Heaven Scent

They say your memory is strongly connected to your sense of smell. I don’t know what that means in terms of your brain, but I think for many people – especially for food lovers – it’s absolutely true that a particular smell can bring back a memory you didn’t even realize you had, until you’re there, in the moment, carried to a far away time or a far away place.

For some reason, every time I walk into the Whole Foods in Oakland, I am transported to my mother’s kitchen, where my step-father – who had cerebral palsy, and couldn’t stand for too long without getting very uncomfortable, so rarely cooked –¬†would be standing at the stove making booze dogs. Barbecue sauce, a LOT of Black Velvet whiskey, and kosher hot dogs sliced into bite-size pieces. They were amazingly, absurdly delicious, and had such a distinct smell. And something they make in their kitchen at that particular Whole Foods smells exactly like them. And I haven’t smelled that booze dog smell in my mother’s kitchen in decades, but you better believe I know it when I smell it.

Another smell I’ve never smelled anywhere but at its source, is the fragrant potatoey scent of roasted potatoes made by my first host mother in France. I lived in the Loire Valley for about a year 25 years ago, but the smell of ma chere Gazou’s roasting potatoes is one of my top five favorites (guessing, I’ve never actually counted). Sadly, I have no idea how she made them, other than with some magic. I’ve roasted potatoes many many MANY times, and they always taste and smell great, but not like Gazou’s. Well, at least until today.

Country-style French roasted potatoes

  • 12 red-skinned potatoes, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, then add the potato chunks. Drizzle the olive oil on, rub the oregano between your hands, and sprinkle on, add the lemon zest, and salt, and toss the potatoes with your hands until well coated. Roast for 45 minutes or so, tossing after 20 minutes. They should be crisp.

How I learned to stop worrying and buy asparagus

I’m from California’s San Joaquin Valley. Growing seasons, orchards, farms as far as the eye can see…this is my homeland. I generally know when different crops are in season, and as much as I might have a taste for grapes in January, I won’t buy them on principle. I’m heartily committed to buying local whenever I can, and I can’t bring myself to reward grocers for selling out-of-season produce that had to travel thousands of miles to get to me. Corn, figs, grapes, TOMATOES: summer. Apples, persimmons, pomegranates: fall. Oranges: winter.

My problem is that the produce I always thought came in the springtime, the vegetables that ARE spring to me – artichokes and asparagus – have been showing up in the fall. I don’t get it. And they’re cheap. And they’re gorgeous. And they’re from the places they’re supposed to be from in California. Well, I’ve given in, and have bought asparagus the last couple of weeks. Today, I turned it into a creamy soup that warmed me on a particularly blustery fall day, but also reminded me of the blossoms and puffy white clouds of spring. (And it’s low fat. No oil added!)

Cream of asparagus soup

  • 1 lb asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 2″ pieces
  • 4 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 red-skinned potatoes, shredded
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated turmeric
  • 4 cups veg stock
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, then add the asparagus and the shallots, spray with cooking spray, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Roast for about ten minutes.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat, and add the potatoes, garlic, and turmeric (1/2 tsp dried turmeric if you can’t get fresh). Stir regularly, and saute for about 3 minutes. Add the veg stock, cover, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sunflower seeds and the roasted vegetables, and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Place half the soup into a blender and puree until very smooth. Remove to a bowl, and puree the other half. Stir the soup to combine, and then add the lemon juice and zest. Heat if necessary, and add parsley.

Avocado pesto potato salad

Okay. This is so good and SO easy. And SO GOOD.

  • 2 or 3 generous handfuls broccoli florets, broken or chopped into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 10 smallish red-skinned potatoes, cubed into 1/2″ dice
  • Handful basil
  • 2 or 3 handfuls spinach and arugula
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 ripe but firm avocados
  • 1/2 – 1 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place broccoli on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and roast for about 14 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.

Meanwhile, place potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Leave lid ajar, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer for about 7 minutes, and taste. The potatoes should be cooked all the way through, but still firm. Drain and pour into a large bowl. Pour broccoli into the bowl.

Place the basil, greens, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and avocados into the bowl of a food processor, and start the machine. Stream in the olive oil until the avocados are completely pureed and the texture is pesto-like. Pour some pesto – not all of it, start with about a cup – onto the potatoes and broccoli, and toss. Add more pesto, if desired. Use left-over pesto on fettucine.