November 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
As if overnight, it’s winter. In the mornings, the lawn outside my entryway is frozen, and crackles with every step. Rumor has it there’s a Nor’easter on the way. Wool socks, my down jacket and the knit hat Granny sent just last week have suddenly become mainstays in my wardrobe. Every morning, I tumble out of bed, across the mess of clothes on the floor, and hop around on the tiled bathroom floor, waiting the ten minutes for the water to warm up to an acceptably hot temperature. Running is no longer a determination to stay in shape, but a battle to emerge from the comforter every morning. I slept for eleven hours last night, and was surprised when my lab partners wanted to talk about our lab report at midnight, don’t they know that’s the middle of the night?
That said, there’s two things I enjoy about the early days of winter and that’s the clothes and the food. I want to crawl onto thick cashmere sweaters with blowsy sleeves. I want butternut squash galettes with buttery crust for dinner and warm open-faced apple tarts for dessert. I want the first snowfall, and then all the miserable days of dirty slush afterwards to disappear into a cloud of gingerbread cookies by the fireplace. Even with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’m already dreaming in reds and greens, fir trees and ski hills. The pistachios in this poundcake are perfectly festive for my current mindset. Granted the two sticks of butter in it are also perfectly excessive and demonstrative of winter baking, but hey we’re only concerned about the aesthetics of winter here — the picture perfect image of poundcake for breakfast looking out at the pure white flurries of snow falling outside.
November 2, 2012 § Leave a Comment
My vacation week was cut short by Hurricane Sandy, and my birthday was spent cooped up in bed, watching the wind and rain rage outside, with a warning from Major Bloomberg to stay inside. But I’m counting myself lucky that I’m safe and dry, and didn’t lose anything in the storm except for a couple of fun times. Watching the news is a sobering reminder that while I was complaining that all of the restaurants were closed for lunch, some people were out there actually losing everything. So I’ve been thinking about the happy moments of this week and they’re actually more plentiful than I thought.
Running down Prospect Street, through the autumn leaves and seeing the neighbors come out to talk to each other in the middle of the street.
These crunchy squares of burnt caramel toffee from Poco Dolce in San Francisco that my dad sent me in the mail.
Having The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook in my hands for the very first time, I can’t wait to spend hours with it.
A lovely day-before-birthday dinner at Prune, which we visited for the second time, and chatting with our table neighbors — a French family confused when their son got asked for I.D. for a glass of wine.
Corduroys and brown combat boots, perfect for November.
A morning yoga session that makes me wonder why yoga ever made it out of my daily routine.
Watching a young boy, who could not have been more than eight-years-old, sip chocolate milk while reading The New York Times, across from me at Small World Coffee.
Sending in my ballot, just in time.
Waking up on my birthday to a lemon tart, a handmade hat from Granny, and a blue Tiffany’s box from my little brother.
Taylor Swift’s new album Red, which surprisingly and embarrassingly, is so spot on I can’t stop listening.
October 10, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’d say from the crunch of leaves underfoot, softened by the cold wetness of the air, that summer has officially come and gone. And with summer, a lot of the illusions I had about people, the next year or so, and the ones who would be in it. But there’s a bright side of every change and today, it’s becoming more and more clear.
Snuggled into wool winter socks, fleece blankets and chunky sweaters, all I’ve wanted to do for the past week has been to curl up in bed and watch TV, waiting for the world to pass by. Which for me, isn’t an ordinary desire as watching TV is usually towards the very bottom on my list of activities. Instead, every night ends with a struggle to finish the readings for tomorrow, an impromptu trip to the gym, where I do my 20-minute weight circuit surrounded by an eclectic group of boys — the body builders, the slightly-pudgy, the geeky ones you never thought you’d see doing bicep curls —, and then a stop at the campus late-night cooking-baking hut. A freezing day finished with a caramely chocolate chip cookie. There are worse things in the world.
I had my first pumpkin scone of the season the other day. Sugar-crusted, fluffy, accompanied by my everyday morning latte. I was sitting in a corner of the café, (discreetly) watching some poor boy struggle over a very thick looking textbook, when he got up, looked me directly in the eye, and hesitantly walked over to my table. To my disappointment, the idle chitchat turned into a simple request to watch his stuff while he went to the restroom, but hey….you never know what a smile and a pumpkin scone can do to turn a downcast day around.
When I was paging through what to post today, I got stuck on these blackberry scones I made at the very end of August, when blackberries were unbelievably sweet and fit to burst (and stain everything) with juices. Though they were light, buttery and gushing with fruit, and proof that I have finally overcome my tendency to overwork scone dough — a reflection I think, of my disposition to over think and overwork most parts of my life —, the moment to talk about them seems to have gone and passed me by. Instead I was drawn to the brightness and simplicity of these white chocolate mint pot de crèmes. They can be made anytime you get your hands on fresh mint, and are just as perfect as a winter dessert, accompanied by the recipe’s candy cane brittle, as they are photographed here in my backyard, in the early summer. The brulée on top was a bit gilding the lily, but I never can resist a chance to use my blowtorch.
September 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The days are alternating between warm summer breeze, muggy, rainy, and crisp and chill. I have this song on repeat. If you love me hardcore then don’t walk away. It’s a game, I don’t want to play. The party nights are getting fewer, replaced by nights of curling up in bed with endless reading and my thesis. Yoga has become habit again, as a way to disappear for a couple of hours, pensively sink into myself and my thoughts. I’m craving a visit to the nearby apple orchard. A cider doughnut. Leaf stomping. Vanilla ice cream melted on top of warm apple crisp. It never feels like fall without a kitchen, so I guess we’re stuck in a summer-spring mix for a bit longer.
You could say that strawberries are well out of season. But muffins and maple syrup aren’t. I brought back the cutest little muffin liners from France and wanted to put them to good use — unfortunately, these muffins were so moist and buttery that you can barely distinguish the patterns at all. But I loved the pretty bursts of pink, though I think they’d be equally good with some fall flavors mixed in — a tart apple, a crisper pear.
I loosely followed this 101 Cookbooks recipe for Maple Huckleberry Coffee Cake. I left out the fresh thyme, because I imagined it wouldn’t be something that the family would enjoy, though the adventurous and experimental part of me urges you to try it.
September 17, 2012 § Leave a Comment
As I’m busy getting back into the swing of things on campus — accepting that daily reading is a part of real life, reconvincing myself that yoga is good for the soul (and my arm muscles), and coming to the harsh realization that coffee not naptime is the cure to exhaustion — I realize I’ve let the blog fall to the wayside a bit. I came back from a brutal spinning session this evening, promptly got in bed, and then remembered that it’s no longer summer, when an 8 p.m. bedtime in acceptable.
Still the past week and a half have felt a bit like summer camp — late afternoon runs past the Battlefield, walks with friends on the path by the lake, meals eaten at picnic tables, and unlimited beer for all (though I guess our summer camp might be a bit more risqué than most). There have been bottles of sweet peach champagne (though the snob in me would insist on calling it sparkling wine), lots of chocolate chip cookies from our clubhouse, neon baseball caps, a little concert crowd shoving, and quite a bit of dancing, though some might say it’s just us bouncing up and down endlessly. I started the first day of classes with cuts and blisters everywhere, barely able to keep my eyes open, but so excited for the adventures to come. It’s that week when class discussions are still enthralling, the honeymoon period before stress and panic set in, when we’re finally realizing we’re seniors. This is it, the last year, the beginning of the end.
The finale is a bit different for me given the newness of this year. The first year of living in the upper class slums, where cockroaches are apparently a real thing and not just the stars of my nightmares. The first year of college without the best friend who’s been at my side since day one, when we were randomly placed in single rooms on the same hallway freshman year. The first year of really being a part of the Class of 2013, putting everything that was the Class of 2012 firmly in the past. It’s been bittersweet so far, but the weekend has done a lot to erase the nerves and tears.
These tarts bring a smile whenever I think back to them, and they could not be simpler to make. Just a bit of tart dough, rolled out and cut in strips, some quality jam (I used a jar of strawberry jam we picked up on our family trip to The Apple Farm), and a little bit of patience for the weaving.
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
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.
August 27, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The majority of my childhood summer memories were made in the swimming pool or on the campsite. Camping was the form family vacation took, more often than not, and one of the few activities that could be counted on to regularly bring us all together. It generally involved flying up to Victoria, British Columbia, a brief stopover at my grandparents’ house, and then us all piling in the mini-van to drive north on the island. I remember the small opening in the bushes, where we stumbled down into the cold, clear lake on Saltspring Island. The sandy stretch by the Strathcona Park Lodge where I roasted — and ate — marshmallow after marshmallow, back when the concept on healthy eating scarcely even crossed my mind, if at all. That one ill-fated weeklong trip, when it poured every day. My cousin’s dogs that accompanied us everywhere, and the journals that I filled every day with sketches of animals I had seen at the nearby wildlife center.
Despite this, the hardest affront to my camping nostalgia came out of a box — a box of Honey Maid graham crackers to be specific. They were dry, dusty, nothing like the graham crackers I remember, from even just a year ago. Honey Maid, what happened? Awhile back, I made a batch of homemade graham crackers, that were a bit more butter cookie than I would have liked. We took the batch camping last summer and while the graham crackers were a solid base for s’mores, we found that they were better enjoyed as a breakfast biscuit the next morning, with coffee out of a plastic mug. I hadn’t thought about making graham crackers since. But now, I’d say it’s back to square one. Calling all graham cracker recipes.
August 16, 2012 § 2 Comments
Stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for two hours on 101 — making the total drive home about five hours — it was easy to forget that we were coming back from an overnight stay at The Apple Farm, a lazy night and day spent eating, exploring the various ice cream and baked goods options, and sampling a variety of apples, straight from the trees surrounding our little blue doored cottage. A sugar-crusted blueberry scone and honeyed sticky bun from the Downtown Healdsburg Bakery. A scoop of fresh mint chip ice cream, and an assortment of cookies — peanut butter and ginger molasses, our favorites!— from Paysanne in Boonville. Later on, a couple more scoops of homemade ice cream in large waffle cones, in the cold, breezy, seaside town of Fort Bragg.
At the farm, I somehow managed to score the comfy bed in the cottage, snuggled under five quilts and duvets, a heavy shield against the chilly air coming in through the many open windows. Outside, rows of apple trees stretched into the distant dry, yellow hills, most of the fruit still green, firm, and tart to the taste, as the season for most apple varieties begins in September. Still, there were several kinds for sale at the farm stand — the royalties originally from Minnesota, the pink ladies, tinged pink on the inside as well as out — which was self-service on an honor basis. Lines of apple cider vinegar and syrup, jams in apricot, plum strawberry and blackberry, fig and apple chutneys, and cold apple juice in the fridge, next to a small haul of beets and kale.
Breakfast was served in the main building, a very simple affair of crusty toast, with holes where the melted butter seeped through onto the plate below. Little bowls of apricot and strawberry jam (strawberry jam tart recipe to come — they just came out of the oven and are simply adorable!). Raw milk from the farm cows for coffee and black tea. Thick yogurt, topped with raspberries, and, for me, a swirl of strawberry jam and raw cane sugar crystals.
Down the road, kids played in the stream under the bridge, and I turned off into the state park for a quiet run in the shade of the towering trees. The smell of burning wood for campfires creeping in in the evening and then, again, in the early morning. Damp cold air, with just a spit of rain, that melted into the heat of an inland summer.
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!