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.
March 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
Today I took a “me” day. I slept in, didn’t set an alarm for once. I bought a pair of red jeans off the sale rack, which I spectacularly managed to squeeze into seeing as they were two sizes smaller than I generally buy. I also bought a lovable tribal print sweater — it pays to be “hipster” in Princeton because no one else is, so everything that would be flying off racks in San Francisco is $20 off here. I had a cranberry orange scone (my favorite) and latte at Small World Coffee and people-watched instead of hiding behind my laptop, writing my thesis. I walked down to the Whole Earth Center and stocked up on local Fuji apples, kale salad with almonds, tofu, and sesame seeds, and organic peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I wore sweatpants and no makeup, and realized people don’t really look at you any differently. Simply walking around a bit was uplifting — after the snowfall two nights ago, spring appears to have finally arrived; the sun was out, the snow melting, and I could have done without the jacket.
When I got home, I started looking up the top organic and biochemistry grad schools (not for me obviously!) and started mapping out a summer road trip down the West Coast. I tried to tack on the Grand Canyon to the end of the trip (figuring I should give it another shot after my adolescent disinterest consisting of about a five minute look into the canyon before I’d had enough) which added an extra eight hours of driving. For some reason, I find thinking about travel incredibly calming; it’s like a realization that walls were made for falling down. Even more, thinking about driving along the ocean brings me to my happy place, where things are hippie, spontaneous, wandering, and bohemian without effort, because you know, even being boho these days seems to require quite a bit of planning. The images here are ones I took in Big Sur, California on a family trip. I can’t wait to go back. These brown butter rhubarb bars are from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, and are chewy like a macaroon without the coconut, crackly on the top with a brownie without the chocolate, and stuffed with stringy, sweetened rhubarb, which is finally back in season. Never having been a huge rhubarb fan myself, I always did enjoy eating the raw stalks, dipped luxuriously in white sugar, from my grandparents’ backyard. I handwrote the recipe for these bars on little cards for a couple of people, but alas the actual book is in my room in San Francisco so no recipe today.
That all said, there are parts of the very concrete future to be very excited about. I’ll be calling Boston home next year, and am incredibly delighted to share my new adventures surrounding food justice in the coming months.
December 28, 2012 § Leave a comment
There’s something about San Francisco and name recognition that when you put the name of a certain café or restaurant before an item of food, you instantaneously know it’s good. Tartine is one of those places, always with a line tailing out the door, always full of the smells of fresh baked croissants and scones, and bread, if you’re very, very lucky. So when an old friend suggested we make Tartine’s lemon bars together, I was definitely on board. We used the pine nuts suggested for the crust. We surprised the man down the street from whom we bought the pine nuts with a plate of still-warm bars. We mixed it up with his family’ breakfast of apple pancakes, a whole hidden apple slice enrobed in soft, fluffy batter; a run out for a pour-over Blue Bottle coffee; a break for Vietnamese sandwiches. It was good to catch up and remember times past. He even reminded me of a pear and almond cake which I made for our prom dinner — I had completely forgotten, but he still had the recipe, and remembered being impressed by the spring-form pan. I only remember the pan of black-and-white cheesecake brownies we devoured in the limo on the way to the after-party.
As I was sitting on the bed the other night, having another freak-out about my post-graduation future, my mother reminded me that sometimes I need to try harder to live in the present. So I’ve compiled another list of little things that make me happy, something I’ve found helpful when the big picture starts to seem overwhelming.
Watching the World Junior Hockey Championships, filling the void created by the NHL lockout.
Lemon sugar cookies, the same ones we’ve made every holiday season since I can remember, devoured this year before I could even photograph them. The stained pages of the Christmas Cookie Cookbook, one of the first cookbooks properly my own, now lacking a binding.
Taking pictures of snow on Boxing Day, with absolutely no one on the road and only a scattering of people on the sidewalks.
Everything bagels from the local bagel and coffee shop, actually covered in seeds instead of just lightly dusted.
The burn in my legs, the powder, the trees turned to icicles, and the pure whiteness that is the peaks of the Fernie Ski Resort in the fog.
Sending out my mother’s hand-printed holiday cards to friends far, far away.
Opening wrapped presents, that I um picked out and tried on a month ago. Gray cashmere sweaters and striped silk wraps from Thailand.
Being in the middle of nowhere, until I’m sick of being in the middle of nowhere. By the way, Hi! I’m in Fernie, British Columbia!
November 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
As if overnight, it’s winter. In the mornings, the lawn outside my entryway is frozen, and crackles with every step. Rumor has it there’s a Nor’easter on the way. Wool socks, my down jacket and the knit hat Granny sent just last week have suddenly become mainstays in my wardrobe. Every morning, I tumble out of bed, across the mess of clothes on the floor, and hop around on the tiled bathroom floor, waiting the ten minutes for the water to warm up to an acceptably hot temperature. Running is no longer a determination to stay in shape, but a battle to emerge from the comforter every morning. I slept for eleven hours last night, and was surprised when my lab partners wanted to talk about our lab report at midnight, don’t they know that’s the middle of the night?
That said, there’s two things I enjoy about the early days of winter and that’s the clothes and the food. I want to crawl onto thick cashmere sweaters with blowsy sleeves. I want butternut squash galettes with buttery crust for dinner and warm open-faced apple tarts for dessert. I want the first snowfall, and then all the miserable days of dirty slush afterwards to disappear into a cloud of gingerbread cookies by the fireplace. Even with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’m already dreaming in reds and greens, fir trees and ski hills. The pistachios in this poundcake are perfectly festive for my current mindset. Granted the two sticks of butter in it are also perfectly excessive and demonstrative of winter baking, but hey we’re only concerned about the aesthetics of winter here — the picture perfect image of poundcake for breakfast looking out at the pure white flurries of snow falling outside.
September 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
The days are alternating between warm summer breeze, muggy, rainy, and crisp and chill. I have this song on repeat. If you love me hardcore then don’t walk away. It’s a game, I don’t want to play. The party nights are getting fewer, replaced by nights of curling up in bed with endless reading and my thesis. Yoga has become habit again, as a way to disappear for a couple of hours, pensively sink into myself and my thoughts. I’m craving a visit to the nearby apple orchard. A cider doughnut. Leaf stomping. Vanilla ice cream melted on top of warm apple crisp. It never feels like fall without a kitchen, so I guess we’re stuck in a summer-spring mix for a bit longer.
You could say that strawberries are well out of season. But muffins and maple syrup aren’t. I brought back the cutest little muffin liners from France and wanted to put them to good use — unfortunately, these muffins were so moist and buttery that you can barely distinguish the patterns at all. But I loved the pretty bursts of pink, though I think they’d be equally good with some fall flavors mixed in — a tart apple, a crisper pear.
I loosely followed this 101 Cookbooks recipe for Maple Huckleberry Coffee Cake. I left out the fresh thyme, because I imagined it wouldn’t be something that the family would enjoy, though the adventurous and experimental part of me urges you to try it.
August 29, 2012 § Leave a comment
I’ve been listening to this song by Paul Kalkbrenner on repeat for a bit now. Walking down Valencia Street, under the first sun San Francisco has seen all summer, sitting in my room post-yoga wondering how to tackle the day, then late at night when sadness, nervousness, excitement and anticipation all hit me at once, this song seems to capture all the emotions flooding in. We built up castles in the sky and the sand. As I’m packing boxes for my final year at university, sending emails that document, and formalize, my thesis project, and finally facing the full force of not quite knowing what I want to do with my future, which is now becoming not so distant, the castle on which my life is built suddenly seems as stable as sand. I can just picture a huge wave coming in and washing it all away, leaving just the foundations behind. And then, when I’m talking to people close to me — and some strangers too, people I meet at coffee shops and new friends from down the street — I’m reminded that there’s a castle in the sky too, that I can design my world the way I’d like it.
The hardest part is not quite knowing what I want. I know what is comforting and what is thrilling, but not what is feasible. Every time I sit down at a computer now, I’m reminded of the need to be serious, to finally start living a grown-up life, or something that resembles one. And then I get out on the streets and into the onslaught of bright flavors, summer colors, new vintage clothing shops and cafés filled with chatter, and the real world seems so much less scary than when it’s written in a word document, though perhaps a bit less orderly. The song seems to float in the background of the bustle, the subdued but steady beat and the comforting, slightly raspy voice reassuring that there’s someone by your side, ensuring that you shine.
And then, on a more lighthearted note, there’s my summer tart spree, bright colors, bright flavors. Plump, juicy blackberries that stain the fingers and mouth deep purple, cloyingly sweet. Mouth-puckering lemon curd eaten on a spoon, or spread over a simple tart shell. Thick custard, speckled with vanilla bean. Flowers on the street corners, in every color of the rainbow. It’s summer here. Let’s not let it end too soon.
Lemon Curd, Tarts and Berries
Adapted from Bon Appétit, May 1998
1 3/4 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, chopped
Heat milk to a simmer on the stovetop. In a medium bowl, beat together the sugar and egg yolks. Add vanilla, then gradually beat in the flour. Gradually stir in the warm milk. Transfer the mixture back to the stovetop and heat until the pastry cream comes to a boil and is very thick. Immediately transfer the pastry cream to a large, clean bowl. Whisk in the butter, until it is entirely melted. Continue to whisk occasionally under the pastry cream is cooled. Spread over a pre-baked tart shell, serve with berries, or eat it chilled, by the spoonful.
September 6, 2011 § 2 Comments
This past weekend, we all piled up in the car and headed north. We drove through the rolling hills in Marin, the peaks covered with the dry, crusty yellow grass that makes up much of the Californian landscape, stopped at the Healdsburg Bakery for buttery soft sticky buns and cappuccinos, pulled over to the side of the road for fresh-picked strawberries, small and deep red. We drove into Ukiah wine country, where, just two months shy of 21 I was relegated to taking pictures of the vineyards while my parents tasted at the bar. We drove through the redwood forests and then were dumped down onto the cliffs in Mendocino where waves broke in a wash of kelp and white water.
It was an impromptu trip of sorts (in fact, we booked the hotel room when we were already a good hour outside of the city), fashioned after a week of failed searching for an available campsite in Big Sur. We didn’t pack any special treats for the car trip and didn’t stop at any renowned restaurants. Instead we sampled beer at the Ukiah Brewing Company, tasting the difference between light and dark brews, beer made with wild flowers and made with hops (which was particularly interesting after the article I wrote about hops). We inspected a forty-year-old woman’s dreadlocks hanging down to her waist from a nearby table at the Mendocino Café, which seemed a bit confused about which ethnic cuisine it was trying to emulate — Thai burritos, nachos piled high with guacamole, Brazilian seafood stew and Indian-style curry. At nightfall, run-down hippies with long hair sat on the sidewalk, nursing beer bottles; they would still be there the next morning, peddling scraps and jewelry. We sat by the fire in our room at the Inn and ate waffles made with kamut and oat flour for breakfast at the Inn’s vegetarian and vegan restaurant. A seal glided up beside my kayak in the glassy water that morning and a walk down the highway to the shore saw swelling waves breaking on black rocks covered in moss and slimy green plants that looked like miniature palm trees. Then, we joined the long line for morning coffee and piled back in the car for the drive home.
As is typical for the end of holiday weekends, the drive back to the city was long, slow, and annoying. Around the start of the Golden Gate Bridge, the cars around us started a game of call and answer with their horns. By the end of the Bridge, we were all ready to get home.
Fig Ricotta Torta
Adapted from the Food Network
This tart is perfect for the end of summer, when you’re still clinging to the last of summer’s fruit but craving a dessert that’s a bit more substantial to embrace the cooler weather.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (stick) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons milk or water
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 pounds ricotta
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons honey (pick something with a fairly mild flavor)
6 medium sized purple figs
Mix together the sugar, butter, egg, milk, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Fold in the flour, just until a dough begins to take shape, being careful not to over mix. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes until firm.
While the dough is chilling, make the ricotta filling. In a large clean bowl, cream the ricotta and the sugar. Mix in the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and stir until just combined.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and cut the disk in two (you can reserve the second half of the dough for later use). Roll out one half of the dough into a 10-inch circle. Press the dough circle into a greased tart pan and trim the excess overhang. Fill the tart shell with the ricotta filling until it looks full but not overflowing (you’ll have some filling leftover — you can bake it up like a custard or reserve it for later use).
Peel figs and cut in half. Press each half fig, inside facing up, in a circle pattern, into the ricotta filling. Drizzle a bit of honey on top of each fig. Whisk the remaining egg in a small bowl, and, brush the exposed edges of the tart dough with egg, using a pastry brush.
Bake the torta for 45 minutes or until the filling is set in the middle and golden brown on the edges.
March 16, 2011 § 1 Comment
Valencia Street has this strange entrepreneurial culture where people sit in coffee shops for the entire workday and cultivate start-up business plans, occasionally chat with the people sitting next to them, and generally zone in on the social media pulled up on their Mac Books. I recently became one of these people. We drink fair trade coffee in the form of cappuccinos with pretty leaf designs in the foam and occasionally munch on empanadas from a start-up lady in the Mission or granola parfaits with yogurt from Strauss Creamery.
Nevermind. We relocated down the street, to one of the few casual hippie café spots on Valencia left over from before the hipster wave. The majority of the baked goods — standbys like frosted red velvet cake, peanut butter cookies and rice krispie squares — are in plastic wrap or on plastic cake plates and the lunch options are sandwiches and bagels. You know, like a normal café without the apple-bacon donuts. We have a whole booth to ourselves in the back, and honestly, it’s working out a lot better than the cafés that came before it. We remain, however, very open to café suggestions as we embark on this working café tour of San Francisco, so bring them on. Wait, nevermind, we switched again.
Now I’m sitting at the corner of 22nd and Bartlett under an awning and the heater while it sprinkles outside, on a couch with cigarette burns. A homeless man walks by and shoves a partially-destructed paper cup at us, and weed changes hands, and the guy sitting next to me is rolling as I type and a couple of tables down, two guys are playing chess and another is being interviewed and recorded as he sings about happy hours while strumming on an acoustic guitar. I had a burnt soy latte (the choices were soy or whole milk) and a huge chocolate chip cookie that the friendly guy behind the counter (but actually often hanging out in front of the shop smoking) dug out of the cookie jar with his bare hand. Um sorry, that sounds gross but it’s actually beginning to feel like home, except that my eyes are starting to water from all of the smoke. I kind of feel like the tool with the Mac Book here.
So I guess now’s the time to catch up on what you’ve been missing, A while ago, think way back to February 14th, my dad gave me a hand-held torch and a canister of butane fuel for Valentine’s Day. I’ve only been asking for one for a couple of Christmases and birthdays and no one ever seemed to believe that that was what I really wanted above anything. I mean, nothing can really beat the charm of being able to set fire to your baked goods on a daily basis in the comfort of your own kitchen.
The first thing I made was vanilla crème brûlée. The standard crème brûlée. The best crème brûlée. I would never prefer any other flavor. Sometimes the classics really are the best. These required very little time to make — just a while to set up in the fridge — and turned out smooth, creamy, and decadent without being heavy, the lightest custard I’ve ever tasted. And dusted with sugar, with a blast of heat from the new torch, it has a burnt caramel top coating that cracks like a windowpane when you take a spoon to it.