Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Raindrops Keep Falling . . .

Raindrops keep falling on my head….da-da-da-dee-da-da-da-dee-da....

Okay. Enough already. We are on the verge of breaking the record for the total number of rainy days in the month of March. According to Joel Bartlett, Bay Area Weather Anchor, we are into our 22nd rainy day. The record 23 days will be surpassed in a couple of days. We expect more rain through the week. A thunder and lightning storm is threatening to arrive early evening. The upside is that the Sun should peek out and stay awhile over the weekend.

We’ve been working diligently on producing Ander’s new press kit for distribution to the art world. When cabin fever hits, we venture out in search of a mini-escape from the phones, Fax and emails.

Coastal Islands, Oil on Canvas, 16" x 20", ©ander.

One place we enjoy is a short trip south of us to the town of Petaluma. We find ourselves transported to a quaint Parisian-like café by the name of Della Fattoria (I know it sounds more Italian, but believe me, the atmosphere is pure Paris, all the way). There is a banquette along the windows with soft cushions for added comfort. The windows are dressed with stylish, striped, sheered sections of drapery that are knotted at the bottom to weigh down the willowy panes.

A simple snack . . .

There is a communal farm table in the center of the place surrounded by a mélange of wooden benches and chairs. It is inviting and beckons you to share in the conversation at the table. Two or three other tables fill the room for a more intimate tête-à-tête.

We order the signature polenta cake to accompany our café-au-laite. Of course, Ander gets his standard “Americano” and shares a bite or two. The polenta cake is a 5-inch disc of pure flavor. Along with the corn element, there is a subtle hint of almond (from either extract or almond meal) and a touch of vanilla essence in each bite. It is neither too moist nor too dry. Not too sweet. Just right. There was enough cake. (Although, if I served this at home, I’d add seasonal fruit to kick it up a notch. I’m thinking, wild blackberries for a summer picnic dessert.)

Polenta Cake . . .

Good to the last crumb . . .

The Barista is proficient and adds his charm to each demitasse of espresso. The cheerful, young lady at the counter sings along with the sultry sound of the jazz singer piped in on their stereo system. The rendition of “Pennies From Heaven” was indeed toe tapping and enthralling.

Au-laite . . .

I enjoy the tableware and accoutrements for serving. They use quaint “au laite” bowls to serve both the café and soothing “soup du jour”. This particular day a local patron asks what the “green” vegetable included in the soup called? The server responds, “I’m not sure. I know it starts with an ‘L’.”

Patron: “Is it a leek?”
Server: “No. That’s not it. Wait here, I’ll ask in back.”

The server jaunts back to the Patron’s table with an enthusiastic “It’s LA-CIN-ATO kale.”

The Patron responds with a spoonful in her mouth, lips curved up and a nod of thanks.

Nothing Better . . .

They also sell a variety of their fresh baked breads and offer savory specials listed on the Bistro Board.

We like it here. Can you keep it a secret?

Della Fattoria Downtown
141 Petaluma Boulevard North
Petaluma, CA 94952
Phone: 707-763-0161

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tom Yum - YUMMMM...

Tom Yum Goong

It's been raining like the dickens up in the North Bay. There have been compromised levies in the vineyards and roads have been closed. The wet weather isn't so bad when you're indoors most of the day, but there are times when you have to get out of the house. I hate driving in the rain. Especially when those "crazy" drivers on the road go speeding by in a rush trying to get to their destination. How soon do they get there by speeding anyway? I mean really, how much sooner do they get there? I always take in safety first. Although driving too slowly can be hazardous also?

This past weekend, Ander was kind enough to offer to drive me around since he knows how I hate driving in the rain. So I took him up on his offer and proceeded to run my errands in the comfort of the Tacoma's passenger seat. Among my purchases that day were whole shrimp with heads on. Ander found them at the local Latino market we frequent. Like second nature, we instantly knodded at the idea of Tom Yum Goong for our dinner that evening. It seemed apropo for the cold, wet weather we have been forced to reckon with. We stopped by the local Asian market for some additional ingredients. I always enjoy perusing the shelves for anything new and exciting to try out. In the produce corner, there were mounds of fresh peashoots with young curly tendrils. We enjoy these greens simply sautéed in a combination of olive oil and butter with flecks of garlic and chili flakes. It makes for a nice side dish.

Although my training at the Academy was primarily French, I always enjoy dabbling into other cuisines. Of course, it goes without saying, I have a few of my Filipino heritage staples included in my repertoire. (I have taught Ander the reliable “go-to” Adobo that can be prepared with either chicken or pork or a combination of both, if you’re inclined.) This night’s lesson, however, was focused on the Thai soup standard, Tom Yum Goong. The tutorial was to test Ander's proficiency in combining the various levels of flavors found in this wonderful comfort food. The complexity of the flavors is compounded by the ranks of textures you find in each spoonful. The heat of the chile is met with the pillowy softness of the mushrooms. The tang that you encounter from the lemongrass and limejuice lies playfully along the salivary glands. Beckoning another mouthful. The savory broth is confronted by the supple surface of the whole shelled shrimps. (I don’t recommend eating these whole! You will have to use fingers to pry off the shells. They are finger lickin’ good. Pinch off the heads and suck away. At this moment, you truly appreciate being in the comforts of home. Have handy disposable napkins within easy reach.)

Tom Yum Goong (pronunced: TOOM-yoom-gung)


2 Tbl. Vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1 medium or 2 small onions, sliced
1 stalk of lemongrass (optional)
1 medium or 2 small tomatoes, chopped
2-4 Tbl. Hot/Sour Shrimp Paste (depending on chile “heat” wanted)
1 Lb. whole shrimp (with head, if available)
6-8 cups of water
2 – 14 oz. cans of peeled straw mushrooms
2-3 Tbl. Fish sauce (optional, gives authentic flavor)
Salt and Pepper, to taste (if necessary)
Juice from 2-3 limes
Cilantro, for garnish
Lime slices, for garnish
Lemongrass, thin slices on bias (Optional)


Heat vegetable oil in heavy bottom pot. Sauté garlic and onion. (Add lemongrass. If using, cut a 5 – 6 inch piece of lemongrass. Crush lemongrass with the back of knife and tie into a knot.) Add tomatoes. Cook through. Add shrimp paste and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add whole shrimp and cook until shrimp start to turn pink. Pour water into pot, enough to cover a couple of inches above shrimp. Bring to a simmer. Add straw mushrooms. Bring back to a simmer. Add fish sauce and limejuice to pot. Bring whole pot to a full boil.

Serve into large soup bowls. Garnish with cilantro, if desired. Squeeze extra limejuice, if desired. Ladle over hot rice, if desired.

Kudos are in order for this willing and devoted student. Ah, yes, of course, how could I forget…this multi-dimensioned meal paired well with a very elegant Alsace Riesling, offering soft rose and subtle melon, satisfying both the nose and palate. D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S ! ! !