Bourbon Butterscotch Ramekins
October 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
Outside my window at the office is a row of orange-hued trees separating the parking lot from the train tracks. On the other side of the tracks is a smaller, vibrant red tree. If you just prevent yourself from looking below, you can almost cut out any signs of civilization from your line of vision, and before you stretches a field of color. I often get to the office before anyone else has arrived and have a few moments to myself, a way of steadying myself for the day ahead, in the silent, dark office, before anyone turns on the lights, the room lit only by the morning light outside the windows. By 4 p.m. my head is pounding from staring at my computer screen for hours, and on my way home, my thoughts are preoccupied in the internal debate “run or nap.” Today, we’re finally starting to feel the real depth of fall, not the light, crispness of early fall, but that time when the leaves crunch underfoot instead of lighting up the horizon, and you can feel—just short of seeing—your breath in the air. Winter is coming.
I’m on my third pan of apple crisp this season. I picked up the last week of our CSA this week, loaded down with butternut squash, stalks of brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes—there was even a bit of popcorn thrown in. I’m finding it hard to resist the urge to go into hibernation mode, and it’s not even the end of October. It’s getting harder and harder to get out of the house for a run, though I did have a great 9-miler last weekend with the club team that seemed to fly by because I was out, not only meeting new people, but actually feeling like I was connecting with people.
With hibernation comes wintery flavors, sweeter, heavier, flavors that allow me to burrow down in comfort. My mind is coming back to a recipe I tried from Bon Appétit. Bourbon. Butterscotch. Cream. What couldn’t there be to love in that? In the end I had mixed feelings about the recipe. The quick turn in the blender, which was supposed to give the pudding its smooth texture, resulted in a bubbly top. I found myself wanting a lighter texture, which I associate, for reasons that may not be based in fact, with custards over puddings. So I burned a brulée on top and that made everything slightly better. Still, I expect I’ll come back to these flavors soon…perhaps in the form of a cake? Perhaps as a tart filling? That seems to recall Momofuko’s crack pie, and an article I read awhile ago, “No, Your Favorite Food is Not Like Crack,” which rang much truer with me than I initially thought it would.
New Hampshire getaway
October 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
Last weekend, we drove north to New Hampshire. Or rather, Dan drove us north, since I still can’t drive. The idea for the weekend originated with my registering for the Applefest Half Marathon in Hollis, a course of rolling hills through the fall foliage with the promise of apple crisp at the finish line, and baskets of apples and pies as prizes if I did well enough. Luckily we were not disappointed — I say we because I got cornered into promising to make several apple pies if I didn’t manage to win one at the race. The course was tough, much hillier than I had pictured (word is, my website reading abilities aren’t the greatest as the rolling hills were clearly indicated when I signed up to run), and I never felt like I settled into a real rhythm. But I came in just two minutes behind my half marathon PR and was pretty pleased that I had finally gotten back into training and racing, even if the actual race had moments that could have gone better. And the prize, a towering basket of apples, for winning my age group, was a pretty nice cherry on top.
From there, the weekend was mostly eating. A first post-race stop at a nearby apple orchard where a wood-fired pizza cart had set up on the lawn for lunch included a pizza topped with spiced pumpkin sauce and bacon, another with peppers, onions, and spinach, blistered black crust and the squeals of children in the rows of pumpkins by the general store. Then, we drove north to Concord, where we stopped at the Gould Hill Farm in Contoocook. A delightful orchard nestled in the rolling hills, now flaming orange and red, specked like evergreen, we ate hot fluffy cider donuts, drank apple cider, and picked a peck full of Empires, Macouns, and Hampshires. We also played catch with an apple and ate a few, but we don’t tell everyone that.
We drove two more hours north, through the lakes region, to North Conway, where we stayed the night at the Isaac Merrill House (Thanks, Mom!), a sweet, white house, dating back to 1773, with creaky floors and fluffy blueberry pancakes and French toast for breakfast. We spent a lot of the trip in the car, expressly to see the fall foliage, which draws so many people north every year. Sunday morning, we drove through the national forest, stopping every so often, emerging into the chill to take in the river winding down next to the road, the mountains streaked with color, vibrant orange hitting the blue backdrop of the sky. As we approached Boston, the rain started to come down, at first a light mist but increasingly heavy, and we stopped again in Concord, this time to discover that most bakeries and restaurants are closed on Sunday, and settled for a veggie pizza, that was actually quite good, as pizza tends to be.
I’ll spend the next week coming up with ways to use all of the apples we brought home; it started with an apple crisp, topped with vanilla ice cream last night, which we’ll continue to eat for breakfast these work-day mornings.
September 29, 2013 § Leave a comment
Stepping out of the house this morning and seeing the street sheathed in white fog was like, for a moment, stepping back home, stepping into a different city, a different time. Walking down the street towards one of the few cafes in the area I thought both took credit cards and provided free internet (as it turns out, it had only one of the two) to do some writing was like stepping back half a year, to writing my thesis in Small World, my thesis that now sits on my desk, bound, and untouched. It’s the first weekend I’ve had to myself in a long time, and I’m using it to find my voice writing again, which is much harder than I thought it would be. Call me crazy, but I miss my thesis, I miss having work that was mine only, I miss the life that was my research, I miss the farms, the mountains, but mostly meeting new people every day. I don’t miss them individually, but as a whole, as people who pushed back on the comfortable lifestyle many enjoy (myself included), as people who nonetheless welcomed the intruder (me) with open arms. But I also miss the vast openness of the farms, and the routes we often drove to the farms, the kind of openness that makes you and your problems feel so, so small.
I had a moment like that the other day, sitting at a picnic table on our farm in Lincoln, preparing for an interview with our head farmer. One of our other farmers had given me a ride down to the farm, and then excitedly shown me a ripe green-stripped tomato in the children’s garden and wandered off into the fields for a walk around — she emerged toward the end of my interview with a bouquet of flowers. So I sat for a few minutes before the interview, looking out over the fields, which ran into forest, trees whose tops are already turning red, under a cloudy, gray sky. And for a moment, as cliché as it is, I felt at peace, like the world wasn’t about to close in around me, but as open as the fields before me.
And now I’m sitting in a café in Davis Square, listening to a young woman rant about her brother at the table next to me, having to do the dishes, and listen to his phone messages, while watching the toddler across from me struggle to eat a cranberry roll by shoving it in his mouth. It’s funny how that vast openness can break down into such minuscule moments, pithy complaints, and dissatisfactions. I have small plans for today, just a bit of writing for work, harnessing the rutabaga and daikon radish from my CSA share into red curry, and maybe a batch of cookies. I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and baking lately, but have lost of rhythm of photographing and writing about it. It’s starting to become routine — a batch of coffeecake muffins on Sunday for the week’s breakfast, an acorn squash galette with caramelized onions and pecorino, served with greens and raspberries, a couple of pizzas topped with whatever vegetables are hanging around — and that’s an interesting discovery for someone who is used to writing about being in the kitchen as an event, as something that is blog-worthy. I made a batch of pumpkin-cranberry granola yesterday after my 14-miler with the team, and was pleased that it came out in crisp, sweet clumps rather than as loose, toasted oats, as my granolas sometimes do. I’ll post some of the dishes I’ve been more proud of soon, but for now I’m just working on rediscovering that I know how to put a sentence together.
Brief weekend eats
September 2, 2013 § Leave a comment
Just a quick little note that I’m unable to upload pictures from my camera – I don’t often post my Instagram photos, but a couple from this weekend turned out better than expected, so here we are. We did a little bit of lazy food adventuring this weekend, starting with breaking in my new waffle iron on Saturday morning with some multi-grain waffles, then a pick-me-up at Tatte Bakery in Kendall Sunday afternoon (which included this spiraly brioche with halva paste) before heading to a backyard party, then homemade pizza (with homemade tomato sauce, using up all of the tomatoes from the CSA!) topped with you-name-it which we grilled at our own backyard party today.
Anyway, fingers crossed that my photos aren’t lost forever in the black hole of my camera! Happy (end of) Labor Day weekend!
Peach hand pies
August 24, 2013 § Leave a comment
If there’s something that has taken a bit of getting used to in my move to Boston, it’s the existence of seasons. And humidity. And thunderstorms. And like, a season where no produce is in-season. Weird. Summer in Boston is a bizarre mix of scorching hot days, days that begin with thunderstorms and turn sunny, and days when it pours and pours. My summer in Boston has also been an exhaustive, exhausting blur of activity, which might help to explain why I’m getting so many complaints about not posting here often enough.
The problem is, writing is my quiet space; it’s what I do when I’m feeling peaceful, reflective, all those adjectives that I haven’t felt in awhile. And while I love being busy, I also love sitting in an abandoned café, gazing out the window and wondering what comes next – though, if I’m being honest, my thoughts often surround what happened in the past. But in that space where time pushes forward, leaving little space to reflect, I’ve had some fun settling into a new life rhythm, that grown-up life that everyone my age likes to talk about. I’ve gone to Newport and Gloucester; visited family of friends; made zucchini muffins and tiny glazed lime cookies, rolled in poppy seeds (more on these soon, I promise!); threw together a bowl of pasta with mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes, and herbs, just like my mom used to make; met the Mayor; watched Casablanca on a outdoor screen overlooking the Charles as the wind made for curious distortions of the images; joined a running club, and possibly committed to parts of a cross-country season; and finally, sat down to a dinner last night of sun-dried tomato bread we picked up from When Pigs Fly, topped with my homemade pesto, fresh burrata from the neighborhood Italian shop, and some tomatoes from our farm, brushed in olive oil and garlic and roasted (thanks Dan!) until they gushed generous juices when broken with a knife. Messy, messy summer on a plate.
That said, two cravings are rearing their heads, now that fall is just around the corner and I realize what I haven’t gotten to eating this summer. Peaches and corn. Peaches and corn. Peaches and corn. I made these peach pocket pies a long time ago – the photo is taken on our front porch in San Francisco – and I remember the edges being slightly crunchy and chewy with the crusted juices from the peaches, which were barely sweetened so that they retained that slight pucker of cooked fruit. There’s a lovely recipe for bourbon peach hand pies over at Smitten Kitchen, which I might have used but honestly I can’t really remember and have a vague feeling it might have come from some page of a magazine I ripped out once upon a time.
August 22, 2013 § Leave a comment
If there ever was a title I thought would never appear on my blog, it might be this one. Being a California girl at heart and currently relocated to the East Coast, I don’t spend much time, really at all, traveling the Midwest. After a brutal experience in Cincinnati where I traveled for youth nationals my senior year of high school, which was a week of trying to make weight (I was a lightweight rower) amid the plethora of fast food chains littering the high-way, miles of restaurants of either side of me offering little in the way of appetizing food even when I was starving, I was ready to write off the entirety of Ohio. Enter my boyfriend who grew up in Cleveland, and a wedding that meant flying back, and I’m thinking a little differently about Ohio, though we didn’t have enough time for me to really experience the city’s culinary scene.
The first night was a charming backyard dinner, complete with charred pizza straight from the handmade, backyard brick oven, topped with homemade tomato sauce using tomatoes from the farm, and summer vegetables – eggplants, summer squash, artichokes. The meal was completed with Popeyes chicken and biscuits, by request of the Southern bride, and an armadillo cake for dessert, which we learned was something of a crazy tradition – a red velvet cake shaped like an armadillo, placed in a forest of icing and menorahs, a reference to the Jewish wedding which would take place the next day.
The next morning, we went out to the Washington Place Bistro and Inn for brunch, just the two of us. The monkey bread, slightly chewy with a crispy exterior that kept its crunch when drenched in caramel sauce, came on the house, and Dan enjoyed making monkey faces while I photographed it. Then, we ordered pierogi with stewed oxtail (which I ate not even realizing that oxtail is actually beef!) and two entrees, a salmon BLT on ciabatta served with fries embellished with cut herbs and malt vinegar aioli, and a pot roast hash with poached egg and toasted challah. We left stuffed, but I regret failing to finish the last five fries! Possibly the richest brunch I’ve ever had; I don’t remember a time we’ve have eaten out together and failed on the last couple of bites!
Morocco: One day stops
July 20, 2013 § 3 Comments
We had a couple of one-night stays when traveling from place to place in Morocco, despite our desire to pick a few places and explore them well instead of trying to maximize the number of cities and towns we hit. The day of our initial arrival in Morocco, we spent a night in Casablanca, which significant prior reading advised skipping altogether as the city itself is “nothing special” to the Western traveler.
I was actually quite glad we stayed. While the city was certainly larger and busier than the ones to follow, we learned quickly that the best way to cross a large boulevard is to dart out in front of moving vehicles. In the morning we walked from our hotel to the Hassan II Mosque, attempting to hug the waterfront along the way, a path that was thwarted by the police officer who stopped us, concerned that we might not want to be walking into the industrial fishing port. Once on our way again, the mosque was easy to discern amongst the other buildings in the area. The intricate, detailed tiling and high arches were enough to keep us entertained for quite awhile, even without the hour-and-a-half tour of the inside. What struck me most about Casablanca was the old medina, which again we had read was barely worth a visit. The medina in Casablanca is very much still in use, a huddle of alleyways packed with people selling produce – bundles of herbs and fresh watermelons – fried breads and other bites to eat. We wandered through virtually unnoticed as everyone went about their everyday lives. Keeping a eye on the paths we took, we eventually spilled out through a gate at the other side of the medina, almost exactly where we were aiming. Again, busier, dirtier, (I think my walk down one alley must have looked much like I was playing hopscotch) but I walked away from Morocco a week later feeling that if there was one place I would have liked to linger and chat about “daily life,” it would have been here.
One day stop number two! We arrived in Fes after a 5-hour bus ride from Chef chaouen, expecting a 7 hour train to Marrakech the next afternoon. It was the first place we encountered the young boys aggressively offering directions, and I owe part of our negative experience here to my getting easily upset over being followed and harassed by 13-year-olds. Still some good things did come out of our 16 hours in Fes, mostly on the food front. We had our best (and most expensive) tagine in a restaurant recommended by our riad – a selection of small-bowled Moroccan salads with bread, a chicken tagine with lemon and a kefta (lamb) with spicy tomato stew and egg, followed by thin sheets of deep fried pastry layered with condensed milk cream and a huge plate of sugar cookies and coconut balls that I just had to pack up for later. Below you can see the extensive breakfast spread put out for us at the riad the next morning with mint tea and coffee. In addition to the standard bread circles and the cut loaf of sweet anise bread, we were offered a plate of warm mille trous, a soft, spongy pancake that literally translates to “a thousand holes.”
July 16, 2013 § Leave a comment
I was attempting to put together a post chronicling all of the eating I’ve done in the past three weeks in San Francisco – some places I’ve been meaning to check out for awhile and some others I wanted to return to – and ran smack into a technical problem: This file exceeds maximum allowable upload size for this site. And, gosh, darn, as expected, the next step is to fork over my week’s eating money + to purchase more space for the site. So while I ponder this major life decision, please accept the photos I managed to get through right before the belt tightened (ha ha).
Cotogna sits at a corner right at the edge of two neighborhoods, where the financial district meets North Beach. I went once when my grandparents were in town last November (read winter lighting means no photos) and decided to revisit this summer with the family. Photos in order: the last word cocktail (Dan’s choice); the daily special sea urchin crostini – expecting chewy, the creamy, melt-in-the-mouth texture threw me off a bit -; burrata, apricot & almond; the empty plate leftover from a pizza; my mom’s eggplant fagotelli; Mission fig tart; vanilla crema, fresh peaches & burnt sugar brittle.
July 12, 2013 § 1 Comment
It feels like a long time since I flew back from Lisbon and our last meal there is now starting to feel distant, as I’m clearing out cupboards of baking pans and cookbooks at home in anticipation of packing boxes. There are a lot of things I could say about our (very brief) time in Lisbon, starting with that, for us, it was the city of second chances. We spent only two nights, one before taking off to Morocco and one upon returning and experienced the city in entirely different ways between the two. Blurry-eyed from the cross-Atlantic flight, I took in the shuttered storefronts, torn-up cobblestones, and dark, empty pastelerias, and each passing whiff of urine and thought surely I was missing something. We walked part of the route of the Tram 28, ducking into a nondescript restaurant just as the rain began, ordering a plate of oily, garlicy shrimps with their heads on and thick french fries, washed down with a pretty terrible table wine.
And indeed, we were missing something. The second time around was like exploring an entirely new city, a city of white stone and street-side bars, where we stumbled upon majestic statues and cozy steps where friends settled in with drinks to watch the ocean shore below them. We ducked into the Taberna da Rua das Flores at the recommendation of a friend of my mother’s and it was hands-down the best meal of our entire week. Starting with a ceviche de corvina, which came cutely accompanied by popcorn and potato chips, followed by a seared fish (the foreign names of fish escape me, even when I understand the language, as they often don’t even exist at home, but we got that “half cooked, half raw” as it was described by the waitress meant seared) served with a seaweed salad and a kick of spicy orange relish. Our third dish was a squid ink udon with charred squid, and, since we wanted to linger a little longer, we finished with an aged goat cheese served alongside a guava paste. The service was wonderfully attentive and caring, ending with some recommendations for the rest of the night from the man with the curled ‘stache. All in all a wonderful meal, and (thanks to Dan!) a lovely graduation present tucked into a small corner in Lisbon.
An aside because you know I love my sugar – the sortidos amendoa from the Confeitaria Nacional on the Praça da Figueira were divine and started off my afternoon with a huge smile (pictured above!).
A wine country lunch
July 3, 2013 § 1 Comment
While I decipher the rest of Morocco and continue baking while at home in San Francisco (more to come later!), I thought I’d post a couple of photos from a recent foray into wine country. For me, the highlight was definitely a lunch of “Italian street food,” all cooked on an outdoor grill, at the Figone’s Olive Oil Company. It was hot, hot, hot, and we ate a communal-style lunch outside, following an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting inside. I am also quite excited about the couple of bottles I picked up in the store, especially a tart raspberry vinegar that I’m looking forward to opening in my new kitchen after the big move.
An order gets a cute little California license plate of the many regions and cities of Italy. I’m on the lookout for them!
My favorite, a grilled Caesar salad with crisped, burnt edges and a light dressing.
Another favorite, breaded calamari, then (to follow) stuffed artichokes, and a lackluster chickpea cake that everyone agreed needed zing.
Then, a grilled garlic bread with a colossal garlic. Two pictures, for scale (above)! And finally, dessert! Two pieces of Tuscan toast with cinnamon, honey, and Parmesan. The cheese was much softer, milder, and melted better than a Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, so my brother wandered over to the grill to ask about its origins – the Vella Cheese Company in Sonoma.