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Monday, January 22, 2007

Pimento Cheese Pals

In lieu of your standard Bacon Press post, I wrote a poem/song about my childhood, my best friend Douglas, and that Southern staple, that Carolina Caviar – Pimento Cheese.

It's not every day I write a poem/song for you all, but I figured you deserve it - what, with the weather, the stuff going on in the world, and all.



Momma bought pimento cheese down at the store
Brought it home stuck it in the frigerator door
Momma said "eat a little, I gotta run back out
Daddy's gone to sleep, you youngin's better not shout"

Pimento cheese, pimento cheese, why you that way
Coming inside from a long hot day
Staring back at me with that look in your eye
One more pimento cheese sandwich and I think I'm gonna die

Dogs out back they bark and they bite
I've seen one eat its doodie, you know that aint right
Daddy's gonna raise them, sell them for a little pay
I'd rather have pimento cheese than doodie anyday

There's my pal Douglas, he does as he please
His momma's crazier than a bucket of pimento cheese
Plays out all day and into the night
Cause the family's too poor to afford electric light

He's my best friend, we're brothers by blood
Blood's thicker than water, me and him are like mud
His sister's damn ugly, they're too poor to sneeze
But he can always have some of my pimento cheese

Playin' in the woods or jumping through the crik
Knocked down some sugar cane with a couple of sticks
Drankin' soda pop before dinner time
He's got a Mella Yella, I'm drinkin' Cheerwine

Now we're grow'd up I wonder how he's been
I haven't seen him since "Elvira" was Top 10
Up on Yellow Gap live these memories
Of my good little buddy and pimento cheese.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

January Market Report: Ferry Bldg Farmers' Market

So did you spend all of your money in Chinatown?

Well then, you probably shouldn't go with us to the Ferry Building today. However, there is an ATM conveniently located inside which will charge you the cost of a small cup of Blue Bottle coffee to use, if you want.

The Ferry Building Farmer's Market was small and manageable today, which is how I like it. Oh, there are many locals who come to shop but there are often gawkers and tourists crowding your way, taking pictures, talking on their cell phones, pushing strollers, and just being a nuisance. Guess which one I was?

That's right!



First, the Fruit:

Citrus again!

Navel Oranges - $1.99 per pound

Organic Apples, which if you're going to spend the money on organic, apples are your best bet since they tend to be the most heavily contaminated with pesticides conventional fruit crop.

Pink Lady and Granny Smith - $3 per pound

Hey! Look! I've never seen Cherimoyas here before!

If they're still around next week I'm buying some!

Cherimoyas - $5 per pound

Next up are some kiwis. These seem to grow everywhere in the San Joaquin Valley now and often you find them at fruit stands or even for sale in front of someone's home. We pulled off the side of the road a few weeks ago in Manteca and bought 6 for $1. They probably weren't organic, but then they probably weren't sprayed either.

Organic kiwis - $2.50 per pound

Asian pears out the yin yang...

Yali Pears - $3 per pound

Asian and
Non-Asian pears
Live together in perfect
Side by side on my Farmers
Fruit case
Why don't weeee-eee-eee???

Shinko and Bosc Pears - $3.90 per pound

Persimmons – the scourge of the Central Valley. You can't throw a pear without hitting a persimmon tree in California. Like zucchini, people who live in and around the Modesto area practically give these away in the winter time. They're more prevalent than meth labs and car thieves – and that's saying a lot!

Fuyu persimmons - $3 per pound


Let's move on to Vegetables, shall we?

Can you believe peppers are still being sold?! And quicker than you can say "Mexico", I say "No! Palo Alto!". These are grown just a few miles south from here at Happy Quail Farms. These may be the last peppers we see until June, so scoop 'em up while you can.

Brussel sprouts from Iacopi farms. Their produce is usually pricey no matter what time of day or year it is, but if you want to buy in season direct from the farmer (and not from someone hired by the farmer to work the stand), you'll appreciate what they sell here. They usually have pretty good beans in the summer, and their brussell sprouts are always good.

Onions for sale at Star Route Farms. I didn't get find out how much these were, but they look pretty nice.

Interestingly enough, last Fall, a couple of stalls down from Star Route at the Knoll Farms stand, I saw RAMPS for sale. I haven't seen Knoll Farms at the market the last 3 times I've went, but I'd be interested in seeing if they're selling ramps again and what price they're going for. As you know, ramps are mainly harvested in the wild during the Spring in Appalachian mountain communities, where there's also usually a Ramp Festival. I had no idea they could be grown in California.

Moving on...

More onions (leeks), broccoli, and kale.

I love the texture of Kale

Carrots, carrots, and more carrots galore!

Baby bunches for $1

Large bunches for $2.50

And, of course, turnips.

"Tokyo" turnips - $3 per bunch

Left to right: Rutabegas, Black Radishes, Green Turnips (and Parsnips on the upper right)

Sam, over at Becks and Posh, served up some Watermelon Radishes once. They're very attractive, but I've never eaten one. You'll have to ask her how they are.

Watermelon Radishes - $2 per pound

And last but not least, Golden Beets.

On that note, I think I'll end here. Have a great weekend!


Friday, January 19, 2007

January Market Report: Chinatown



...market report.

Getcher spending money out because we here at Ye Olde Presse are now speaking to YOU, (fill in your name): the consumer, the target demographic, the household decision maker, the "lady of the house".

rrring! rrring!

Bacon Press: "Hello?"
Caller: "Hello, may I speak to the lady of the house?"
Bacon Press (in deep, gravelly voice): "Speaking."

What's in your wallet? A maxed-out credit card, a Hamilton, and a few Dead (First) Prez, you say? Well, don't fret, cause we're going pinkbaggin' in the mighty CT!!!!

Chinatown, BFFs!

Ah, Chinatown! How I love thee! Let me count the ways:

"Burberry" handbag for Mom: $15
Nightmarish, overcrowded bus ride: $1.50
Sound of old lady hawking the most righteous loogie: Priceless

Hmmm, what else do I like about Chinatown (food-related)? I like how there's not one large market that dominates with a few smaller scattered here and there, which is what Clement Street is like. The best part about food shopping in Chinatown are the many, many hole-in-the-wall markets, some smaller, some larger, but none of them imposing. In a way, it's almost as if the entire northern section of Chinatown is one big outdoor market.

There are times, from season to season, when you walk into or past one of these tiny shops and they – and only them – will have the best lychees or the best asparagus or some really cool, exotic, and delicious variety of peach which you've never seen before.

And then there are times when everyone will have the same "new" thing. When that happens, it's a really special time to be in the neighborhood. The whole place will be buzzing with enthusiasm for whatever's new...such as it is right now.

For the last week or so Korla Fragrant Pears - imported from a remote western region of China - have been all the rage, with even the chicken shops on Grant hawking them alongside chicken feet, necks, and whole birds.

Actually, I hear poultry and pears go together like birds of a feather.

Of course, my eyes immediately lit up when I saw these babies – not because I knew what they were, but because I knew what they weren't: the familiar.

And unless you're hanging in a window or still twitchin' in Jackson's grocery sack, Chinatown is no place to be a chicken about the unfamiliar. So I bought some, washed one, and cut it open.

What I discovered was a mildly sweet, extremely crisp, and insanely juicy, delicious piece of fruit. It's like biting into a crisp watermelon and tastes nothing like the pears I’m use to. These will be great to have around while they last, which I hope is a long time. Prices average at around $1.50 per pound. By the way, thanks to this guy's blog, I know more about these Johnny-come-latelys. Thanks Michael!

Korla Fragrant Pears (left) and Royal Beauty Ya Pears (right)

Even when we're talking about pears shipped halfway across the world, it's still all about freshness in Chinatown, which is my other favorite reason to shop there. Chinatown, other than the UN Plaza and Ferry Building farmers markets, is often my measuring stick for what's fresh and available in season. One of my co-workers, like a lot of people I'm sure, seemed to think nothing grew during the winter until I reminded him that fresh citrus, pears, kiwis, root vegetables, and all kinds of dark green leafy vegetables were at their peak (at least in Northern California).

By the way, crack is not now, nor is it ever, in season.

By now all of you know about the crapilicious weather we've had in California that's caused 1 billion dollars worth of damage to the state's citrus crops. That's a lot of orange sorbet. Enjoy your lemon custard and Duck a l'Orange while you can, because the Governator's declared a state of emergency in the Cahlee-fornee-ah counties hit hardest by the freeze and that means citrus prices could double.

On the flip side, stone fruit growers are enjoying a bit of schadenfreude at the citrus growers' expense and sitting pretty as a peach.

As for now, tangerines and valencia oranges are at $0.69 per pound.

As bad as the weather's been here, there are other parts of the country (and world) that's been worse off...and here's hoping you all are okay and coping with whatever Mother Nature throws your way.

Among some of the other edibles for sale:

Taro root and jicamas are plentiful and all look very good.

Left to right: small-variety taro, jicamas, large taro (could be tapioca? not sure), Kotobuki (Japanese) sweet potatoes

A lot of Cantonese dishes use taro either as a filling for dim sum or added to a stir fry. Of course, most Hawaiians use it for poi and some fancier places use it as a crispy fried side dish. Jicama is used mostly in Latin/Mexican cuisine.

I like to eat jicama (pronounced "hee-cuh-muh") shredded or chopped into salads with lots of lime juice, jalapenos, and some type of sweetener. If you haven't had it before, it's really crisp with only a hint of sweet flavor. It's mostly water, so it's a good vegetable for those trying to watch their caloric intake.

Jicamas and Taro

Obligatory Jicama side story:
I once lived with a crazy white girl (yes, in Berkeley) who got lost in the middle of Mexico with a friend and all they had to eat for 3 days was a large jicama. True story!

Also in season are water chestnuts, which are crisp like jicamas, but a little crunchier, watery, and sweeter.

Foreground: Water Chestnuts

Like jicamas, they have to be peeled before you can eat them. However, once peeled, you can keep them submerged in water in the refrigerator for a few weeks and they'll be just as good as the day you bought them. Water chestnuts are mandatory when making the filling for potstickers and give stir-fry dishes that certain I-don't-know-what.

Then there are your standard Asian veggies that always seem to be in season: bitter melon, Japanese eggplant, long beans, garlic and ginger, etc. This being California, many farmers who specialize in Asian vegetables have a virtual year-round growing season, especially since many of them are located down south around Fresno and the San Fernando Valley area.

The eggplants here looked pretty good.

Left to right: long beans, bitter melon, eggplant

What the heck are these?

Oh, it's arrowroot.

They're for sale at $0.99 a pound.

Along with turnips, daikons are in season and look particularly nice. Daikon is very versatile and can be eaten raw, pickled or cooked.

Daikon (left) and Garnet Yams (right)

I bought a huge one the other day for under a dollar, chopped it, boiled it in salt water, drained it, and then mashed it with butter, pepper, and cheese. Better than mashed potatoes! And unlike turnips, which have a tendency to be slightly bitter when cooked, daikons are very mild.

Leafy greens are on sale and abundant, including bok choy, pea tendrils, watercress, mustard greens (Chinese people salt preserve these like sauerkraut and use them in recipes as "preserved vegetable"), napa cabbage, and gai lan - aka "Chinese broccoli".

The variety of greens in Chinatown can be confusing if you don't speak the language, but there aren't too many surprises when it comes to the flavor of leafy green veggies, so I encourage you to buy "blind".

In the meantime, you can check out this cool PDF document that lists the Cantonese names for some of the green veggies for sale.

Actually, this link might be even better.

Whew! That was quite a market report!

Are you guys exhausted? I am.

If you're hungry and want to get something cheap, greasy, and tasty to go, check out Louie's Dim Sum on Stockton.

It's a total dive (like most Chinatown "dim sum to go" joints) and looks sketch, but for $5-even you get a big box of assorted dim sum, including large portions of siu mai and the chive/minced pork dumplings (gow choy gow). As long as you don't come for the har gow, you'll find that the dim sum here is fairly decent and the women who work there helpful and kind. There's a nice, young Chinese woman who sometimes works behind the counter who speaks perfect English and can help answer any questions you have. If she's not there, point to the plate on the countertop and tell them you'd like one (or two?)

From this point, you're on your own.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Most Important Meal of the Day

Until recently and for the most part, I've never been big on grits - so let's just get that out of the way.

However, things may change. You never know.

Back when I lived at home and when Mom use to cook, I ate grits more regularly because that's what she would make, usually with lots of butter and brown sugar. I think my mom figured out early on that if you add fat and sugar to practically anything you could make anyone happy. Because of an earlier bad childhood experience, my Mom took this notion of happiness to the extreme and put quite a bit of weight on her son, so much so that I became pudgy from all the biscuits, french toast, and grits she would make.

She, on the other hand, was and is so skinny she makes Karen Carpenter look like Mama Cass with a ham sandwich and a bag of chips.

Even though I don't eat grits regularly, I do keep them around – partially for the sentimental value and partially because I like an abundant and diverse pantry.

This morning I started off with my usual cup of coffee and added grits to the menu, since yogurt and eggs are starting to bore me. Grits are real easy to make and clean up after. But most importantly, they are hot and comforting and hearty, which is perfect for such a cold day here in the city.

I frickin' love this bowl!

And, yes, it is so cold it could freeze a witch's tit. I know. I saw a wiccan in the bulk foods aisle at Rainbow – tit: frozen.

At least it's not cold and raining. I've had a pretty serious hole in my right shoe that I keep ignoring...until it rains; and then it seems to suck up moisture like a sponge.

Anyway, back to the witch's tit: Rainbow Grocery is where I bought my grits. Most of the local stores that stock grits only have the instant stuff, but Rainbow sells the Arrowhead Mills variety which requires a longer cooking time. Of course, longer is relative here – it only means 5 minutes. I think, though, that if I'm going to get serious about grits I need to go to the source, and that means going to the South. Fortunately there are a few old-timey mills in the South that still sell grits to the general public. And fortunately there is the Internet, where we can place an order online or at least find a telephone number.

Here are a couple of places I'm checking out.

I'm also exploring new sources for sorghum, which is a sweetener I'm using as a substitute for sugar on my grits. The taste, color, and consistency of sorghum is somewhere between molasses and honey, with it leaning closer to honey than molasses; only not as sweet. I know it's hard to describe, but the flavor is wonderful and you should really try it.

The sorghum I have now I bought at a natural foods store in Half Moon Bay a few weeks back. When I got home to investigate the sorghum maker, their website had been removed and a Google search proved fruitless. I'm not worried about the sorghum - I'm sure it's fine. But unless there's another local place that has a web presence or something which explains to me who makes it and how it's made, I'm going to buy my sorghum from small, Southern producers.

Sorghum is grown in California (Bruce had some on the ranch he grew up on) where it is called "milo", but it's mostly used to feed livestock. The plant is actually native to Africa and was brought to the Americas in the mid-19th century. It became popular as a sweetener in impoverished regions where farmers had a limited growing season or land and because the price of granulated sugar at the time was higher than most people could afford. Sorghum production declined sharply after World War II with the rise of sugar derived from sugar beets and corn syrup which, if you've ever read Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma", you know is used in everything.

Today only a small number sorghum syrup producers remain and almost all of them are "family farmers" – or small businesses. The practice of growing and producing sorghum for syrup has diminished so much that it's listed on Slow Food USA's "Ark of Taste" as an endangered food.

Oh my goodness, am I still talking about sorghum? My damn grits are getting cold!

Grits are real easy to make. In fact, they're just as easy to make as polenta.

I was going to make a joke about how polenta is to grits like Oxycontin is to Hillbilly Heroin, but actually polenta and grits, while similar, are not the same. First of all, I have never known any Southerner to eat yellow grits. All grit-eaters I've ever met eat grits made from white corn. If you are the exception – well, bless your heart! The classic Lowcountry dish, Shrimp and Grits, is also made with white corn grits...usually.

You could use grits to make grilled "polenta" triangles for your fancy canapes, since the Italian term "polenta", like "pesto", is more interchangable with other ingredients, such as farro or bulgar. However, traditional grits are made with white grits, not with rolled oats, wheat (otherwise known as "farina"), or yellow corn.

Left: Polenta, Right: Grits

If you were in a bind and had to use either/or, I'm sure you would do fine. The only physical difference between the two, other than color, is that grits are usually de-hulled (using an alkali solution, like lye) before they are ground.

For the most part, they cook just the same.

To make grits, measure out half a cup of grits, plus a pinch of salt, per every two cups of water. Bring your water to a boil and then stir in the grits.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer covered for 4-5 minutes, stirring once or twice.

When they get to the consistency of a (I hate this word) "gruel", or better yet "jook/congee", they're ready to eat. The taste of grits on their own isn't anything to write home, or a blog entry, about. The taste is pretty bland, with perhaps just a mild hint of corn flavor coming through. I'm not saying they're tasteless, but you do have to have a pretty sharp palate to appreciate grits by themselves.

The butter and sorghum definitely kicks grits up a notch. Like salt on a tomato, the addition of sweet and buttery raises the flavor profile of grits considerably and allows them to truly shine.

The last thing you should know: eat grits while they're hot, because cold grits are about as comforting as wet socks.

And don't even get me started on wet socks.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

The San Francisco Full-Flavored Holiness Biscuit Church With Signs


Finally, I've gotten this biscuit thing down. I think I have finally mastered the art of biscuit making (I know what you're saying: "yeah, so have I – it's called popping open a can of Pillsbury").

No, I'm talking real biscuits. High-caloric, high carb, high fat and damn good biscuits – so good your tongue will slap your front teeth out!

The best part: you don't have to use shortening. But you do use butter – real butter. And believe it's butter, not any of that "I can't believe it's not" stuff. F*&k that! Once you've had these biscuits, you'll be saying "I can't believe these aren't illegal!"

"Well, why do I care about biscuits?", you might wonder.

Oh, excuse me, but can someone please let this fool know that properly made biscuits are the pinnacle of traditional American cuisine and that if you don't know biscuits and jam with lots of melted butter or slathered over with sausage gravy, you cannot call yourself a lover of life, food, culture, Little Baby Jesus in a Manger, the Jewish G-d, Allah, the Dalai Lama, and Oprah Winfrey?

To put it bluntly, if you want to live to see tomorrow, you better start making them biscuits a little bit better than what you've been making them. I'm tarred of eating sloppy, slimy biscuits!

Well, enough biscuit blabber. Let's get to biscuit making, shall we?

Here are the tools you'll need:

A pastry cutter, preferably one with a wooden handle – (forget the food processor, I've tried that)
A biscuit cutter
A sturdy wooden spoon
A large glass or ceramic mixing bowl
Measuring spoons and cups
A wire wisk
A cookie sheet
A microwavable dish
A basting brush
A Silpat
A saucer
A timer
An oven
A large work surface (or a large wooden cutting board)
An apron
A Bluegrass or Old Time music CD or MP3

And here are the ingredients you'll need:

2 cups of All-Purpose flour (plus a little extra on the side for dusting, etc.)
1 rounded (almost 1 ½) tablespoon of baking powder
1 stick of Sweet Cream butter
1 teaspoon of salt (small grain regular, plain, not kosher or from the sea or some fancy gift shop in Monterey)
1 cup of regular, full fat milk

Here are the tips you'll need:

Keep everything cold
Keep everything floured
Keep your oven hot

First of all, when making this recipe, there are no substitutions. If you want to substitute an ingredient, spend countless hours of your own time and your own money and own sweat perfecting your own goddamn recipe. This is not a "healthy" recipe and this is not a motherfuckin' buttermilk biscuit recipe, so look somewhere else if that's what you want. (Sorry, I think I must be channeling the Fruitcake Lady or Samuel L. Jackson.)

Do you know the trouble I've seen to get to this point? Don't modify my recipe, fool!

Are you ready? Do you have your apron on? Are you ready to rumble?

Start your oven. 500 F. Yes, I said 500. But before you do, set your rack to the middle/upper-middle position.

Start your CD or mp3 player. Play loud enough to scare or simply annoy genteel, Lite Rock neighbors.

Put your silpat onto your cookie sheet and put it somewhere handy.

Next, take your stick of butter and slice all but 1 tablespoon into thin slices, placing the slices on your saucer and then sticking the whole thing in the freezer.

Put that leftover butter in a microwaveable container and melt it (1 minute should be plenty).

Let's measure out our flour, shall we? 2 even cups, sifted. Next, sprinkle the baking powder over it, then the salt. Using a wire wisk, wisk the dry ingredients very well for a minute or so to ensure that they are evenly distributed.

Grab that pastry cutter I told you about. Most brand-new pastry cutters cost around 5 or 6 dollars, no matter whether you buy it at Bloodbath and Beyond, the Dented Chef, or Sur La Table. If you pay any more than that, you're a sucker. Here's what one looks like.

Take your pastry cutter and about half of the butter that's been in the freezer and "cut" the butter into the dry ingredients as a quickly as possible without making a mess (please, use common sense – don't go buckwild). Next, cut the rest of the butter in.

Take your milk out of the fridge, measure out a cup, and dump it all into the mixing bowl while stirring everything with your wooden spoon. Keep stiring until the liquid has been absorbed (it might look a little wet, but that's okay – we're not making bread, we're making biscuits).

Flour your work surface, your biscuit cutter, and especially your hands very well. Leave a small mound of flour nearby in case you need it.

Dump the dough from the mixing bowl onto the work surface and pat out. Next fold over one or two times and then pat out again, but only pat out so that the dough is roughly 3/4" thick. Cut your biscuits by pressing down quickly and then pulling straight up. At no time do you EVER twist!

I use the large round biscuit cutters. You could use smaller, you could use square, you could use an old soup can – probably. Personally, I thought the investment of buying real, basic, round biscuit cutters (came in a set of different sizes, actually) was a good one for me. You may consider the same one day, if you haven't already.

Drop your cut biscuits onto your cookie sheet/silpat. It's okay to re-pat the dough until you've cut all the biscuits you can, plus I usually throw the little leftover piece on the sheet as well. Next, brush the tops of the biscuits with the melted butter (remember? That stuff still in the microwave?) and set them in the oven.

Next, set the temperature of the oven down to 450F and set your timer for 15 minutes.

Get out your jam, your conserves, preserves, jellies, butter, country ham, or whathaveyou. The biscuits should be ready to take out of the oven when your timer goes off. When the biscuits are golden brown and ready to take out, don't bother putting them in a pretty basket - just dig right in!

Eat these while they're hot because they're not as good cold. Don't burn yourself!

When you get good at this, it should only take about 30 minutes to make and the people you make them for will worship the ground you walk on.

I'm actually trying to get a few more worshippers myself. I have this idea of starting my own snake-handling church here in San Francisco, only we're going to add large dogs, sea lions, stray bullets and Muni drivers to our list of deadly things God can shield us from. We're going to baptize people in the Vaillancourt Fountain (after we've spray-painted some stupid shit on it first) and then cast out demons in the picturesque, victorian Garden Court of the Palace Hotel. Don't worry – we'll be a gay-affirming church. Just think of us as freakier Unitarian Universalists with a death wish and insatiable appetite for High Tea.

San Francisco is very much a cult-loving town, so I should have no trouble getting up a congregation, especially if they're enticed through my temple doors by the smell of freshly baked biscuits.

Repeat after me:

The biscuit is Righteous.

The biscuit is Knowledge.

The biscuit is Truth.

The biscuit is Salvation.

The biscuit is Supreme.

So say we all.


PS: I'm still getting the hang of this message moderating thing, so I apologize if you left a message and it didn't get posted right away. I just discovered where on Blogger they're located to approve/reject. Oh, and I'll probably just turn off the moderation thing and deal with the spam eventually - but I thought I would test it out to see if it was a pain or if it helped.