Author Archives: foodgal

Roasted Asparagus Soup to Feed the Mind and Tummy

A rich pistachio cream gets stirred into this asparagus soup just before serving.

A rich pistachio cream gets stirred into this asparagus soup just before serving.


In today’s harried world, there’s a lot to be said for eating foods that nourish our body and our brain.

Wellness chef and speaker, Rebecca Katz, certainly thinks so. Her cookbook,“The Healthy Mind Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy, includes more than 120 recipes designed to optimize brain health, boost memory, improve your mood and strengthen the central nervous system. It was written with Mat Edelson, an award-winning health and science writer.

I can’t say that her “Roasted Asparagus Soup with Pistachio Cream” caught my attention solely for those reasons. Mostly, I was intrigued by the cream made of pistachios, broth, mint and lemon juice that gets blitzed in a blender until thick and luscious, before being stirred into this velvety soup, which is a puree of roasted asparagus, onions, leeks and garlic. Plus, in spring, I can’t get enough of asparagus. I buy it every week at the grocery store or farmers market, and enjoy every single spear until the season ends all too abruptly.


Asparagus are loaded with vitamin B1, Katz writes, which boosts mood and energy levels, as well as vitamin B2, which reduces fatigue. Leeks are a good source of Vitamin K, which can improve memory. Pistachios also contain a lot of vitamin K and vitamin B thiamen, as well as folate, which may help prevent dementia.

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An Elegant Ambience

A pre-dessert at Ambience in Los Altos.

A pre-dessert at Ambience in Los Altos.


Ambience is a hushed restaurant in an even quieter downtown in sleepy Los Altos.

It’s so muted that I hadn’t even heard about the fine-dining restaurant until a few months ago, despite the fact that it’s been open for more than a year.

Chef Morgan Song runs the restaurant with his wife, who handles the front of the house. Song cooked in Sacramento and San Francisco for years, most notably at the acclaimed Kiss.

I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant on a recent Tuesday evening, when my dining companion and I were one of only six diners total in the dim dining room with its comfortable upholstered chairs and smoky glass windows that shield the view of the street outside. But that may owe to the fact that Ambience offers only one tasting menu a night ($149 per person with an additional $95 per person for wine pairings or $135 per person for premium wine pairings). After all, how many people can — or want — to devote three hours to eat in the middle of the week unless it’s for a special occasion?

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Prune’s Cold Candied Oranges

Dessert -- Prune-style.

Dessert — Prune-style.


Some cookbooks possess that magical gift that makes you feel as if the author is actually speaking directly to you in your very own kitchen.

“Prune” (Random House) takes a different tack. In her new cookbook of which I received a review copy, Chef Gabrielle Hamilton, owner of New York’s beloved Prune restaurant, gives you the impression that she’s talking directly to her crew in the kitchen. The delightful part is that you feel as if you’re scrunched in a corner, ease-dropping on everything that goes on there, from the prep to the service.


Possessing an MFA in fiction writing, Hamilton is a proven storyteller. Besides her singular voice, the recipes come with drip spots on the pages, as well as notes scribbled on torn pieces of tape that look as if they’re stuck to the pages.

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Umpqua — Oatmeal with a Funny Name and a Great Taste

Umpqua oatmeal contains a generous amount of custom-milled oats.

Umpqua oatmeal contains a generous amount of custom-milled oats.


Umpqua. Say it with me now, “ump-kwah.”

Not that you need to be able to pronounce it to enjoy this premium single-serve oatmeal product.

Named for the valley of the same moniker in Southern Oregon, it’s where this oatmeal product was developed by a couple of moms who were tired of feeding their kids mass-produced oatmeal packets that contained a whole lot more than good-for-you oats.

What makes their oatmeal different is that it’s made with custom-milled oats. So much so, that they’re actually groats — the whole hulled grain — that cook up more chewy rather than mushy and include more fiber.

Because the oatmeal is made in a manufacturing plant that also produces wheat products, it is not certified gluten-free. However, the makers say that the oats consistently test within the acceptable tolerance level for gluten-free certification.

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An Abundance of Oregano

Oregano is a prime ingredient in this salad dressing -- for good reason.

Oregano is a prime ingredient in this salad dressing — for good reason.


At this time of year, it inevitably happens: The attack of the oregano.

What started as a teeny-tiny seedling planted years ago has taken on a life of its own — growing with abandon into a dense bush that would over take everything else in my small backyard if I let it.

Sure, I’ve killed hardy cactus, gone through turmoil trying to grow healthy basil at times, and fretted over finicky tomato plants. But my oregano? It’s survived freak frosts, spells without regular watering, and downright neglect. I half think it secretly considers every other plant in my yard a wuss. After all, Mr. Oregano is a survivor. He’s the king of this domain, for sure.

It looks so innocent in my yard, doesn't it?

It looks so innocent in my yard, doesn’t it?

So, at this time of year especially, I find myself adding fresh oregano leaves to pastas, vegetable soups, tabbouleh, roasted chicken, and blistered pizzas. But no matter how much I use, there’s always more oregano where that came from, if you know what I mean.

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