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eG Foodblog: Abra - I take food personally!


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Gosh, this is fun! Thank you for doing a blog during such a busy week, Abra. I'm going to second (third? tenth?) all the questions asked so far. And how do you maintain the energy to do all these things???

I'll be visiting my family in western Washington later this week, and your description of a blackberry breeze is just wonderful. I'm going to eat myself silly when I get to my parents' berry gardens. One for the bowl, one for me . . . :wub:

Do you get plenty of fresh seafood there? I remember when I lived on Orcas Island we could sail up to the shrimp boats, and I'd stand with one foot on our gunnel and one on theirs, hand them two bucks, and they'd give me a half-gallon milk carton box filled to the brim with parboiled shrimp fresh from the ocean. Mmm, mmm, shrimp, fresh baked bread, and a little white wine, a sunny day on a sailboat . . . am I getting homesick?


Mary Baker

Solid Communications

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Energy??? I can only wish I had energy! Normally I do work out, and that helps me keep my energy up, but this week - no way. I decided that I needed a healthy breakfast to get through the morning.


An egg white frittata with chicken sausage, leftover roasted potatoes, red onion, piquillo peppers, and shiitakes. This is a 7 WW point pan full of yumminess. With a few shakes of Melinda's Roasted Garlic Habanero sauce, I'm zooming slowly through the morning.

We have two performances today, with only an hour and a half in between, so we're having a cast potluck dinner. When I signed up I had every intention of making a beautiful orzo salad with Kalamata olives, feta, and sun dried tomatoes. But now I see that there's no way I'm going to make it to the store, and I'll have to scrounge through the fridge and pantry to make something halfway decent.

So now you're going to see how I make my famous "fridge-cleaning" dinners. Except that there's not much in my fridge today, so I'm worried. I only have a couple of hours to come up with something - wish me luck! You probably imagined that a personal chef would eat better. I promise, after today, the rest of the week will be easy as pie, and I will be able to represent my chosen profession better. Peanut butter with red wine - hmph! And I promise to answer questions, so ask away. I'm not ignoring you, just swamped for one more day.

And speaking of seafood, I do have some escolar in the fridge. Hmm, with so many people eating it, the portion would be very tiny. There's only one bathroom backstage...should I risk it?

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I'm a bit late to your wonderful blog, but this is a GREAT read! And the photos of your sumptuous creations are making me run out and fetch some lunch right now or I won't be able to continue reading.

And a very happy belated birthday as well!

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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And then...truth in blogging. When I got home, having survived the opening night crazies, I had, oh, this is so hard to admit, peanut butter on rye bread with a glass of red wine. I'm sure I'll be banished from Blogland, or even from eG, for such an apalling combo, but you know what? It suited me just fine.

That's okay. I've known servers who have eaten spaghettios after a party, uncooked.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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Tomorrow night is opening night of a community theater production I'm in, so I fear that it will be another day of haphazard eating for me. I'm aiming for a nice main dish salad, though. I need greenery - and sleep!


what production? and what part are you playing? (sorry abra - former theatre geek here - since i work nights i can't do performances anymore)

love the berries,too. ever think about making a steamed pudding with mixed berries and a rum sauce for your clients? sorry - toooooo many points i'm sure for you.

do make sure you make all your points daily, though. sometimes, especially in the heat it is a struggle i know.

love the pictures and your food. thank you :biggrin:

Nothing is better than frying in lard.

Nothing.  Do not quote me on this.


Linda Ellerbee

Take Big Bites

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Abra, your food blog is great reading! Wonderful pics, too. Happy belated birthday. I was disappointed I wasn't able to make it to your Island cooking party, but hopefully will get the chance to meet you at another PNW event soon.

Looking forward to reading about and seeing more pictures of your cooking and personal cheffing adventures...

And you should consider posting a picture of the view from the Island, to show the beautiful area you are in. :rolleyes:

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And then...truth in blogging. When I got home, having survived the opening night crazies, I had, oh, this is so hard to admit, peanut butter on rye bread with a glass of red wine. I'm sure I'll be banished from Blogland, or even from eG, for such an apalling combo, but you know what? It suited me just fine.

As for WW points, I've been way over yesterday and today, and also not keeping track. Not setting a good example at all, am I? When life gets crazy, like it has been the past few days, instead of sleep I tend toward weird food. Lots of weird food. But don't knock peanut butter on rye until you try it - it has that certain je ne sais quoi, but I don't know what it is.


whole grain - good protein - no added sugars

what's to knock?

add some cheddar cheese and you have perfction :biggrin:

Nothing is better than frying in lard.

Nothing.  Do not quote me on this.


Linda Ellerbee

Take Big Bites

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So, fridge cleaning an hour before you need a dish can be quite perilous. I was going to make an orzo salad, but had no orzo. No problem, I thought, I'll make a quinoa salad. And hey, by the way, I've been meaning to try making quinoa in my rice cooker, so this is the perfect time. Friends, take my advice - don't make quinoa in a rice cooker! Half an hour before I had to leave I had a giant goop-ball of quinoa that definitely wasn't salad-able. What to do?

Don't ask me why, but I ended up putting harissa, diced preserved lemon and some honey into the quinoa, patting it out into a cake, sauteeing onion, squash, red pepper, and pistachios with ras el hanout, spreading it over the quinoa goo, and making this:


Amazingly, it was very good, although any self-respecting Moroccan would laugh herself silly, I'm sure. Actually, it looks distressingly similar to my breakfast, now that I think of it.

I'm finally going to get enough sleep, and will return tomorrow, refreshed, recuperated, and ready to tackle the questions that have been hanging.

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Abra, we have known each other for a long long time. Can't tell you how much I enjoy your blog and the pictures.

Usually my "clean out the fridge meals" are good if slightly unusual. I have one at least once a week, since I refuse to shop more than once a week.

Keep writing, so I can keep reading!


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It's a beautiful morning for berry picking, so breakfast was Trader Joe's Toasted Oat oatmeal, with just-picked blueberries and blackberries, whole wheat toast, and a half-caf Americano. Now that I have time to sleep again, I'm weaning myself off the caffeine that's been sustaining me for the past few days.


And now to catch up on all the questions. Looking at them overall, they seem to roughly fall into three categories: personal cheffing, Weight Watching, and Life in General. I guess with Life in General as a category you really don't need any others, but I'll subdivide, just for clarity's sake.

For a great into to personal cheffing as a way of life you can go to Personal Chefs Network. That's the professional association to which I belong, and which got me started as a personal chef. If you've ever entertained the idea of having your own personal cheffing business, PCN will get you going and sustain you along the way.

In my particular case, I live on an island with a population of about 22,000. Normally a town that small might not be able to keep a personal chef going, but we're just half an hour's ferry ride from Seattle, so the demographics are favorable - affluent, well-educated people with disposable income. It's also a very word-of-mouth sort of place, where you're "new" to the island until you've been here at least 20 years. For that reason I don't advertise much. I'm in the Yellow Pages, have my website Rolling Bay Gourmet, and these signs on both sides of our van. By the way, I've lost weight since the photo on the website was taken, but it still is sort of recognizably me.


The car signs really help, since people see them all over the island, all the time.

The number of clients I have varies considerably, especially because I do two different things, both of which you saw in the first two days of my blog. Business is a bit slow right now, with people being away in August, so I have about half a dozen "regular" clients, for whom I prepare everyday dinners. Depending on the size of their families, I prepare either 10 or 20 dinners each time I cook for them, which is 5 dinners, times either 2 or 4 servings. I'd be happy to make food for other meals, but no one has ever asked for breakfast foods, although several people do use part of their dinners as lunches.

There are lots of different approaches to personal cheffing. As you can see on my website, I do have a menu. However, I'd guess that maybe only half of what I cook for people is listed there. I will cook whatever people want, except Atkins stuff (just a personal prejudice of mine), and use the menu really just to give people ideas and show what my style of cooking is like.

For example, I have one client that wants me to select the entire menu, each time. I have another who always tells me exactly what they want, down to every individual side dish. I have one client who likes to read food magazines and email me to cook a soup from page 63 of the new Eating Well, those lentils from page 128 of Bon Appetit, and so on. The rest of my clients fall somewhere in between. I have one family with picky-eater teenagers, who thought my lasagne had "too much flavor." They asked if I couldn't just "use the recipe on the box." Excuse me, box? In the end I discovered that if I use Muir Glen Organic Tomato Basil sauce, they're very happy with the flavor. I use the stuff myself and know it's a great product, so, although I feel a little guilty about giving them something not from scratch, they're happier that way.

When I cook for parties, my approach is to ask the client about the number and type of guests, the serving arrangements, the budget, any themes or preferences, and them to propose a menu tailored specifically to what they've told me. This approach bombs out when someone tells me (true story) "We'd like a simple, elegant, Northwest-style wedding dinner, with grilled salmon, for about $15 per person." Now the truth is, there's NOTHING I can do for $15 per person. It's not even worth waking up early for that amount, let alone getting out of bed and getting dressed.

This is because I do all of my cooking in the client's home. I don't have a big commercial kitchen with wholesale-priced pantry items already in stock, can't make things ahead in large quantities and freeze them, or share items between parties, or use any of the other cost-saving measures caterers employ. Every party is hand-crafted, and so it does cost more. I don't have a bunch of beautiful serving pieces either - I use the client's stuff, and usually I like it like that. It lets the client use her favorite dishes and see them filled with beautiful food, as they were meant to be. I have done a couple of parties where I advised the client to quickly run out and buy a few larger bowls or platters, because most people don't have enough large serving pieces. But every one has admitted that she knew she needed the stuff, and was just waiting for the right time to get them. So hey, I also provide an excuse to go shopping!

Sharing recipes is always a dilemma. I seldom give recipes to clients or their guests who live here, and I explain that my recipes are my livelihood. Guests from out of town - no problem giving them recipes. Friends? I always share with them. I guess my bottom line is that if I think the person might/should want to pay me to prepare the food for them, I don't give away the recipe. But I always feel like a rat for saying no. For example, a guest at last Friday's party has already called me asking for the recipe to that curried shrimp and rice salad. I haven't called her back yet, because I can't decide what to do. On the one hand, I've never made it before and might never make it again - it's not the sort of dish that most people ask for. But she raved about it, and said she wants to "eat more and more of it." She can certainly afford my services, but I feel really nasty depriving her of a recipe for something she's craving. What would you do? I've got to call her back today or tomorrow.

My fingers are falling off - have I mentioned that I don't know how to type? I'll take a little break and let you digest this, then come back with the answers in the other categories. Oh, and maybe I'll think about lunch in the meantime too. There's still nothing in my fridge, even less than there was yesterday.

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On the Life in General front:

Yes, we have wonderful seafood here. I have another confession - until I lived here I would only eat oysters fried or smoked, no half-shell, squishy, slidey squeaky-raw salt scum ever passed my lips, let alone slithered down my throat. But they're so fresh and wonderful here that I've realized the error of my ways, and now eat as many oysters as I can decently get my hands on, as well as mussels. Clams are a bit more problematic - the texture doesn't thrill me, although I like the flavor they add to things. But what we really live on in the summer is salmon - this year the salmon has been just unbelievable. I could eat it every day, and did, for a week or so when there was Copper River and White King available.

And Spaghetti-Os have special meaning for me too, since my stepson Eric, now 22, used to live on them before he lived with me. Now he makes his own pasta, and really well, too. This morning I introduced him to Moby's eG stuffed pasta class, and his eyes were very bright. In this photo, taken in July, he's pretending that he needs my approval of the thinness of this pasta sheet, but he's really the pasta-making expert in our house. Our drill is that he makes the pasta and I make the sauces, and we're both very happy that way.


And as to theater-geekery, the show I'm in now was written here on the island, and is a woven-together collage of pieces from over 100 submittals written by adults and teens about high school experiences. I wrote several of the pieces in the show, and it's a thrill to see my high school self resuscitated - much easier than acting like a teen-ager myself!

The funniest WW question asked so far is whether I "can" eat all my points in this weather. Hah! I can eat all my points in any weather, and in fact can eat about double my points in any weather. I love to eat! Sometimes I stick to my points and sometimes I don't, and I'm an exemplar of the WW truism "If you sort of do the program, it sort of works." I go through phases, days where I really get with the program, days where I start out well and decay during the day. It's a lifestyle, not a diet, right? An important part of my lifestyle is to have freedom of choice, and to eat a lot. Portion control has no general meaning for me, since I really like volume in food. What helped me to lose and keep off the 65 lbs I've managed so far over the past 2 years is to eat huge volumes of vegetables. I eat a lot of fruit, too. And I definitely don't stick entirely with it every day, or I'd go nuts. That's why you won't be seeing any front-page banners of me as a WW success story, but I really do give WW the credit for the success I've had so far.

I'm being distracted by the problem of what to serve for lunch. A radical idea occurs to me - I have a freezer! Even though the fridge is depleted, I do have a freezer. Hmmm, what's in there?

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Turns out that what's in the freezer is: tamales I made last winter, with green chiles and cheese. I rendered the lard for the masa, so it was especially delicious. And then there was some nice halibut broth that I made after I got about 10 lbs of trimmings and bones. And some corn, and some edamame. In the fridge there was still the escolar - I chickened out of serving that to the cast, and still some of a delicious huge costato squash that I've been using for several days, as well as half of a giant tomato. Voila - a light fish soup, seasoned with baharat (a wonderful Middle Eastern spice mixture) and lemon juice. Kind of eclectic with the tamales, but better than going to the store.


All those who don't like leftovers, let them eat flowers!

Do you ever play that game "how many meals can I make without going to the store?" One of the hazards of personal cheffing is that I practically live in the grocery store, and sometimes I feel like a professional grocery shopper. I love our store, it's one of the nicest I've ever shopped in. But on the weekends, the "tourist shoppers" are in abundance, the folks who have "real" jobs during the week and only get to the grocery on weekends and don't know where anything is and have their kids in the cart, and are meeting friends and chatting in the aisles, and wondering what to do with leeks, and reading the labels for carb counts, and asking whether mascarpone is a good substitute for creme fraiche, and just generally having a nice relaxed afternoon of shopping. Me, I want to grab what I need from an uncluttered aisle and be on my way. It's best for all concerned if I don't go into the store on weekends.

And this blog is pointing up another hazard of personal cheffing, and probably of being any sort of food professional. People have great expectations of what I eat. Recently someone said to me "I can't believe YOU use catsup!" It was on top of an absolutely classic non-nouveau American meatloaf. What else would I use? And now I reveal myself to be a consumer of peanut butter on rye with red wine, and a nearly random assortment of freezer-food.

My family wants to take me out to dinner tonight for a belated birthday celebration, but tomorrow I will for absolutely, positively certain go grocery shopping. Maybe I'll take the camera along, so you all can see what our little island store has to offer. And we're having guests for dinner tomorrow, and I haven't yet given the menu a moment's thought. They are great appreciators of my cooking, so I always make something nice for them. I think I'll make 100% new-to-me recipes, just for fun.

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Shopping in one's freezer is one of the great joys in life. For those who don't get it, screw 'em.

Love the flowers, btw. And it's nice to know that somewhere in the US the sun is shining.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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Just a question out of curiosity here, no ill-will intended: Why is it that you exclude the Atkins cooking, is it because of personal beliefs against the plan, or because you don't feel comfortable enough with the rules and etc to do meals via it justice?

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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My exclusion of Atkins, and actually I guess I'd exclude South Beach induction too, although nobody's asked for it, has to do with my perception of what's healthy. For example, I don't cook with margarine, because I worry about trans-fats. I advise my clients not to microwave in plastic containers, because I worry about plasticizers leaching into foods. I cook with organic foods whenever my clients will agree to pay for them, which is surprisingly often. I like to feel that my food is contributing to the health and well-being of those for whom I cook.

Of course it's controversial, the various pros and cons of low carb eating. There are legitimate-sounding arguments on both sides, and all one can do, until there's a lot better and longer-term evidence, is exercise one's own best judgement. While I know that many people try low carb, and some do stick with it and swear by it, it's very counter-intuitive to me. I appreciate that you aren't trying to strike up that debate here, NulloModo, and I don't want to fuel it either. Suffice it to say that I'm just not comfortable offering it as part of my service. There's a whole industry out there catering to low carb eaters, and I don't think they need my help.

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Abra, that was a lovely picture of your leftovers with the flowers.


How many blueberry plants do you have? I got two this year, one large and producing, one just a twig. I'd like to have a good supply of berries each year so am wondering how many plants I need.

You mentioned rendering lard a couple times so I think you do it often. How is this done?

And the mother vinegar, how is that done? You know, I should have gotten a starter from you at the party but I didn't see your post about it until after the party. :unsure:

How about a photo of the view outside your deck? That will give everybody a good idea of what it's like to live on the island...

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I love freezer and pantry shopping! I have come up with some of my favorite recipes when faced with an odd assortment of ingredients around dinner time. It's also an agreeable personal challenge - can I make a meal out of random foods without going to the store.

I avoid the weekend grocery store rush by going really early Sunday morning. It annoys me greatly to come across throngs of people leisurely shopping while I am attempting to fill my cart quickly, according to my preplanned list.

I am really enjoying reading about your experiences as a personal chef. It's something I have seriously considered doing and may still at some point. Nice to see what that looks like in practice and get some insight into the particulars. I especially enjoy your commitment to providing nutritious foods for your clients.

Are there any foods you prepare or partially prepare at home? If not, is that in any way due to legalities? My aunt was a caterer for many years and had a horrible time upgrading her kitchen and keeping it within code so she could prepare food for outside sale there. Does cooking in someone else's kitchen get around this?


Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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Amazingly enough, just 2 blueberry plants have provided over 45 pounds of blueberries this summer. I think the bushes are pretty old. They were here when we bought the house, and are quite large.

There are a couple of methods of rendering lard - either on the stovetop or in the oven. I do it on the stovetop, because I like to keep my eye on it. First I call the butcher and beg for pork fat. It usually takes them a couple of days of trimming to collect enough fat to make it worthwhile. I like to get 3-5 lbs of fat. I cut it up into big chunks, then place it in a Le Creuset Dutch oven with a cup of water. I bring that to a boil, then simmer until the water evaporates. When the water's gone, I reduce the heat to a fast simmer and just let it go, stirring occasionally. It takes a couple or three hours for all the fat to render out. You'll know you're done when all you have left in the pan is the clear melted fat and a pile of crispy brown bits. Strain it through a fine cheesecloth or coffee filter, and there you have it. It's a completely different thing from those nasty blocks of lard you buy in the store. Your own will be rich and sweet-smelling, and incomparable used in pastry. It keeps in the fridge pretty much forever.

Here's a picture of the view from our deck, taken earlier this summer when we had made pizzas on the grill. Oh - those curly things in the bowl are roasted garlic scapes. I was totally addicted to them this year, and ate them every chance I got, even with pizza.


I'm going to do the vinegar mother tomorrow as a demo, with pictures. It's quite a sight! Remind me next time I see you to bring you some mother - it's an inexhaustable resource.

No cooking or prep at home at all, period, the end! It's strictly against County health regulations, and I follow them to the letter. There are lots of caterers here that do cook at home, and I lose a fair amount of business because I won't do it myself. It's a tough situation - sure, I could rat them out to the County, but it's a small community and we all live here. All I do is explain to potential clients who call why I don't cook at home, and that anyone who will cook at home and deliver food to them is doing so illegally, but I still lose business over it. In the end, though, my conscience is clear, I can look my insurance company and a County inspector in the eye, and I know I'm on the high road, even if my bank account suffers as a result. Geez, does that sound really dorky?

I'm working on my menu for tonight, and will take some pictures at the grocery store. So far all I have decided on is dessert. Bad girl!

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Thanks Abra. I think I'm going to have to go to Farmer George's butcher shop in Port Orchard and get some pork fat. They have a big barrel they put all their fat in and I've gotten some for my mom's suet feeders before. Since the lard gets cooked, would you say it's safe to get fat from a barrel like that? Heck, I remember my mother kept a can of bacon fat out on the stove and cooked from that when we were growing up.

I can't believe I let scapes escape me this year. :shock: I had shallots and garlic growing in my garden and they put out their weird scapes and by the time I learned that they were edible, they'd already been out too long to be tender! :angry:

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sequim:"Heck, I remember my mother kept a can of bacon fat out on the stove and cooked from that when we were growing up."

When I came to Canada, one of my first tastes of Canadian food was fresh bread fried in bacon fat left on the grill, after Dad cooked bacon for a customer's BLT.

Hubby's Nana always had her "tin" of drippings in her ice box. It was handy when there wasn't enough dripping for Yorkshire puddings for Sunday night's roast. It was also great for pan-fried left over potatoes!



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It's probably safe, although it does sound a bit unappetizing. I'll bet that if you called Farmer George they'd just set aside some for you, no?

Next year you'll know to feast on those scapes. I love to roast them with asparagus spears - yum!

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I imagine that the restriction on preparing foods at home for your client has a lot to do with cleanliness. If you were catering commercially, you'd use a commercial kitchen of some kind. If I were planning on using a personal chef, I'd think that knowing the food was made "right here, in my own kitchen" rather than in some unknown place, would be a comfort.

For all I, the potential customer know, your cats walk all over your counters, there are bugs everywhere, and your refrigerator doesn't work properly. Ahh, but my own kitchen -- that's familiar, even if I have the same problems! :laugh:

What a beautiful view you have! I'm extremely jealous.

Edited because I can't string a sentence together.

Edited by jgarner53 (log)

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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As a matter of fact, my cats have been known to walk on the counter, and that's exactly the example I give when explaining to people why I don't do it. Nearly everyone will happily eat one of their own cat's hairs, and gag at the thought of foreign cat hair contamination.

Here's lunch


Up until now I haven't really emphasized one of the WWer's main dilemmas - what to feed other family members. Often it's mostly the same meal, with some additions. But in this case I'm having a tamale pie (looks terrible, tastes quite good) and a Boca Original Vegan Burger sandwich. It's just about the best and most filling 4 points there is. However, no way my husband will eat that, so he gets pastrami and swiss.

I finally settled on a menu for tonight, assuming that it's going to get up to 82 like they say it is. Unfortunately, right now it's only about 65, so it's hard to imagine this warm weather dinner being appropriate, but I'm trying to have faith in the forecast. The theme will be fresh garden herbs, since I have so many that need to be used up. I'll show you how they grow, and what I do with them. Here's the menu:

Corona Beans with Tuna and Basil, with Crostini

Grilled Ahi with Fresh Herb Aioli (well, the recipe calls it aioli, but really it's made with mayo)

Grilled Tomatoes Stuffed with Sage and Goat Cheese

Corn off the Cob with Caramelized Fennel and Marjoram

Cornmeal Cake with Sweet Rosemary Syrup and (you guessed it) Garden Berries

The only recipe I've made before is the beans, and there's actually no recipe for them. A bunch of Seattle eGulleteers have been gathering to eat at Salumi, an amazing little place run by Armandino Batali, Mario's Dad. When I was there he served us a dish of Corona beans with some excellent canned tuna and olive oil. I've played around with the combo a couple of times, and am still trying to work out the right balance of flavors. Today I'm going to try adding a basil chiffonade, and probably some lemon zest. There's no recipe for the corn, either, I'll just create it as I go. But I love corn and marjoram together so I'm sure it'll be good. I do a lot of recipe testing as part of my business. Although I do cook untried recipes for clients all the time, I like to try as much new stuff as possible, and I'm always thinking about what clients would like the dish, how well it would freeze, and so on.

And yes, I know there are two tuna dishes on the same menu. I just feel like tuna! I'll take pictures as I cook, so there'll be quite a few, but you'll be able to see the works in progress as well as the finished meal.

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I had never had garlic scapes until this summer: we found them at the farmers' market in Santa Fe. We didn't know what to do with them, so we chopped them into shorter lengths and tried to caramelize them in a skillet. They never did caramelize, but they tasted darn good!

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