Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Birthday bash follow-up

I know, I know. I left you all hanging in that last post with promises to update again shortly…and now it’s a week later. A full, busy, chaotic, awesome week later, as I am about to expound on.

Obviously, the first order of business is to finish up the Chez Panisse post. Well, in case you couldn’t guess, the evening with capped off with me meeting Alice Waters. I know. I know! It was epic. I’d heard that she’s not at the restaurant all that much these days – after all, she practically has an empire to run. So I wasn’t expecting to see her at all. And then I spotted her early in the meal, stopping at various tables to chat. Alex and I began to notice something kind of weird – it seemed like everyone at the tables around us seemed to know each other, and Ms. Waters was kind of sticking with that group. Finally we deduced (well, a nice fellow at the table next to us explained) that it was a staff reunion night, which was why Alice was there in the first place and why they all seemed to know each other—because they did! Then, right before dessert, she stopped by our table and asked how everything was!!!! We chatted for maybe a total of 30 seconds, but they were an awesome 30 seconds. Alex commented afterwards that he was impressed with how composed I remained. Inside I was totally freaking out, to be sure. Anyway, it was a pretty excellent ending to an already fantastic meal.

But the birthday extravaganza didn’t stop there! Oh no, there was much more to come. First, Alex and I saw Bruce Springsteen that Friday night, and it was just an awesome show – I mean, Bruce never disappoints. And. And! He sang “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” If you know me at all, you know what a big deal this was. BRUUUUUCE!

So then came my actual birthday last Tuesday. The last two birthdays Danielle and I have gone to Boston and ate lobster, so I was originally thinking that maybe this year would be kind of quite in comparison. Well, then Chez Panisse and Bruce happened, so there went that theory. But I still wasn’t expecting much else, especially on the day itself. Wrong again! The guys at work took me out to lunch at an adorable little French bistro in the city, followed by cake and champagne back at the office. Then a bunch of “the gang” went out to a very good Vietnamese place in Oakland (Le Chavel). It was a fun day.

And then. AND THEN. Everyone at work (which is a total of five people, myself included) went to Disneyland for a couple days. True story. An epic birthday all around. Let’s hope that this means that 26 is going to be an epic year. It’s off to a very good start.

Monday, December 3, 2012

So much to say, yet I'm speechless

Yes, the rumors are true – I had dinner at Chez Panisse last Wednesday! Yes, the Chez Panisse. And wow, was it something special. My darling brother and I went to celebrate my birthday a bit early. Consider this a life goal checked off the list. And I just have to say, it was everything I wanted it to be and so much more. I had high expectations for this dinner, and they were far and away exceeded.
Alex made our reservations a few weeks ago, knowing how much I wanted to go here to celebrate the big 2-6. We’d originally been hoping to go closer to my actual birthday tomorrow, but Wednesday was the closest we could get, and I have to say, it couldn’t have worked out better – but I’ll get to that shortly.

We got there just a few minutes before our 8:45 reservation and just hung out upstairs in the bar for a bit. Before too long, though, we were taken to our table – and it was a primo spot. We were seated in a cozy corner booth that looked diagonally into the open kitchen. From my seat I could see lamb roasting on the open grill, baskets of bread and fresh vegetables, and chefs hard at work. Also, I have to say a word about the atmosphere. Even though it was busy and a relatively small space, it still seemed quite and intimate. The whole room has a soft glow thanks to copper panels that reflect the light. In a word, magical. But enough about all of that. Let's get to the real matter here -- the food.

The perfect meal.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gobble gobble recap

So, the Big Day is behind us and all can return to normal (ish) until Christmas. Now seems like a good time to recap my dad's visit to California, Turkey Day itself, and maybe name off a few things I'm thankful for this year.
Dad was in town for about ten days total -- the first few due to a talk that he was giving at the Science and Society conference at UC Berkeley, and then he stuck around for Thanksgiving, too. We had a swell time -- a lot of eating and shopping (two of my very favorite things, as you all well know). We ate at Liasion on my recommendation, and it was just as good the second time around. I had to-die-for French onion soup followed by roast chicken, plus we had some oysters to share. I capped it out with tart tatin. Yum. Throughout the week we also hit up Scoma's, ordered some good California Chinese food (very hard to come by in Texas), visited a brew pub and an old school diner in Berkeley, and dad cooked three nights -- beef stroganoff, chicken almond, and mac and cheese -- all favorite dishes of mine from childhood. Oh boy, did we eat well.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

T-minus two weeks

The BIG DAY (and by that, I of course mean Thanksgiving) is rapidly approaching and I could not be more excited. The menu is still under development, so I have nothing to share on that front, at least for now. In the meantime, here's a hilarious picture of Wyatt in his Halloween costume (He'd be so embarrassed if he knew I was sharing this with the world):

And moving on. So, I really enjoyed plowing through all those foodie quotes a few weeks back, so I thought I'd share some Turkey Day related ones -- some heartfelt, some humorous, all relate-able. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I'm so excited

And I just can't hide it! Today has been a fabulous start to November, I have to say. First of all, I stopped at Starbucks this morning and they had their seasonal red cups out already! An official cue to the holiday season, in my book. Plus they were featuring peppermint mochas! *Picture me doing a crazy happy dance right now* It was delicious -- because you know I ordered one! Plus I picked up Rod Stewart's new Christmas CD, aptly named "Merry Christmas, Baby," and it is excellent -- two thumbs up. But all of this is just build up to the really excellent news -- both my parents are coming out to California for Thanksgiving! I could not be more thrilled by this news.

We'd originally discussed something similar a few months back, but that was before my grandmother got really sick and things got all screwed up. I, of course, have been stressing about this for weeks already, and for awhile there, things were looking kind of bleak. But alas! By some miracle, everything has worked out exactly how I wanted it to, and I'll be hosting Thanksgiving for my whole family this year. Its been three Thanksgivings since we were all together, what with me on the East Coast and the brother here in Cali. I am just so pleased that we're all going to be together, and that I get to cook us all a fantastic meal. And now I have to get back to planning said meal...

Happy November!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What's going on (cue Motown music)

I know, I know. How long has it been since my last post? And I was doing so good for a while there…In all seriousness, October has sped by me and I can’t believe we’ve only got a week to go until November. A big part of that is because I recently spent ten days in Massachusetts – an unexpected trip, to be sure, and not for a fun reason. I know that when they lose someone special to them, a lot of other bloggers write some kind of tribute post, often zeroing in on how that person’s influence relates to the blog’s topic. And then tons of strangers out there in the universe write in with their condolences and special stories of their own, and perhaps the whole thing makes the blogger feel better, comforted, less alone. Well, maybe someday I’ll write a post about my grandmother’s food eccentricities, her penchant for baking, the cookbook collection she made me for my sixteenth birthday, the applesauce she and my grandfather made every fall, her unwavering encouragement of me and my aspirations…but I’m not there yet.
So in the meantime, let me do a little round-up of what’s been going in food-wise in my life. I made significant progress on the cookbook challenge before taking a break, but I’m getting back on track this week with four recipes lined up – eggplant gratin, radishes with compound butter, elephant ears, and cheese puffs (gougeres in French).
I made pumpkin mac and cheese the other day, a recipe from Better Homes and Gardens that I’ve been wanting to try for a while. It was eh, okay. I think in actuality it tasted just fine, but what I really wanted was ooey gooey cheesy mac and cheese, and this was not that. So I was disappointed and probably won’t make the recipe again. Tonight I’m going to try a recipe, also from BHG, for pumpkin rice pudding, which I think will be much more successful. Have I ever talked about my mom’s rice pudding? The recipe is from a Sun-Maid golden raisins box many years ago and it’s just the best. I wish she could make me some right now.
The brother and I had a nice fall day last Saturday – we did a corn maze, visited a pumpkin patch, and then carved those pumpkins (later dubbed Dennis and Amelia). I roasted up the pumpkin seeds with some olive oil, salt, black pepper, and a touch of cayenne – they came out pretty good! I also made an apple pie (the only one I've made so far the season -- ridiculous!). I used to like apple pie best when it was warm from the oven, but I think I like it better now nice and cold. Is that weird? The apples at the farmers' market are just fascinating -- and the cider is yummy too (although not as good as the New England stuff).
I drank sooo much Dunkin Donuts coffee and ate at least five Boston Creme doughnuts. True story. Although now I haven't had Starbucks in like, two weeks. That's a tragedy in my book.
Finally, I’d like to make an observation – Applebee’s food really sucks these days (except for the boneless Buffalo wings, which are always delish). I guess maybe it always sucked and I just wasn’t picky enough to notice. Well, I am now, and its ruined for me. Maybe for the best?
Oh, and let me say – I returned to the west coast with a stack of Thanksgiving related magazines about a foot tall. I’m still making my way through them – so fun! Have I mentioned lately how much I love the holidays?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Food for thought

Some favorite foodie quotes (i.e., words I live by) -- merely an excerpt, as there are so many good ones out there:

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.” ― Charles M. Schulz

“If more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” ― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

“Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” ― Julia Child

“The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.” ― Julia Child

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” ― Hippocrates

“Always serve too much hot fudge sauce on hot fudge sundaes. It makes people overjoyed, and puts them in your debt.” ― Judith Olney

“Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers.” ― William Shakespeare

“The preparation of good food is merely another expression of art, one of the joys of civilized living…” ― Dione Lucas

“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.” ― Mark Twain

“Cooking is at once child's play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love.” ― Craig Claiborne

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Falling for fall

Right. So, fall in California – official as of last Saturday, but there were signs beforehand. As we all know, I love autumn. As in, I luuuuurve autumn. This is definitely my favorite time of year – I love the cooler weather, the beautiful trees, the clothes, the sense of coziness, apples and pumpkins and winter squash (which, of course, means apple pie and apple sauce and apple cider and apple cider doughnuts and…okay, I’ll stop now. I think you get the point). Plus, to top everything off, we are officially at the beginning of the holiday season! YES! Before you know it, Halloween will have come and gone and it’ll be time to prep for THE BIG ONE (Thanksgiving, which there is already a feature about on foodnetwork.com) and then Christmas. I am already so excited that I can barely contain myself. I just realized that the next round of magazines to arrive will all be Thanksgiving ones! Wyatt says, “Did someone say…turkey?”

But back to the matter at hand. I apologize, I know I tend to get distracted by holidays…and turkey…and cooking…and Starbucks…(wow, I’m in kind of a goofy mood today, huh?). I was concerned that moving out here would mean no fall. After all, I was coming from New England, the kingdom of autumn. And while fall might not be quite as in your face here, it definitely makes its presence known. The weather hasn’t changed dramatically, although it is cooler in the mornings and evenings. But that was kind of to be expected – the weather is fairly steady year round here, and it is always pretty ideal, so no complaints. The leaves on certain trees are changing colors – mostly to a brilliant red, which is very pretty. It seems like the further north one goes, the more color there is – there is even a difference from Oakland up to Berkeley. There are several drives recommended for leaf peepers, pretty much all somewhat north of me, and I really hope to take one with Wyatt and the brother. Perhaps most exciting of all, fall produce has made its way to the farmers’ market – apples, pears, some squash and pumpkins, sunflowers – I’m in heaven! A number of the apples are old heirloom varieties that you don’t see much anymore (including Jonathon, a long-time fave of my dad’s although he never get his hands on any). There is actually a whole section of the region called “apple hill” that features apple orchards, cider makers, and apparently the best apple cider doughnuts ever (we’ll see about that). Anyway, I hope to take a drive that way in a couple weeks, once the season peaks – check out this link for more info: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/84940. So far, autumn in northern California has been quite satisfying.

Last weekend was the Eat Real Festival at Jack London Square in Oakland. Because I live pretty close, the roommate and I went twice – Friday evening and Saturday morning. And boy, did we eat – lobster roll bites (good, but not as good as at the Clam Shack in MA), nutella-strawberry crème brulee, frozen custard, spring rolls, garlic mac and cheese, cupcakes (twice), and a caramel apple topped with bacon. True story. Everything was delicious, and it was a lot of fun to wander and see what everybody was eating. A whole weekend festival dedicated to food!

Cooked four more recipes from Barefoot in Paris over the weekend, too!

Finally, here’s a funny pic of Alex, hanging his head in shame and admitting defeat to the pancakes – hence the white flag.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A new toy!

I have a thing for kitchen gadgets – have I ever mentioned this before? Seriously, I am a total sucker for gadgets of all kinds, even those ridiculous ones that really only have the one purpose, because you just never know when that is the one thing that is going to make or break a recipe.

I’ve been wanting a food mill for several years, but hadn’t been able to justify getting one – the Oxo one I picked out was perpetually stuck in my Amazon wish list, along with a French rolling pin, a mortar and pestle, a tart pan with removable bottom, a special heart-shaped dish to make coeur a la crème…never mind the approximately four dozen cookbooks…

So back to the point of this post, and please disregard my OCD when it comes to Amazon kitchen purchases. Anyway, a couple weeks ago I saw a recipe for applesauce that sounded super easy – but there was just one catch. You guessed it – I needed a food mill. Finally, the motivation I’d been looking for! It turned out that Bed Bath and Beyond has the same Oxo mill for the same price as Amazon, plus I was able to use one of their infamous 20 percent off coupons, plus there is a location literally down the street from my apartment, with the mill in stock – so yay for instant gratification! My total, including tax, was just about $43.

Over the weekend I finally had a chance to try it out. I made the applesauce (by the way, that recipe is here: http://www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com/2012/05/recipe-how-to-make-homemade-applesauce) and it was divine. I loooooove homemade applesauce. Something about it is just a million times better than the store bought kind. My grandparents always make a lot of “lumpy applesauce” each fall, especially when I am coming to visit because they know how much I love it. I’ll really miss that this year, being out in California. But alas, I was able to make myself a pretty decent substitute, and the food mill definitely made it super-easy. (Confession: this applesauce is so good, I find myself wandering over to the fridge, pulling out the bowl, and eating a spoonful or two every few minutes.) Mavis makes this note at the bottom of her recipe: “Fresh applesauce will keep in the refrigerator for about 5 days.  If you don’t think you’ll go through it that fast, you can always freeze it.” Um, like that’s even a concern. This stuff will be looooong gone five days from now.

As it turned out, another recipe I’d planned to make Saturday also called for a food mill, so double score! I made Ina Garten’s Garlic mashed Potatoes (as seen in Barefoot in Paris) and they were really good – as I’d expect them to be, considering that I love all her recipes. The mill helped make them super creamy but not too thin. That reminds me – I haven’t discussed this yet!

As you all know, I recently moved from New England to San Francisco. There were a lot of factors that contributed to this move, but one was definitely my love for food – SF seemed like an ideal place to nurture that passion. And for the most part, it is. I’ve been able to go to some restaurants/cafes/shops that I’d heard so much about in magazines or on TV. The farmers’ markets are great. Food is just so central to life and culture here, and in that way, I fit right in. However…I was hoping that there’d be some sort of part-time certificate program in culinary or (preferably) pastry arts that I’d be able to do on weekends or something. I want to improve my skills and…I don’t know, legitimize myself. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find what I am looking for. There are some very neat sounding one-time classes around (even at the CIA in Napa, so I’m psyched by that opportunity). I’m bummed, but I haven’t given up. In the meantime, I recently discovered that Ina Garten (one of my very favorite food personalities) really has no formal culinary training. She says she learned to cook mostly from friends and by cooking her way through various cookbooks. In a move completely ripped off inspired by Julie and Julia, I’ve decided to do just that – I am going to cook every recipe in Barefoot in Paris. This is a good choice for such a project because it is a beautiful book, very accessible, but with a moderate amount of recipes (compared to, say, Mastering the Art of French Cooking), plus there is a gorgeous picture accompanying each recipe. Flipping through it the other day, I realized I’d already made two of the recipes (rosemary cashews and croquet monsieur)! After this past weekend, I’ve made two more – lemon chicken and the mashed potatoes. Off to a good start!

For my next post, expect to see musing about fall in northern California.