Fernie, British Columbia

January 7, 2013 § Leave a comment


I was going to talk about whole-wheat everything bagels, and croissants the size of my head from the local bakery, and glasses of red wine every night, but somewhere along the way I got lost in all of the snow and didn’t want to come back out. There’s just so much of it, and it’s everywhere, clouding all my pictures in a foggy white haze, and I sort of want to jump in a huge pile of it, like the kid we passed one night on the street who dove into a snow bank, first time he had ever seen snow.

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On Christmas Day, my family took off for a week in the Rockies, to the sleepy little town of Fernie, British Columbia. The food wasn’t much to write home about —though I quite enjoyed those everything bagels — but the snow, oh the snow. The tops of the peaks were so white you could barely see the bumps and riffs underneath you, leaving you to put all your trust in the skis and your legs. Perfect six-point flakes came down almost daily, catching on my scarf and gloves while I rode the chairlift up, minuscule icy beauties. But the real treat was the last day, when we put away our skis in favor of snowshoeing and took off alongside the cross-country trails. We stumbled upon icy ponds; fallen, burnt out trees; layers on layers of snow mounds, which seemed to mimic ocean waves; narrow, winding creeks, which skiers had attempted to cross. We had to stop every five feet or so to take a picture, for my brother to carve another happy face in the snow, or hit a snow-covered branch with his makeshift walking stick, only to have fluffy snow descend on the person unfortunate enough to be walking directly behind him.

On the cross-country trails, locals were out getting an afternoon exercise, most being chased by a dog or two. Some people stopped to chat, but the real beauty was in the silence of the woods. No thrills, no adrenaline rush, just cold fingers and untouched snow.

Chocolate Chestnut Tart

December 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Chocolate always seems like such a relief after the decadence of Thanksgiving, ironically. It packs a dark punch, with hints of bitterness, which offsets the soothing heaviness of the butter-laden cakes and pies of the proceding days. It awakens one from the food-induced slumber, a sort of jolting enlivening that reminds you that, yes there is a whole host of things to do following the big day.

Last weekend, San Francisco brought a blanket of white fog that wanted to keep me in bed. This weekend threatens to be the real beginning of the long winter in Princeton. I know people further north might scoff at that, but to this California girl it is depressingly long when you finally hit March and still can’t go outside without a jacket. But for now, the shivers have the charm of it being the holiday month, complete with Advent calendars, peppermint bark and strands of colorful lights. And chestnuts roasting on the open fire, you can add those to the mix too. Except I might have cheated and roasted these in the oven.

That’s not to say that I’m done with the pumpkin and the pecans — no, I’m not anywhere near done — but I’m ready to bring on the slow, dripping dark molasses, the grated, spicy ginger, the icing dribbles, and the glitzy holiday baking that somehow manages to feel homey despite sophisticated appearances.

No one prepared me for the disappointment of cracking open piping-hot chestnuts with my bare fingers only to find that over half of them had gone bad, which is completely normal apparently. With that kind of success rate, I only had enough to use thin slices in a decorative manner. I spread a sweet pate brisée crust with roasted chestnut spread (available at your local specialty store), over which I poured David Lebovitz’ chocolate tart filling. The initial taste is the undertone of burnt caramel, then soothed by the sombre, molten chocolate. If you want lessons on roasting chestnuts, it suffices to cut an X at the top of the nut (through the skin) and to throw them on a tray in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes. If you just want to eat chestnuts, I suggest skipping the home-maker’s lesson and hitting up the guy peddling chestnuts (did you know they are actually boiled and then just “roasted” for show?) on the nearest street corner.

Gingerbread bells and snowstorms

December 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve been sitting on a lot of trains lately, and planes, yet have thankfully avoided the snowstorm that has taken over several European cities and made travel virtually impossible. I’ve been to Christmas markets across the continent, drinking various traditional forms of mulled wine and tasting Christmas cookies of all varieties. I feel traveled and Christmased out before, really, the festivities have even started. It’s hard to reconcile the constant moving around with sitting on the floor next to the Christmas tree, which seems to shrink in size ever year, rattling the presents with my brother, trying to figure out what they contain in the days before Christmas morning. Instead, I am trodding through the snow and the slush and the fog in Austria and Hungary. The snowstorm has descended like a blanket across the cities, the skies are a deep white and the tops of historical landmarks — kings’ palaces, tombs — seem to disappear under the mist.

While I remember going out running in a sports bra and shorts at home on Christmas day last year, here I have been wearing two scarves and a fur hat since the beginning of November. I’ll be wishing in the New Year at whatever restaurant table we can get a seat at in the hustle and bustle of the Venetian holidays. While I am immersed in the pastry tasting and Picasso-viewing, I am also eagerly counting down the days until I get home; my blogging will be scarce until mid-January but rest assured I am drinking plenty of espressos and writing non-stop in these fabulous leather-bound journals I purchased from a very pleasant Italian woman who has been making books for 15 years. I wish you all very happy holidays and leave you with my favorite gingerbread cookies, which I remember pulling out of the oven in Paris just as the 4-year old twin boys living above me started a snowball fight with their dad in the courtyard outside my window. When I went out, the dad began pelting me with snowballs and before I knew it I was fully engaged in a battle of minuscule and huge snowballs (depending greatly on who was doing the throwing) punctured with squeals of “Ah, je suis touché!” It’s these simple joyful moments that remind us how special the holidays are for us all.

Gingerbread cookies
Adapted from The Christmas Cookie Book by Lou Seibert Pappas

½ cup butter (113 g)
½ cup sugar (115 g)
1 egg
½ cup molasses (120 ml)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
3 cups flour (330 g)
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Cream together the butter and sugar until light. Mix in the molasses, cider vinegar and egg, beating until smooth. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon. Add the dry mixture to the flour mixture and mix until blended. Scrape the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap and chill for two hours until firm.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough until 1/8-inch thick. Cut out cookies using decorative cookie cutters and place cut cookies on trays. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned on the edges. Let cool completely on racks.
Ice cookies using a pastry bag and tip. Icing can be made by simply combining food coloring, water and powdered sugar until you reach the desired color and consistency.

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