Monday, July 30, 2012

le croissant du jour


I think that fear just means there is 
something really exciting on the other end.
                                                     -Cheryl Strayed

photo via 99u

Sunday, July 29, 2012

the minimalist baker's oatmeal chocolate chip pancakes

On Friday, I came across the site Minimalist Baker for the first time. I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of Dana's chocolate chip oatmeal pancakes. To channel Liz Lemon, my first thought was I want to go to there

Then I looked a bit closer and saw that they were vegan chocolate chip oatmeal pancakes. Oh.

It's not that I have a problem with vegan pancakes, per say. But in my experience, vegan baked goods are tricky. I guess I've never understood why you would want to use a flax egg instead of an actual egg, given the choice. Regardless, I couldn't get these pancakes out of my head. And so come Saturday morning I decided to make my own version.

This version involved a number of substitutions. Instead of almond milk, I used lowfat cow's milk. Instead of almond butter, I used an extra tbsp of canola oil. Instead of a flax egg, I used a regular egg. 

The pancakes were flavored with banana and chocolate and the rolled oats added a pleasing texture and weight to the cakes. The maple syrup didn't hurt either.

They weren't vegan but they were delicious.

Adapted from The Minimalist Baker's Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookie Pancakes

1 very ripe banana
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
pinch salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp canola oil
3 tbsp milk
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3 tbsp semisweet chocolate chips

Mash banana together with baking powder then add egg, oil, salt, vanilla, and milk, stirring to incorporate. Stir in oats and flour until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.

Preheat lightly greased skillet over medium heat. Scoop 1/4 cup of batter onto skillet and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side. 

Sprinkle on a few extra chocolate chips and drizzle with maple syrup. Mmm.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

what's for dinner

Yesterday, as I was drinking my morning cup of coffee and preparing for my day at work I read this and thought it was so spot on that I wanted to re-post it here. It's something I think about a lot- the choices we make as we try to find a balance between work and our personal lives and where cooking falls into that mix.

I came home after work feeling tired and not in the mood to do much of anything. Daniel was going to be working late and all I wanted to do was curl up on the couch and read a book.

But first I made dinner. Because even when I'm tired and sort of grumpy and have only myself to feed, making dinner makes me feel better. I poked around in the refrigerator and emerged with a head of romanesco, some arugula, and a small lump of feta. I roasted the romanesco, boiled some water for Israeli couscous, and whisked together a basic dressing of vinegar, olive oil and salt. When the romanesco and couscous were done, I tossed them together, added the arugula and dressing, and sprinkled some crumbled feta on top.

And that was dinner. Slowing down, even for a few minutes, to put it together helped me relax after a long day of work.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

mirabelle plum jam

On Saturday, Daniel and I walked through the farmer's market in Larkspur and I noticed a basket of small yellow fruit tucked in between the purple plums and rosy apricots. I didn't stop to look closer- we weren't doing any shopping since we were on our way up to Napa- but I did notice them. When we arrived in Napa, I saw that Daniels' mother had a bowl of this same fruit sitting in the kitchen. I asked her what they were and she told me: plums.

It turns out that they have a plum tree in their back yard, though they'd never noticed it before- it hadn't produced fruit in years past. But this year it was bursting with little yellow orbs the size of cherries that, as Google informed me, are commonly referred to as Mirabelle plums.

A few months back, I took a class on canning and preserving at the Institute of Urban Homesteading in Oakland. It wasn't that I saw myself preparing to go on any sort of canning spree (I live in an apartment with no yard and hence no fruit trees/bushes/etc.) but I liked the idea of learning the basic skill so that if I were ever presented with a large enough quantity of fruit, I could spring into action.

Here was my opportunity.

Daniel and I picked several pounds of plums. There's something addictive about picking fruit- you always want to keep going, to pluck the last few ripe specimens from the heavily laden branches. Once we had enough, we packed them up and I started thinking about the best way to convert our haul into jam.

I ended it keeping it simple: just plums, sugar and a bit of lemon juice. It took seemingly forever to pit four pounds of Mirabelle plums and it stained my hands an odd spray-tan orange but it was all worth it when I got to watch the fruit turn to syrup in my Dutch oven,  burbling away and smelling absolutely heavenly.

I poured the jam into sterilized mason jars and boiled them for the required 10 minutes. Hearing the lids pop as the jars sealed was immensely satisfying. Now I think it's time to make some bread so I can try some of this stuff out.

Mirabelle Jam
4 lbs pitted mirabelle plums
2 cups granulated sugar
3 tbs lemon juice

Boil plums and sugar over medium high heat at a low boil for 5 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the fruit to extract the juice. Set the fruit pulp aside for later use and return the sieved juices to the stove. Boil, stirring infrequently, until a candy thermometer registers 220F and the juice is syrupy. Return the  fruit pulp to the juices and add the lemon juice. Boil on medium high, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes. Pour the mixture into sterilized jam jars and follow instructions for canning

Monday, July 23, 2012

napa valley biscuits

Daniel and I spent the better part of the weekend in Napa, visiting Daniel's parents and generally relaxing outside the city. Over dinner on Saturday, the conversation turned to the opening of a new breakfast spot in downtown Napa called Napa Valley Biscuits. There was some discussion of chicken and waffles and biscuits with gravy and pretty soon I was begging to go there for Sunday breakfast. 

Because Daniel's parents are remarkably kind and tolerant people, they agreed and on Sunday morning, we headed out.

After studying the menu with rapt fascination for a few minutes, I decided to go for The Yardbird- a fried chicken and biscuit sandwich with bacon, cheddar cheese and gravy. Daniel ordered the fried chicken and waffles. We each had glasses of tart lemonade. I felt suddenly very grateful that Biscuits wasn't a chain restaurant because as such, they weren't required to post anything about the number of calories we were preparing to ingest. I didn't want to know. 

The food was delicious and almost awe-inspiring in its unapologetic richness. The chicken was perfectly cooked- tender with crispy skin. As I staggered out to the car, I realized that it would be impossible to eat this kind of food more than once or twice a year. Still, it was quite the special treat- there really is nothing like a good biscuit.

Napa Valley Biscuits
1502 Main St
Napa 94559

Thursday, July 19, 2012

flo braker's pain d'amande

After I got back from my vacation last week, I promptly came down with a cold and spent several days sniffling into Kleenexes and drinking lots of herbal tea. However, come Saturday I felt well enough to have a few friends over for a small Bastille Day themed supper. 

Basically it's become an annual tradition that I use Bastille Day as an opportunity to cook French food and drink an excessive amount of champagne. This year was no exception. We dined on pâté de campagne, rillettes de porc, salade de carottes râpées, gratin de courgettes, frisée aux lardons, and a savory tarte aux quetsches. We also would have had gougeres, but I left them too long in the oven and they burnt to a crisp. As I mentioned, there was a good deal of champagne.

After dinner we had lavender honey ice cream and pain d'amande

The ice cream was good, if a bit strongly flavored, but the pain d'amande was a revelation- crisp, buttery and subtly nutty. Pure genius.  So much so that I just baked another batch to eat with salted butter caramel ice cream at a dinner party tomorrow night. I followed the recipe (something I usually try to do the first time I try out a new recipe) and it was delicious just as it is, but I can imagine taking it in a number of directions. Making it without the cinnamon. Adding vanilla, perhaps. Or lemon zest. Possibilities, yo.

Anyway, it was a delightful evening. I'm very happy to be continuing a tradition of festive Bastille Days, even here in California. Vive la France!

Friday, July 13, 2012


After Rome, I went to London.

My friend Kinzie lives in London. She moved there for work last October and has spent the past number of months busily exploring her new home. I wanted to visit before she came back to the Bay Area and figured that it would be the perfect opportunity to improve my opinion of London, a city that never managed to wow me in visits past.

This time, I was wowed. Completely and thoroughly. Staying with someone who knows the city and also knows me made an enormous difference. Of course. I had done some research on my own and planned things like a visit to the Tate Modern to see the Damien Hirst exhibit (bizarre, fun) and the Maltby Market (tiny, delightful) and lunch reservations at spots like The Ledbury and Nopi (excellent & excellent). Kinzie made sure I didn't miss out on things I never would have found on my own. We walked along Regent's canal, visited the Columbia Road flower market, drank Pimm's Cup, watched Wimbledon, ate pig's head stew at St. John's Bread and Wine, listened to jazz at Nightjar, and fell asleep to Harry Potter movies. Among many, many other things. Kinzie knows me well.

I couldn't have imagined a more delightful time and was happy to revise my previous assessment of London's charms. Turns out, it's a pretty fabulous place.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

ostia antica

While  in Rome, we also took a brief day trip to Ostia to see the ruins of the ancient Roman sea port. As we discovered, Ostia is an easy 30 minute train ride from Rome- we sipped cappuccini, met our guide at the station, and were off.

The site dates back to the 7th century B.C. but the visible structures date from the 3rd century B.C. 

The visit was interesting on a number of levels. Beyond the obvious allure of walking around structures that have been in place for several thousands of years, I was astonished by the quiet of the place- there were only a handful of visitors. This, at the peak of tourist season, while Pompeii gets something like 2.5 million visitors annually. I'm still scratching my head, wondering why this isn't a bigger tourist destination- it is undeniably impressive and extremely accessible from Rome. Still, I couldn't have imagined doing it without a guide to show us around. The ruins are mostly unmarked and I expect it would have been difficult to get a good sense of what things were if we hadn't had a well-informed guide. As it was, we past a very pleasant couple of hours wandering about and getting more than our money's worth in information on the Ostia of yore. All in all, an excellent excursion.
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