Me and my size Naan Jimmy Chews

in-sole-ent behavior

We had a guest yesterday, the fast-growing Patrick Farrell, who first visited us as a pup still at UC School o’ Journalism, writing a story on the politics of mountain biking.

He’s a Nebraska boy who now–five years  after that interview–has been to Kyrgistan, Africa, and Milpitas to write about things ranging from table tennis prodigies to geopolitics to young urban subsistence hunters.
It was too damp to muddy up my bikes (I’m unwilling to do a minute of maintenance per minute of riding) so I proposed having lunch in the Habitat.
“I’ve got some nice insoles” I told him.

“Plus two kinds of soup: sweet potato health glop and chicken soup with all the bones left in.”

Nothing but the best for my guests!



plated-clafoutisJust made myself a blackberry and dried cherry clafouti. It looked so good in the dish yesterday, but today it looks tired and deflated. Sort of an aborted dessert. At which point, this heinous pun headline popped into my head…. Roussel-Uclafoutis.  A controversial dish, universally appreciated. Best when enjoyed within a few hours of pullling out of the oven…

O.K. Now what am I ‘really’ saying? Roussel-Uclaf is the drug company that makes RU-40, the abortificaent that keeps a few million women from poverty by allowing them to hold off on delivering a baby until they, the mom are ready (hence the ‘out of the oven’ reference).

I might be too chicken to be truly cointreauversial…but had to commit this food-pun to cybertype…

Margot, Marjorie, Ed

I was riding around the neighborhood, wishing I could just drop in on a friend for a meal. All day I’d been  trying to make paper doll of Charlie, with unimpressive results. Outside the Most Beautiful Day in Marin unfolded.

I thought about riding, but my legs are still spaghetti from jogging seven miles.

By six p.m.  I’d destroyed four pieces of nice watercolor paper and was ready to simply xerox a shot of CC holding a bike.  This is all for the SSWC09 magazine… I screwed up the eyes, blobbed ink all over the face, and practically threw in the towel.

So I rolled out into Fairfax  in search of food.  The warm air was a soup of pollens , my nose contributed continuous clear-running coulis.

By the time I reached Ed’s place ten blocks away, I  wished that nasal tampons had been invented.  (Cue music: “greensleeves”)

At Ed’s, I found wisteria dangling over the gate. Inside, I could tell there was cookery afoot and I gesticulated the international sign language for “is this a good time?”

I saw a thumbs-up.

Parked bike, doffed shoes (Zen households require this) and climbed the stairs into the den of the Tassajara baker. His apprentice Marjorie Wallace adeptly sliced away at the fennel, and took on the challenge of making ‘supremes’ of orange (take away all difficult white bits, leaving the mellow middle of the lovely fruit with no strings attached).

In the living room Margo Koch ( ‘cook’ in German) graded papers.

Hoard Oeuvre

prep-hominy-vs-cornbozoleChinking Inside the BoxWith the freezer crammed and  nothing good in the fridge, one must take hammer and chisel to the (literal) ice box and free all the trapped parcels. Leave on the garden gloves, prevent frostbitten fingers. Carefully re-arrange everything. With less ice, there should be more storage space, but it never works out that way, so a massive meal has to be made.

One of the main drawbacks of the freezer is this white fluffy frost build up. And the fact that all those soup stock tubs swell up, top pops off, and god forbid the thing should ski out the door (onto your bare foot).

If it doesn’t bruise your foot, it shatters on impact….more fun, collecting chicken soup stock shards off the concrete.

Our appliances live  outside–fridge hum is unacceptable noise pollution.  Real Goods claims theirs is quiet, but it’s not.
Uh, but this was to be my Hoard Oeuvre…There’s a visitor coming next week, Jeff Yeager, aka the Ultimate Cheapskate. I figure I should have the tastiest possible, highly spiced ‘mature’ provender available.


A gallon of the finest quality unchlorinated water in a stainless steel, copper-bottomed pot.

carcasses of three roast organic chickens from Nov. 08.

Guajillo chiles from that time I went to La Palma mexicatessen in the Mission (circa 2005).

Fresh, olld (but still good) red bell pepper, onion, celery and carrot.

Frozen stock in need of using up.

Old polish sausage, chopped.

New can of hominy! Big one!

Boil all this together.

Note how good house smells.
Dredge up some for dinner.

Soupcon…of pure heaven.

Pretty damn pink!

I’m a convert to the fermentation congregation fomented by the  enthusiastic sandor kraut.

After hearing him speak, and tasting the dozen or so delicious and wildly varied fermented foods he’d laid out at last month’s Slow Food Conference, I took home his book Wild Fermentation.

Then waited til the Dumpster Gods showered me with cabbage.

I frequently find chopped purple cabbage –caseloads– washed and everything, bring it home full of virtuous plans…only to ‘forget about it’ because I really hate the smell of cooking crucifers. SulfurrrrrrBLEAGH.
BUT! According to his book you can simply throw ia couple tablespoons of salt into a huge tub of raw chopped cabbage (indeed, damn near any other vegetable, maybe not potatoes) , punch down the mass, keep a plate plus a weight on it (have I already told you this…uh-oh..)and within a day or so, you get sauerkraut which will change over time…getting better!   A PROCASTINATOR’S DREAM!

Here’s what mine looked like after three weeks of ignoring it after the two day “punch it down every few hours” period.

A magnificent pink mantle of fuzzy mold lay across the top…and since it’s harmless, you just shove it aside (it’s ok to ingest), fish out the cabbage, and enjoy.

My friend Peter Young of Plainfield Vermont used to grow, ferment and sell his own Hill Farm kraut back in the early eighties when organic was just beginning to get serious attention from visionary farmers (like him). I couldn’t imagine liking sauerkraut, so I didn’t even sample it. Years later, Peter told me he had to be persuaded, too. The kraut sold in supermarkets was that bad….

Snowy Bollocks

Prepping for Sunday’s invitational century (Seabright Broory’s annual cycle run).  I’m not a big fan of ready-made snack food (except for salt & pepper flavored Kettle Brand potato chips, the best ‘crisp’ ever  made). Since snacking is the name of the game whilst cycling, I dug around in the ‘cup-hoard”, and dug up three jars of (only slightly past-date) nut butters, combined them all: almond, macadamia, and cashew. Blended up more whole cashews. Emptied an antique tub of halavah (sesame seeds and something sweet, a tasty middle eastern candy) into a bowl with the aforementiond aflatoxin-loaded nut pastes, added dried cherries, a glug of fig syrup, and ultra fine diced lemon peel. If I had other dried fruit I’d a thrown it in, too.

Rolled up golf-ball sized spheres, then rolled them in raw coconut flakes, and declared them…fit to enjoy.

Oh, wait, there should be some dusted with (Scharffen Berger) cocoa,  unsweetened.  A gesture of solidarity for Future President Obama. (PRAY!!!)

And there you have them, two is enough to get you down the road five miles.

Fine Fig Time

My meal after an utterly remarkable ride with Eric (New Kid In Town) Roman.

We rode clockwise around the mountain (beginning at Phoenix Lake) and clinging to the shadows under thick bay/buckeye/redwood canopy. I told him how the trails we rode past used to be part of the route. Nowadays, one is not allowed on any narrow trails on the Water Lands. And almost every Marinite has a strong (=polarized) opinion on the matter of bicycles on single track. Just like they have on bicycles rolling through stop signs at two miles an hour. So we baked in the nine a.m. heat.

The destination: press launch of the Tour of California in Sausalito.

“Hey, you’re a photographer, I ‘m a writer, we’re the press”.

The speaker was my ‘glob’ friend Gavin Chilcott. He is so busy that I devised a way to reach him and other busy members of my “Knobby Nobility” cohort–people racing in the 1980’s–just mail a letter to them every month or two, with the subject heading of ‘Retrovians’ or a catchy little hook…well it worked for a couple years, and my list of victims, uh, reader/riders swelled to a couple hundred. Then my server got indigestion, asked me to keep group she-mails down to below…twenty or so. Ulp…
My career in spam-writing. I liked to thinnk most of the vict, er, friends WANTED the notes.

After all, they didn’t have to go anywhere to find them. The ones who, like me have ADD (Another Dumbass Disease) liked the trip-over-it-whilst-fetching-other-emails aspect of them.No unnecessary ‘getting l’austin space’ down-side of blog-spotting.

No fuss. Or so I thought.
Enter Chris Hill’s professionally designed weblog (see the black one, that’s the one I mean) was swiftly fitted, and out the gate I charged, ready to take on the Whirled Wide Web!

(Ed: JP, you’re digressing!!! FOCUS! WHERE are the damn FIGS? What about Eric ROMAN??? YOUR RIDE?)

Er, yah. well, we dropped down Railroad Grade into Mill Valley and even though it was midweek, passed groups of lycra bedizened bikers on their morning cruise…going the opposite way from us. Clearly we were in the minority, attending a press conference about Tour of California….This catered morning gathering accetuated how big the business of road cycling has become here in Marin. The towns fall all over themselves to win the bid for inclusion in this prestigious, improbably pricey producton….and surely this will lead (we wonder) to better awareness of riders…

Paul Albritton, vice mayor of Sausalito, was the only other Person Who Arrived By Bike.

Here in the USA, suits and cycles are still considered incompatible (what a pity people can’t see how it’s done in Germany, Scotland, Switzerland, Italy..)

He enthused about the coming festivities…”coming”= Valentines Day 2009! LONG lead time!

Stufft ourselves on quiche, pain au chocolat and bagels and poured coffee down to break it all up, then groaned away from the barely touched banquet (true business people can’t dive into food tables, or they’d fall asleep at the computer) in search of..

A swift tour of the houseboats, with their gay array of container plants (why dincha bring yr little metal “eye”, girl? NEXT TIME PACK THE CaMeRA)  all along the docks… not one among the dozens  had signs of life within, though the gardens on the docks seethed with sedum, geranium, new zealand flax, nasturtium, even roses.
Chances are, 90% of the residents there nowadays are off earning dough to cover the mortgage of what used to be basically free housing for artists prior to 1980.

So we sat and enjoyed the peace, glanced at the freebie materials (“bike porn” photo album of the BMC team, managed by racing colleague Gavin Chilcott) bicycle map of Sonoma County. VERY NICE score!

Home via bike paths, special tip of the hat to the Ross flood channel, then a quick plunder of the fat green figs in a secluded back yard in Sani-Selmo.

Sagittally slice all of them, broil most of them, top with two kinds of cheese, cheddar and jack, then re-broil for two minutes…voila. Arrange on old trophy plate from Charlie’s grandpa. Snap pics since the things are hotter than blazes for at least five minutes.
A lunch fit for a queen — a selfish, not-very-green queen who doesn’t mind heating up the house a little bit, just to have this rare treat. A queen who is looking into solar ovens….

Salivation Army in Scottish borders

Julie Cartner at the Attention-Deficit Dinner

Julie Cartner at the Attention-Deficit Dinner

relief al fresco
relief al fresco

Today is my first day in Dumfries–home of Robert Burns– and trove of Scots culinary treasure.

Singlespeed sister Julie Cartner took me to Loch Arthur Farm, just outside of the town of BEESWING (attention Richard Thompson fans, this town is so fine you might miss it if you blink).

Up a hill and hesitantly through two farm gates–she’d never seen the place, but heard of the Farm for years–and we were in a farm courtyard.

Fresh green fava beans and tomatos heaped in humble boxes tempted me before I stepped through the hanging chains marking the entryway into the shop.

And oh, what a shop. The cheese cooler was full of local delicacies from nearby towns (Criffel, Crannog) as well as the prizewinning Loch Arthur farm cheese, both aged and fresh. This last one is a type of cheddar ( tangy, salty, buttery). The ewe’s milk cheese was ma-aa-aaarvelous.

Julie sank a week’s wages into a box full of fresh breads, jam, apple balsamic vinegar, cream cheese and all the aforementioned ones, plus a unique elderflower beverage and some staples so I can make Rosemary Shortbread (coals to Newcastle?)….then we roared off (oui, en voiture) to the Mabie Forest, one of the Seven Stanes (collect ’em all!).

Mabie is not vast. You can ride almost all of it in three hours if you are pretty fit and adept…but it’s the perfect forest for uncertain newbies as well. There is a corral with skills stations where you can READ about how to do the trick and then perform it. Whether someone will watch you is anyone’s guess.

I especially liked the dramatic meeting-hut and the charming grass-roofed out houses..what a splendid place to host a gathering of the Muddy Tribes.

There are also menacingly tall whoop-de-dos and when I ride them, I keep my wheels firmly on the ground.

We met Luke Webber, a freelance cycling writer who had ridden there (no car! Yay!) who managed to write and post stories about the race (Ft. William World Championships 07). I can’t imagine truly watching a race….I would want to be IN that race, not watching it.

But I digress. We raced home to prepare a vegetarian meal for Kenny Lamont our chocolate-designer friend (the Cocoa Bean Company).

It consisted of Attention Deficiet Disorder risotto –the kind where you toss the onions in the oil, turn on the stove and walk away to write a post…coming back to blackened onions and sadly browned arborio rice …(blame the electric range, not the fact that you try to write on the computer while cooking). Carefully scrape out the unburned risotto-pancake…(it WILL smell like it was salvaged from a burning pan).

There was also a platter of roasted vegetables, and a wicked tasty “rocket” salad (arugula). Cheeses (see above). Sweet potatoes, wine, we feasted…

A Bloggable Feast

Heidi Kuehne knows how to make good chow. Under her window in Leith, aromas beckoned alluringly. I didn’t even need to know the apartment number– I just followed my nose.

This singular, shaven-headed woman distinguished herself last week at the little antique shop Now & Then (friend had to show me this cool nook) by her American accent…

“Hey! You an American too?”

“Yes….” she smiled. I jumped up and down (can I really be this homesick?) then let her finish the purchase (seriously antique bicycle lamp).

Now & Then is so small (AND PACKED WITH FASCINATING THINGS) that a pair of Americans schmoozing is, well, a crowd.

Chris Hill had already noticed the Permanently Inked Chainring Marks on her right calf and was focusing his camera at ankle level.

Wow. A crazed, committed American biker. In this town!

“Why don’t you come Wednesday for dinner?” she asked me suddenly.

Wow. No wasted time. well…maybe she is like me in more ways yet to be discovered.

OK I’m supposed to write about food.

The meal: I have pix, and will show you sometime. Her friend Sinead Collins was along. Sinead is almost half our age, also a “post-doc” in evolutionary genetics, and possibly the fastest-witted (and swiftest speaking–200 wpm) youngster I’ve met in years. A perfect foil to a pair of ‘mature’ biker bon vivants . She is a book-binder (Japanese style) and also has a food blog:

Starters: a wee dram of …er…nice whisky. In a laboratory beaker, the tiniest I’d ever seen.

Then, fresh baby tomatoes salted with smoked “jail salt” (an inside joke, about what Sinead would smuggle in if Heidi is ever incarcerated for being Too Original), and napped in olive oil, then dusted with the finest powder of fresh pepper–thanks to an antique pepper mill our hostess has dragged along with her for the last 20 years….hmm…another shared trait: requires proper pepper, regardless of inconvenience, weight of device, etc. This too deserves its own picture. Imagine a shiny brass cylinder incised with designs and sporting the strangest but oddly ergonomic accordionesque handle.

And the main dish: Mujadarra (aka lentils with caramelized onions)

equal amts red lentils and water (3/4 cup of the dry lentils will feed three hungry people)

Slightly more than half that amount (1/2 cup) of basmati rice

1.5 cups chopped onions in good olive oil (1/4 cup), cooked in a heavy pan (be sure to stir) until darkly sticky

Combine cooked lentils + rice with the onions. Laugh at how easy and cheap it is….

Saute some okra to go along with it.
Serve with red wine,

and follow with fresh walnuts, chocolate, and very large, sweet dates.

Pull out banjos (Heidi has one, a Mike Ramsey!) and play until dead-tired.

Ride home singing.

Get invited in for tea by downstairs resident in Grove St.

Fall asleep in own bed, again…not in Kansas anymore…..

Mumm’s the word


Sorry I can’t figure out how to flip my pix around.
For this once, it’s OK.
The bottle (which has lain for years on its side) is resting in peace…and my kitchen is 90 degrees off….
I found t it about a year or two ago in an over-filled residential dumpster on Sais Avenue, San Anselmo.
Someone had cleaned out a house where an old person lived and died. She or he left behind a few seemingly nice bottles of booze…the kind you put aside for a special occasion.

Only it never came!….Evidence that life is indeed too short.
Having dessert first–and perhaps even Champagne for breakfast in ones’ later years wouldn’t be completely off the mark…

I dug further and found some 1970s port, expensive vodka, and a few reds. No bottles had shattered.

All were hot from laying in the summer sun.

I sped back to the Taj Mahovel Recovery Room (the crawl space under the house).

Since then, I enjoyed each from that trove, fabricating limoncello, risotto, Irish cream liqueur, even just swallowed a couple neat… save one.

Until now I was too scared to try the Mumm’s.

I ‘d never heard of ‘antique’ Champagne, and like your average person, understood that super-young was the only way to have it. Crispy, light, dry with very little fruit discernible.

Turns out that the stuff can age, as long as its laying on its side (“on the lees”) in a carefully controlled environment free from light or vibration.
While Champagne makers have an economic interest in selling more wine by convincing us it’s best consumed within the year, much Champagne improves with some [cork] aging.

Jancis Robinson notes that some Champagnes can become significantly more complex with aging on the cork–“if they are properly stored”.

I imagined the jolt inflicted on the stiff-upper-lipped Mumm’s, hurled over the dumpster’s edge and coming to rest atop sofa-cushions, baling wire, wood chips, shoe boxes, golf clubs, plastic flowers, dishware, shoes and other junk.
That bottle was meant for me, and intended to be enjoyed despite its sketchy background.

For the slimmest of reasons I decided to open it up today: as a budget tribute to the great and ever so humble, complex and intense Sheldon Brown.

Ian (“evolnollidge”) and I had ridding earlier in the afternoon, though we attracted no other ‘Sheldonysians”.
His four year old, Kai, braved the rude winds and entertained himself in the back seat of dad’s Dutch bike by doing a reasonable imitation of our prattle.

I like to think Sheldon would have appreciated the toasty “maderized’ notes in the bottle I literally broke into.

A crumbling broken cork meant no dramatic pop; the color was a dark amber with superfine bubbles racing in thin lines up the glass. A candy aroma hovered over the surface and I realized I was going to be amazed with my ‘find’. I got to experience what “maderization” is, and how a Maillard reaction can improve what’s left during the years on the cork.

For once Charlie didn’t make a face after one tiny sip. I can offer no greater accolade from a non-drinker to whom everything one imbibes and ingests must have a Nutrititve Purpose.

Burnt bread, raisins and even some brandy flavor dwelled in the light-red brown liquor.

It was a revelation….complex and rewarding.

Heaven knows the price was right…here’s Mumm’s in your eye, Sheldon!