I left my cart in San Francisco

August 21, 2010 § 3 Comments

Well, I am officially home in San Francisco, a day earlier than I had originally planned. I spent my last week in DC alone in the Georgetown townhouse. The quiet was slightly eerie and because my key to the front door stopped working, I had to enter the house through the back alley every night, where the rats come out after dark. I never got a fully coherent explanation of why the otherwise very nice neighborhood is overrun with rats; this will be the subject of further research. But needless to say, when I had the opportunity to leave for my week home a day early, I jumped on it. Especially since it would mean being able to go to the Street Food Festival today on Folsom.

But as much I wanted to be home, it seems like someone doesn’t want me here. First, United lost my luggage. Luckily, I had only checked one bag with running clothes and cooking magazines. Then, a plywood sign like the one below fell on my and my brother’s heads at the Festival this morning when we stopped to look at “I left my (cart) in San Francisco” T-shirts. As such, we were not in the mood to walk the last block of food carts, which was packed full of mini red velvet cupcakes and chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches — the dessert block —, and instead chose to walk home through the Mission with ice on our heads. We already had the one dessert we were looking for — crème brulée from the Crème Brulée Cart, which I have only been following on Twitter for a year and had yet to pay a visit. Thick and creamy Mexican chocolate and vanilla bean brulées topped off a lunch of curry-fried chickpeas, papusas, veggie empanadas and spinach and cheese pirozhki. Yum. I am so glad to be home.

And…the fire alarm just goes off in my house as my family sautées salmon for dinner. Got to go.
Also, I just realized that you can like and tweet my blog posts. Cool?

A lemon-lavender loaf for the whole family

August 8, 2010 § 2 Comments

When I was younger, our family spent a summer at family camps in France. I was ten years old, shy, incredibly picky about what I ate and a little intimidated about spending a couple weeks solely in the company of French kids. We spent our first week at Les Lavandes, in the town of Rémuzat near Nyons. We had a small sunny room by the field, where teenagers and young men played soccer and smoked cigarettes, and we dined in a large room at communal tables. During the daytime, I went off with the other kids my age for organized hiking and swimming. My brother was too young to leave my parents in a strange new country, though there were camp activities for his age group. So instead, I was the one of the family shoved off to do all the traditional camp activities. I played name games, learned about different trees and animals native to the region, and on the last day, accompanied the family of a new friend on a daylong hike. We packed crusty bread and cheese and set off with several other families, though not my own. At the end of the hike, my mother drove out to pick me up, because my ten-year-old self refused to camp out without my parents.

At the end of the week, we drove to a second camp called Pont-Les-Bains. There, I feasted on M&M Ice Cream Pops and played boules (bocce in Italian, which is the name most Americans know it by) with the girls my age. There, we ate at smaller family tables, much like at a restaurant. I don’t remember liking much of the food, which would explain why the M&M ice cream stands out so clearly in my mind.

Though the premise of the camp — complete immersion with real French families — made me nervous at times and I was forever self-conscious of my slight English accent which the girls my age called “adorable,” this summer stands out from any other vacation I have taken. I had never seen France quite like this before, though I had been on a couple of occasions, and I made some friends with whom I kept in touch with for many years afterward. Indeed, as a child, I was big on snail mail, with penpals in France and Australia. We would send friendship bracelets enclosed in letters decorated with colorful stickers back and forth across the oceans and I collected the cutest notecards for such occasions.

Real memories of this summer are fuzzy for me, though blurry images of cobblestone roads and small bridges remain in my mind, alongside more vivid images of vibrant purple lavender. When I got home, I collected long stalks of lavender from the farmers’ market and colorful fabrics, fashioning small lavender pouches. They smelled lovely, though I think I made more pouches than anyone in the family ever needed or wanted. Now, I know there are other uses for lavender; it can be used in many baked goods, giving classic cakes and cookies a fragrant lift. Lemon loaf is a huge favorite in my house and this is probably the best one I have ever made. The loaf is wonderfully moist, with lavender and lemon zest in the batter, and glazed with thin lemon juice icing. A light garnish of lavender is a pretty touch on top of the loaf.

Meyer Lemon Lavender Cake
From the Former Chef

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter (the original recipe called for oil)
2.5 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp fresh lavender flowers

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
In a medium sized bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, oil, lemon zest and lavender. Add the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Pour the batter into a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.
Once the cake is done, remove it from the oven. Using a long wooden skewer, poke holes in the top of the cake, all the way to the bottom, about 1″ apart.

You can see the original recipe for the lemon glaze, which called for heating the sugar and lemon juice to make a syrup. I simply combined the lemon juice with confectioners sugar to make a very thin icing, which I used to coat the top of the loaf.

One hand up for the big city

June 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

I have never been able to make up my mind about New York City. I alternate between loving it and absolutely hating the city. Going to school just over an hour from the city, it has always been my escape when life hits rock bottom. Maybe that’s why I associate the city with my life being disastrous. Throughout the last two years, the city’s high rises, peaceful museums (on the off days), and many shopping areas have provided the comforting assurance that there are indeed people in the world. This is a type of comfort the small town of Princeton never provides. Additionally, it has been the city of many adventures. I turned 18 in the city, attended my first musical and stayed a few nights with my best friend in the sketchy Chelsea Star Hotel, complete with neon yellow walls and metal doors. I’ve learned that I feel safer in parks packed with runners, wanderers and homeless people and streets where people put their garbage out at night and drunks (old and young, rich and poor) stagger around riding the roller coaster of life, than I do in pretty, pristine suburbs. New York City has made me realize there truly is a difference between urban and suburban and I could now never dream of living anywhere but a city. I need people, I need crowds and I need things to move, and fast.

The past few days were spent touring the city with my family. Despite all the times I have been here, I have never actually done any of the tourist activities in New York. We rode the Cyclone on Staten Island and topped the afternoon with ultra-fake vanilla soft serve. We climbed to the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building after a dinner at Aldea. We went for a stroll in Central Park after a long dinner at Marea, the fancy coastal Italian seafood restaurant all the visiting San Franciscan cooks are writing home about. The first day, we walked twenty blocks for a taste of Momofuku crack pie and cereal milk soft serve (but ultimately chose the raspberry lemonade flavor) and the next day, another twenty for a Magnolia cupcake.

I now have a much brighter outlook on New York City, after discovering that it is not just a place to go to when you are unhappy. And with this many beautiful desserts around, it is hard not be happy when you’re there too.

Sicilian pistachio cake with candied kumquats and pistachio gelato at Marea.

Trio of chocolate cookies and cream, mint chocolate chip and vanilla gelato at Marea.

Cupcakes, one vanilla and one chocolate, from Magnolia Bakery.

De-tartified lemon curd (except amazingly tart)

June 4, 2010 § 3 Comments

Hello from New York City. I am surrounded by highrises and about to give you a little piece of sunshine. Just look at this picture and try to pretend it doesn’t make you happy. I accidentally got one of my feet in the first picture I took of this series and decided to take the rest with both feet in.

It helps that this is positively my favorite thing to eat. I have made this recipe quite a few times, each time with the intention of making a lemon tart. Somehow, the process never really gets that far along and I end up eating this lemon curd by the spoonful. Sometimes, I manage to save some to have on top of my toast for breakfast. But that’s as far as it ever gets. Maybe next time, I should think about making the tart shell first. But you and I both know that is never going to happen.

Lemon Curd
Recipe from David Lebovitz
Makes 1 cup (240 g)

1/2 cup (125 ml) freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, cubed

Place a mesh strainer over a bowl, and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks, eggs, and salt.
Add the butter cubes and set the pan over low heat, whisking constantly until the butter is melted.
Increase the heat and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and just begins to become jelly-like. It’s done when you lift the whisk and the mixture holds its shape when it falls back into the saucepan from the whisk.
Immediately press the curd through the strainer. Once strained, store the lemon curd in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to one week.

San Francisco Summer Days: Farmers’ market

May 30, 2010 § 1 Comment

This morning I sat down with this list of 250 things to do in San Francisco before you die and realized it is epically hard to not eat in this city. I mean, have pumpkin ravioli at L’Osteria, buy a heap of cheap avocados at Casa Lucas, and grab a Vietnamese sandwich from Saigon Sandwiches?

These are just three of the many, many items of the list that have to do with eating. So instead of checking out all these bakeries and restaurants and groceries that 7×7 has decided are necessities for San Franciscans, I decided to revisit some of the places that I remember from my childhood.

When I was younger, the Ferry Plaza farmers’ market didn’t exist. Rather a smaller, more intimate market existed in a parking lot in the Embarcadero. We used to go every Saturday morning fairly early. My mom would shop for produce and I’d buy a couple small items, always the same.

Honey straws, in a multitude of flavors though my favorites were watermelon and root beer, and cinnamon twists from the Noe Valley Bakery stand. Now the farmers’ market has moved to the Ferry Building and with this move, it has become a must-see for many tourists. Navigating the crowds can be annoying, but it is hard to find this much food in one spot in the city.

Even as farmers’ markets spring up in every neighborhood of San Francisco, I’m still clinging to the original. Which, I guess, isn’t really the original anymore.

Queen of Tea and Grains

May 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

I just pulled a batch of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven but those are going to have to wait another day. I returned from Victoria, Canada the other day from a brief visit with my grandparents. They just bought a condo in Victoria, in addition to their house by the mountains, and the past couple days have been filled with the logistics of setting up a new home as well as a couple afternoon getaways. The trip included the obligatory trip downtown to Roger’s chocolates, where we picked up a couple boxes of dark chocolate mints and a bag of chocolate-covered English toffee for me to bring back to San Francisco. Soft maple sugar candies also found their way into my carry-on. I was that kid sitting in the coffee shop eating the sugar cubes meant to go in grown-up coffee and I still firmly believe I could go days on sugar alone. Maple sugar is even better than cane sugar, as it has a melt-in-your-mouth translucency and comes in the pretty shapes of maples leaves and acorns.

We also spent an afternoon at the James Bay Tea Room, which is a small white cottage on the outskirts of downtown. With a pot of the house tea — orange pekoe — we got scones with jam and whipped cream, mini quiches, butter-raisin and lemon tarts, and triangle egg and tuna sandwiches. The tea service was slightly spoiled by the fact that the sugar came out of a large jar and the strawberry jam out of plastic packaging.

While the tea was satisfactory, it did not live up to expectations. Last summer, we went to the Point Ellice Tea House, which is further out of downtown, which was much better. While Point Ellice didn’t have authentic Devonshire cream (Grandpa was adamant that authentic cream is thick enough to be cut with a knife), it offered a full array of sweets, including lemon loaf and trifle, and savories like tomato soup and cucumber sandwiches. A lovely afternoon.

I had another lovely experience last night at 18 Reasons, which is a small storefront run by Bi-Rite Market on Guerrero in San Francisco. The non-profit runs a series of events about food and art for the community, including presentations by local food producers. Last night, it held a potluck dinner with Kim Boyce, author of Good to the Grain. Every attendee made and brought a recipe from the book and we sat around a long wooden table enjoying the wide array of baked goods. Good to the Grain is all about baking with other grains besides white flour, including whole-wheat, barley, rye, buckwheat and spelt among others. The food table concentrated mostly on sweet rather than savory and boasted ginger-peach muffins, olive oil rosemary cake with chocolate chips, quinoa cookies, whole wheat chocolate chip cookies and my own contribution, summer peach pie.

This was my first time making a pie with a real pie crust. I’ve made my fair share of tarts, as well as a pumpkin pie, but never real pastry dough. Everyone said the pie turned out beautifully and we were instructed during introductions that we were not allowed to apologize for whatever we brought, but next time I will be careful to ensure the crust is sealed on the edges as some of the peach juices seeped out.

I won’t give you the recipe for the pie but rather instruct you to go buy Kim’s book. The photos are beautiful and I’ve already made several of the recipes which turned out wonderfully. If you’ve never cooked with other grains before, you should definitely try it out. Even the simple switch to whole wheat flour lends a new dimension to whatever you are baking. I won’t say anything more about whole wheat flour now, as it might spoil my next post!

With the radio up, well I’ve seen the sunrise: Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

May 11, 2010 § 6 Comments

Today is a special day: not only is it Dean’s Date — the day every student at Princeton runs frantically to turn in end-of-the-semester papers — but it’s someone’s 20th birthday. Today, I bring you a very special cake, for a very special person. She’s one of the few people who will erg with me to an entire playlist of Taylor Swift in the middle of winter. She knows the words to Big Green Tractor and Chicken Fried just as well as I do. She will paint herself blue to be Avatar with me and, to this day, is the only person who has ever worn my metallic silver leopard print spandex. Bambi, this one’s for you.

Firstly, a big thank you to Alyx over at Passively Astonished. She saw through Twitter that I was desperately searching for coconut around here and generously offered to bring some down from New York City on Monday when she visited the team. Not only did she bring huge, gorgeous flakes of unsweetened coconut, but she also brought me coconut milk, which is one of my new favorite ingredients.

The cake was originally modeled after this Ugly as Sin Coconut Cake from Willow Bird Baking. I left out the sour cream as the recipe said the cake would turn out well with or without it and, well, I just didn’t have any. I made two cakes and cut the domes off the tops in order to make a layer cake. I skipped the coconut pastry cream, which I definitely want to try another time. Instead, I used a cream cheese frosting, which I also found at Willow Bird Baking. Between the two cake layers are fresh raspberries, with a layer of cream cheese frosting on each side. Then the entire cake is topped with a coating of cream cheese frosting. Flakes of coconut adorn the entire side of the cake and pink lettering completes the look. I was very surprised with how well the writing looks on the top of the cake — I guess my newly purchased icing tips really made the difference. After the writing was done, I excitedly texted half of my contact list saying that this cake was the prettiest thing I’ve ever made. Cake decorating has always been something I’ve struggled with—I always feel that it doesn’t look good enough and end up adding more and more decorations until the end product has too many conflicting flavors. That was not the case here: I had thought of making mini cupcakes instead of a whole cake as I didn’t think the girls could eat that much. By the end of dinner, there were maybe a couple pieces left, which Emily is saving for tomorrow.

Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Raspberries

Recipe by:Fine Cooking (cake), adapted by Willow Bird Baking
Yields: 9-in. 4-layer cake

Cake Ingredients:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature (I left this out)
6 large egg whites, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in middle of the oven. Grease and line with parchment two 9×3-inch round cake pans. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. Mix the coconut milk and vanilla, set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes (scrape down the bowl). Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and mix on low speed until incorporated. Add half the coconut milk and mix thoroughly. Continue to add the flour and coconut alternately, ending with flour. Add sour cream and mix until incorporated. Set aside in a large bowl if you don’t have a spare bowl for your mixer.

Beat the egg whites on high speed for 2-3 minutes, until it forms soft peaks. Don’t overdo it or the whites will get too stiff and not fold into the batter smoothly. Stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it. Gently fold the remaining whites into the batter.

Divide evenly in the prepared pans. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the tester comes out clean. Cool on rack in pan and then invert to use.

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:

1 pound cream cheese, softened
2 sticks butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Cream Cheese Frosting: In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.
Note: This makes a lot of frosting, but I used almost all of it. I actually made two half batches. For the second batch, I left out the butter and you couldn’t taste the difference. The frosting set up well with a little time in the fridge.


Fresh raspberries
Large unsweetened coconut flakes

Also, the picture with the lit candles was taken by Yuna Sakuma!

Foodie Tuesdays 5/11

May 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

In honor of no longer having any school work, I’ve decided to enforce a schedule on myself. Since I left home, my mom likes to forward along interesting ideas; usually they come in email form, with a subject line like “too many cupcakes” and a link. No message from Mom or anything like that. Anyway, this afternoon she sent me the link to The Mission Blog; Collective buys.

Over the past few years, we’ve been hearing a lot about cupcakes…gourmet cupcakes, miniature cupcakes, vegan cupcakes with all kinds of frostings…salted caramel, cream cheese, buttercream…and tons of toppings, some over-the-top, some classic. I’m not a huge fan of cupcakes, or cake for that matter. I’ll take a cookie or a slice of pie over cake anyday. But Mission Minis’ store on 22nd Street in San Francisco sounds refreshing, if only for its intriguing marketing techniques. The store offered coupons for 2 dozen mini cupcakes for $11, half the original price, provided 100 people committed to buy. They did. I imagine the cupcakes hardly add much to the overcrowded scene (whoever said there’s quality is quantity clearly has never met a cupcake) but how can you not go for collective bargaining?

P.S. I also love how the guy holding the cupcakes in the above picture is covered in tattoos. I miss home.

Baking throwdown.

April 16, 2010 § 1 Comment

Speaking of chocolate cookies, I dug this picture up from last summer. Caroline will probably kill me because she looks so cracked out but aren’t the ginger-speckled cupcakes and chocolate pistachio cookies (and my little brother) so cute? I’m a huge fan of colored icing. Every year, my brother’s birthday cake (always the same 1-2-3-4 yellow cake) is topped with bright blue frosting and colored sprinkles. Mine were like that too, although I liked more variation in the color of the frosting, until I decided to become sophisticated.

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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