Mickey and Rachel Thomas in the Kitchen

As temperatures dipped in the Bay Area, Kelly and I headed south to soak up some good old Southern California sunshine. Our trip included some of my favorite things in life: Family, friends, food, music and baseball. The culmination of our road trip was a fabulous meal prepared with friends Mickey and Rachel Thomas, and an interview with Mickey about the role cooking plays in his life.

The beginning of our trip was in beautiful Pismo Beach where we enjoyed dinner with Kelly’s mom, Linda and her stepfather, Travis. Kelly frequently talks about how much she enjoyed her mom’s cooking growing up and Linda’s delicious barbecued pork sandwiches did not disappoint.

Kelly and Dad with the StudebakerOn the way to our second stop in Pasadena, we managed to fit in some disc golf at the historic Oak Grove Course. Our second evening was another treat – I met Kelly’s dad, Bruce, and his partner Cynthia. They are a couple of gourmets. Cynthia treated us to the most delectable baked salmon with potatoes (roasted with bacon drippings, yum!) and her famous orange cake. After dinner, Bruce took us for a spirited cruise in his custom modified ’38 Studebaker.

Day three’s itinerary led us east to Joshua Tree National Park for a night of camping on the desert floor. We enjoyed leftovers of salmon and potatoes and were treated to a brilliant night sky before bed.  The sparkling stars provided some comfort overhead, Palm Deserthowever the desert floor did not.  Our next trek was by foot on a 9-mile hike to and from Lost Palms Oasis following which we headed directly to the nearest store we could find to buy camping air mattresses.

Four nights of comfortable beds and comfort food lied ahead with my dear friends Mickey and Rachel Thomas. I consider them family, and they treated us like family in their lovely Palm Desert home. Many of you know Mickey as a talented musician from his days with Jefferson Starship and Elvin Bishop. He continues Rachel's "To die for" BBQ Wingsmaking fantastic music as he records and tours as Starship featuring Mickey Thomas. We spent our time telling stories, creating some incredible meals, drinking great wine, watching playoff baseball and ending each evening with a scary movie in the spirit of Halloween.

What many of you may not know about Mickey is his passion for food. Dinner with the Thomas’ is always a treat, whether Mickey or Rachel is cooking. They are both very talented in the kitchen and two of the sweetest most down to earth people you will encounter. After greeting us with a fresh Pasta Primavera dinner, Mickey and Rachel graciously allowed us to take over theirTapas Plate kitchen the following night for a meal we prepared with risotto and mussels. We spent our last day making a video for Noah’s Wish – Mickey and Rachel’s favorite charity – and planning our last feast. Creating this feast was like a musical performance with all four of us in the kitchen creating six dishes that were to die for:  Rachel’s secret barbecued chicken wings, stuffed eggplant rolls in marinara sauce, Vietnamese shrimp meatballs, Southern scallops with black beans, Greek salad, and spicy shrimp lettuce wraps.


Mickey, Rachel and Berkley The story of this feast unfolds here, in this slide show and interview with Mickey Thomas.
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Prawn Tacos

Nicole, Mark and Zoe

Family Night

Mexican food has been a long time favorite of mine. I can still smell the rice pudding from Gonzales’ in Richmond. My parents would take me there, as a toddler, after church every week to meet my grandparents for a family meal. I thought of it as my reward for quietly enduring another Sunday service. The practice of bringing family and friends together around food started here for me. The practice of bringing family and friends together around food started here for me. Every part of the food we eat has a story: from the earth it’s grown on to the farmer who tends it all the way to the table on which it is celebrated. I like to know as much of the story as possible and I believe the fewer steps involved between the farmer and my table the better.

We had Kelly’s kids, Mark and Nicole and Nicole’s friend Zoë for Prawn Tacos last week. Kelly refers to them as my Mexican Spring rolls for the fresh veggies used. While we loved the meal, the conversations TacoVeggiessparked by the food were truly a highlight of the evening. Kelly captured Zoë on video sharing the role food plays in her family.

The Prawn Tacos were very simple to make and largely influenced by what we’d picked up at our CSA that week. Many of my favorite recipes arise from the challenge to use all of the bounty in our refrigerator, this meal was no different. We had frozen prawns from Trader Joe’s on hand a vegetable bin full of wonderful produce from Tolay Valley Farms and some corn tortillas. Hmmm…. what to do with it all?

Ingredients:
Corn Tortillas
Prawns- 1.5 per taco seemed sufficient
Carrots- shredded or chopped very thin
Mustard Greens- shredded
Red Onion- diced
Cucumber- sliced thin
Tomato- chopped

YogurtSauceYogurt Sauce
Yogurt (we like Straus Whole Milk Plain) – about a half cup
Chipotle Sauce (I love the Frontera Enchilada sauce) – to taste (I used about 6 tablespoons)
Hot Sauce- to taste

Begin with the yogurt sauce. Pour the yogurt into a bowl, mix in your favorite sauce or salsa to taste then add the hot sauce of your choice. You can put out in a serving bowl along side some tortilla chips and use this sauce as a dip as well as a topping for your tacos.

After this I set up the chopping board and got busy with my vegetables while I preheated the broiler. Once done with my chopping I popped the prawns into the broiler for 7 minutes and Nicole started heating some oil to ready the tortillas. Pop the prawns out of the oven and remove the shell, breaking each prawn into several pieces.

Place your prawns on the warm tortilla, top with the vegetables and a few dollops of the yogurt sauce. Many substitutions can be made. The ingredients for this meal were dictated by what we had on hand. Many different types of greens would work. I found the bitterness of the mustard greens was balanced nicely by the sweetness of the carrot and cucumber.PrawnsOnBroilerPan

Tacos Try ours or make your own. We’d love to hear about your creations and the stories around your dinner table.

Family Reunion Pasta with Bolognese Sauce

FamilyRenionPhoto
Pasta with Bolognese sauce is a classic Italian meal that is simple to prepare – it just needs plenty of time for the sauce to simmer slowly.  I recommend selecting music that inspires you as you cook it then settle into a good movie as it simmers . . . . . Did I say, slowly? This is apparently the key to a good Bolognese sauce as I discovered in my Italian Classics by Cooks Illustrated.  This recipe is fail proof and yummy, and as they explain in their prologue for Bolognese sauce, it’s “about the meat, with the tomatoes in a supporting role.”  Tomatoes have played a starring role in an earlier blog entry, so this story is about the beef.

Grass fed ground beef and pork

Grass fed ground beef and pork

Since the meat is the focus of this dish, we used local, grass fed beef as the foundation. There are important differences in taste and nutrition when you compare grass fed beef to the much more common grain fed (or corn fed) beef that most Americans eat from cows raised on enormous industrial cattle lots. Carbon foot print issues aside, grass fed beef has far superior flavor and texture, and it is healthier because it is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E and is lower in fat and calories than grain fed beef.

Not many ranchers have the ability or support to raise organic, grass fed beef in California.  An exceptional ranch near us in the spectacular Point Reyes Peninsula is run by the Lunny family – third and fourth generation farmers who have found a way to raise grass fed, organic beef on their historic farm.  While our budget doesn’t allow us to enjoy the treat of their beef often, we plan special meals with them in mind. I interviewed Kevin Lunny, the grandson of the farm’s patriarch, Joseph Lunny, for a museum exhibition on family run farms, Growing the Future. As I listened to his story, my esteem for farmers and ranchers grew ten-fold.  I learned that farmers are not just hard workers, they are problem solvers, looking for solutions to the many challenges of farming such as land stewardship, soil erosion, and energy use. Knowing the people that grow my food has changed the way I think, cook, eat, and vote. Take a few hours for food and fun and visit a local farmers’ market if you haven’t already, and get to know the people who grow our food.

The following Bolognese sauce recipe is simply fabulous, and is straight from Italian Classics. The Berkelly influence comes from the organic ingredients we chose to use from our local food producers in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Just add music

Just add music

Ingredients
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (We used Straus Family organic sweet cream butter)
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons minced carrot
2 tablespoons minced celery
¾ pound ground beef chuck, ¼ pound ground veal, and ¼ pound ground pork
(We chose to use mostly ground, grass fed beef and some ground pork which makes the sauce sweeter. We didn’t use ground veal.)
1 cup whole milk (Straus Family milk has a full, rich flavor. Cream makes the sauce too heavy).
1 cup dry white wine (We used a terrific white wine from the wine making region of Rueda in Spain – a Verdejo by V-solo – on sale that week at Whole Foods).
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with their juice (We used Berkley’s roasted tomatoes instead since we had them on hand from our weekly CSA, Tolay Valley Farms.)
Sea Salt to taste
1 pound dried pasta (we used fusilli because it is kid friendly)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy bottomed Dutch oven or pot then add and sauté the onions, carrots and celery until softened (not browned).  Add the ground meats and ½ teaspoon salt and continually crumble the meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Only cook until the meat is cooked, but has not yet browned.

Reduced after 2 hours

Reduced after 2 hours

2.  Add the milk and bring to a simmer; continue simmering until the milk evaporates and the clear milk fat remains (about 10 to 15 minutes). Add the wine and bring to a simmer, continuing to simmer until the alcohol evaporates (another 10 to 15 minutes).  Add the tomatoes with their juice and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to a low simmer so that there is just the occasional bubble or two at the surface at one time. Simmer on this low setting until most of the liquid has evaporated (so, no simmering with the lid on), about 3 hours (four hours if you double the recipe, which we did.) Add salt to taste (we added at least another teaspoon of sea salt to our doubled recipe). You can make this sauce in advance and refrigerate or freeze it. We made it two days ahead for the family reunion.

3. Make pasta according to the package directions, leaving a little bit of cooking water on the pasta which helps distribute the thick meat sauce.) Serve in individual bowls with sauce ladled on top and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

To start out the evening, my sister, Kris, served beautiful Bruschetta (actually pronounced brus’ketta), and we rounded our meal by creating a salad bar with organic veggies and cheesy garlic bread.
FamilyAtTheTableB&W

The best part about the evening was seeing my family members eating with delight; laughing as they shared a delicious meal made with love.

Transitioning to Fall: Vegetable Soup

The key to great soup of any kind is really good stock. You can use a vegetable or chicken stock from the grocery store to make this soup, but if you are inclined and have the time to simmer your own, it will make all of the difference. I like to use chicken stock because the flavor is richer and balances the vegetable flavors.

Chicken Stock Ingredients

2 medium or one large yellow onion
1 red onion
2 heads of garlic
3 stalks celery
3 large carrots
2 roast chicken carcasses
Salt

Cut onions into quarters, leaving the skin on; Cut garlic heads in half; wash and coarsely chop carrots and celery into large pieces. Place vegetables into large stockpot, place two roasted chicken carcasses on top, and add water until it covers the ingredients. Bring to full boil, lower to simmer with lid on for 1 ½ hours. Let cool a little, then strain stock into another stock/soup pot, bring to boil, then lower to a simmer to reduce the stock liquid about 1 inch. Add salt to taste (i.e. 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons).

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup Ingredients

12 to 16 cups chicken stock depending on how much soup you want to make. I make extra and freeze it for a busy winter week. (See above recipe or use your favorite store bought)

3 carrots – medium to large
3 medium red potatoes
3 turnips (peel outer skin if winter turnips – it’s bitter)
1 medium star squash
1 medium to large zucchini
1 to 2 small crookneck yellow squash
Bunch of washed spinach with stems removed
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Wash and dice carrots, turnips and potatoes in large bite sized chunks and set aside in a bowl. Wash and dice the rest of the vegetables and set aside. In soup pot, bring stock to low boil and lower to simmer. Carefully add carrots, turnips and potatoes with large spoon (so you don’t get splashed with hot stock) and raise heat to bring back to a simmer, then lower to hold at a simmer for 7 to 8 minutes. Add the rest of the veggies and the dried herbs and simmer 5 more minutes. Test/taste the vegetables which should be al dente, like pasta – not too soft. Serve with grated parmesan cheese and good local bread.  I made one of my favorite fall/winter recipes for cornbread from the Joy of Cookings recipe for Buttermilk Cornbread. An easy addition to this soup is to add cooked pasta (don’t cook the pasta in the soup), which makes it a hearty main dish.

Tailgate Party with Baked Fried Chicken and Raspberry Cake

Smiling teens!

Smiling teens!

Baseball was my first love. I could find a game anywhere. Sometimes it was just catch for two, find a third and you’ve got a game of pickle, add a fourth and you can shag pop flies, one more and it’s time for batting practice. Rainy days were spent reading the box scores and memorizing my heroes’ stats from the back of their trading cards. My mother would tell you that my love for reading was found in section 796 of the library — that’s where the baseball biographies dwell.

Zack's Storytelling.

Zach's Storytelling.

I grew up in the East Bay and in the 70’s we had The Amazing A’s with Reggie, Rudi and Rollie leading the charge to three World Series titles. I did not realize what a truly amazing feat I was witnessing at the time. I’ve since witnessed many more great accomplishments and met several stars of the diamond but my most thrilling moment was meeting Hank Aaron. It was 1974 and he had just broken Babe Ruth’s home run record. The whole world was talking about him and I could tell you the number of hr’s and rbi’s he’d hit the last several years. He was on an appearance tour for Magnavox TV and my Dad handled the Magnavox account for the Oakland Tribune.

Father and son at the game.

Father and son at the game.

Not usually a glamorous job but this week he was tasked with picking up Hammerin’ Hank at the airport and ushering him around the Bay Area for the day. Hank’s wife’s birthday was coming up so he needed to pick up a gift in the mall. Store policy did not allow the cashier to accept an out of state check (she was not aware that she was standing before baseball royalty), so my father wrote out a check for Hank’s $114 Seiko watch. Hank wrote him one in return, which my father never cashed. I’ve now got that check safely tucked away with other childhood memories.  I was a wide eyed and speechless 6 year old taking it all in.

Kelly and I have four teens between us and are always trying to find interesting activities to coax them out. We’ll do anything, we even played guitar hero for an evening to get them over. My Mom’s birthday was last week and I decided it was time to take everyone to an A’s game. We not only got the four of them but they brought friends.  My Mom was thrilled with the turnout; we had enough to make our own team (nine of us) to celebrate her birthday. The game did not start ‘til 7p.m. but Kelly and I started in the kitchen at 7a.m. for our pre-game feast. We made a tangy potato salad with a French dressing, a savory beet salad, Kelly’s Baked Fried Chicken (recipe below) and a beautiful sponge cake (recipe below) with raspberry icing (raspberries from Tolay Farms) drizzled artfully over the top. We made agauas frescas with watermelon to wash it down.

Our own gang of nine.

Our own gang of nine.

The A’s won a thriller, my Mom had a  great evening, the kids ate, drank and were generally merry. We were then treated to a spectacular fireworks show. All in all the evening was a tremendous hit!

Kelly’s Baked-Fried Chicken

My kids loved this when they were little. It is a favorite of mine too.

Ingredients:

Chicken:

From your butcher (if you can and have the time), get a free-range chicken and ask them to cut it into 8 pieces or pick up the pieces you like best at the counter. (Getting it from the butcher is “greener” because you avoid the Styrofoam and plastic packaging.) One chicken will serve five to six people.

Kelly's Chicken-- Yumm!

Kelly's Chicken-- Yumm!

Quart of buttermilk

Seasoned flour:

2 Cups flour mixed well with two teaspoons of salt, one tablespoon of paprika, and two teaspoons of ground black pepper (add more or less to your taste).

Seasoned breadcrumbs

Use your favorite store bought or  make your own.  I follow the Joy of Cooking recipe: place dry slices of bread directly on middle rack in a 200° oven for 30 minutes or so until dry but not browning. Let the bread cool on the rack. Using a food processor, break up dried slices of bread and pulse until bread crumbs form. (I used one slice of bread per chicken piece). Add seasonings to the crumbs in the food processor:  about one teaspoon each of salt and pepper and two teaspoons of dried oregano.

Egg wash: Lightly scramble six eggs with two tablespoons water (for 8 pieces).

Olive oil (for baking pan)

Olive oil spray

Salt (Kosher or sea salt)

The key to really good baked-fried chicken is making an assembly line. (Pie plates work well for this because they have a flat bottom and deep enough sides to hold the flour and breading mixtures.) Preheat oven to 425° and set up five stations:  Large bowl with chicken pieces and buttermilk (let soak in the refrigerator overnight ahead of time if you like); then next to the bowl place a baking dish/pie dish with flour mixture; next to that place a baking dish with egg wash; then place a baking dish with bread crumbs; finally, at the end place a roasting pan or large casserole dish with olive oil drizzled liberally on the bottom.  For each chicken piece soaked in buttermilk, place in flour and turn to coat both sides, then place in egg wash and turn to coat both sides, then dip in bread crumbs and coat both sides. Place breaded chicken onto a large oiled roasting or baking pan. Sprinkle each piece with Kosher or sea salt, then spray the tops of each piece with olive oil spray. Bake for 25 minutes at 425° then lower temperature to 375° for 20 to 25 more minutes. (Chicken juice should run clear when pierced with a knife when done.)

The cake was a hit-- Zack had thirds, but who's counting.

The cake was a hit-- Zach had thirds, but who's counting.

Retro Raspberry Sponge Cake

This is a charming, old-fashioned cake with homemade raspberry icing that drips down the sides. I am craving it again as I right down the recipe. We had organic raspberries on hand from Tolay Valley Farms through our weekly CSA, which inspired the idea for this cake. The best part is the homemade raspberry icing, so if you wish, use a boxed cake mix and make the frosting instead. If you want a truly retro, old-fashioned cake, then use the recipe below and enjoy! This cake is perfect for making a day ahead, which is what I did for our A’s game tailgate picnic.

Amazing Retro Raspberry Cake

Amazing Retro Raspberry Cake

Sponge cake:  I looked through several cookbooks and decided on the following recipe from Joy of Cooking (1980) and the cake turned out just beautifully.

Ingredients: 1 lemon, granulated sugar, all purpose or cake flour (I used all purpose and it worked well), 6 eggs at room temperature (this is really important to do – let them sit out for an hour), boiling water, double-acting baking powder, salt, vanilla.

Preheat oven to 350°

Grate 1 teaspoon of lemon zest and in a small bowl stir lemon zest into 1 cup of sugar.

Separate the six eggs by placing yolks into large mixing bowl, and whites into electric mixing bowl or other large bowl to use later with a hand-held electric mixer.

In the large mixing bowl with the yolks, beat the yolks until very light with a hand held whisk. Gradually beat in the sugar/lemon zest mixture. Beat in ¼ cup of boiling water and let cool a minute then mix in 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

Sift before measuring 1 cup of cake flour (or all purpose) then into a medium bowl resift the flour with 1 ½ teaspoons double-acting baking powder and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Gradually add this flour mixture to the yolk mixture with a spatula until blended.

Whip the egg whites in electric mixing bowl or with an electric hand-held mixer until they are stiff but not dry (when you lift the mixing blades up and a peak forms and stays it’s ready.) Fold the egg whites with the spatula using swift strokes moving from the center of the batter, down and up along the side of the bowl until the cake batter is just lightly blended but don’t over mix it. Pour cake batter into 9-inch tube pan that is NOT greased. (It works best to use a tube pan with a bottom that detaches.) Bake 40 to 45 minutes. Cool upside down – if your pan doesn’t have resting points on the rim that let it stand above the surface to cool, then place it on an inverted funnel or drink bottle (not plastic because that will melt.)

Raspberry icing: I created this recipe by combining two recipes – one for raspberry sauce and one for fruit icing.

Raspberry sauce (The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook)

Ingredients: 1 pint raspberries (2 cups), ¼ cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, pinch of salt.

Combine all ingredients into small nonreactive saucepan and heat on low for about 7 minutes until berries release their juices and start to break down. Using a rubber spatula, press the berry mixture through a fine sieve (discard the yucky solids). Let sauce cool and keep in refrigerator until ready to use. Makes about ¾ cup.

Raspberry icing: Mix ½ cup raspberry sauce (see above) with 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, then beat in 3 tablespoons soft butter and ½ tablespoon lemon juice. Add enough sugar to thicken, but keep it runny enough to drizzle over cake.

To ice the cake, use a hand whisk to dip into the icing and drizzle liberally over the cake, letting it drip down the sides, layering the drizzles until they form a thick icing on top.




You Can’t Beet a Good Story

Don't miss a Beet

Beet photo from ourhomeworks.wordpress.com

Garden beets have been a nutritious cultivation of human kind for a very long time – since the second millennium BC, when the pharaohs of Egypt ruled and chariots were the latest and greatest in transportation. Berkley and I love their sweet, earthy flavor, and since they are in abundance right now we are researching recipes that feature these deep purple beauties. The best place to get them is at your local farmer’s market.

Both the leafy greens and the roots are edible. The greens can be sautéed with onion or garlic in olive oil, much like spinach or Swiss chard (a close cousin of the beet) and are high in vitamin A (needed for good vision), while the roots are a great source of vitamin C (needed for a healthy immune system).

Beet Season is here!

Beet photo from blueheronlocal.wordpress.com

Beets grow best in a cool climate. Perhaps this is why we see so many delicious beet recipes from Russia and nearby countries, i.e. cold beet borscht soup.  (Not to be confused, however, with Russia’s large production of Sugar Beets, used for making sugar and not for eating.)

 

Hotties

To serve garden beets as a hot side dish, Berkley roasted beets in the oven,and after they cooled a bit, removed the skins, cut them into large chunks, and served them with a warm, buttery balsamic vinegar sauce. I highly recommend this yummy recipe to beet lovers as a good contrast to the large variety of cold salad recipes.

Russian Beet Salad

This week’s featured dish is a cold but hearty Russian beet salad. We prepared this salad for a Sunday potluck with our friends from the Unitarian Universalists of Petaluma. While we blog about cooking food to feed ourselves, families and friends, it is our UUP community that feeds our souls.

Feeding the Soul

Feeding the Soul

On that topic, if you have a recipe that “feeds the soul,” please feel free to share it with us in a comment!

Our Version: We used extra virgin olive oil instead of the recipe’s call for sunflower oil, which worked very well. There is no need to use vinegar in this salad – the root vegetables flavors of carrot, potato, and beet come alive with the fresh dill. We didn’t include peas, as the recipe calls for, and didn’t miss them, as the root vegetables seemed to go so well together. Don’t over salt – a little goes a long way with this dish. Tips for cooking the vegetables: The key to this beet salad is to boil the vegetables together so that they become just barely tender, but not soft. We recommend using Russet potatoes. Peel the potatoes and cut in half (or if they are really big, into thirds), use medium sized beets (or cut large beets in-half), and keep the carrots whole (use large carrots, not the baby carrot variety) and place them on top of the other vegetables.

Beet Salad
Beet Salad

We used a 1:1:1 veggie ratio for this salad (same number of potatoes, to beets, to carrots.) Place washed and cut vegetables into a soup pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer for 17 to 20 minutes (after 17 minutes test a beet or potato with a knife, which should pierce with ease, but also a little resistance.) Drain carefully, and let them cool. Take the skins off of the beets with your hands (they should slide off easily), and cut them into hearty dices (use an apron or wear clothes you don’t mind staining with the bright beet juice!). Place in a large salad or mixing bowl. Cut potatoes and carrots into hearty dices and add to salad bowl, then let them chill in the refrigerator ahead of time if you can. When you toss the diced vegetables with the onion, oil, dill, and salt and pepper, do it lightly and sparingly or you could end up with a reddish mashed potato salad.

 

Local food + local couple who likes to cook = yummmm

The Cooks

The Cooks

We are a couple that likes to cook, and likes to eat — and take long walks to burn the calories from all those home cooked meals. The key ingredients? Local food from Petaluma, Sonoma county and nearby growers. Tomorrow we are collecting organic vegetables from a small garden that is tended by a fourth generation Petaluma man who runs a family bar named after his grandfather, Ernie, (also his namesake) — Ernies Tin Bar.  Following that, we will pick up fresh bread and other products at the local farmers market on Wednesday in downtown Petaluma. More to come on what we create, including recipes, stories, and hopefuly some laughs (an important ingredient in all we cook together.)