Our plot at the Experimental College gardens did really well this winter! I mostly have Mandi and Vicken to thank since they did most of the planting when I was busy in September. I did at least do some watering before the rains came in November. We got a lot of joy choi, chard, and cabbage in the fall. Recently we have been getting broccoli, carrots, beets, and still more chard. I picked these veggies just last week.

As we are harvesting these vegetables, the bees are busy pollinating flowers, some of which will become our summer fruits. I got a few shots of honeybees (and one carpenter bee!) on the flowering vine and rosemary in the front yard.

Check out the pollen load on this bee’s back!

I can’t help but call the bees adorable! Take a look at the flowers blooming where you are and see what you find! So far I have seen mostly honeybees, but this Xylocopa has been around for a few days and there was also a sweat bee here the other day. It’s nice to have a lot of “faces” to associate with the fruit you enjoy later in the summer!


In early February I made a short trip down to Todos Santos, Baja California, MX, to visit my friend Donna who is the artist who works with the art-science fusion entomology course I teach in the fall. Donna has made quite a career out of doing ceramic public art in California and all over the world. A few years ago she bought property in Todos Santos and has built an artist commune of sorts where she has had an artist retreat for two years called Heaven on Earth. This is one side of the little apartment we stayed in and some other photos.

It was one of the most relaxing vacations I’ve ever had. We spent a lot of time doing art in the studio–I painted and Donna worked on ceramic pieces for a fountain she is building. I did a painting from start to finish in just 5 days! I don’t think I’ve done that since high school. It definitely makes me want to do it more often. (Below: my painting and Donna and me in front of a whale statue her son made.)

Besides art, we did yoga, ran a local 5K race, went dancing, drank coffee, and ate lots of tacos, huevos rancheros, and other things involving tortillas. One night we got tacos from the “restaurant” next door to her house and I made salsa verde for them. Ideally I would have used roasted tomatillos, but the oven wasn’t working, so I opted for a fresh tomatillo recipe. Honestly, the fresh version wasn’t as good as the green salsas I had down there, but it was nice and zesty and super simple to make. I’m looking forward to trying the roasted version whenever tomatillos are around this summer!

Salsa verde
from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless

I wanted to make the roasted version of this salsa, but the oven wasn’t working, so I opted for the fresh version instead. I included both recipes here.

8 ounces (5 to 6 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
fresh hot green chiles, to taste (roughly 2 serranos or 1 jalapeno), stemmed
5 or 6 sprigs fresh cilantro (thick stems removed), roughly chopped
scant 1/4 cup finely chopped onion

Whether you choose the verdant, slushy, herby freshness of the all-raw tomatillo salsa or the oil-colored, voluptuous, sweet-sour richness of the roasted version, tomatillos are about brightening tang. The buzz of the fresh hot green chile adds thrill, all of which adds up to a condiment most of us simply don’t want to live without.

For the All-Raw version:
Roughly chop the tomatillos and the chiles. In a blender or food processor, combine the tomatillos, chiles, cilantro and 1/4 cup water. Process to a coarse puree, then scrape into a serving dish. Rinse the onion under cold water, then shake to remove excess moisture. Stir into the salsa and season with salt, usually a generous 1/4 teaspoon.

For the Roasted version:

Preheat a broiler.

Roast the tomatillos and chiles on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until darkly roasted, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast the other side, 4 to 5 minutes more will give you splotchy-black and blistered tomatillos and chiles. In a blender or food processor, combine the tomatillos and chiles, including all the delicious juice that has run onto the baking sheet. Add the cilantro and 1/4 cup water, blend to a coarse puree, and scrape into a serving dish. Rinse the onion under cold water, then shake to remove the excess moisture. Stir into the salsa and season with salt, usually a generous 1/4 teaspoon.

After years of observations and careful analysis I have pin-pointed the major causes of my unproductiveness in grad school: perfectionism and its close relative, the fear of failure. And after a couple of days of wondering why I never write on this blog I realized it’s for the SAME REASONS! Namely, I want every picture of every step of the cooking process to be perfect and for each entry to be clever, poetic, or some other adjective to describe good writing. Well, the real kicker is that, although I’ve been really proud of some of my photographs, it’s really hard to get a nice picture when you don’t have great natural light, aka when it’s dark outside aka when most of us cook. So the only times I get “successful” photos is when I play hookie from school and cook in the afternoon or when I cook on the weekends.

Secondly, I rarely get a photo of the final product when I make something I’ve worked hard on or am really proud of because it’s either for a dinner party or it just disappears too fast. I always feel ridiculous pulling out my big camera in front of people to take pictures of food. I’m even shy about doing this around my roommates. Finally, while I’m a decent writer, I’m not particularly funny in writing. And I desperately wish I was. I mean, why else would anyone want to read this? It’s not like I’m a cooking expert with anything genius to say…

Well, I’ve decided to just get over all of this. I’m going to start writing posts with imperfect pictures and sometimes with very little text if I don’t have that much to say. My main goal over the next few weeks is to get out all of the back-logged posts (imperfections and all!) and share food that I like with whatever people read this. Hopefully there are a few of you…

Today for lunch I made these eggs poached in tomato sauce topped with grated pecorino romano cheese and served on toasted bread. I’ve been making this all the time ever since I found it on smittenkitchen.com about a month ago. It is my new favorite quick meal. It’s so wonderful because pretty much any tomato sauce will work. So you can follow the tomato sauce recipe below or use the leftover homemade mushroom pasta sauce like I did. It’s genius!!!

You’ll notice with this post that I didn’t take any pictures of the process of cooking this. If you want that, check it out here. In the meantime, I’m gonna keep gorging myself with tomatoes and eggs and relish in the flexible grad student lifestyle that allows me to do this on a Tuesday afternoon…

Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce
from the smitten kitchen, inspired there by Martha Stewart

This tomato sauce is pretty good, but if you have another tomato sauce (in a jar, or leftover from another meal) on hand, that will also work. Just reheat it in a sauce pan/ dutch oven and start at step 2.

1 can (14 ounces) tomato puree
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Big pinch of sugar
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Glug of red wine (optional)
4 large eggs
4 slices toasted country bread, for serving
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

1. In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and bring to a boil; season with sugar, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 to 20 minutes minutes. A few minutes before it’s done, I like to add a glug of red wine and let it simmer for a moment.

2. Gently crack eggs into tomato mixture, cover, and let cook 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, uncover, and let stand 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Transfer each egg to a piece of toast. Spoon over sauce, garnish with cheese, and season with salt and pepper; serve immediately.

Every Christmas when the boxes arrive from Vicken’s mom who lives in Turkey, I get SO excited!! Why? Because they contain food, of course! The exact contents of the boxes vary slightly from year to year, but there are always lots of Syrian pistachios, Syrian olive oil and za’atar. And it’s the za’atar that makes me do a little jig of excitement every time! Za’atar is a mix of sesame seeds and spices, including thyme and sumac, that you mix with olive oil to make into a spread. It is unlike anything else I’ve ever had, but I’ve been hooked on it since the first time I tried it! Even though we try to pace ourselves, we go through large quantities of it quickly.

You just mix one part za’atar spice mix with an equal or slightly lesser part olive oil to achieve a paste that can be easily spread, and you’re done. Traditionally it is spread onto a flatbread, such as pita bread, but I just eat it on any kind of toasted bread we have on hand. It’s excellent for breakfast or a snack. Recently I even made these za’atar swirls that turned out really well.

I’ve gone through withdrawal when we’ve run out of the Syrian za’atar and looked around Davis for it and actually found it in small quantities at the International Food Market in the 8th St shopping center in east Davis. The stuff they sell there is a little different, as there are many different variations of za’atar from different regions in the middle east. My guess is that you could find it more easily in the Bay Area or near LA.

I know mixing a spice mix with olive oil doesn’t exactly qualify as cooking, but seeing as how this has made up a majority of my diet for the last month, I thought it was worth sharing. If you ever run into it, get you some! You can thank me later.

When it’s cold outside, it doesn’t get much better than chili. Not only does it taste great and warm you from the inside out, but the leftovers get better and better with each passing day as the flavors slowly meld in the refrigerator. I often make a full recipe and we eat a little for dinner initially and the rest for lunch over the next few days. It beats a turkey sandwich any day!

I grew up eating my mom’s beef chili, which she made using the “Pedernales River Chili” recipe from the Austin Junior Forum’s Lone Star Legacy cookbook. She added pinto beans to her chili, which thinned out the meat a little bit, but I still came to equate chili with a thick, tomatoey, meaty stew, and anything less just isn’t the same.

That’s why I decided to give the Best Recipe cookbook’s meat chili a try. It has many of the same ingredients as my mom’s, but with a few more spices and a twist to the order in which things are cooked. What I love about this recipe is the bold flavor which is accomplished in part by cooking the onions, peppers, garlic and spices in oil before adding the meat or tomatoes. This seems to give the flavors of these ingredients a chance to intensify and blend before being watered down.

What’s sure is that this recipe has failed to disappoint me. I made it for a big dinner party earlier in the month and got lots of compliments. Then I made it for my family over Christmas holiday using ground venison and pinto beans substituted for the beef and kidney beans. The venison has a much different flavor than beef, but the chili was still really good. I HIGHLY recommend this recipe!

Beef Chili with Kidney Beans
from The New Best Recipe

They suggest serving the chili with condiments such as diced fresh tomatoes, diced avocado, sliced scallions, chopped red onion, chopped cilantro, sour cream and shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese. I never serve these sides, and instead find that cornbread alone is the best addition to chili. You may disagree though. The flavor of the chili improves with age; if possible, make it a day or two in advance and reheat before serving. Leftovers can be frozen up to a month.

2 Tablespoons vegetable or corn oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
2 (15 ounce) cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (28 ounce) can tomato puree
2 limes, cut into wedges

1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, oregano, and the cayenne and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add half the beef. Cook, breaking up the chunks with a wooden spoon, entil no longer pink and just beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the remainingbeef and cook, breaking up the chuks with the wooden spoon, until no longer pink, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add the beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, and stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Remove the cover and continue to simmer 1 hour longer, stirring occasionally (if the chili begins to stick to the bottom of the pot, stir in 1/2 cup water and continue to simmer), until the beef is tender and the chili is dark, rich, and slightly thickened. Adjust the seasonings with additional salt to taste. Serve with the lime wedges and condiments (or cornbread!), if desired.

Every fall quarter I TA Entomology 1, an art-science fusion class for undergrads at UC Davis. What makes this class unique is that instead of having a lab associated with it, there are 3 different studio sections students can choose from: ceramics, textiles, and painting. I teach the painting section. This year we are creating a public art piece that will be installed in a bee pollinator garden on campus. I am keeping a blog to track our progress and reflect on each class session. Teaching this class keeps me pretty busy, so it may be a while before I’m able to post here on a regular basis. If people want to keep up with what I’m doing outside of the kitchen, feel free to visit my other blog!

It’s been way too long since my last post!  School has started, which means I’ve had to switch back into “teaching mode,” and that my life is 10 times busier than it was this summer.  Something about doing field work is just so relaxing. The days can be long and exhausting, but there aren’t deadlines around every corner or students depending on me.  It’s a nice break from the normal hectic grad student life.  At the same time, I’m pretty relieved to be back on a normal schedule and to feel like I’m getting important work done again.

Despite being busy, it is my goal to catch up with the backlog of recipes and photos that have accumulated over the last month or so.  I’ve made peach jam, Thai chicken salad, tofu stir fry, and about a million variations on caprese salad, and I haven’t written about any of them!

I’m going to start digging myself out of this hole by telling you about this amazing grilled pizza I made about a month ago.  Vicken recently bought the Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue and this was the first recipe I tried out of it.  You incorporate sautéed garlic and rosemary into the dough, which results in the most flavorful (yet not over-the-top) pizza dough I’ve ever made.  You can honestly grill the dough alone and eat it plain it is so good. It would make excellent bread sticks.

Once the dough has risen, you partition it into smaller rounds, which you then flatten into personal-sized pizzas.  The cooking process goes really fast, so you want to make sure you have all of your ingredients ready before you put the dough on the grill.  The recipe called for fresh sliced tomatoes, chopped basil, and grated parmesan cheese.  This worked fairly well, but the recipe drastically under-estimates how many tomatoes you will need.  They call for 3 medium tomatoes for 8 small pizzas, but I couldn’t even stretch 3 tomatoes to cover 4 pizzas so we used some sliced small romas to fill in the gaps.

Once the dough has cooked on one side you take it off the grill and put the toppings on the grilled side.  Then you put them back on the grill to cook the other side and heat the toppings through.  Depending on the heat of your fire, this can take as little as 2-3 minutes.  For this reason, you want to use only toppings that are pre-cooked or don’t take a long time to heat through. They suggest covering the pizzas with disposable pie plates to help cook the toppings, but I didn’t do this and it still turned out fine.

A short time after I made this, I decided to try it again and perfect some of the flaws I found the first time around.  This time I bought more tomatoes and baked them at a low temperature for 30 minutes before adding them to the pizzas.  This concentrated the tomato flavor and resulted in a less soggy pizza.  I also substituted sliced fresh mozzarella for some of the parmesan cheese, and these two changes made the pizza was soooo much better.  I’ve made those alterations to the recipe below.

My final verdict is that this recipe is a keeper.  This is some of the best pizza I’ve had in a long time (Gino’s East deep dish withstanding) and it’s both easy and fun to make, especially with friends!  You just want to make sure that you eat them straight off the grill while they are still hot. If you don’t make it through all of them at the first sitting, they also make excellent left-overs.

Garlic-Herb Pizza Dough

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium cloves, minced or pressed (about 4 tsp)
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, thyme, or oregano leaves (I used rosemary)
4 cups (22 ounces bread flour, plus extra for dusting hands and work surfaces
1 envelope (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
1 3/4 cups warm water (110 degrees)
vegetable oil or spray for coating bowl

1. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and sauté until the garlic is golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and cool the mixture to room temperature.

2. Process the flour, yeast, salt, and sautéed garlic mixture in a large food processor, pulsing to combine. Continue pulsing while pouring 1 1/2 cups of the water through the feed tube. If the does does not readily for into a ball, gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup water and continue to pulse until a ball forms. Process until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 30 seconds longer. (You can also knead this by hand. Just stir the water and garlic-herb mixture into half of the flour. Then add the rest of the flour and knead for 7-8 minutes).

3. The dough will be a bit tacky, so use a rubber spatula to turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand for a few strokes to form a smooth, round ball. Put the dough in an oiled straight-sided plastic container or deep, oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Press the dough down with your first and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide and shape the dough into 8 smaller rounds. Cover them with a damp cloth and let the dough relax for 5 minutes but no more than 30 minutes. Then press dough out to 8 inch diameter pizzas of 1/4 inch thickness.

Grilled Pizza with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil

1 recipe Garlic-Herb Pizza Dough
Olive oil for brushing dough
8 medium ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced crosswise into thin rounds
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
12 oz fresh mozzarella cheese (more if you like very cheesy pizza)
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
ground black pepper
1/4 cup pitted and quartered oil-cured black olives (optional)

1. Prepare dough as directed above.

2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 230 degrees F. Arrange tomato slices on lightly oiled baking sheets and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes or until tomatoes soft and slightly dehydrated. Set aside.

3. When the grill is medium-hot, brush some oil over each stretched dough round and sprinkle with salt to taste.

4. Slide your hand under several dough rounds and gently slip them onto the grill, oiled-side down. Grill until dark brown grill marks appear, 1 to 2 minutes. Prick any bubbles that develop on the top surface with a fork. Brush the tops with more oil and flip the dough rounds onto a clean baking sheet or peel, grilled side up.

5. Brush the grilled dough surfaces with more oil. Arrange a portion of the tomatoes over each dough round, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges uncovered. Sprinkle with the parmesan, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with oil and dot with the mozzarella and olives, if using.

6. Slide the pizzas back onto the grill and cover each with a disposable aluminum pie plate. Grill until the pizza bottoms are crisp and browned, the tomatoes are hot, and the cheese melts, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately and repeat the process with the remaining dough rounds.