May 28, 2011 § 1 Comment
A pot of English Breakfast tea steeps on the countertop, covered in a dull flowered tea cozy. I’m always amazed at how warm the tea cozy keeps the tea, as I’m curled up on the leather sofa, under a hand-crocheted blanket. The blanket is a dusty purple, interspersed with green and white squares, and they seem to me like flowers in a field of lavender. I’ve opened the linen curtains to let the light come in and am watching raindrops fall on the canoe outside. They hit with a little, echoing patter and slip to the ground, covering the grass with a sheet of frosty water. It’s chilly here near the ocean, the wind brings in large gusts of frozen air, that swell the lungs. You can smell the briny seaweed dying on the stone beach, turn over minuscule, red crabs amongst the rocks in your bare hands, and trace the smooth, water-worn edges of driftwood washed up on shore.
I’m flipping through my grandmother’s recipe box, pulling out yellowed newspaper cutouts and handwritten notes on scraps of paper. I’m milling through recipes that are as familiar as many in my own recipe collection, and others that I have never seen her make (Cherry Delight?). I pass over the first fruit pie I had ever tasted, back when I still believed cooked fruit was “ew, gross,” which is written on the card as a rhubarb pie, but was often made with the raspberries and blackberries picked in the backyard. In August, I would clamber through the screen door at the back of the house, hands full of containers filled to the brim with berries, fingers stained with juices of berries that I had…um, already eaten. As a child, I was known for putting a raspberry on each of my fingers and gently plucking them off one by one with my mouth. I say that it’s a testament to how many raspberries I ate before I was ten, that they are now my least favorite berries.
Since those days, my grandparents have moved up-island to a small town called Comox, in the valley at the base of Mount Washington. The blackberry bramble has been traded in for the rugged coastline and proximity to the ski hill. But all the jams are still made in house, the blueberries picked right down the street and the rhubarb from the newly planted backyard. There are still jars of summer peaches canned at the peak of the summer heat, and cherries that burst with syrup when you bite into them. I don’t remember ever helping much with the canning; I think I was bored by the monotony of it, the hours spent standing over the stovetop, the constant stirring and the repetition of chopping stone fruits. I much preferred playing the hunter-gatherer in the gardens, crawling under the thorny blackberry bushes, stretching off the ladder to reach the top branch of the plum tree where all the best-looking fruit was (disappointingly, I would often grasp the plum, only to discover it half eaten by birds on the unseen side) and playing with the neighbors’ cat Smokey.
But recently I’ve quite enjoyed standing over the stove, peering over the bubbling pot, stirring to keep the thickening liquid from boiling up and over the rim. It requires getting hot and sticky and staying alert, but I took great pleasure in the thickening of my cream and sugar mixture, watching it slowly melt to a deep amber, and then spooning my dulce de leche into a small glass jar at the end. While certainly not what usually comes off of my grandmother’s stovetop, it was smooth and melding-to-the-tongue sweet. It played well off of a crumbly, barely-sweet shortbread. Despite the flakiness of the cookies and the tendency of sandwich cookies to quickly become a fragmented mess, they held up well on the way up North. As the tiny twenty-person plane shook with turbulence in the coastal winds and the over-worked engine roared next to my window, I felt like there still might exist a frontier left to be discovered in this world.
May 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Word is that it snowed at Tahoe this Sunday. Maybe so. But it sure rained in the city. We hit the finish line at Bay to Breakers — I was dressed as a bumblebee and hooked into a centipede with twelve other runners — and the sprinkles started. Sprinkles turned into downpour the next day and now the sidewalks are sheathed in water in the middle of May. A predictable “only in San Francisco” ending to a quintessentially San Francisco weekend.
We started it off with a pizza tasting at Coffee Bar. Four street pizza crews — Pizza Politana, Fist of Flour, Copper Top Ovens and Casey’s Pizza — descended on the light, airy, working café on an unexpected corner of the Mission-Potrero Hill merge to engage each other in a street-side, pizza throw down for charity. Twelve dollars got you four slices of pizza and a glass of wine or beer. We warmed up by the barbeque-housing-pizza-stone ovens at Casey’s Pizza while waiting for our margarita and lusting over their white spring onion pie. Another favorite was the Xtra-Xtra pie from Pizza Politana with chilies and spicy olives.
The eating continued the next day, this time with me on the other side of the table. The food blogging world came together for a spectacular bake sale Saturday morning, complete with gold-sparkled chocolate hazelnut macarons, red velvet cupcakes, vanilla bean salted caramels, tri-colored mochi, various vegan and gluten-free quick breads and pear-almond tarts. I made Italian plum-walnut frangipane tarts and black and white checkerboard cookies (more on these later), packaged with colorful, curled ribbons. And then I sat behind the table for an hour so, coaxing 5-year-olds out of snatching up the chocolate chip cookies without doing a complete tour of the room first.
And then it was off to the New Taste Marketplace, where many up-and-coming food entrepreneurs in the city showcase their creations. I finally met Kai of NoshThis, the genius behind bacon crack. Don’t know what that is? Crunchy, pralined bacon bits covered in dark chocolate. Look him up, consider yourself warned. He was also selling salt and black pepper caramels and Irish coffee on a stick, which I was convinced into adding to my bag. I also bombarded the girls at A Humble Plate, who were making Lao sausage sliders. I’m not normally a sausage fan and I recently went back to being vegetarian so I couldn’t order any but my memories of Lao sausage as not likely to be wiped from my mind anytime soon, so I enthusiastically forced a slider on our obliging weekend guest.
Sunday evening saw us at a wine tasting benefit for the Italian Institute. Hidden on a small alleyway at the foot of North Beach, the Institute holds daytime and nighttime Italian classes of all levels. I ran into my Italian teacher at the door, sampled several white wines and ate plenty of tuna tartare toasts before we snagged a quick dinner at the bar at Bix next door.
And more on a random note but also things that made me very happy this weekend. I succumbed to Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets at a local bookstore this weekend so there will be lots of pastries in the future. And the weekend was that much sweeter with the discovery Saturday evening that local corn on the cob is finally in season.
May 5, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Between cancelled flights, an onslaught of interviews for a new article, finishing up at work last week and houseparties this past week, the downtime conducive to actually putting a coherent sentence together has been pretty much non-existent. While I haven’t been writing, I have had mouth surgery, made a trip to the emergency room with excruciating chest pain related to an antibiotic I have been taking, barely recovered from that and jet-setted across the country. But I am now back home with very little to discuss that does not have to do with beer — be it the drinking it, the after effects of it, or the new article I’m writing that is all about beer. That said, I left campus again feeling like I finally had a clean slate to start next year on, summer funding secured, a new major that I am actually excited about, and a lineup of junior paper topics that I can’t wait to start thinking about (someone studying for finals right now, feel free to punch me in the face here).
It’s disconcerting going back to campus. The lawns are still pristine, the grass cut, the walk to the Street still feels like second nature. It’s like it has stopped in time. Sure, someone may have a new boyfriend and someone else may be about to graduate, but otherwise not much has changed. It brings a new definition to the “Orange Bubble.” I took a trip in New York City one evening to meet a friend I had met in Paris of all places. As I stepped out off the escalator of Penn Station and the world screamed and pushed around me, I was reminded of how much comfort I found on my trips to the city during school (though they were not many), because the city actually feels like life. It makes even a city girl, born and raised, feel like she just left the farm for the first time.
But today is not for beer drinking, rather it is for margarita drinking and taco eating and and and it’s Cinco de Mayo!!! Okay, so this isn’t actually a margarita and it’s actually lemon, though I’m sure it would work with lime as well, but it still fits the theme because — and really listen to this — all you have to do is throw a lemon in the blender with some sugar and there you have a tart. Genius.
Whole Lemon Tart
This is a bit different than your standard lemon tart as it actually tastes like the whole lemon, rind and all. It’s a bit scary to throw the whites of the rind into a tart filling and I admit I wasn’t completely sold on first bite, but once the tart cooled and chilled, I really changed my opinion on it. I’m not sure I’m willing to leave my dearest lemon curd behind, but make this version at least once as a novelty.
1 average-sized lemon (about 4 1/2 ounces; 130 grams), rinsed and dried
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tablespoons (12 grams) cornstarch
1 stick (4 ounces; 115 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 9-inch tart shell (or use your favorite rectangular tart pan) made with Smitten Kitchen’s Sweet Tart Dough, partially baked and cooled
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Slice whole lemon in half and pull out seeds from it and the half. Then cut lemons into small pieces.
Throw lemons and sugar in blender or processor and pulse, blend and scrape down sides until you have smooth consistency. Add the eggs, egg yolk, butter and cornstarch, and pulse and blend until filling is thoroughly mixed. Pour the filling into partially baked crust.
Carefully transfer baking sheet to oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then increase oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake tart for an additional 25 to 30 minutes. Don’t be alarmed when filling starts to bubble up. Tart is baked when the filling is set, but still shaky in the center and top has a sugary crust. Don’t worry if it bubbles some, mine overflowed and the fire alarm went off.
Transfer tart pan to cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. Serve with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar.