Cast Iron Lamb Chops

lambHad more fun last week with Farmigo’s amazing meats, this time searing Casa Rosa Lamb Chops in my cast-iron skillet.

This meal was too simple to deserve a recipe. I cut the chops into four pieces and seasoned them with sea salt, pepper and sumac. After searing about 2 minutes per side in a covered skillet, I served on a bed of fresh oregano with a side of strawberry jam and sprinkled with a pinch of pink Hawaiian sea salt.

Dancers vs. Restaurants

Le Colonial Cancels Live Musiclec

Breaking up is hard to do.

It’s especially hard when so many delightful years of swing outs, lindy circles and sugar pushes suddenly come to a screeching halt like they did last night, when Le Colonial ended its ten-year, four-night-a-week run of free live lindyhop, balboa and swing music.

Evoking colonial Vietnam, this restaurant, bar and dance club featured a slick dance floor where patrons could swing the night away to dance-friendly bands with 15 and 20 year careers behind them (Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers and Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums Featuring Miss Carmin Getit) as well as newer acts (The Cosmo Alleycats and Le Jazz Hot). See ing as how this was the only such venue to boast a lineup this swingin’ in San Francisco, the bittersweet cancelation of live music at Le Colonial is a real loss to dancers, musicians and, perhaps, even the restaurant itself.

desktop1My wife — whom I met 16 years ago this Saturday (you guessed it) lindyhopping — and I have been going steadily to this lovely venue 2–3 times a month since 2011, usually on Wednesday nights. There we’ve cultivated scores of friendships with dancers from age 9 (our daughter, who often accompanied us) to age 85 (Bernie Schindler, an amazing human being who deserves his own blog post, if not a whole book). We’ve celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, engagements; we’ve loved and we’ve lost; and we’ve mourned those who’ve traded in their wingtips for wings.

In light of this news, there’s been significant chatter in the local dance community — both online and off — about why it happened. While it’s easy to point fingers at the management, it’s important for us to consider that there’s more than one side to this (and any) story.

To properly frame this discussion, first I need to offend every lindyhopper on the planet by stereotyping all of us into two broadly generalized groups:

1. People who dance for sport, wear snap pants and headbands, carry towels and water bottles and generally view dance as (fun) exercise

2. People who dance for the scene, wear vintage clothes, drink alcohol and generally view dance as fun per se, but also as a means of socializing

Of course, it’s a spectrum, not a binary system. In fact, I put myself squarely in both groups. There’s a time and a place for both, for me. Everyone’s different.

Back to Le Colonial. They had the beautiful problem of attracting both kinds of dancers (and everything in between). Just as it would be strange if I showed up at Lindy in the Park on Sunday morning in a three piece zoot suit, vintage tie and spectators, it would be just as weird to bring my gym bag, wear shorts, change shoes tableside and eat my own food and drink out of my own water bottle at Le Colonial.

FullSizeRenderWhen all is said and done, both groups of dancers bear some responsibility for Le Colonial’s decision because we didn’t spend enough money on food or drink to justify the ruckus we made (often generating complaints from dinner guests and unwelcome visits from management). Far too many of us dressed like schlubs, carried in way to much luggage and were rude to the staff. Add to that the constant game of musical chairs that happens between songs, which drives the servers — who routinely also get kicked, body checked and stomped on — straight up the wall.

Despite all these problems, live music could one day return to Le Colonial. For it to work, however, the restaurant needs to stop trying to be a restaurant and a lounge and a bar and a dance hall all at the same time. They would need to block off the main staircase leading up to the lounge and turn the whole thing into a proper music venue. Then, they would need to convert the Sutter entrance into box office and — gasp! — sell tickets. Remember, the musicians we love — and who love us back — need to pay the rent, buy food and keep the lights on. With a  $10 or $20 cover, there wouldn’t be so much of a need for dancers to buy food and drink. For Le Colonial and the band, food and drink purchases would be gravy, with the meat and potatoes coming from the cover charge.

Bottom line: we dancers — in either camp — out of respect for the venues and the musicians, need to follow the “When in Rome” principle, saving the shorts and All-Stars for the 9:20 Special and trying to look our best when dancing at classier places like Le Colonial. More importantly, we need to be wiling to put our money where our collective mouths and happy feet are.

Because you get what you pay for. Conversely, you don’t get what you don’t pay for.

We didn’t pay for the world class music we enjoyed for years.

And now it’s gone.

A Back-to-school Classic: Mac & Cheese

2015-09-21 19.50.03Yes, I realize that mac & cheese comes in variety of boxes and/or bags. But — as is the case with roasted peppers — the homemade version is just better, period. Unlike roasting peppers, however, making your own mac & cheese is easy, taking only maybe 5–10 minutes more than the box method. Here’s my family’s take on a home-ec recipe (remember home-ec?) from the 70s, that, with a few modifications, has stood the test of time. The “secret ingredient,” tomato paste, adds color and a tangy flavor that kids will love, assuming there’s any left after the grown-ups have their way with this tasty dish.


4–6 servings


1 Lb elbow pasta

2 T unsalted butter, plus 1 T more, diced and set aside

3 T white or durum flour

1/2 C milk (2% or more milk fat)

1 T tomato paste

8oz cheddar cheese, cut into a dozen or so cubes

1 T breadcrumbs


Bring a pot of water to a boil (for the pasta) and preheat the oven to 325°

In the meantime, prepare a roux by melting 2 T of the butter over low heat in a saucepan, adding the flour and whisking vigorously to get the lumps out. When the roux begins to turn light brown and get fragrant, start adding the milk slowly, continuing to whisk until you’ve added all of it.

The end result should be a smooth, creamy, pourable sauce with no lumps. If it’s too thick, add more milk. If it’s too thin, continue simmering over low heat and whisking constantly until it reduces to a good thickness.

When you’re happy with the sauce’s consistency, add the tomato paste and cheese cubes and continue to cook over medium-low heat until the cheese is melted, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the boiling water, following the package directions, but leaving it slightly al dente (because it will continue to cook in the oven). When finished, drain (but do not rinse!) and add to a casserole dish.

When all the cheese cubes have melted, pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir to coat.

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top and dab with the remaining butter cubes.

Bake at 325° until the cheese sauce bubbles, around 10-15 minutes.

Allow to cool for five minutes and enjoy. Be sure to save some for the kids.

Blueberry-glazed Pork Chops with Grilled Mission Figs

Blueberry-glazed Pork Chops with Grilled Figs
Amateurish food photography by Yours Truly

This is my reboot of the classic pork-chops-and-applesauce dish. It got some dubious looks from our nine-year-old, but she ended up thoroughly enjoying it.

Yield: 4 servings

Prep/cook time: 15-20 minutes



Two packages (four pieces) of Rancho Llano Seco pork chops

4 T Revive “Zonky Fruit” Blueberry Jam*

8 ripe Mission Figs, sliced lengthwise into thirds (peaches or these fantastic pluots would make good substitutes)

4 sprigs of rosemary, left whole

A few tablespoons of olive oil (to coat the pan)

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: Trader Joe’s “Zhoug” spice blend (a mix of dried coriander leaves, parsley, chili, garlic, cumin, cardamom and cloves)


Allow the pork chops to reach room temperature. (Soaking the closed packages in tepid water helps speed this process.) Salt and pepper (or brine) your chops as you normally would before grilling or griddling. (I use a Himalayan Salt Block to salt my meats and fish, but that’s a story for another day.) If you’re brining, try adding two teaspoons of Zhoug to the brine or experiment with other spice blends. If you’re not brining, sprinkle your spice blend on both sides of each chop during the salting process. If you want to keep it simple, just stick with salt and pepper.

In the meantime, coat a cast-iron skillet with olive oil and griddle the fruit (figs, peaches or pluots) until seared and tender but not burned, 1-2 minutes per side. Set aside; they don’t have to be kept warm.

Bring the cast iron skillet to high heat, adding more olive oil if necessary. Sear the chops, covered, for about two minutes per side.

Meanwhile, prep four plates with a sprig of rosemary (and any side dishes). Place one chop atop the sprig of rosemary and adorn each with a tablespoon of blueberry jam and two of the grilled figs (or other fruit).

*This jam is a nice (and delicious!) time saver, but if you want to make your own blueberry glaze, it’s also pretty easy. Drop of half pint of blueberries into a saucepan, add a quarter-cup of water and tablespoon of maple syrup, then simmer on medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Sicilian Roasted Peppers

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

If you’ve been underwhelmed by roasted peppers from a jar, be “peppered” for an entirely different experience when you roast and peel them yourself. It’s a little more work, but well worth the effort.

I usually serve these little delights as an appetizer at room temperature with some nice crusty sourdough or some crackers. (At back to school night, I served them with pita chips.) They’re also great over goat cheese on crostini or mixed with sauteed spinach and ricotta in calzoni. I’ve also used them as burger, sandwich or (post-bake) pizza toppings.


3 red, yellow or orange bell peppers (skip the green ones for this recipe; they’re hard to peel)

a small handful of basil leaves, chopped

2 T extra virgin olive oil

the juice of 1 lemon

1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced into thin shavings

a teaspoon of dried oregano

a pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)

salt and pepper (to taste)

an ink-free brown paper bag


Move your oven rack to the highest or second-highest setting to get the peppers nice and close to the heat. Preheat your broiler on the highest setting for a couple minutes.

Wash and remove stickers from the peppers and place them, whole, on a foil-lined jellyroll pan under the broiler. Broil until the skin turns black. Carefully turn them on their sides and continue to broil and turn until they’re uniformly charred, about 3-5 minutes per side, plus another 1-2 minutes for the bottoms.

Remove the roasted peppers and place them in the brown bag to cool. (The additional steaming in the bag makes them easier to peel.)

Meanwhile, prepare the marinade by combining all the other ingredients in a serving or storage dish.

Now comes the fun part. Once the peppers are cool to the touch, remove them from the bag (and compost it), peel off and compost all the charred skin, seeds and stems, tossing the fleshy roasted pepper flesh into the marinade as you go. (It’s okay if a few seeds make it into the final dish; that always happens to me no matter how OCD I am about peeling and de-seeding.)

Lastly, let the marinade marry with the peppers for at least a few hours (up to three days). For best results, do not freeze.

Be sure to let the peppers come to room temperature before you enjoy them.

Hidden Valley Farmigo 2015: Garbage In, Garbage Out

farmigo-logo-orangeIn my line of work — software development — we have an old saying: “Garbage In, Garbage Out” (or GIGO for short). In other words, I could write the most elegant software program ever, but if I feed in bad data, I’m going to get bad results.

The same is true for cooking. I spent more than a decade following my mother and my grandparents around the kitchen, absorbing centuries-old traditions and methods to create some of the finest Southern Italian delicacies you can find outside of the motherland. But I can’t do these dishes justice if I buy industrial, travel-worn, GMO and chemically-treated food from your average grocery store.

Two generations ago, before WWII-era plants manufacturing poison gas were converted to pesticide factories and before bomb-making facilities were re-purposed to make nitrogen-based chemical fertilizers, nearly everything in the food chain was, in today’s terms, “organic.” Many of our grandparents either grew up on farmsteads or maintained a small family or community garden. Growing up in the East Bay, we had a half-dozen tomato plants we would rotate each year with legumes (green beans, favas, limas, etc.) in the age-old tradition of naturally reintroducing nitrogen to the topsoil. As a result, we would enjoy fresh, organic caprese salad with nearly every meal all summer long and still manage to give away bags and bags of tomatoes to our neighbors, fresh off the vine.

By all means, I encourage you to grow your own food, a practice that pays back tenfold the work you put into it. But for many of us, this is too impractical or time consuming.

The very next best thing to having your own garden is using our local farm-to-table service: Farmigo. We started using it at Hidden Valley last year under the stewardship of Erin Bergman, to whom we all owe a huge debt of gratitude. This year, she’s passed the reigns to me. Farmigo provides organic, local, sustainable, GMO-free produce and an assortment of dry goods, baked goods, fermented foods, dairy products and pre-made items from local providers. It’s easy to use and not any more expensive than high-end grocery stores like Whole Foods or Fairfax’s marvelous Good Earth.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Sign up for the Hidden Valley community on the Farmigo web site
  2. Place your order by 11:59pm each Sunday night
  3. Pick up your order from the foyer of the multipurpose room Wednesday between 1 and 2pm*

As much as I love Farmigo’s food, customer service, web site and overall vibe, the best part about this great service is that Farmigo gives back to Hidden Valley.

Last year, we raised $1,443.30 for the school garden, an investment made toward raising a future generation of home-gardeners and conscious eaters.

Please join me and the 54 other Hidden Valley Farmigo Families in the local food movement by signing up today. You can place your first order by Sunday 8/30 and pick up your groceries on Wednesday 9/2. If you use the code LOCAL20 at checkout on your first order, you’ll get 20% off.

Watch this space for cooking tips, recipes and other musings on how to eat well while avoiding the industrial food chain. And remember GIGO and its all-important inverse:

Start with fresh, local, GMO-free, organic raw materials, apply a solid recipe, and you’ll likely get great results.

*As your Farmigo coordinator, I’ll hang around the multipurpose room from 1-2pm each Wednesday to oversee pickups. Before leaving campus, I’ll move any food not picked up by then to the fridge in the multipurpose room foyer (outside the bathrooms). You have until 6:30pm before the YMCA closes and locks up, but you can always pick up your food the next day.

Lessig 2016: The Internet’s President

On the heels of Larry Lessig’s historic announcement of his Referendum Candidacy came another newsworthy item: Jimmy Wales announced that he is chairing LECEC, the Lessig Equal Citizens Exploratory Committee, which consists of me and scores of other volunteers and staffers working at a breakneck pace to make Lessig’s nascent campaign a reality.

At first blush, the Wales announcement might seem like a footnote on an afterthought, but I read something very different into it. Something that reminds me of Paul Revere. But no British are coming this time. Instead, Wales penned these nine simple words and so began the largest, most peaceful, and most desperately-needed democratic revolution in human history:

When you light up the Internet, anything is possible.

–Jimmy Wales, Chairman emeritus, Wikimedia Foundation

That’s right, Internet: He may have understated it a bit, but Jimmy Wales just asked us to mobilize and elect Lessig in 2016.

Let’s face it: No one has been kinder to the Internet than Larry Lessig. In the twenty-plus years I’ve followed his work, he’s rallied against outrageous software patents, fought copyright takedowns, drafted the contracts that legally protect and enable “open source” software (which powers most of the Internet), started the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford, fended off aggressive corporate and government entities in his quest for net neutrality and, naturally, he’s spoken at TED. Four times.

Larry is and has been the Internet’s dedicated steward for the better part of his career. His body of work enabled the Internet to become what it is today: a loosely-coupled network wherein heterogeneous data, applications, and systems play in an ecosystem with minimalist governance atop a tiny handful of protocols and specifications.

No one’s been a bigger advocate for the open internet than Larry Lessig.

–Cenk Uygur, The Young Turks

If Vint Cerf, Donald Davies and Bob Kahn are the “fathers of the internet” and if Aaron Swartz was “the internet’s own boy,” then Lessig is the Internet’s uncle.

What better way for the Internet to say thanks to Uncle Larry than to use its enormous catalytic power to hack him into the White House?

And who better to do the hacking than the hackers of our own generation? We were born into a world with basically no connectivity to information, services or people. Today, we have access to pretty much every other connected person and all of the world’s public digital information (so long as we can keep our phone batteries alive).

As software developers in the mid-90s, we didn’t just witness the explosive, hockey-stick growth of the commercial internet; we actually built huge swaths of that reality ourselves. My peers and their peers built out the data centers and server racks, the gateways and firewalls, the routers and switches, the firmware and software platforms, the web servers and middleware, the web services and mobile applications — that drew billions of people into a web of inter-connectivity, knit together so tightly that a single thread can be spun half way around the world and back again in just seconds.

As my peers and I built PayPal and Yahoo! and Oracle and Amazon and Google — and the millions of companies that weren’t as fortunate — we didn’t realize this tremendous side benefit:

We created the most powerful agent of social change in the history of humankind.

In 2012, when Lessig and Swartz “lit up” the internet to defeat the SOPA and PIPA bills, scores of sites — including Wales’ Wikipedia — “went dark” in protest of these hair-brained bits of legislation.

That was the battle. This is the war.

Today we are at war with a much darker evil, far more insidious than the foiled attempts to reign in and regulate the internet. Our government has become the handmaiden of the “funders” — billionaires, PACs, multinational corporations, labor unions and other special interests — and we are fighting to restore a representative democracy back to the citizens to whom it was promised.

We are fighting “the root of all evil,” the darkest evil with the deepest pockets. And we’re already in way over our heads.

But now, Jimmy, we’re gonna light up the Internet.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

If there exists one light great enough to drive the corrupting influence of money out of DC, it’s not burning torches and gleaming pitchforks. Rather, it’s the glow of a hundred million mobile phones, tablets and laptops, mobilized under a single, peaceful mandate. With every Facebook like, every share, every re-tweet, every blog post, every comment, every volunteer effort and every donation, the light spreads and burns ever more strongly, driving out the darkness.

Wales said:

When you light up the Internet, anything is possible.

I say:

Lessig for President in 2016.

Wales said anything. And it’s our job — as denizens of the Internet — not to prove him wrong.

Lessig 2016: Defining a Generation

In the Federalist Papers, published in 1778, James Madison called for a Congress “dependent on the people alone.” His generation sung a song of revolution whose refrain of Taxation Without Representation came to symbolize egregious overreaches by a corrupt monarch: currency, stamps, quartering soldiers, sugar, and of course: tea. Theirs was a government under siege.

Our Founding Fathers imagined, fought for and won a new legislature, a congress governed by the people, for the people.

Today the representative democracy our forefathers left us also lies under siege.

Not by an offshore monarchy, but by a pathological dependency upon money from special interests, corporations and the mega-mega-wealthy, who — through a system of legalized bribery (which Senator Elizabeth Warren calls “rigged”) — have created a dysfunctional, gridlocked government dependent not on the people alone, as Madison intended, but on the money alone.

So many issues about which we care so deeply — be they climate change, gun control, Wall Street, food safety, racial equality, a living wage, the tax code — end up in stalemates because of the towering influence wielded by massive campaign contributions from magnates and special interest groups. That systematic corruption, combined with the virtually limitless corporate spending enabled by Citizens United, has created a deeply unbalanced and divided country at odds with her own legislature. The 2% popularized by the Occupy Movement is not the problem; it’s the .0001%.

Money, functioning as quite literally the root of all evil, fundamentally stops any populist movement at odds with corporate interests in this country, ultimately benefiting the few hundred billionaires who run our plutocracy and kicking the other three-hundred million of us to the curb.

Ryan Borek, the Executive Director of Take A Stand PAC, estimates that congresspeople spend, on average, 31 hours a week fundraising, during which time “they must raise around $650 an hour to meet their goals for the next election.”

In the underrated and shockingly prescient movie Idiocracy, the Secretary of State says “brought to you by Carl’s Jr.” after nearly every sentence. Why? Because they pay him every time he says it. “It’s a good way to make money,” he claims, derisively, as if to ask, “Doesn’t everyone know that already?”

To address the corrupting influence of money in Washington, we don’t need another Carl’s Jr.-sponsored politician. We need nothing short of a trans-partisan — if not apolitical — revolution. We need the un-president, the Frodo Baggins president: a selfless reformer who takes power from the reigning authorities only to destroy it, for everyone’s benefit.

That is why I can say, with confidence, that:

Today’s Lawrence Lessig announcement is the defining moment of our generation.

I joined this movement’s tech team as a volunteer in January of this year, but I’ve been following Lessig’s work for the better part of twenty. In his latest book, Republic, Lost, he makes a compelling case for the Regent (or Trustee) President, now being called the “Referendum President.” The concept is simple: once significant campaign finance and voter equality reform has passed, the Referendum President promises to resign, leaving the vice president at the helm.

The historical mandate of the nation’s first “Referendum Candidate” has the power to end the endemic corrupting influence of money and return the government to its rightful purpose: to serve the people it governs.

Obviously, this won’t be easy. Many smart people have told me this idea is completely insane. I kindly invite naysayers to show me a better one.

In the meantime, I am humbly asking you to support this movement.

One of the great ironies of fighting against the corrupting influence of money is that it’s going to take money to win.

We’ve built a crowdsourcing platform upon which we intend to raise $1M by Labor Day, or else we will return all the contributions. We’re accepting small donations only (adhering to the federal per-person limits of $5,400). No corporate or PAC donations are allowed.

If you too feel that this idea’s time has come, please consider kickstarting the revolution by making a contribution. If that doesn’t feel possible, try to make it so. Every little bit counts. (Skip Starbucks and give Lessig five bucks?) This morning, after watching her dad work literally around the clock from Friday afternoon until this morning, my nine-year-old donated $5. That’s half her weekly income. While I am touched by her support, this remains our problem to solve. If not for us, then for her generation and the generations to come.

Yes, we need money. But whether you are able to give or not, please help us get the word out by sharing this message.

I hope you’ll join me and the rest of Team Lessig in making ours the generation that fixes our broken government, leaving behind what Madison imagined and implored: a congress dependent not on big money, but on the people and the people alone.

Pathable Acquires The Social Collective

Conference Mobile Event App and Web Sites | PathablePathable, the award-winning provider of social networking services for conferences and events, announced today that it is acquiring The Social Collective, a long-time competitor in the market in a cash-only deal. The terms of deal are not being disclosed, but the move continues a growing consolidation of the event-centric social media segment, following the closure of EventVue in February 2010.

“Pathable has built a very compelling experience for the event organizer, enhancing the attendee networking experience beginning months before the event itself and resulting in a sustaining community after it’s over,” said Pathable CEO Jordan Schwartz. ” The Social Collective has built a great reputation and business, serving world-class clients including Oracle and SXSW. But the needs of events are increasingly complex, and it’s simply better for everyone to have a single, combined effort to meet those core needs while we enhance and extend the existing solution.”

“We’ve always had a great respect for the solution Pathable has delivered to event managers, so we’re very pleased to be able to offer that to our customers today,” said Chris Bucchere, co-founder and CEO of The Social Collective.

We’re proud of the part we’ve played in revolutionizing how event attendees connect, and now consolidating efforts under the Pathable platform will be a boon to our existing customers and those to come.

The acquisition expands Pathable’s reach in the events industry, already firmly placed on the foundation of direct customers as well as reseller relationships with industry heavyweights such as Active Events (, Cvent (, Omnipress ( and Amiando ( and heralds a trend toward a standardization of the experience.

Schwartz added:

When you’re going to a conference, you don’t want to be thinking about which social networking solution the host has chosen and whether it will be effective at helping you connect with the other attendees. You want that layer to be invisible and effortless. Our offering has always been focused on letting the event and its attendees take the spotlight.

There are over 200 million attendees at conferences, conventions, tradeshows, meetings and events in the US alone, according to the Conventions Industry Council. Social networking is becoming an in increasingly important component of serving them.

Pathable, Inc., a privately held Seattle-based company, was founded in 2008. Since that time, it has served hundreds of events, including those of Microsoft, SAP, GE Healthcare, Meeting Professionals International, and Dell, with a private, branded on-line event communities that allow attendees to connect, schedule meetings, choose their session schedules and visit exhibitors for months around a face-to-face event.