Cotogna, SF

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.


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.

Rest, Recovery, and a little Coconut Cake

May 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

photo (1)

I’m sitting in the backyard of my house in San Francisco, trying unsuccessfully to find a patch of sunlight streaming through the branches of the fir tree overhead, in which to dry my lemon-juice soaked hair. I’m commencing my summer rituals — which yes, include naturally lightening my hair — a bit early this year, and they could not be more welcome. If you’ve noticed the blog becoming a bit of a recluse compared to what it once was, it’s not that I haven’t been doing things, it’s just that every time I sit down to write about them, my mind is predictably elsewhere in the pits of fragile worries. But right now, there’s a loaf of coconut bread, studded with unsweetened coconut curls, a healthy swig of vanilla, stirred with browned butter, in the oven, the sun is out, and I’m wrapping up a weekend spent at home with barbequed scallops, pumpkin tofu curry over brown rice, and a walk on the beach in the late afternoon. But the best part of the weekend has been sleeping in my own bed, sitting at my desk by the window eating leftovers and planning summer travels — Portugal! Morocco! — with my parents’ seventies music drifting up from the basement and my little brother studying for the SAT subject tests at the dining room table.

Not surprisingly, as the end comes to what my mother calls my R&R weekend, I’m finally being able to sit down and write about something that isn’t required. To say it’s been a difficult month would be an understatement; I initially thought the stress would begin to fade when I finally handed my thesis over to the printers, but it just kept coming. Some days, it felt as if I was drowning in my own head, then my body took over and with it came a week of sickness and infections. But somehow, it all seemed to melt away this weekend — it’s a pretty magical feeling when peace finally comes, when you can just sit down, look out the window, with a couple of slices of warm bread — er, cake — and finally feel a bit more complete again.

And write. Even though I don’t know what to talk about really. Only that it felt good to be back in the kitchen, felt good to open the oven and feel successful, and that I’ll be very sorry to leave tonight. But while just sitting in peace is pretty great, that peace can follow you anywhere, it just sometimes doesn’t come as easily.

Word is I’m in the market for a place in Boston with a window-full kitchen.

A bowl of fresh linguine

January 13, 2013 § 1 Comment


It seems like just yesterday that I was standing in the kitchen, drinking red wine, with my camera in the other hand, documenting my little brother making fresh linguine using the pasta machine. I was called into the kitchen initially to knead the dough, but I ended up just photographing. And then eating, a bowl of pillowy curls of pasta, glossy from a coating of homemade pesto. We used the mortar and pestle I gave him for his birthday for the first time, ending up with a somewhat rustic pesto and a smattering of overflow garlic and oil on the countertop. The final plating was impressive, even more so because my brother is only sixteen and is more at home making pasta than, I’d venture, almost any adult.

Coming back to school, I miss the food and the kitchen more than anything. I know I complain about this a lot, and my pickiness likely doesn’t gain a lot of sympathy — especially when I run off on a rant that the reason I don’t eat vegetables at school is because they’re just not California vegetables — but there it is. We’re in the midst of reading week and finals, the cafés and libraries are packed, and I’m craving some good downtime standing by the kitchen counter.

I’m going to go ahead and say, I don’t have much knowledge about making pasta (perhaps I should solicit a guest post from my brother) but it seems to me that a lot of it is about touch and feel. So start with a basic pasta dough, and there are a variety of pasta cutters and pasta machines out there to urge on your creativity. Our household now has quite a few interesting contraptions (a ravioli-cutting rolling pin, a hand-held spaghetti cutter) for shaping pasta.

Tartine’s Lemon Bars

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!

Mint Chocolate Chip Frozen Yogurt

December 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

So I should probably start by saying that the last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of festivities and new things that should have happened a long time ago. Recovering, I’m sitting on a sheet-less bed eating leftover candy from our holiday party and drinking hot chocolate, trying to get my life and laundry in order, so that I can fly home tomorrow in peace. As I’m packing to leave for winter break, it’s funny to think that this is the last time I’ll be doing that. That this year is in fact a year of last times. And also, funnily enough, a year of so many firsts, so many things that seemed to come out of nowhere and now feel so right, so many moments of absolute uncertainty, that it seems strange to be closing out the year because it’s like it finally just begun.

So maybe a couple of days passed since I wrote that paragraph, not really knowing where to go from there. I’m now sitting in the dining room in the house I grew up in, with light pouring in from the skylights overhead. It’s a gray, misty day, but walking around the neighborhood this morning never felt so comforting. A man in red plaid walked past, blasting “All I Want for Christmas” from a pair of speakers tied around his neck. A girl sat on the street corner, peddling “vintage findings,” which, as far as I could tell, looked like a pile of stones. A man in running gear did a handstand leaning up against the wall of a home on Church Street. Inside the neighborhood cookbook store, a young woman asked the shopkeeper for a book on Swedish cooking to give her grandfather to remind the meals of his youth. On Market, the Delancey Street Christmas tree parking-lot shop is framed by a row of palm trees.

I feel a little silly posting about frozen yogurt in the middle of winter, though my original defense is that I’m in California where it is always sunny hot beach weather all the time rainy. I also have to confess that although I love the Sprouted Kitchen (from whose book this recipe is from, though you can also find it here), I much prefer my mint chocolate chip separate from my Greek yogurt. But maybe that’s just me, because this frozen yogurt has lots of fans. And if nothing else, take away from it a refreshing take on mint in this winter season.

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.

Sweet and Sour

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

You can find my go-to lemon curd recipe here, and then a solid tart dough (pasta frolla) here. One recipe makes enough for two tarts. Pick the very best berries you can find, it’s totally worth it.

Pastry Cream
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 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday in the late afternoon, I put on a sweatshirt and leggings and my Frye boots and walked the five minutes to Cortland Avenue, our little bustling main street in our little town of a neighborhood within the big city. It had warmed up over the course of the day, but now the fog was coming back in, descending on the valley from Twin Peaks across the way. It was a pretty simple errand: We were out of milk after I made ice cream, and I needed to return a movie to the neighborhood video store.

But as I made the turn onto the last side street, and dunked under a couple of branches of hanging vines with bright violet flowers, I noticed that the sense of adventure was gone. Nothing was exciting, majestic, romantic or exhilarating. There was just the moment when I was standing at the top of the stairs, looking out over the rooftops, with my view blurred white, when the world seemed to stand still. The smile and nod from the driver of the car just passing by. The pink peonies hiding behind an unruly tree streetside. The guy at the video embarrassing a high school girl at checkout by telling her how much she is starting to look like her older sister. The dry, crispy grass at the top of the hill, where, if you look closely at the very peak, by the fence around the radio transmitter, you’ll find opened condom packages and broken beer bottles. But if you sit up there in the dark, as we always did at least once every summer, you can see the Bay on all three sides and the light outline of Mission Street as it stretches across the city.

Why am I saying all of this? Because I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day about people living in San Francisco actually hating the city that really didn’t seem to get the city quite right. That’s not exactly an uncommon thing these days unfortunately — the Chronicle not exactly getting things right. Because in the midst of the people arguing that they had to leave the city to escape the trashiness, the odors that permeate certain alleys, and the skyrocketing housing prices, people arguing that the city has lost its soul, it’s still there. And it’s still here every time I come home. And it’s not going anywhere. What’s gone is opening up the Sunday issue of the Chronicle straight to the Food section and pouring over the photos with a mug of hot chocolate on the couch because that kind of journalism doesn’t seem to exist anymore. What’s gone is sitting at the counter of the neighborhood bakeshop and eating croissants that weren’t quite right and were just a wee bit heavy because now there’s a new bakery two blocks away with the perfect buttery flakes. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the Twitterverse of this new artisan chocolate truffle and that new farm-to-table restaurant, but it doesn’t quite compare to having sticky fingers from strawberry jam and the smell of buttermilk scones wafting through the house in the morning. It doesn’t quite compare to the tourist who craned his neck at the farmers market last weekend at the plate I was holding for my brother, demanding to know what it was. “It’s a crab cake sandwich,” I replied. “The one I’ve eaten every Saturday morning ever since I can remember.”

I followed this recipe for two (huge) loaves of challah to a tee. This is an oil-based version of the bread, I think next time I will try the milk-based version, which should give a richer, chewy crumb.

Cinnamon Twists

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

The house is pretty silent at four in the morning. Outside it’s still dark and inside, I am sitting in bed (my very own bed, finally) wide awake. I have the kettle on for some black currant tea and I’ve already stirred together the crunchy peanut butter to slather on top of rustic baguette with a drizzle of wildflower honey. In my room, there’s my unopened bottle of Moet champagne, my Fry boots and my two teddy bears, Polar Bear and Little Bear (I was a creative youngster), right where I left them when I boarded the plane to Prague back in June. In a couple of hours, my mom will be awake, spooning peanut butter cookie dough onto trays to put in my brother’s lunch, but for the moment the kitchen is all mine. I pour oats into a ceramic mixing bowl and ladle out a quarter cup of maple syrup. Next, I chop raw almonds and hazelnuts and use a tiny spoon to stir everything together, coating the oats and nuts in syrup. I have always loved little spoons — the ones you use to stir sugar in coffee — and I use them whenever possible, even when they’re not practical. The smell of baking maple syrup wafts through the house and in half and hour there is a tray full of nutty granola sitting on the kitchen counter, ready to be topped with dried apricots and cranberries.

A few hours later, the dark sky has been replaced with a city drenched in thick fog, white mist descending on the rooftops and blurring my vision from the window of the houses across the street. Fresh coffee seeps in the press and I’m taking the yeast out of the fridge, clearing the black marble counter top of the morning’s breakfast. Whole-wheat levain toasted and spread with creamy goat cheese or honey. Tart blueberries and juicy yellow nectarines, much smaller than their European counterparts, only about the size of a baby’s fist, flesh easily pulled away from the pit. I’m pouring over what kind of bread to make, thinking about flours, dense, grey buckwheat and powdery whole-wheat. Honey or molasses.

Before I can decide, I get called away for the morning’s run, a 12-miler through Golden Gate Park, past Stow Lake, along JFK Drive, where I used to spend Sunday mornings bike riding with my parents, before I became terrified of turning on a bike. There’s no explanation for that one, no horror story of a bike accident, just me not liking operating things that move. Down by the cliffs, cold, wispy air brings in the scent of the ocean and there’s no question: I am home.

Cinnamon Twists
From All Recipes
Cinnamon twists have consistently been what my younger brother and I used to order at the neighborhood coffeeshops and bakeries. Wanting to recreate them at home, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go the yeasted brioche dough route or the puff pastry route. This recipe is like a sweet brioche dough, and it worked quite well, but I think if I made them again, I would roll the dough out into much thinner strands and make the twists much smaller, for a much higher cinnamon to bread ratio and bit more of a crunch.

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees to 115 degrees F), divided
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup warm milk (110 to 115 degrees F)
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg

1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Add 2 cups of flour, sugar, salt, milk, butter, egg and remaining water and beat on medium speed for minutes. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place the dough in a clean, greased bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Punch down the dough and divide into. Roll into a 16-inch by 12-inch rectangle. Brush with butter. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over butter. Let dough rest for 6 minutes. Cut lengthwise into three 16-inch by 4-inch strips. Cut each strip into sixteen 4-inch by 1-inch pieces. Twist and place on greased baking sheets. Cover again and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Bake twists at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

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