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.

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!

Auvergne, France

August 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

I continue to be awed by the incredible hospitality I received in the second half of my trip in France. Sitting on the long flight to Boston, after a whirlwind of a week in Auvergne, I’m coming back to the U.S. with a renewed faith in people, people who go out of their way, above and beyond anything I would ever have dreamed of asking for, to help. It’s one thing to sit down at a table, have an espresso, and talk to a stranger about what makes the food in their region special. It’s quite another to have said stranger invite you to stay for the week, show you the ins and outs of market shopping, butchering, the regional specialties — brioches aux pralines, brioche de tome (a sweet bread, in which some of the butter is replaced with country cheese, a medieval kitchen development when butter was scarce), gooey, caramelized potatoes and cheese, with crispy edges —, and volunteer to drive you everywhere.

Let me start by saying it was exhausting. My days started with a run at 6 a.m., followed by breakfast, taken together — large bowls of black tea, recently brought back from China, leftover fruit tarts and brioches from dessert the night before, jams from the region in interesting flavors such as thyme and foin (the dried plants that well-fed cows eat during the winter), a yogurt with a swirl of honey, and fresh apricots and oranges, bought from a local farmer who still owns land in Portugal. Then the driving and interviews commenced. Market visits. Creamery visits. Trips into the volcano parks to talk cheese and cows. My stack of relevant documents grew a mile higher. I have two-hour long interview clips that will need to be transcribed, translated, cut-down. I have tired legs and a full stomach, from lunches and dinners, plates full of tomatoes, basil from the terrace garden, thinly-cut hams, crusty bread, small piles of yellow lentils and wine that seems in endless supply. Two months into my research, on my last day of interviewing, this girl who always preferred desserts above all else, finally discovered the wonders of a perfect cheese plate.

My days ended around 11 or 12 p.m. with the final class of wine and slice of tart — either apricot with sweetened ricotta or small yellow plums, cooked down until their skins are blackened. Rustic, country tarts with little flare but the bold taste of fruit bought that day at the market. I curled up in bed every night, dead to the world, wanting to stay asleep forever. But the help I received in Auvergne, arriving just when I was thinking that this week, like my time in Maroilles, would be a complete bust, was more than I ever could have imagined. And the discovery that, in the modern world where we seem to be taught to be wary and suspicious of anyone appearing overly nice or helpful, hospitality and generosity still exists is perhaps the best outcome of all my research.

And it is not only true in Auvergne. Whether it’s the old Italian woman who comes downstairs to help you turn your car around in her driveway, the Greek boys who hand you free bunches of grapes and let you taste the entire line of olives (saying all the while that California is the home of the beautiful), or the numerous people who sat down, called probably half of the contacts in their phones, so that I would never be alone, without people to interview and people to just help, it’s nice to know that there are people out there eager to take care of you when you’re feeling lost.

And there’s nothing weird about that. There’s no need to run and hide when someone offers help. Sure ill-intentioned people do exist out there, but going out on a limb and just trusting is not such a terrible thing after all. And there you go, all my research findings, all summed up in a sentence. Well maybe not all of them, but the rest you’ll get in April, when I hand this thesis in!

Along la Loire

July 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have a little attic room in a two-star hotel in the Loire valley. I’m staying right by the train station in Tours and my little window looks out directly on the other little window across the street. The room is about big enough for the double bed, the TV (on which I am watching numerous Olympic events and discovering new sports, all through the slant of French commentators) and me sitting on the floor. The rain putters down outside and it is cool enough to store my yogurt on the windowsill. I am happy to be back in France.

The sidewalk heading out of town along the Loire quickly becomes a spacious bike bath, descending right onto the riverbed, in the trees and bushes that line the water. A gentle drizzle cools the air and a couple of heavy gray clouds hang overhead. The water is peaceful, flattened by the rain, and reflects the clouds above. On the other side of the river, an aging stone castle emerges majestically between the trees and clouds. One might say that the landscape is grim, but it has never been more welcomed. I have not felt this energetic in quite awhile. A couple of miles in, I am focused, determined to push harder, rather than eager for the run to be over and to collapse under a fan for the rest of my lifetime.

After the madness that was walking around in Athens, the sleepiness of Tours is a calm respite, though I am ever frustrated because I always seem to be hungry at times when restaurants are generally closed. So I wander the narrow streets, looking at one menu or another, aimless due to the reality that I cannot actually dine at any of these places, and finally score two small loaves of bread at a nearby bakery — one green olive, one peppered with dark chocolate, so much so that you might call it a loaf of dark chocolate with bread. And maybe, one loaf was finished on the rainy walk back to the hotel.

Athena, Athens, Attica

July 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

I know it’s barely acceptable — read not at all — to be complaining about being in a warm country with beaches, fresh seafood, juicy peaches and iced espresso and gyros on every street corner. But this San Francisco girl — read girl who grew up in the fog and the cold sea air — has been sitting in bed for the past few hours, next to the fan, waiting for the opportune moment to go on a run. Only to discover that, come 8 p.m., half an hour before sunset, it is still 90 degrees outside, a whole ten degrees lower than it was this afternoon. After several rounds of being that annoying person who complains all the time, which met notably with “f*** working out, relax,” I’ve effectively decided that it’s a putter-around-the-apartment night for me. Highlights include eating the best parts — read, the cashews, sweet dates and the sesame peanuts I picked up from a street vendor — out of my latest batch of granola, plowing through the dark cherries I picked up from the Pagrati neighborhood farmers’ market, and applying a yogurt mask, in the hopes that it will pull out the redness of my sunburn.

Lest you think I’m a lazy person, I should preface this all by saying that I spent the hours between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. walking the entire city, because my apartment is located quite far from the metro and the taxi driver wanted 15 euro to drive me home (I could have gotten to the port for that price!). I reshot parts of the Agora Central Market, notably the spice and dried herb shops — you would not believe the crazy things they store in jars there, such as oak tree bark for making teas. I wandered off into the distance looking for the Ancient Market, the oldest “mall” in the world (and the long, rectangular building in the sunset picture below), only to discover that my sense of direction is useless without the vantage point of sitting at the base of the Acropolis. Then I topped this all off with a cup of frozen yogurt and a march back across town to the National Archeological Museum, which I bet I walked through entirely spaced out. I had to sit down several times in front of numerous ancient vases because I thought I was going to pass out. Then I refilled my water bottle and walked the hour home. And I’ve been here ever since.

Still there is one beautiful thing about the heat. It creates these hazy, pastel sunsets that I simply cannot get enough of. Whether I am standing in the Mediterranean water, perched on top of the highest hill in the middle of the city, or strolling — read shopping my way — through the small island town, the sunsets can maybe, maybe, only be topped by the vibrancy of the setting sun over the Pacific on Ocean Beach.

Greek Explorations

July 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

I took off from Athens for a couple of days for a real vacation — a tour of several Greek islands. And somewhere between piling my clothes into my backpack for what feels like — and is probably close to be being — the hundredth time, conquering the scorching heat in rickety buses, where the driver yells at you to get on board without answering your question about the destination of said bus, with sweat pouring down your face, and dipping my toes in the water, as the sun finally starts to set, things started looking up.

I think I forgot that it is summer. That I am in a foreign country, where everything I look at is brand-new to my eyes. That this is the time for exploring, for pushing myself, for doing me and for doing the incredible amount of things waiting to be experienced around me. Volcanoes. Black-sand beaches. Ferry rides watching the clear, vibrant blue ocean drift past. Dancing on tables. Souvlaki — pita stuffed with meat shavings (traditionally lamb) vegetables, tzatziki sauce and a smattering of French fries — at five in the morning. And while I may be experiencing Greece mostly as a tourist, I am rounding up some awesome Australian friends. So guess what continent we’re exploring next?

Meanwhile, I’ve been stepping back and actually enjoying time to myself again. Time just sitting still and taking it all in — except I rarely actually sit still. After a day of lazing around poolside, with a walk along the harbor and an ocean-side skype sesh with the boyfriend, I finally deemed the temperature low enough to attempt a run. Boy, was I wrong. But run I did, up every damn desert hill on the island. Beet-red, panting and pouring buckets of sweat, I finally made it back to the hotel, where a dip in the Mediterranean and a watermelon slice twice the size of my head were exactly what my body ordered.

And then, I also wanted to share the site that I’ve been working for in Athens, and also in Barcelona — Culinary Backstreets. It just launched yesterday, and you’ll see my photos popping up here and there in the next few weeks. Here are some from a delicious lunch at Melilotos in Athens. I got to go into the kitchen here one night to take photos — lots of fire action for a traditional chicken pasta dish. When we returned in the afternoon, it was too hot to attempt eating pasta, but the veggie options were not scarce.

Beet salad with balls of creamy herbed goat cheese.

The best citrusy tabouleh I have ever had, served with a row of freshly fried, salty sardines.

Deep-fried tomatoes and cheese.

Zucchini very thinly sliced and flash fried. Crispy, crackly, and served with tzatziki yogurt for dipping.

I still dream about that bittersweet chocolate pie with buttery biscuit crust and may have to make a quick stop before heading to the airport.

Greek Beginnings

July 18, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’ve started this post over and over again, and each time, I end up stopping because I decide, no, that’s not what I want to talk about here. By all means, it was a very good day. I woke up early and went for a run through the national gardens in the city center, running past the Parliament building, ruins, the first modern Olympic stadium. Later on, I wandered into what was suggested to me as the best bakery in the world, and sampled a variety of goods — homely chocolate chip cookies (with pistachios!), eggy challah dusted with almond slivers, dense balls of coconut flakes, scented with orange and cardamom. I then meandered down to the Acropolis museum, where, in addition to seeing never-ending tributes to the goddess Athena, I enjoyed a Greek café and a tower of cream topped with heavily-sweetened figs on the rooftop terrace, with full view of the Acropolis. I shopped — prices, low to begin with due to the crisis, are now slashed in half for summer sales. I drank iced espresso, perhaps my favorite part of Greece so far. I arranged my yoga schedule for tomorrow. And then I came home and sat down to write.

And that’s when the problem started. I got lonely. I tried putting on soothing, jazzy French music. I tried writing, and stopped, and started again. I tried eating a cookie, and then thought about baking. But, to be honest, all my grand baking plans sort of fell through with the realization that it’s actually 40°C here and the thought of turning on the oven makes me miserable inside. Plus, I don’t exactly fancy buying huge bags of flour and sugar (and that not even counting the baking power that I would have to track down in Greek), only to leave them behind, mostly unused, in less than two weeks. So now I’m back to just sitting, and trying to write.

Normally, traveling alone is my prime writing time. But I think I’m well beyond the point when being alone inspires thoughtful reflections on life and key observations about the new culture, which I am experiencing full-on as I lack the homey distractions of traveling with family or the ruckus of active friends eager to do everything at once. I’m well into I have so much time to think about everything that I’ve thought about everything once or twice or a hundred times and I am so tired of my own thoughts.

So there you go, no profound reflections, just a plea for you to start making your own granola, because it is so much better than the sugary catastrophes that you buy at the grocery store. Just a couple of spoonfuls of honey, a drizzle of olive oil, three handfuls of walnuts, some chopped dried figs, and half a bag of rolled oats.

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