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Salad forks are a cruel joke

Can someone explain salad forks to me? It boggles the mind how something so fraught with design flaws can have survived in our society for so long, unchallenged.  Let's start with the tines. Foreshortened and squatter than a regular fork,…

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Shaved asparagus, fava beans, grana padano and mint salad

Shaved asparagus, favas, mint, dry jack

A year ago, I traveled to New York with my mother, who was nominated for a Louie award for one of her cards at the annual Greeting Card Association powwow. She didn't win, alas, but it was an honor nevertheless, and it afforded me the opportunity to socialize with a few of my favorite folks in the city that I love perhaps second only to my home in San Francisco. While nearly every meal I ate was in the company of others, I had one solo meal at the bar at Boqueria, where I had a charming salad of snap peas, shaved radish, chevre and mint, which I promptly ripped off. 

In that post, I implored readers to take a light hand with seasoning, so as not to overwhelm the delicate fresh spring flavor of the snap peas. I suggested they savor the peaness. A few of my cohorts on Twitter took the joke and ran with it, and the hashtag #peaness still manages to rear its, uh, head from time to time. It's a joke that never, EVER gets old. Now, I've taken it to the next logical step and fashioned some #peaness men's underwear. (They then made a cameo in an auto-populated CafePress ad, heh.) They may not be quite worthy of the runway, but surely they make a charmingly cheeky gift.  

Earlier this month I had the cause to return to New York. DPaul had to go for business, and I saw this as a perfect opportunity to take advantage of a free hotel room and subsidized meals. Again, I was able to schmooze with a number of my favorite peeps — but since having launched Punk Domestics last July, I've acquired a few new chums with whom I was able to break bread. I met with Sean Sullivan, who aside from penning the delightfully quirky blog Spectacularly Delicious (a regular contributor to Punk Domestics with his unusual jams and other concoctions), is also associate publisher at House Beautiful. Sean toured me through the very impressive Hearst Tower, including the impressive Good Housekeeping test labs. Truly, I was awe-struck. 

(In case you haven't heard me blather on about it enough already, Punk Domestics is a community and content aggregation site for the DIY food set — you know, those of us who like to make jams and pickles, and can them, or maybe cure meat in a year-long challenge, or brew our own beer. Are you a DIY devotee? Come check us out!)  

Since my visits to New York are infrequent and brief, I try to do some strategic eating (and drinking) while I'm in town. This does not necessarily mean I built a rigid schedule of reservations; in fact many of our best meals were spontaneous. Rather it meant having a mental checklist of places to hit, and ticking them off when and as appropriate. Some highlights: 

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Lágrimas, snap pea salad

Lagrimas, ©DPaul Brown

Last week I took a brief trip to New York. One of my mother’s cards had been nominated for a Louie Award at the Greeting Card Association‘s annual event, and since the whole raison d’être of her business stems from having a gay son, she wanted me with her at the ceremony. Sadly, she didn’t win (frankly, the sentiment in the card she lost to is of questionable taste), but she still found value in attending the Stationery Show and connecting with peers in the industry.

While she was doing so, I used that time to do some connecting of my own. I shopped and sushied with my dear old friend Christine and brunched with my friend Ramona at the fabulous new B.E.S. I got to see the lovely Shuna, who opened her arms to me as a fledgling blogger four years nigh, and whom I’ve missed dearly since she relocated to London and New York. I enjoyed coffee and conversation with Lisa, who I met only fleetingly at BlogHer Food last year. And I finally met the inimitable and affable David Leite over quiche (him) and chocolate bouchons (me). All this in two days, including the awards ceremony.

It was definitely a whirlwind, and I often found myself hustling to get from one rendez-vous to another, but I did deliberately leave myself one opening. My flight arrived on Saturday at 4 pm, and I had nothing planned for the remainder of the afternoon until my mother arrived that evening. 

New York was balmy and gently breezy, and I reveled in the summerlike weather as I meandered the streets of Chelsea. After a couple hours of aimless wandering, I began to set my sights on dinner. When the occasion warrants, I rather like dining out alone, and a tapas bar is optimal for that. Sitting alone at a two-top is sad, like dining with an imaginary friend. But sidling up to a bar, ordering a glass of spicy red and eyeing the sardines and cheeses? That’s liberating.

So it was that I ended up at Boquería. First up I had a crisp duck croqueta and some lovely piquant sardine toasts, then followed up with pork belly pintxos and a salad called lágrimas — “tears.” The pork belly was cubed, dusted with paprika, wrapped in a wilted green, skewered and grilled until succulent. The salad, bright and fresh and crisp, made a flawless foil to the richness of those fatty blocks. It immediately became my New Favorite Salad, and I vowed to make it as soon as I got home. I did, and quite a few times since then already.

As for the name, I can only assume it’s because the sliced pea pods look like eyes, and the peas themselves seem to tumble out like tears. But there is nothing sad about this salad. They must be tears of joy and gratitude for the bounty of spring that is finally upon us.

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Green Goddess dressing

Green Goddess dressing

I've had something of a fascination lately with the idea of San Francisco food. I mean, everyone knows our fair city to be a major foodie destination, and most people can rattle off a list of restaurant names of varying degrees of prestige in the current-day food scene. But what of the classics, the dishes that emerged from restaurants past and present that have made it into the American culinary vernacular?

Many of these dishes have appeared on menus for so long, they've been fallen out of fashion and are now associated with lunching matrons in chi-chi hotel restaurants: Crab Louie, Celery Victor and the grandmother of all creamy salad dressings, Green Goddess.

It's small wonder these dishes have become culinary dinosaurs. In the monotony of preparing them on so many menus over so many years, they've surely slid into mediocrity or worse at the hands of indifferent chefs. Just recently, I dined locally at an otherwise perfectly good establishment (that shall remain nameless). I was actually excited to see a salad with Green Goddess on the menu, and ordered it with glee. Sadly, I was presented a lackluster pile of greens thickly coated with what as far as I could tell was just straight-up mayonnaise. No green, and far from godly.

But I maintain that when prepared with love and integrity, these foods must be excellent in their own right. How else could they have become such culinary icons?

And the goddess is an icon indeed. It was created at the Palace Hotel in 1923 by Executive Chef Phillip Roemer at an event to honor actor George Arliss, who was then the lead in the play "The Green Goddess" by William Archer. Cool, creamy and fresh with herbs, it must have struck quite a chord with the diners that evening, for it went on to become one of the most popular dressings in the West for decades, eventually dethroned by ranch dressing (with which it has a more than passing resemblance.)

Its fame peaked in the 1970s when Seven Seas sold a bottled version of it, and today Annie's Naturals produces a version as well, but for the last three decades or so, the goddess has largely lost her followers. 

Well, consider me a member of the Cult of the Green Goddess, then. And I aim to convert you, too.

You see, Green Goddess is much more than a dressing. Since I've started making it, it's made its way into a variety of applications. It makes a fantastic dip for just about anything on its own, but toss it into a blender with some white beans and you've got something rather special indeed. Our friend Jim's mother used to use it as a dressing for cold pasta, and served with grilled jumbo shrimp; I think scallops would be at least as delightful.

In researching the dressing, I came across a lot of different recipes with a surprising amount of variation: Different proportions of mayonnaise, sour cream and vinegar; with or without anchovy; and while nearly all call for parsley and chives, others called for basil, tarragon and even chervil. Despite Martha's greatest efforts to market it, however, chervil remains an elusive ingredient for most of us.

The Palace Hotel thoughtfully has published the original, and that is what I used. Well, sort of. While they call for parsley and chives, the original evidently did not include tarragon; this will not stand. For reasons I cannot justify, in my mind Green Goddess must have tarragon. Must. So I added it. And I stand by that decision. Fact is, you could tweak this recipe ten times till Tuesday, and you'd still end up with a delicious, refreshing dressing, so have at it. 

What other San Francisco classics do you love? And what current dishes do you think will stand the test of time?

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Winter salad

This is my favorite season for salad. I love the sturdy, bitter greens of winter, and am eager to consume as many persimmons and pomegranates before their time ends, all too soon.

This salad was inspired by Food Blogga’s riotously colored salad of dandelion greens, persimmons and medjool dates, but of course we couldn’t let well enough alone. We definitely wanted persimmon arils in there, for their tart-sweet bursts of zing. Fresh fuyu persimmon and toasted pecans added sweetness and crunch. We also wanted to offset the dandelion greens with another green that would temper the bitterness and add some lift; the dandelion greens are so flat, they are sometimes difficult to get on the fork. Some lovely chioggia chickory did just the trick, the flecks of red mirroring the red dandelion stems and bright pomegranate pips.


But the biggest diversion was by replacing dates with hoshigaki. To the uninitiated, as I was just a year ago, hoshigaki are hachiya persimmons that have been peeled, then hung to dry. (In Japanese, hoshi=dried and kaki=persimmon; when words that begin with a “k” sound are merged with words that end with a vowel sound, the “k” converts to a hard “g.”) During the drying process, they are gently massaged. During this process, sugars bloom to the surface, resulting in a fine, powdery coating. This lengthy and meticulous process has earned them the nickname of the Kobe beef of persimmons.

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