A typical summer day in the Bay Area: foggy and cold, so what better than a dinner with the tastes of summer. Young Squire Hamley needs entertaining, Mom needs a break, and with the floodlights illuminating the kitchen counter and the cutting boards and bowls, it's time for Dad's cooking show.

Liam sits in his bouncy seat and looks on with what I'll pretend is interest. I never expected my audience to be a four month old infant, but what the heck, it's never to early to pass on fatherly wisdom, and the words can't but help his neural development.

Today's recipe: ratatouille

"I've got a stock pot warming up on the stove here. This pot is good for chicken or a beef stock, but it should do fine with our vegetarian stew tonight. Now I'm warming it first, you see, before I add the oil. Warm pan, cold oil, as the saying goes. Keeps the food from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Okay, so the pot is warm, time to add the olive oil. Two tablespoons, but I'm going to eyeball it. This organic stuff is so good I don't mind a little extra. Let's toss one little piece of onion in here to see if its ready... not yet... there's no sizzle. I took the liberty of chopping the veggies while you were feeding, little buddy, so we can focus on the cooking.

There's the sizzle, so now we add the cup of onions, and I'm going to stir that up. How's that for a smell? What do you think of that, little buddy? I'm going to keep stirring. We want to coat the onions with the oil. I'm going to wait a minute on the garlic. Your dad has a tendency to burn garlic in the pan, so he's going to wait a bit. Let's add our herbes de provence and some of our basil right now.

Stir it some more. Now we'll add the garlic. We're going to keep it to just one large clove tonight. Lately our garlic has been overpowering our dishes, so I think one ought to do it. And we stir some more. The onions are just starting to become translucent, they're still mostly white, but that means its time for our next ingredient, the red bell peppers. And I'll dump that in there. Give it a stir. Okay, now it's time for the eggplant. As you can tell, this dish is combining the flavors of the nightshade family-- the edible members, not the toxic ones-- the peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes are all nightshades. Okay, the eggplant is going to absorb the oil here, so I want to stir it so we get a uniform distribution of oil. You don't want soggy eggplant on the bottom and dry on top. Oh, that looks nice. Don't worry about the oil disappearing, little guy, we're about to add some more liquid.

One can of diced tomatoes, there we go, stir that in. That'll give it some juice. And just because we have some, we'll add a spoonful, no, two spoonfuls of spicy red pepper spaghetti sauce that was in the fridge.

And now we're going to add tamari. Let's see, one to three tablespoons to taste... oh, well, Dad is going to add three! Dad loves his tamari. Now you might be thinking, where the hell am I going to find tamari at my local grocery store? Not to worry, if you don't have an Asian grocer in your town, or a health food store, you can go to the Safeway or the Winn-Dixie or what have you and pick out a soy sauce that is labelled wheat-free. That's right, tamari is wheat-free soy sauce. Nothing in there but.. but... well, the goodness of soy, is what it is. And now we add the sun-dried tomatoes. Normally, we'd add the natural dried tomatoes, but today all we have are the oil-packed ones. Should be fine. I'm actually going to chop these a little. They're bite sized already, but I want to cut them in half so that when we're eating the ratatouille we don't get a bite of sun-dried tomato that overpowers the other flavors. There we go. We'll add those, stir, and turn up the heat. We want to bring it to a boil, shouldn't take very long... there we go, now the lid goes on, the heat goes down, and we set the timer for ten minutes.

This would be a good time to chop the zucchini and mushrooms, if you haven't already. I have, so I'm going to do a little cleaning up. Actually, we're out of mushrooms, which is fine. Mushrooms aren't really a traditional part of ratatouile. If you're out, you could certainly add a celery, or fennel, but I think we're going to do just fine with the vegetables we do have.

Oh, well this isn't so exciting for you, is it? What if I covered up your head with this towel? Where's Liam? Where'd he go?

There he is!

Delighted squeals. More rounds of Peek a Boo follow, until the kitchen timer goes off.

And we're back. Time now to add the zucchini, the chickpeas, the olives. All of it. We stir that in. And we're just about done. Let's taste the eggplant to see... yes, it's cooked through. Basically, we're waiting for the zucchini to cook. The garbanzo beans are already cooked, we're just heating them through. I'm going to check one of my cookbooks for the zucchini... I suspect it will only be a couple of minutes, but it's nice to have a reference. I'm partial to the Sunset Produce Guide A-Z... here we go, about 4 minutes to steam slices. Let's check on them. What do you know, the zucchini is tender already! So, we're ready to add the last ingredients. Here's the wine and cornstarch mixture. This will thicken the sauce. And if you don't like the idea of genetically modified food in your dinner, you could certainly use arrowroot instead. In either case, just make sure you whisk it into the wine really well-- you don't want clumps of cornstarch in your sauce. We stir that in, keep stirring. The sauce won't be thick, but, there we go, it's keeping the sauce from being runny, it's coating the vegetables quite nicely now.

And finally, the hot sauce. I don't know why we bought this particular version- Scotch Bonnet peppers are a little too hot for my taste, but we'll just add a few drops. Oh, its stuck, let me shake it up. Now, we add just a few--


Now of course you want to be conservative with your hot sauce. But if you happen to find yourself with too much, well, not to worry, just serve it with extra rice or couscous or bread to help dilute the fieriness. We're having brown rice tonight, well, Mom and I are, you're just going to watch us eat, and tonight we're winging it with the rice, because Dad forgot what time he put the rice on the stovetop. But not to worry, when we smell the rice, we know that the water is gone, and the bottom layer is burning on the pan, so we'll turn it off. Heck, let's just turn it off now.

Let's add some chopped fresh basil on top, and tell your Mom that dinner is ready....

That is, it will be ready, once I finish the rice, which I can see, I took off the heat too early and won't be ready for another ten minutes."