Marrakech, Morocco

June 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

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The call to prayer begins at 4:30 a.m., a sudden awakening from exhausted sleep by a vaguely monotone voice over the loudspeaker, originating from the mosque rising above the roofs of the old medina, just a couple of buildings over. It lasts about ten minutes, in which we lay, in the darkness of our room, in silence, waiting it out before sinking back into sleep. Outside, shopkeepers might already be making their way to their daily posts, a small cafe selling miniature honeyed almond confections, or maybe a fresh-squeezed orange juice stand in the market square, Djemaa El Fna. By 8 a.m., we’re slinking out of our room at the top floor of the Riad Marrakiss, down two staircases to a pot of coffee and some bread with jam.

The breakfast might not have been as plentiful as those at our previous Riad’s (a small hotel in the old medina, ranging from a family home to a boutique hotel) but we made up for it with a lunch of those pretty almond confections, and one peanut-dense square of honeyed pastry. Our days in Morocco tended to follow my wandering pastry-nose and Dan’s unspoken quests for coffee, happily skipping over palace tours in favor of our stomachs.
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More often than not, we were stopped by a dead-end alleyway, a young boy persistently offering directions (in exchange for money, of course, though this was less aggressively prevalent than in Fes), or the seemingly random operating hours of some of the more sought-after attractions. Occasionally, we fell into tourist traps; occasionally, into alleys dead-ending in the laborers’ district, where the air filled with the smell of polish and men bent over metal works.
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Happily, our initial cab driver to the gates of the medina upon arrival in Marrakech was one of the more talkative, advising a trip to the Jardin Majorelle, a botanical garden in the Nouvelle Ville (otherwise known as the French district), partly a memorial dedicated to the designer Yves Saint-Laurent. Once entering the garden gates, the pressing noise of the city faded, the harking, bargaining of the vendors and the wizz of motorbikes replaced by plentiful displays of cacti, lily ponds, and bamboo forests. While many of the plants weren’t native to the region, many even brought over from South America, the calm and beauty of the garden was a welcome respite.
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That evening found us amidst a cluster of locals in one of the narrow streets leading away from El Fna, stumbling over a sandwich order in front of a plastic case filled with ground meat and unidentifiable animals brains. After a highly confused conversation, in which we attempted to order something we had yet to identify, we had in our hands a circle of bread, much like the ones we were served for breakfast, stuffed with spiced ground meat, a fried egg, onion, and sauce piquante. Not bad for a second dinner.

In the evenings, I often went without a camera, feeling liberated without a need to be constantly checking that yes, my purse was still there. So there are no pictures of that dinner, or of the large huddle of women scooping soup into bowls at a low, dark table, street-side, or of the masses of young men beckoning you to their respective restaurant table in the square, an onslaught of aggressive noise, deals that never seemed to be followed up on, and some humorous expressions (“See you later, alligator”) delivered in Australian accents.

I will always be surprised at how quickly one can go from noise to silence in Marrakech. As we slipped back into our Riad in the evening, the city seemed to stop at the door and, in the calm, we overlooked the hundreds of roofs surrounding us in the hazy evening light from the rooftop terrace.
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Springtime Paris

May 9, 2013 § 1 Comment

So I’m sitting trying to write one of my final papers, facing the window, watching white cherry blossom leaves blow in the wind outside. Yesterday, it poured and it poured. Anyway, I thought I’d go back and share some of the photos from a spring break trip to Paris. We ate well, we ate everything. You’ll mostly just see the desserts here (and breakfast!), but my boyfriend who actually likes to…like….eat normal things…like sugar-less things…actually had us sit down to meals twice a day. The escargot chocolat pistache is from Du Pain et Des Idées, the tarte tatin from a venture into La Goutte d’Or for a lunch of huge plates of paella on our final afternoon. Tartines of mozzarella and sweet chili sauce and coffees at the Tuck Shop, butternut squash soup and quiche (and a slice of lemon citrus bread to go for the walk up to Sacré-Cœur) at the Rose Bakery, a wonderful first meal at the cosy Verjus bar à vins, where the butternut squash angliotti, with roasted garlic, brown butter, sage, and parmigiano reggiano is over-the-moon twice good.

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Rest, Recovery, and a little Coconut Cake

May 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

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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.

Brown Butter Rhubarb Bars

March 9, 2013 § Leave a comment


Today I took a “me” day. I slept in, didn’t set an alarm for once. I bought a pair of red jeans off the sale rack, which I spectacularly managed to squeeze into seeing as they were two sizes smaller than I generally buy. I also bought a lovable tribal print sweater — it pays to be “hipster” in Princeton because no one else is, so everything that would be flying off racks in San Francisco is $20 off here. I had a cranberry orange scone (my favorite) and latte at Small World Coffee and people-watched instead of hiding behind my laptop, writing my thesis. I walked down to the Whole Earth Center and stocked up on local Fuji apples, kale salad with almonds, tofu, and sesame seeds, and organic peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I wore sweatpants and no makeup, and realized people don’t really look at you any differently. Simply walking around a bit was uplifting — after the snowfall two nights ago, spring appears to have finally arrived; the sun was out, the snow melting, and I could have done without the jacket.

When I got home, I started looking up the top organic and biochemistry grad schools (not for me obviously!) and started mapping out a summer road trip down the West Coast. I tried to tack on the Grand Canyon to the end of the trip (figuring I should give it another shot after my adolescent disinterest consisting of about a five minute look into the canyon before I’d had enough) which added an extra eight hours of driving. For some reason, I find thinking about travel incredibly calming; it’s like a realization that walls were made for falling down. Even more, thinking about driving along the ocean brings me to my happy place, where things are hippie, spontaneous, wandering, and bohemian without effort, because you know, even being boho these days seems to require quite a bit of planning. The images here are ones I took in Big Sur, California on a family trip. I can’t wait to go back. These brown butter rhubarb bars are from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, and are chewy like a macaroon without the coconut, crackly on the top with a brownie without the chocolate, and stuffed with stringy, sweetened rhubarb, which is finally back in season. Never having been a huge rhubarb fan myself, I always did enjoy eating the raw stalks, dipped luxuriously in white sugar, from my grandparents’ backyard. I handwrote the recipe for these bars on little cards for a couple of people, but alas the actual book is in my room in San Francisco so no recipe today.

That all said, there are parts of the very concrete future to be very excited about. I’ll be calling Boston home next year, and am incredibly delighted to share my new adventures surrounding food justice in the coming months.

The art of the mini-vaca

February 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

While I’m hashing out the details of how I’m ever going to survive this coming semester and how I’m ever going to have time for anything remotely social, I thought I would share a couple of pictures from some recent mini-vacations.

A recent trip to Seattle brought a Lola brunch of squid kebab with crushed chili and chermoula served with pita triangles, Greek salad, and garlic smashed potatoes; and mini donuts served with spiced pumpkin butter and maple mascarpone. A dinner at Restaurant Zoe featuring fresh ricotta gnudi with truffle oil; mussels and clams with smoked Fresno pepper and Spanish chorizo, sopped up with focaccia; and seared diver scallops with lentils and shredded duck, a heavier winter take on the usually light scallop; among many many other dishes. Another dinner at Poppy featured eggplant fries, a delightedly bright and crisp crab and avocado salad, curried shrimps, and an assortment of vegetarian sides including butternut squash, lentils, and red beet soup.
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A few weekends later found me in Boston, fulfilling a love affair with Flour, a bakery in Cambridge. We ate there twice in two days. A chunky cookie with coconut, nuts and chocolate chips, a milk chocolate hazenut cookie, and a ginger cookie for the bus back to New York City. A salad of greens, grilled focaccia, mozzarella, tomatoes, and white beans. A sophisticated BLT with dark crispy bacon strips, aioli, and ripe tomatoes. And finally a vanilla cupcake with chocolate buttercream to share, my favorite combination of cake and frosting.
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I’ve been slacking a bit on the pictures recently, and on remembering meals, mostly because my head is tied up recalling food experiences from last summer for my thesis writing and dreaming about this coming summer and all of the lovely places I’d like to vist.

Cacoa Nib Almond Biscotti

January 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

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I woke up this morning, after a day of fighting off the stomach flu, to snow-covered ground. I dizzily made a slow trek to Small World Coffee for my first food in over 30 hours, and have been here ever since. A hot chocolate and a plain croissant and a couple of endless hours of listening to people’s pithy conversations while I distractedly write my thesis. A couple of the hockey team boys are sitting across from me at one of the teeny tiny tables — if you’ve ever been to Small World, you know they’re about big enough to fit a laptop and a plate — drinking cappuccinos, and for some reason that makes me giggle though, I suppose, everyone has the right to drink a cappuccino. Two older middle-aged women are next to me, complaining about how their last dinner party dragged on too late, how some other woman has the same job title though she doesn’t deserve it (though she has a lot of past work experience), and saying how the only things they can cook are chili and meatballs (ham is a Dean and Deluca thing). A couple little toddlers are teetering around the cramped spaces between the tables, and in the background you can hear the one barista banging out used grounds as he struggles to keep up with the line. I’m not sure why I’ve stayed so long, though it might simply be that I’m afraid I’ll pass out if I try standing up.

Since the semester ended, I’ve been doing a lot of sitting. And thinking about the future more than occasionally. Right now it mostly consists of future travels as I’m generally trying to avoid thinking about the real life. I have trip to England coming up to see my boyfriend — the same boyfriend who recently received these almond cacao nib biscotti in the mail, about two weeks later and probably stale (though he won’t admit it), and who has been insisting that I go see a doctor all day, yes apparently I have only one — and then plans are in the abstract works for the summer. For some reason, I’m struck with the belief that the world will end in August, or maybe just that a new life will start and I better have done everything, and gone everywhere, I wanted to in this old life before the new one starts.

On the subject of the cookies. I packed half of them up in a box, and put the rest of them out at the end of a little neighborhood cocktail party the night before winter break ended. They’re studded with a delightful little chocolately crunch, without the sweetness of chocolate chips; twice baked (obviously); delicately flavored with both almond extract and chopped almonds; and so, so easy, it makes me wonder why people are so impressed by homemade biscotti. If only they knew, there would be so much less hate for the cookie which generally grows stale in the glass jar at your neighborhood coffee shop.
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I followed this Smitten Kitchen recipe structurally, but got a bit lost in the flavorings, as you can probably tell.

A bowl of fresh linguine

January 13, 2013 § 1 Comment

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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.
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