Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hall Pass and a Tuscan Sun


I don't know about you, but when I was in grammar school and high school, you needed a "hall pass" to go anywhere but your designated classrooms.  Lunch and recess time being the only notable exceptions. Get caught roaming the halls when you're supposed to be in Miss Davies' French class, and it meant a trip to see Assistant Principal Mr. Hyde (a perfect moniker for him, as he truly had a Jekell-Hyde personality). And any trip to the infamous Mr. Hyde's office would likely cost you a week of after-school "detention." No fun, and something to be avoided at all costs.

Over the years the concept has taken on a much broader meaning ... specifically, one member of a couple has some time alone, out or away, while the other is doing something alone or with their friends or work group. Long explanation for a concept that you're all undoubtedly familiar with, but I thought I'd clarify nonetheless.

This weekend's Hall Pass netted me some time to write (what you're reading, among other things), to eat a couple fantastic simple meals, and to watch one of my favorite movies for the millionth time. I spend my time alone in curious ways. I don't go out and look for trouble, but rather prefer to stay home and cook, write, maybe watch some TV (probably an old movie), maybe go for a ride or two, and sort of catch my breath. So here's a chronicle of the last couple of days ...

Thursday night ... came home from another long day at work (Telecom Manager at a large biotech firm), and kicked back with some great burritos. There's a lot to be said for real simple dinners, but I have to admit I always try to spice them up a little. Seemingly simple fare like tacos and burritos, always get a little ooomph to them. So ...


Tequila Lime Spiced Burritos
1 lb. of chicken breasts cut into small cubes
Marinate for 30 minutes in:
1/4 cup of tequila
2 tblspns of lime juice
1/2 tspn of ground cumin
1/2 tspn of chipotle flakes or powder

"Burrito size" flour or whole wheat tortillas
Small can of your favorite enchilada sauce
(or make it fresh if you must)
 
Fat free refried beans
Mexican rice (mix or fresh)

Garnishes of:
Chopped white onion
Chopped cilantro
White and yellow cheeses, shredded
Light sour cream (save your calories for dessert)
Guacamole, if you're so inclined
Salsa(s) and hot sauces of your choosing

Cook the rice according to the instructions (plan on 30 minutes). 
Heat the enchilada sauce and the beans, warm the tortillas in an oven or microwave.
If you have a hall pass yourself, you can do these any way you choose. For guests, fill the tortillas, roll them up, spritz the enchilada sauce across the top (criss-cross, make it fun!), add a scoop each of sour cream and guacamole on top, let them apply their own hot poisons. I'm a nutcase and love Dave's Insanity Sauce ... everyone's not as crazy.

For dessert? Linn's ollalieberry pie a' la mode was perfect!  Linn's is a mandatory destination with any trip to Cambria.  Their fresh and frozen pies (fruit and meat pies) are legendary.  When I get down to my last ollalieberry or chicken pie in the freezer, it means it's time for another Cambria visit. They're that good ...

Friday ... worked at home in the morning, as I had a business meeting in Vacaville in the afternoon, meaning a 75 mile trip north on a Friday afternoon, and totally unpredictable traffic. As luck would have it, it was a totally painless trip, and I actually arrived early.

This is one of my favorite parts of California, and the fact that my contact was late meant that I could spend an hour doing some exploring. Had I known that I'd have an hour to kill, there's no doubt that I would have driven to Williams and had lunch at my favorite deli ... Granzella's. This is a landmark in the otherwise unremarkable stretch of I-5 between Sacramento and Redding. Williams is a tiny little community next to the meandering Sacramento River, surrounded by California's rice growing real estate, and although a pleasant enough place, it's only enhanced by this wonderful deli, restaurant, bar, and gift shop.

Loyal readers know that I also have a residence in Bend, Oregon. When making the 8 hour drive south, if I'm starting to get hungry in Klamath Falls, I'll tough it out and drive another 3 hours 'til I reach Granzella's. Get a sandwich and eat it outside on a picnic bench. If it's dinner time, take advantage of the restaurant. Home style cooking, bargain priced, always great. Pick up some olives (they're fresh), bring home a pie (likewise), or give in and buy one of their signature "Kiss Me I'm Italian" t-shirts. You'll never wear it, but you know you want one!

The business meeting went well, I saved the company $23,000 by making the trip. They owe me the rest of the day, which means I'll take the long way home. As luck would have it, there was an accident in Berkeley and an hour backup ... oh darn, that means I'll have to cut across to Sonoma and Marin Counties.

It's early spring (first day, actually), but Sonoma's in bloom. The mustard is coming up, the blossoms are everywhere, and it's a good day not to have hay fever since it's sunroof and windows down the whole way! Snowy egrets and my favorite, great blue herons are abundant as I make my way past the Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Point), along the levees, through the southernmost tip of the Sonoma / Napa wine country, and over to Highway 101.

At Highway 1 in Novato, I head south. Marin County is beautiful today. I only wish I had the time to drive out to the coast and watch the sunset at Bolinas or Bodega Bay, memorable for the great 1963 Hitchcock movie "The Birds," with Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor and Suzanne Pleshette.  Plus of course, the customary cameo by Alfred himself, which in this movie was when Tippi walked out of a San Francisco pet store with her newly purchased (nice, non-attack variety!) birds and cage.

It was early enough for me to take a very slight diversion through sleepy little Sausalito. Couldn't resist a cruise along Bridgeway, past the houseboats (always wanted to live on one!), the beautiful Casa Madrona, and all the fun little shops.

But back to reality, and a spectacular view of the City, Bay, and Pacific as I made my way back to the San Francisco side. It was still early enough, so after paying my six dollar toll, I veered right towards 25th Avenue and the Presidio.  This makes for a little bit longer ride, but provides you some of the most incredible scenery in the world. As you cruise through the nearly vacant Presidio of San Francisco, the views of the bay and GG bridge are truly breathtaking.  Stop and take pictures ... I was born here, and I still can't resist a shot of the bridge on a clear day like this one.

Cruising through upscale (make that nearly untouchable) Pacific Heights, native San Franciscans know an obscure landmark ... a fantastic house once occupied by Harry Houdini. Then it's up to Geary and out to the coast, where the world famous Cliff House and Seal Rock marks the entrance to Ocean Beach, the Great Highway, and Highway 1, which one way or another, will eventually get you to Southern California and beyond.

I briefly toyed with the idea of stopping at Joe's of Westlake, but opted to head home and make a "Larry meal" instead. After all, I'm just beginning my weekend long "hall pass."

Friday night's meal was a simple one, but awesome nonetheless:

Porterhouse steak, simply done with salt, pepper, garlic powder. Used the Lodge cast iron fry pan which always works great. Lodge cast iron pans, for any of you who don't own one, are an absolute culinary bargain.  Mine sits on a shelf next to a $125 Calphalon One pan (which is great in its own right, of course), but the Lodge is the one you use for a stovetop steak.  And it cost under $20.  

Preheat 5 minutes on high, use a couple pieces of fat trimmed from the steak to grease the hot pan ... 4 minutes per side yielded absolute perfection.  To compliment the steak I looked no further than a baked potato with butter, light sour cream, fresh chives, salt and pepper.  Simple, effective, wonderful meal. 

Saturday was a long overdue Spring cleaning. Nothing glamorous here, just lots of moving things around, out, ideally into the garbage / recycling / Goodwill bags. But dinner would be pasta, my way (I love spaghetti, my wife does not, so more often than not it's penne rigate, rigatoni, angel hair, or whatever ... I'm making spaghetti tonight!).

Saturday night pasta and cheesy garlic bread:

The Pasta:
1 lg yellow onion (sweet or regular), chopped
2-3 chopped garlic cloves
10 oz of sliced white mushrooms
Fresh or dried Italian Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and plenty of oregano
Pinch of powdered cinnamon
1/2 cup of decent red wine (I used a Zin that I had open)
2 lg cans of diced tomatoes
1 regular can of tomato sauce
1 small can of tomato paste
2 lbs of good ground beef, browned and drained
16 oz package of good Italian spaghetti (Barilla, DiCecco, or fresh/gourmet if you feel like splurging)
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan and a chiffonade of basil (if you have some) to finish

Trick: You probably already know this, but if you add salt and olive oil to the pot you're going to boil the pasta in, it will (1) not stick together, and (2) boil faster.

My basic pasta sauce stays fairly constant.  I love dabbling in the fancy ones too (The Silver Spoon is of course the "bible" in this regard), but for the quick weekday variety, it's evolved into a simple formula.  I start with a little olive oil in a good-sized pot over medium heat, which sweats fastest when you cover the pot and leave it alone for a few minutes.  I'll then saute the mushrooms in the pot, add the garlic, add the wine and let it reduce some, then the herbs.  Tomatoes with their liquids go in next, and a few minutes on high heat will break them down to the consistency you're looking for.  Tomato sauce is next, with tomato paste used for thickening toward the end.  Simmering time is up to you, but "all day" is an old wives' tale, and you can have a perfectly great sauce in about 45 minutes.  

The Bread:
I live near San Francisco and we're blessed with some of the best sourdough in the world. Tonight's was a ciabatta from Acme Bakery. Split the loaf up the middle, spread butter (that should have been softening to make your life easier), sprinkle garlic powder, some grated cheddar and top with some parmesan. Spread it out on a foil lined cookie sheet, about 5 minutes under the broiler (keep an eye on it!)

Sunday was a simple day. Not for the trees and leaves however, as the wind was blowing a gale, but relaxing for yours truly. Got the car washed, went shopping, worked around the house. And dinner?

Pizza!
Any basic pizza recipe works for the base ... make it, roll it out from a can, use a Boboli (they're wonderful).  The point is to get close to what you'd get at a pizza parlor, but do it at home.  And avoid the frozen food variety at all costs! 

My tricks: 
Begin with a thin layer of olive oil and a sprinkle of garlic powder on the crust
Boboli or home made (or your favorite) pizza sauce
Several cheeses ... don't limit yourself to just mozzarella. I also used some cheddar and Monterey jack, and it worked great

What do you like for a topping? Mine tonight was salami and fresh sliced mushrooms
Sprinkle some olive oil before cooking in a 425 degree oven for about 13 minutes

Topped it with a few chiffonades of fresh basil, some shreds of fresh parmesan, and red pepper flakes.  Yummy, filling, and plenty of leftovers for tonight. 

And so dear readers I find myself at the end of these few days to myself, eating and doing what I pleased, attacking the Spring cleaning chores, cruising through some of my favorite scenic areas, and enjoying myself immensely.  

And my old movie choice?  I'm the oldest of six kids, and have five younger sisters who are undoubtedly somewhat to blame for my movie preferences.  This weekend's would be Diane Lane's wonderful performance in "Under The Tuscan Sun" for at least the hundredth time.  So at the end of my long weekend, I find myself with the same feeling of emotional glee as the first time I watched it, as the old man finally tips his hat to "Francis" in the final scene.

5 comments:

Coconut Girl Connie said...

I love Hawaii, but if I had to leave you know my choice would be the city by the bay. Your post entices all of the senses, but most of all I love your recipes and food choices, whole and comforting. Oh, and so are your choices of flicks.

Pierce said...

That was a wonderful post. I felt like I was there. Goodness, I would love to try those burritos!

curiousdomestic said...

I haven't had ollallie berry pie in so long! I don't think I can get those berries anywhere near here, sigh. We do have plenty of blackberries, though.

P.S. My cat Mr. B liked the holistic vet, and so did I. He's doing a lot better.

Gayathri said...

wow... you keep up your great writing

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