Vineyards, Desserts, and the Ocean

November 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

I was running along Ocean Beach in the late afternoon on Sunday. The sun was starting to set, disappearing under the water line, casting a foggy pink haze over the waves. The air smelled like weed, salt, and kelp, and along the shoreline, trails of smoke drifted up from the bonfires. Couples held hands walking up to the cliff house, volleyball nets were set up in the sand, and every ten feet, a child ran across the path or a group of early-twenties started lighting up. It struck me then how quintessentially home I was.

We managed to pack a lot into a short week: a visit to one of the first bakeries I ever truly loved, and one epic meal after another — an evening at Cotogna with warm ricotta on toasts, pizza of fior di latte, brussel sprouts, and prosciutto; Thanksgiving of course, which for me consisted of a plate of scalloped potatoes, a yam, half a tray of lemon bars, and a slice of gingerbread cake (with browned butter frosting!); a take-out menu of spice, pumpkin curry, crab pad thai, and red curry with bamboo shoots and prawns; a carb fest at Dosa of South Indian crepe-like pancakes stuffed with lentils, potatoes and broccoli rabe, served with dipping sauces. My brother’s 16th birthday, a visit to Japantown with my grandparents.

And finally, a day of wine tasting in Napa Valley with my oldest best-friend. A couple of wrong turns, turning into random vineyard driveways, a couple of tasting sessions, and about 10 wines later, we successfully pulled off probably our most spontaneous day to date. We may have managed to pay bridge tolls going both into and out of the city (that’s what happens when you leave by the Bay Bridge and return by the Golden Gate), but we made it back in one piece, though exhausted. Not to mention, it never occurred to me that in California, where few trees have leaves that change color, grape leaves become brilliant shades of red and orange.

Say goodbye to home: Whole grain breads

June 9, 2010 § 1 Comment

Awhile ago I mentioned that my family had started baking our own bread. While I was home we made a couple loaves a week, the first being a molasses rye bread and the second a honey whole-wheat walnut bread. I can now honestly say that I do not think I will ever be scared of yeast again. It’s like a baby. Set it in a bowl with a little warm water and a sugar to consume and it will grow, flourish, and make beautiful, tall loaves of bread. To be eaten right out of the oven, still warm and slathered in butter. Bread is one of those wonderful foods whose smell just radiates the feeling of being home. I think it will be the first thing I make in my new house in Washington D.C. (I just moved in two days ago!).

Wake up and smell the world

March 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

My kitchen at home has a huge slab of black granite as a counter top. I used to stand on the wooden kiddy chairs, the kind of chairs that came with the kid table set, don an apron decorated with circus animals and grate huge pieces of dark chocolate into warm milk. I liked the way the darkness swirled with the white of the milk, some of the chocolate dissolving in the liquid and some staying as thin shavings. But most of all, I liked eating the concoction with a spoon at the end of the day. I didn’t know then that I had discovered chocolate ganache all on my own. Chocolate ganache remained that fantastical element that always topped my mother’s flour less chocolate torte, so rich that my childhood palette required an extraordinary amount of vanilla ice cream as an accompaniment. Now, I don’t have that granite counter top, I have four square feet of tabletop in a dormitory kitchen. I don’t have unlimited access to the crystallized ginger and bacon-infused chocolate of San Francisco specialty grocery stores, the crates of blackberries and stalks of rhubarb picked from my grandparents’ backyard in late August or the assurance that there will always be butter and eggs in the refrigerator and sugar and flour in the cupboards. But it always amazes me what you can make from almost nothing, how a couple simple ingredients can create a cake that is much more than a sum of its parts. So here goes nothing: welcome to college dormitory baking.

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