Friday, March 30, 2012

have a happy weekend

For someone who just came back from vacation, I'm awfully eager for the weekend to arrive. I suppose  had the notion that after a week away- reading book after book, drinking wine every single night, most often in bed before 10:30- that I would find myself feeling refreshed and ready to tackle work with new vigor. Not so. Mostly it just made me realize that I really like reading, drinking wine, and getting lots of sleep.

Anyway, here are a few links to start off the weekend. Hope everyone has some plans that make them happy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


After leaving Cobble Hill, Daniel and I had plans to visit Salt Spring Island. We drove up to Crofton to catch the ferry, only to realize that there was a special ferry schedule on Wednesdays and we would only have two hours there before we needed to head right back to Vancouver Island in order to check into our b&b in Sooke in a timely manner. Lame. So we bagged the idea and instead had a leisurely lunch in Maple Bay and then pressed on to Sooke. 

Sooke is located down at the very bottom of Vancouver Island, just a bit west of Victoria. We arrived too early to check into our b&b in Otter Point (the owners weren't home), so we decided to go for a walk along Whiffen Spit.

Whiffen Spit! Isn't that a wonderful name? The spit extends out from the base of the Sooke Harbour House, separating the Sooke harbor from the ocean. It was a gorgeous, if cold, afternoon and people were actually out surfing and paddle boarding. We stayed mostly on dry land.

Eventually we made our way back to our b&b to check in and get a recommendation for dinner. We ended up eating at The EdGe, an unassuming little restaurant on the main drag that turned out to be quite good- I had some of the most delicately flavored, perfectly cooked tuna I've ever tasted. 

The next morning, we breakfasted at our b&b and then drove to East Sooke Regional Park for a few hours of hiking. We decided to hike part of the Coast Trail.

The Coast Trail is beautiful and it's one of the few trails in the part of the country that actually takes you right along the water's edge. The stretch of the trail we did involved a lot of scrambling over rocky outcroppings- a fairly strenuous hike, but rewarding for all its beauty and the fact that we had the trail completely to ourselves. 

We saw harbor seals, a bald eagle or two, and Daniel even spotted a wolf (I missed it. Stupid near-sighted eyes.)

As a special treat to celebrate our last night on Vancouver Island, we had dinner at the Sooke Harbour House.

The Sooke Harbour House was one of the main reasons I had especially wanted to visit Sooke. The hotel has been around since 1929 and it's an almost absurdly charming place. The restaurant is ranked as the best on the island. Our hosts at the b&b called ahead of time and asked if we could have the local's three-course menu rather than the standard (and considerably more expensive) four-course menu and they kindly obliged. It was still light out when we were seated at our table, which allowed us to fully appreciate the view of the water and out to the Olympics. It was one of those perfect, leisurely dinners that stretch out for hours as you linger over the food and wine and settle in to the comfort of the room. I never wanted to leave. 

But eventually, we did leave and on our last morning in Sooke, we dragged our feet as we packed our bags.  We ate breakfast, bid our hosts farewell, and drove down to French Beach for one last little stroll before driving back to Victoria to catch the Clipper back to Seattle.

The sun was out and it promised to be a beautiful day. Oh, Canada.

It's always hard to come to the end of a great vacation, but we had such a good time and it absolutely reinforced how essential it is to take time away and explore a new place every so often. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

cowichan valley

After our tour of the Butchart Gardens, we hopped back in the car and drove up to the Cowichan Valley. 

Cowichan Bay is so small you could blink and miss it but we stopped there for lunch before heading to Ambraden Pond, the b&b I'd found for us.

Ambraden Pond is heaven.

There's a trout pond. Daniel caught two rainbow trout.

There's also a dairy farm that abuts the property and I walked out to visit the cows. Seems like they have a pretty nice life. There were farms all around- I've never seen so many signs for fresh eggs. 

We walked out to Manley Creek Park and checked out the waterfall. We got caught in a torrential downpour and I was extremely happy to have my new red raincoat with me (thanks mom!).

We walked down to the beach and looked out on Salt Spring Island. 

We'd hoped to go wine tasting, but the handful of wineries we stopped at were all closed, so instead  we bought cheese and prosciutto at Hilary's Cheese and bread at True Grain in Cowichan Bay and some local wine from Rocky Creek  and had ourselves an indoor picnic back at Ambraden Pond. 

It started snowing late in the evening and when we woke up, it looked like this: 

This was, to my mind, the most relaxing part of our trip. I spent hours sitting by the fire reading and just enjoying the quiet and the calm. 

Monday, March 26, 2012


First thing Sunday morning, Daniel and I caught the Victoria Clipper and made our way to Vancouver Island. 

I was doped- dramamine for my delicate tummy- so I slept for most of the  2 hour and 45 minute journey, but I perked up sufficiently to take in some of the lovely views around the harbor. We admired the lovely government buildings and the Empress Hotel and then inhaled an unmemorable lunch at an Irish pub on Government Street because we were tired and ravenous. and then scurried back to our hotel, whereupon I fell into bed and slept until dinnertime. 

The next morning, feeling pleasantly refreshed, we grabbed coffee, collected our rental car, and headed for the Butchart Gardens.

The gardens were beautiful in their early spring bloom. Daffodils and tulips were just starting to push themselves out of the soil and trees were covered with small, tightly wrapped buds. There weren't the full, heavy blooms you expect to see in late spring or summer (the rose garden was barren, of course) but there was a different charm to be found in the freshness of the gardens in March. 

Also, we had the place almost to ourselves.

They had taken the building that usually functions as a dining room and turned it into a hot house. The floral smell inside was incredible- like spring condensed- and I ran around pointing at the various blooms and making high pitched squeaks of excitement.

It was the last day of winter, but spring was everywhere. A beautiful day.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


We arrived in Seattle to snow flurries. Daniel and I were cracking up because the flight departing SFO at the gate beside ours was headed to Cancun, and here we were on our spring break in the snow. 

Our friend Evan kindly drove out to the airport to collect us and ferried us back to his place, where snow was actually sticking on the ground. Marissa and Lola greeted us inside. 

Lola is such a goooood girrrrrl.

We went out for dim sum at Jade Garden, kicking off the vacation feasting in style. Afterwards, Evan and Marissa drove us out to Ballard for some coffee and strolling. I bought a pair of fancy patterned socks at Blackbird and we went to King's Hardware for drinks. 

We enjoyed bloody marys and people watching. 

Afterwards, we went to pick up shellfish for a seafood feast that is fast becoming something of an annual tradition.

We bought crabs, mussels, clams, and oysters. I shucked an oyster for the first time, but other than that mostly sat on the sidelines with a glass of wine, vacation style. And then we ate. 

Lola watched wistfully.

We ate and drank until late in the evening. We had our ferry to Victoria first thing in the morning but we were having too much fun for sleep- just right for the first day of vacation. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

welcome, spring

We're back!

Our trip to Seattle and Vancouver Island was just the ticket- relaxing and full of beautiful moments. There's so much to share and I have an absurd number of photos and travel notes to go through, so I'll be posting about our trip a little bit later, but I wanted to stop in here briefly to say hello. Spring is here, the trees are blooming, and back in San Francisco, it's pouring rain. 

It's great to be home.

Friday, March 16, 2012

spring break

A few months ago, I decided that it was imperative Daniel and I plan a vacation. A real vacation, where we took at least a week and went somewhere that would truly feel like an escape. Picking a place was a bit of a challenge- Daniel is working and going to school and both of us are trying to be reasonably frugal- but a while back I'd read about how lovely Vancouver Island is and after doing extensive, crazed  some research, I decided that it would fit the bill nicely. 

So tomorrow, Daniel and I are flying up to Seattle then taking the clipper to Victoria and spending a week on Vancouver Island. We expect to be in for some chilly weather and rain, but we're packing our warm clothes and looking forward to the beautiful scenery and good food.

Back soon with photos!

Photo via Smart.And.Skilled

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

rivka friedman's moroccan chicken with apricots

When I was a junior in college, I spent a semester in Paris. For the majority of my stay, I lived with a woman named Dominique. She had been a teacher for the University of Virginia's study abroad program in Paris and worked part-time as a tutor. She had long grayish brown hair and wore small wire framed spectacles perched at the end of her nose. She lived in a beautiful light-filled apartment on rue Cherche Midi with her dog Petrus. She constantly smoked foul-smelling little black cigars. She was wonderful.

I gained, conservatively speaking, 10lbs over the six month period I lived with Dominique, mostly because I found the food she cooked irresistible. I don't think she ever made the same thing for dinner twice. Dominique was French, but she had spent a good amount of time traveling in North Africa and the Middle East and the food she made reflected this. I remember in particular a chicken tagine with apricots that was an absolute revelation. I had always eschewed meat dishes that included fruit- I've never been one for sweetened meats of any kind (for instance, I loathe ketchup on hamburgers. Or on anything, for that matter)- but this was something else. The apricots didn't make the dish particularly sweet- they just added another dimension of flavor to the dish. I was amazed.

Cut to last week when I saw a recipe for Moroccan chicken with apricots on Not Derby Pie. I knew I had to try it for myself. 

The dish came together like a dream and it was perfect for the cold, rainy weather we've been having in San Francisco. I cooked while listening to Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder. My apartment smelled fabulous. I served the chicken over whole wheat couscous and sprinkled it with parsley and cilantro.

The taste of softly stewed apricots and chicken in sauce brought me right back to that first time I tried the dish in Paris. 

Dominique passed away a few years ago, but I still think of her all the time. My memories of her are wrapped up inextricably with my first flush of love for Paris and the wonderful food I ate at her table night after night. It was a gift, and this recipe feels like one too. 

Rivka Friedman's Moroccan Chicken with Apricots, slightly adapted, original recipe found here

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
4-6 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped (additional for serving)
5 sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped (additional for serving)
5 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 1/2 cups water
2 tbsp mild honey
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup dried turkish apricots

Mix together the ground cinnamon, coriander, turmeric, black pepper, 1 tsp salt, and 3 tbsp olive oil in a large bowl. Add the chicken and coat with the sauce.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Brown the chicken, skin side down, for about 8 minutes (you may have to do this in 2 batches), adding any of the sauce left in the bowl. Flip and cook 3 more minutes, then transfer to a plate.

Add onion and remaining 1/4 tsp salt and cook uncovered, stirring frequently until soft- about 8 minutes. Add garlic, stirring, 3 minutes. Add cilantro and parsley, water, honey, cinnamon stick, apricots, and chicken. Reduce heat slightly and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

Serve chicken over couscous with parsley and cilantro.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


It's no secret that I'm very fond of Hayes Valley. I've been meaning to check out Smitten Ice Cream for a long time but until last weekend, the right moment had never presented itself. Either I was too full or the weather was too cold or some other such nonsense would get in the way. Anyway, on Saturday, Daniel, our friend Atticus and I took sandwiches and a bottle of prosecco down to Patricia's Green for an impromptu sort of picnic. We watched dogs and small children frolic and then it was time for ice cream.

After some deliberation, I ordered olive oil with lavender shortbread; Daniel and Atticus both had earl grey with milk chocolate chunks. 

{earl grey ice cream}

Smitten makes their ice cream using liquid nitrogen to chill it, which apparently keeps the ice crystals really small, resulting in creamy ice cream.

And it is extremely creamy. Extremely. Almost to the point that it felt like too much. I ordered the smallest possible size and still couldn't finish even half of it. 

Fortunately, Ritual Coffee is right next door. I shook myself from an impending sugar coma with a macchiato. 


And then we stopped to listen to a string group performing in the park. They played Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and Daniel gave them $5- they were really good. 

So, the verdict? Good ice cream, but a little too heavy for my taste. I'll be sticking to the homemade stuff for the time being. Still, an excellent Saturday afternoon. Hayes Valley does not disappoint. 

Smitten Ice Cream
432 Octavia
SF 94102

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