiring you to step out and fill your life with a richness that is unattainable through the aisles of your local supermarket. Read this book, and let the inspiration begin!

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, August 4, 2008


My Main Squeeze

Most folks jump-start their mornings with a jolt of liquid caffeine. I was once among the coffee addicts of the world. When I quit, cold turkey, it was orange juice that took its place. Each morning, I need a kick in the pants from nature’s sugar to get my own juices flowing.

After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I began to resent my fruity, orange wake-up. Every fresh carton or can of concentrate proudly proclaimed, “Florida oranges.” That’s an awfully long haul, and plenty of fuel burned, to bring me a morning cup of nectar. I was ashamed. Meanwhile, up and down the orange tree-lined streets of Sacramento, the beautiful orbs were falling to the ground like unwanted trash. What’s wrong with me?—buying juice from Florida that can clearly be made right here?! The farmers’ markets are teeming with oranges at all times of year. That’s the beautiful thing about citrus. There are varieties that will bare fruit in winter, and other varieties that will fruit in summer. In California, we can proudly gather ripe oranges nearly year-round.

In my kitchen cabinet, sitting alone and waiting for some attention, was my juicer. It’s a simple gadget, purchased for less than $30 at a Target. All it takes is a sliced orange, a bit of pressure, and “Wallah!”—orange juice.

Each week for the past six months or so, I have purchased a large bag of oranges at the farmers’ market. For a whopping price tag ranging between $3-5 for a 10lb bag, I easily fill a large pitcher with fresh-squeezed orange juice. It takes about 20 minutes of my day, once a week. This amount of juice lasts my husband and I exactly one week—until the next farmers market rolls around and I can buy another fresh bag of oranges.

For $5, I could buy a half-gallon of “fresh” orange juice that has just been shipped in from Florida—a trip that would take several days on a refrigerated truck. I could buy this orange juice, which may be made from a concentrate, or which may have added sugars or preservatives. Or, I could spend the same amount of money on a bag of oranges purchased from a local farmer.

Ultimately, my husband and I hope to plant our own orange trees. We have one mature tree already. It ripens in the winter, when we take full advantage of the glorious fruit for orange juice, fruit salads, and succulent snacks. In due time, we hope to plant a summer-ripening variety as well. But in the meantime, we love having quick access to the oranges grown proudly by local farmers.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, August 1, 2008


Garden Pizza

This pizza was created by my garden. I walked out, checked the plants, picked what was ripe, and started to cook. It’s inspiring to let the garden-fresh ingredients lead the way. As I follow, I am always delighted with the results. This recipe is rustic. I don’t really measure ingredients when I’m making pizza—I just throw together whatever looks good. It’s pizza. You know what you like. Just go for it until it feels right!

One eggplant, sliced about ½” thick
One zucchini, sliced about 1/2” thick
Salt & pepper to taste
One whole wheat pizza dough (I get mine at Trader Joe’s), cut in half
Ranch salad dressing, fat free
Fennel sprigs
One whole bulb roasted garlic (at least—you might want two)
¼ cup sun dried tomatoes, diced
Parmesan cheese (just enough to cover the pizza sparsely—this will allow it to get nice and bubbly like real Italian pizzas)
1 tablespoon blue cheese crumbles (too much, and it overpowers your pizza)
Red pepper flakes to taste
Peperoncini peppers, diced
Basil, roughly torn or cut in julienne

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Lay the eggplant and zucchini in a single layer on a lightly greased baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Roll out the pizza dough for one pizza crust. (I like my pizza thin and crispy, so one package of dough will yield two crusts for me.) Place it on a lightly greased baking pan (I use the metal kind with holes in the bottom that allow the heat to really crisp the bottom and top). Bake in the oven for about 6-8 minutes, or until crisp and beginning to brown. Remove from oven.

Spread enough Ranch dressing on the crust to lightly cover the surface. Cut the sprigs of fennel onto the dressing. Next, dot the entire surface with the roasted garlic and the sun dried tomatoes. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over this, followed by the blue cheese. Arrange the roasted eggplant and zucchini on top of the cheese. Finally, sprinkle red pepper flakes over the entire pie. Place it in the oven for 8 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and golden.

Allow the pizza to cool for at least 10 minutes. Add the peperoncini peppers and top with the basil. Serve and enjoy!
(Apologies for the yellowish tint to my photo. Dang those flourescent lightbulbs!)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]