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In L.A. for work since yesterday. So far, we've visited some accounts, done a radio interview with an infamous host (see the photo above -- he really does wear sunglasses indoors in a dark studio) and gone to dinner with a writer whose outlets include Playboy. And we've driven more than a hundred miles, gotten stuck in our fair share of traffic and already run down the battery on our GPS.

Gotta love L.A.

Getting ready now to do a tasting with a wine pub, then it's off to lunch with a blogger/lifestyle writer, then more account visits and then a big trade dinner tonight.



champignons, parte deux

Todd took the mushrooms to the nursery across the street from his work today to make sure we identified them correctly. Turns out we did a pretty damn good job: The slightly phallic-looking mushroom in the foreground is indeed a black elfin saddle (helvella lacunosa if you want to get all fancy-pants), and the yellowish mushrooms behind it are yellowfoot chanterelles, also known as winter chanterelles or cantharellus tubaeformis. And yes, both are very edible!

You can guess what we had for dinner tonight.

The black elfin saddles were amazing -- wish I had found more, but they were pretty hard to spot. (I still have no idea how I lucked out and found these. They were barely visible -- peeking out from under some wet grass.) We cut them into rounds (because of the hollow stem, they kind of reminded me of okra), fried them in butter and finished them with a touch of sea salt. Holy freaking crap -- they were fabulous. They tasted like really savory potato chips, only not quite as crunchy or as oily, but with the same snack-foody-goodness as potato chips. Todd told me that some people like to dry them out and then crush them into a powder and use that to season food. I can definitely see how that would work -- these mushrooms just had so much flavor.

After our black elfin saddle appetizer, we cooked up the chanterelles in a pasta with garlic, onions and a splash of Chardonnay. I think I overdid it a little on the garlic, though -- right now the garlic we have here at home has gigantic cloves, so one of these cloves is like adding four normal-sized cloves. Still, it was a great dish. The chanterelles were much milder than the black elfin saddles, but they were still very good. I imagine they'd be pretty versatile with a number of different recipes because they seem like they'd go well with various ingredients.

Tomorrow, we dine on the candy caps. I can't wait!

I want candy

It's candy cap time, so we spent today at Salt Point hunting mushrooms. At first, it seemed like the woods had already been picked over, and we had to dig through layers and layers of pine needles to find anything worth harvesting. (Because of the rain, a lot of the mushrooms were in the process of rotting -- really mushy and slimy.) But then Jonah found this little ravine that turned out to be the jackpot for candy caps. (Probably because most people don't go down a ravine looking for mushrooms, but that's exactly what Jonah and Todd did. Climbing down muddy slopes isn't my forté, so I stayed on solid ground.) Then I found a ton of candy caps under a tree near the parking lot -- probably overlooked because their location was a little too obvious. I also found lots of yellow foot chanterelles and what I think might be fluted black elfin saddles, which are also edible (although I want to make sure we've identified them right first).

We have so many candy caps now -- we're planning to do a dinner with them later this week. And I think we'll probably also try to dry some. (Gotta figure out the best way to do this!) And I want to look up some recipes for candy cap cookies and ice cream and -- of course -- cupcakes.


Baked some buttermilk cookies yesterday. They tasted good (very good!), but they didn't turn out as pretty as the ones in the photo that accompanied the recipe. While those cookies were perfectly rounded and smooth, mine were sort of lumpy and uneven-looking. I know I shouldn't be picky because my cookies really were delicious, but presentation is important to me. I like my food to look as good as it tastes. Anyway, I guess I'm going to have to think more about this recipe and try to figure out what I need to do to make my cookies a little cuter.

In other food adventures, I finally -- finally! -- went to Cucina Paradiso last night. This restaurant reputedly serves up the best Italian food here in Chickenland (and there are lots of Italian restaurants here -- seems like there's one in every strip mall). I've been wanting to check it out for awhile now. The verdict? For the most part, I think it lived up to the hype, and I would definitely go back. The quality of the pasta was excellent -- I stole a taste of Todd's ravioli, and it was so fresh and the texture was so delicate. And I'm mad for the calamari salad -- warm calamari tossed with arugula and drizzled with olive oil -- so freaking good. The only thing I wasn't ecstatic about was the gnocchi, which was what I ordered for my main course. Everyone says Cucina Paradiso's gnocchi is the best thing ever, but I actually thought it was a little underdone and, well, mushy. But then again, I'm not a huge gnocchi-eater normally -- I usually find it too heavy. (Maybe "authentic" gnocchi is supposed to be mushy? I'm not Italian ... )

But finally going to Cucina Paradiso made me think about New Year's resolutions. I believe resolutions shouldn't be things you tell yourself not to do; instead, I like to think of the new year as the opportunity to do the things you've always wanted to do but, for some reason or another, have put off doing.

So in that vein, here are 10 restaurants I'd like to eat at this year (there are probably more, but I can't remember them all right now):

1. Quince in San Francisco: We met chef Michael Tusk at an auction in Santa Fe in 2006. (He made one of the courses during dinner, and Clos Du Val provided the wine, which is why we were there.) We were actually sitting at the same table as his parents, who were just so excited about their son's cooking abilities. So excited. To the point where toward the end of the evening, Michael Tusk's mother fell out of her chair. It was pretty much awesome.

2. south food + wine bar in San Francisco: New place focusing on food from Australia and New Zealand. Exactly what kind of food comes from Australia and New Zealand? I'm not sure. Which is why I want to eat here.

3. Azteca Market in St. Helena: I have no idea why I haven't been here yet. Their menu is characterized by three of my favorite things: burritos, amazing and dirt-cheap.

4. Gary Danko in San Francisco: I've heard the service here is out-of-this-world. We have friends who go every few months or so, and they always manage to score something free and fabulous (usually Champagne). Once, a server brought them a leftover bottle of Yquem that another table (stupidly!!!) abandoned. (How can you abandon Yquem?)

5. Peter Lowell's in Sebastopol: Todd actually applied for a job here last summer. I'm just really curious about the place. And I like Sebastopol. And Peter Lowell's is next door to a sushi restaurant that I really like.

6. Blue in Petaluma: New burgers and breakfast place. I love breakfast.

7. Underwood Bar & Bistro in Graton: Todd's been here, and he said it was good. I trust his opinion. Plus I'm really into exploring all the teeny-tiny towns in Sonoma. And Graton is very teeny-tiny!

8. Mister Magoo's in Petaluma: Within stumbling distance from our house. And supposedly they have a $14 Sunday brunch with unlimited mimosas. Bring it on.

9. Lolita's Market in Petaluma: Again with the quest for the best burrito ever.

10. Water Street Bistro in Petaluma: Good local breakfast spot that for some reason is always closed whenever I try to stop by. (Maybe I have bad timing?)

ark wanted

I'm getting a headstart on the weekend because of the deluge we're experiencing right now. Roads (and major highways) are flooded and closed, winds are gusting, cars have crashed, 18-wheelers have overturned and trees have fallen. So work sent us home early -- they figured we'd have a better chance of braving the storm if we could do it in daylight.

Happy Friday.

here's to 2008

Way too many servings of mashed potatoes and black-eyed peas, and yes, I did eat the Popeye's -- just a drumstick, though. Then the wine -- there was an 05 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot and so much sparkling and two vintages of Clos Du Val Merlot and my 05 Cline Big Break Zinfandel, which I love dearly. And we laughed so hard at silly things and drew ridiculous pictures for our Wall of Ridiculous Pictures (you'll have to come over to understand). And there were sparklers and hats and horns, and the poor cats hid under the bed most of the time because we were so loud.

Today: More food. For breakfast, he spoiled us with his version of eggs benny, which means roasted pasilla peppers instead of ham, and yes, the hollandaise was homemade. And then we went to the racetrack for Dollar Day, and even though I lost $10, he managed to pick the lucky 13 horse as the winner and come out ahead.

And on the way home, the Taqueria Santa Cruz truck was out again, so we had our first burritos of 2008. And as expected, they were fabulous.