Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Joy of Not Cooking - The Atlantic

The Joy of Not Cooking - The Atlantic

I've been so focused on the next book that I forgot that people are still interested in the last book (and the namesake of this blog, btw!)

There's a nice little blurb taken from The Warmest Room in the House in this insightful article by Megan McCardle in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Not-So-Great Gob Easter Egg Hunt, Or Flying Turkeys & Other Marketing Mishaps

First allow me to start by apologizing to everyone who tried to order a Gobba Gobba Hey Easter Box in the past few days only to get caught in a tech tangle of bad links and "out of stock" notices! I felt your frustration, and the blame is ultimately mine. If you're wondering what happened, I can start by answering "A lot!" But allow me to say that it all seemed like a good idea at the time. (Cue flashback swirl and dramatic musical interlude here. Might I suggest "harp flourish number 5?")

Easter was fast approaching, and my latest gob box was in need of a theme, so turning the monthly Gobba Gobba Hey sale into a high tech Easter Egg Hunt not only sounded clever, I also decided it was a good way to effectively reduce anxiety for everyone on Team GGH. Besides, with the Giants back at home plate and with tax time looming, there were too many things competing for my clientele's attention. I figured that in order to get my customers to act I had to give them more incentive to buy, or at the very least I had to entertain them in the process. So, what if, I thought, in the spirit of the holiday's most famous game, I created an online treasure hunt? The Easter Gob sale would, like a classic Easter Egg Hunt, have an element of surprise, and even an air of adventure! People always love a good game, right? Right...?


It all started off well enough. After a few promo emails, I sent out a message alerting my customers that the Easter gobs were finally available, but - and here was where the "game" came into play - I added that it might take a little extra effort to find them. Orders began coming in almost immediately. In brisk succession, email confirmations filled my inbox, one right after another after another after another and so on.... only to stop as quickly as they began. Silence followed. I hit refresh and made sure my mail program was working properly. Nothing. I logged into my gob mail account. Crickets chirped. Tumbleweeds rolled through. No signs of orders, anywhere. After a few hours of puzzling inactivity, first one, then two, then three, then four emails arrived from rightfully-frustrated customers who were a little irked at initially being unable to find the Gobba Gobba Hey Easter Gob Dozen. Adding to their irritation was the fact that once their browsers successfully loaded the link to my gob store, they received notification that the box was no longer available. "Out of Stock!"

As I quickly worked to right the wrongs, I thought of what a text book example I had created in how not to sell one's wares. Not only did I make it almost impossible for my customers to order from me, I led them into a store that was also filled with other products to purchase when their attempts to support my business no doubt failed. I couldn't help but think about the classic "WKRP In Cincinnati" Thanksgiving Day Turkey Drop episode.

Lesson learned!

Again, my apologies to you all, and thank you for your continued support!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Different Kind of March Madness!

Here's a little teaser for the Gobba Gobba Hey St Paddy's Day Lucky Dozen Gob Box I'll be offering later this month! The box will consist of three flavors including the following; four Irish Coffee Gobs fueled by Green & Black's Organic Cocoa (also known to Gobsters as my weapon of choice) with some nice smoky espresso and a frosting of Bailey's & Whiskey; four Chocolate Gobs with Vanilla Guinness Frosting; and - because I couldn't offer you a St Patrick's Day selection without including something green - four of the Matcha Green Tea Gobs with Lemongrass Ginger Frosting.

Interested? Of course you are. There is a limited supply of these, and I know they are going to go quickly. I suggest reserving them now. Send an email to gobbagobbahey at gmail.com to reserve yours. Shipping, 2 Day via Fed Ex on March 15th, will be handled through Foodzie.com as always. I'll let you know when the store goes live. Local delivery, on March 16th, will be handled by yours truly.

I know that Lent begins on the 9th, but maybe some extra prayers to St Patrick, asking for an extra week of indulging, will result in lenience, if not an outright intervention, on your behalf!

Once again, the talents of Jun Belen shine. Many thanks for the incredible photographs he has taken of Gobba Gobba Hey's Gobs.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

From Tray... To Truck?

We all have our elevator pitches, those thirty second self promos that explain who we are and what we do. Default bios, they usually contain just the facts with one or two catchphrases that define our attitude, if not our intent, when a stranger asks "So, what is it that you do?"

My own bio in the past two years explained that I was a "food-writer-turned-baker," with a reference to the recession, the new wave of San Francisco street food vendors out of which my business grew, and my self-described position in that scene as "a no cart kinda guy in a big cart kinda town."

I said it so much that it became a motto as well as a mantra. I never had a cart, a canopy or even a folding table. I sold my goods from a tray. I kept a cooler stocked with more gobs within arm's reach so that I could replenish my supply when it dwindled. Conducting sales in this manner was cheap and manageable, and as far as health department regulations were concerned all I really needed to prove was that my product was baked in a commercial facility and transported and stored at a safe temperature. Aside from shipping and delivering by the dozen, I built my business - and Gobba Gobba Hey's reputation - selling one gob at a time off of that white plastic tray. I never imagined selling any other way. Baking a handmade product was time-consuming, and unless I hired a staff, there was no way I could possibly scale up enough in production to even concern myself with selling more than a couple hundred gobs at a time. Plus I had a book to write. Between meeting my manuscript's deadline and a maintaining a busy baking schedule, my batter-gooped hands were full enough, thank you.

So I reacted with a bit of surprise and a bit of amusement when, in discussing book signing events for Gobba Gobba Hey: A Gob Cook Book, my publicist from Bloomsbury informed me that a few bookstores "were excited for [me] to bring The Truck."

Immediately I asked "Truck!? What truck? I don't have a truck..."

I didn't have to wait for an explanation, though. I surmised what had happened. In hearing that I was one of the graduates of The Streets of San Francisco's Vendor Class '09, it wasn't too much of a stretch for bookstore owners to assume I had some sort of vehicle out of which I sold my wares. Despite my attempts at telling my tale - see reference to my motto above - stories can take on a life of their own. The origins of Gobba Gobba Hey certainly had.

In an instant an idea I hadn't previously considered started to seem, well, not only possible... it started to seem appealing. I heard myself say, "But that doesn't mean that I couldn't have a truck by the time the book came out."

And there it was. With that sentence, I was on the road to putting myself, and my gobs, behind the wheel.

If you're asking wait wait wait, what about not having a staff, not being able to scale up, and all that business about being a "no cart kinda guy in a big cart kinda town," well, I have an answer. Or I hope to find an answer, here, in the coming months. My goal? To have a truck by the time my book comes out at summer's end so that I can roll into these signing events in style.

The search is underway. I have taken to excitedly scrolling through online ads, and after one or two false starts last week, I took a look at a 1991 Chevy Step Van this morning. After my trusty mechanic asked all the right questions, I took the beast for a spin. Actually, it was more like a lurch. Twenty feet of truck turned out to be more machine than I could manage.

But that's what this is all about. I hope to chronicle the process here. The plan right now is simply to have a truck for promotional purposes. Wrapped in the new book's cover art, it will be a rolling billboard from which I can distribute gobs. As for securing the proper permits to sell from a truck, well, that's something I hope to document here as well. No doubt it's a prohibitive process. Let's see. Let's go for a ride. I've already got Foghat cued up on my iPod.

A quick note of thanks to the lovely and talented Jun Belen for allowing me to use the photo at the top of this page. Also, there is now a Gobba Gobba Hey Facebook page. It's just sort of sitting there right now, but I promise it will be a little more exciting. Soon.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's All Fun And Gobs Until Someone Has A Book Manuscript To Finish. Part II

To paraphrase Fran Lebowitz, book manuscripts aren't like book reports. You can't finish them the night before they're due.

So, what have I been up to, you might be wondering, if I haven't been busy putting the spit and polish on my current book's last few pages? A lot, actually, as this rare-self-approved photo to the right will testify. I'll get to that in a sec, but can I just say that while it's always flattering when someone wants to take your photo, the resulting images can sometimes be, decidedly, not. (Impromptu pix shot by the lovely and talented Jun Belen not included.)

So. It's been another fun gob-filled summer here in San Francisco as street food festivals and all around street eat hijinx ensued. When I wasn't standing in front of the 20 quart Hobart, I was seated behind the laptop. On a few fine days in June, friend and fellow food writer Tamara Palmer and I packed up our rigs and drove down the coast to drink booze-laced coffee and work and write from the stucco-sided perch known as the Moss Beach Distillery. As we tapped away at our duties on our respective Macs, I told her I was fantasizing that she was Joan Didion to my John Gregory Dunne, coast side in Malibu, circa 1976. Geographics, subject matter, politics, and orientations aside, of course. The only thing that was missing from the scene was our matching Royal typewriters, Fleetwood Mac on the soundtrack and some, well... Hmm. As memories now serves, seems we had everything we needed.

What else has been going on? Well, a little thing called Off The Grid that started at Fort Mason in early July had turned into a big deal by month's end, and in August, La Cocina's much maligned Street Food Festival from last year came back and this time around showed everyone where the wolf shit in the buckwheat - to use one of my Dad's favorite expressions to describe silencing the naysayers and nudrugs. (That is Slovak for, "pants," but as best as I can translate it as my Dad intends it, it refers to someone who is a stick-in-the-mud. For now I'll just say it's all in his delivery and move on.) So, yeah, lines were a little less long at the La Cocina gig, but the food was just as good, maybe even better as numerous other vendors were added to the event's menu this time out. (See photo above, ahem.) And then there was the reprise of the Eat Real Festival in Oakland where several very kind people wished us well on surviving the legendary first year in business. My favorite comment though came from the guy who said "Last year you were walking around holding a tray of your gobs. This year you've graduated to your own booth. Congratulations!" (Fair is fair, and I have to give thanks as well as some love to Good Foods Catering and The Creme Brulee Cart for helping out with logistics in the case of both of those events.)

Now that my "What I Baked On My Summer Vacation" recap is over I should get back to the business at hand and finish this book. Versions of the cover art have already been coming into my inbox. Phone calls about serif versus san serif fonts, and the use of color (and photos) are now in progress. My wonderful publisher and editor at Bloomsbury USA are doing their parts, so I need to step up and deliver mine.

All of this of course has to happen just as summer has finally arrived here in the Bay Area. So if I'm not on the grid, look for me pool side, somewhere, wrapping up the rest of my manuscript as if I were back in third grade, retelling why "Where The Red Fern Grows" made me cry.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spicy Kale Slaw: Old Salt, New Flavor

If you had told me earlier this year that I'd be writing not one, but two posts about celery salt within a few months time, I would have told you to step away from your Don Draper DVDs. I hadn't used celery salt in years. Aside from some kitschy retro appeal, I couldn't see the point of having the green seasoning in my kitchen. With so many incredible sea salts and finishing salts not to mention fresh herbs now available, celery salt was one of those vestiges from a by gone era that seemed quaint, but unnecessary. Its attraction for me was based in nostalgia, not in an actual recipe. But then I came across an exceptional product in the Foodzie Test Kitchen, an organic version of celery salt made from organic dried celery leaves that was simply called All Star Organic Celery Salt. It was, in a word, sublime. A revelation. The surprise was not only in how much I liked this celery salt, but also in my desire to actually look for more ways to cook with it!

After using the celery salt in a tuna casserole with edamame and shiitake for Foodzie, I saw an opportunity to put the seasoning back to work in my kitchen when I needed a quick side for rice-flour-and-beer battered cod. I was baking, not frying, the fish, but I still wanted to serve it with a side dish of crunchy freshness. Eyeing the bounty from that morning's farmer's market, I saw my answer in the big crinkled leaves that were poking out of the bags that I still hadn't unpacked. I would make a spicy kale slaw.

Now, I'd been inspired ever since I tasted the spicy cole slaw made by my friend Dontaye Ball of Good Foods Catering, and I was intent on trying to recreate a version of his excellent side dish in my own kitchen. I already had several slaw recipes in my own repertoire that relied on napa or green or red cabbage, but in looking at the crisp, wavy leaves of the kale I'd purchased that day, I saw an opportunity to make something a little different. I got out the cutting board, the knives, and the colander and I went to work.
Rather than cooking or even blanching the kale, I cut the leaves from their center stalk and then shredded them finely. I wanted these green strips to still maintain their fresh crunch; what I didn't want was for the slaw to seem like it was made from plate garnishes. There was another sensory component I was after: I wanted the thrill of the snap of fresh vegetables that I got with each forkful and bite I took of Dontaye's spicy cole slaw. So in addition to leaving the kale as nature intended, I cut a jalapeno pepper into strips and I allowed its spears to sit in the vinegar dressing for about an hour so that they could quickly pickle.

As for the inclusion of the celery salt in this recipe, it not only added a nice nostalgic flavor to the slaw, it also helped with the crispness of the veggies. I'm always happy when a recipe turns out to be quick and enjoyable. The biggest investment, time-wise, in the making of this dish is cutting the kale greens off of their stems. The carrot and apple you can shred quickly using a box grater. Slice the jalapeno carefully if you want long, thin slivers, otherwise chop away.

Spicy Kale Slaw
For the vegetables...
4 cups loosely packed kale leaves (about half of a bundle from a typical market sale)
2 medium sized carrots, peeled
1 Granny Smith Apple, cored
1 large jalapeno, veins and seeds removed
2 TBS fresh mint, finely chopped
For the dressing...
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 cup mayo
2 TBS fresh lime juice
1 TBS brown sugar
1 tsp celery salt
cracked black pepper to taste

1. Remove stem, and slice jalapeno in half. Scrape out seeds and veins, and slice into strips. Set aside. Finely chop mint leaves. Set aside.
2. Pour vinegar, lime juice, celery salt and brown sugar into a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Add jalapeno and mint. Set aside.
3. Using kitchen shears, cut green leaves from stalks of kale, and then cut into small strips. (If you want to cut the strips down further with the scissors, more power to you. I simply made a big pile on my cutting board and had at it with a knife.) Add kale strips to large bowl.
4. Core the Granny Smith Apple and then shred on a box grater. Add apple to bowl with kale.
5. Peel carrots if desired, then grate. Add to bowl with kale and apple. Toss. And toss. And toss, until all of the components are evenly distributed.
6. Scoop mayo into the bowl containing the vinegar mixture. Whisky thoroughly. Season with cracked black pepper, adding more brown sugar and/ or lime juice if desired. When dressing is mixed well, pour over kale slaw.
7. Repeatedly toss until dressing evenly coats the apple and vegetables. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Makes about six one cup side servings.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Is This Ube?" Or, "Steven And The Purple Yam."

There's a much-mangled quote that gets attributed to Abraham Lincoln, that goes something like this: "After a certain age, a man gets the face he deserves." The "certain age" part of the adage seems to change from "forty," to "fifty" to "sixty," depending on how many years are hung on the mug of the person repeating the quote. And, no doubt, on whether they feel the aging process treated them, and their face, fairly.

So as you look at the picture of these gnarly tubers to the right, you might wonder why I'm mentioning that quote. Don't worry. I'm not saying that I think my face looks like a yam. At least not yet. No, I've been thinking about that quote because as a kid I often viewed Harold, the cartoon figure of the clean spate and crayon-clenched hand, as a kindred spirit. And now that I'm of a certain age, and headed - no pun intended - toward an equally denuded scalp as Harold, I keep thinking about the books which featured him as I have started to color my culinary world with a variety of purple yam called Ube. (That's pronounced "oooh-bay," by the way.)

Often used in desserts in Filipino cuisine, ube was something I'd never heard of until I moved to San Francisco. But once I saw it, I was instantly intrigued. Its hue was somewhere between royal blue and a nearly-neon purple, and I saw repeatedly in ice cream. Over time, I became determined to bake gobs with it. When OutsideIn - the monthly event organized by chef Roger Feely aka Soul Cocina which takes vendors and food purveyors who ordinarily sell on the street and brings them together, under one roof, for one night - announced it was having a Filipino-themed evening, I knew I had my chance.

Finding fresh ube proved to be a bit of a challenge, but I finally succeeded in securing the frozen variety through the magic of Twitter. Guided by the tweets I received from my followers, I discovered whole ube in a market less than a mile and a half from my house. I dashed to the store and saw two varieties in the freezer. The first was a mass of purple pulp, and quite honestly looked like something a phlebotomist would've drained out of The Phantom. The second bag held several peeled, but whole ube. Peeled, their oblique cuts and facets made them resemble strange gemstones rather than something that was actually edible, but I hurried home with my loot, eager to try them in my recipe.

I prepared the ube as I would any filling that I was going to add to my gob batter. But ube was proving it wasn't just any old gob filling. For one thing, even after boiled down, its starchiness made it quickly coagulate into one gigantic mound. For another, that same tendency for its pieces to become part of a whole again, made it almost impossible to disperse. What I hoped for was a rich, purple batter. When I had, instead, was a gray mix with tiny points of the yam, scattered like drops of violet mercury, throughout.

After the first batch failed, I quickly regrouped in my kitchen, and decided the ube would go into the frosting instead. While that approach was more successful than putting it in the batter, it didn't yield that Prince-worthy color I'd hoped for. But when the coconut gob was filled with the ube frosting, the flavor was sweet and exotic. Not only did it taste good, the Coconut Ube Gob ended up looking foodgawker- and tastespotting-worthy, thanks to the skillful eye of blogger and photographer Jun Belen.

Having worked with the frozen version, I remained determined to find the real thing, so I was nearly speechless when I saw some of the white-skinned roots sitting in a box at my local farmer's market. My favorite organic purveyor was now carrying them! Holding them up excitedly I asked "Is this ube?" The proprietor of the stall looked at the tubers in my hand and said "That's purple yam. What's ube? I don't know ube." I said "Ube, it's um, it's a purple yam used in Filipino dishes." She shook her head knowingly. "So," she said as she weighed bok choy for another customer, "You have a Filipino wife?"

"No," I answered, as I turned each ube over, looking for the smoothest specimens possible. "I just like to cook with a lot of Asian ingredients."

"Oh," she said. "So you're one of those guys."

I stood up. An awkward silence followed. She exchanged glances with her son and then looked back at me as people within ear shot shuffled their feet, waiting for something to break the tension.

"What she means is 'One of those guys who thinks he's Asian,'" her son hurriedly offered.

There was more silence, a few more furtive glances, and then big laughs. And finally a discount on my order.

Yes. I guess I was "one of those guys," I thought. I was happy, and I felt a bit like Harold as I raced home, excited to color my kitchen. The purple possibilities seemed endless.

Many thanks to Jun Belen, not only for his creative eye and kind words in his blog, but also for his generosity in allowing me to reprint his photo of my Coconut Ube Gob.