Friday, December 27, 2013

Bananas about hazelnut pancakes, for New Year's breakfast

I hope everyone is having a wonderful final week of December!

I'm excited to have a new recipe up on the Anthology blog--this time, baked bananas and hazelnut pancakes for New Year's breakfast! Trust me, these aren't your average banana pancakes. Click on over for a full description and the recipe.

(Also, please be forewarned. While making these pancakes, I got this and this stuck in my head on endless loop.)

This year, I had an extremely quiet Christmas, but I did pack this recipe with a bunch of holiday cheer. For example, the cacao nibs on top of the pancakes are from these delicious cracked cacao beans that my friend (and sometimes-contributor to this blog) Andréa brought for me from a new Portland bean-to-bar chocolatier, Woodblock. (She also brought me some chocolate salt from the Meadow, which is kind of wild, and will probably show up sometime soon on the blog. :)) Oh, and you see that beautiful wooden bowl below with the hazelnuts in it? That's a hand-turned bowl from Scotland that my friend Lauren brought me when she visited in early December. (Apparently, she stalked my blog to see if I owned a wooden bowl yet--the unseen perks of having a food blog!) It's so beautiful and smooth that I sort of want to use it as a pillow.

This is my last week in LA, and then I'm finally headed home to the Bay Area. A quick trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota is on the books for early January. brrrrr (seriously, this California girl does not own cold weather gear). If you have any recommendations of awesome foodie places to see in the Twin Cities, please leave me comment below!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Read on for recipe...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Urban fruit foraging, Los Angeles

Since defending my dissertation a month ago (!!), I've been living in Los Angeles temporarily (and bouncing back and forth to San Francisco every few weeks), working on a collaborative research project that started back in April, before my next position (! more on that in future posts) starts in January. It's been a bit tedious being away from home for so long. For one, I desperately miss my kitchen. In fact, I miss cooking and baking altogether, since I'm living in a sublet with um... a microwave. Yeah.... (Thank god for Trader Joe's.)

At the same time, though, there are days like today, when it was mild and 80 degrees F outside--in the middle of December, no less!--, and the air smelled of sweet honeysuckle. And, I get to work with and hang out with some awesome colleagues here, so really, I will gladly forgo (temporarily) my kitchen privileges for this opportunity.

One of my favorite parts of academia (you know, besides the part where I get to spend my days in the pursuit of knowledge) is the people. I find that, given the nature of the field, academia tends to attract curious minds, which in turns leads to a host of people with eclectic and fascinating hobbies. Like my collaborator--Kie--here in LA, who eats things off of trees. Or, to put it fancily, Kie is an urban fruit forager. (She's pictured below, escaping from the frame of a photo of a strawberry guava tree.)

[top: strawberry guava tree; bottom: Natal plum blossom]

When I first met Kie a few years ago, this behavior of eating the random fruits of plants we happened to stroll by alarmed me greatly. (Actually, I find that many academics seem to harbor a secret death wish, like the professor at my home university who likes to speed around on his motorized bicycle without a helmet and tauntingly race 20-something-year-olds on road bikes....) But it turns out that she knows what she's doing, so I asked her to take me on a tour of West LA's urban offerings during my visit this time around.

[above: pygmy date palm fruit]

The tour was so eye-opening because it's amazing how many plants have edible fruits that you wouldn't even think of! I've walked by so many of these trees and bushes every day, writing them off as background scenery on my way to get somewhere else, and yet, here they are, laden with interesting treats to experience. Instead of stopping to smell the roses, it's like stopping to munch on the roses... or, the rose hips, as it were (pictured below), which are sweet and crunchy--like apples, but more floral and less tart.

[top: rosehips, bottom: kumquats]

Of course, there were familiar offerings, like hanging rosemary, or the kumquat tree, which was just coming into season and barely ripe. (We even saw a banana tree!) But most of the fruits and plants that Kie introducted me to were more unfamiliar. On campus, there was this African berry plant (below), which I conveniently forgot to write down the name of. The berries reminded me of such a familiar flavor, almost like a grape juicebox. It's a funny association because Kie pointed out that "monkeys and kids" snack on these berries in Africa. There were also natal plums, which have these amazingly fragrant white blossoms (though I don't think the blossoms are edible). The plums themselves are soft and candy-sweet and bright red. And the California pepper tree--not actually related to real pepper--produces these pink peppercorn-like pods that Kie mentioned were really good in salads.

[top: African berry plant; bottom: California pepper tree]

My favorite find of the day, however, were the Lilli Pillis (below). When Kie first handed me one to eat, I got so excited, because as it turns out, these tiny little fruits are related to Malay rose apples, which were a favorite childhood fruit of mine when I spent summers visiting family in Asia. Even though many tropical fruits are now available in the States (e.g., passionfruit, lychee, guavas, etc), Malay apples have for whatever reason never made it onto the import lists, and I've never been able to find them here. So imagine my surprise and delight to learn that there were miniature versions of these fruits growing in plentiful clumps that I walk by all the time! Eureka!

[above: lilli pillis]

So I'll be able to enjoy these fruits for a couple weeks longer before it's time for me to head back home to the Bay. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas! I will be celebrating it a bit late, once my kitchen and I are at long last reunited. :)

[above: a collection of arbutus fruit, lilli pillis, strawberry guava, natal plums, 
California pepper, and flowering rosemary]

(PSA: Please if you do go foraging, do so with someone who knows what they're doing as your guide. Not everything red is delicious and benign!)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Spiced Pepita Brittle and Pumpkin Panna Cotta

Happy belated Thanksgiving, everyone! This year, I was fortunate enough to have not only one but two Thanksgivings, so I'm still stuffed to the brim. I hope everyone's Thanksgivings were equally as delicious!

I'm so pleased to announce that I will be doing recurring recipe features over the next few months on the Anthology Magazine Blog! I got to work with Anthology last year for their gift guide, and I'm excited to be a part of that world again. It's a wonderful lifestyle and design mag, if you haven't seen it yet. This month's recipe is a spiced pepita brittle and pumpkin panna cotta--a balance of sweet and savory and light and creamy for the holidays. Click on over to the Anthology blog for the recipe!

Read on for recipe....

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Interlude: Delfina's Pizza, San Francisco

A blogpost! gasp! Lots has been happening offline in the past few months of desserts for breakfast silence: the biggest news being that I defended my dissertation! (successfully!) Whew. Now, it's just a month or so of revisions, and then I will officially file to become a Doctor. :D

Alongside dissertation insanity, I also had two conference trips out to the East Coast within the same three week time span: basically it's been fly to Connecticut, give a talk, fly home, defend my dissertation, fly to Boston, give another talk, fly home, and then within a day's breather, move to LA for another month of research here. Some days I wake up, and for a long minute, I'm confused about where I am. But, to be honest, I kind of thrive on the insanity. I've lately grown to be a big believer in making one's own luck, so being busy making mine is a good thing. Rest can come after the luck is made. As we sometimes joke in academia: "That's what tenure is for." :)

In the meantime, though, I do miss home a bit. The people, mostly, but also the place. And, of course, the food. Like Delfina's. Seriously one of the best slices of pie on the face of this earth. The one pictured above is a fresh cherry tomato pie ("cherry pie" ;)) that my friend Toni introduced me to. It's like having fresh, almost creamy tomato gazpacho atop a perfectly chewy crust. It's pure magic how they get it to be so soupy and not soggy at the same time! Oh, and I'm obsessed with the tricolore salad at Delfina's, too.

Anyways, now that the dissertation finish line is almost in sight, I've finally allowed myself to pick up the camera again. And, as if the universe were rewarding me for doing good on the dissertation front, I've gotten the chance to do some awesome shoots in the past few weeks since my defense. Watch this space for more substantive posts, soon!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Croissants for Sunday tea

Despite the stereotypical associations of the Ivory Tower replete with cardigans and leatherbound books, the life of a modern, early-career academic is not really the most civilized. I've eaten my share of questionable, unidentified leftovers from communal department refrigerators. As the school year progresses, the definition of "clean" laundry often degrades from "I wore this once already, it's dirty" to "I don't smell too bad, plus everyone has a stuffy nose and a cold, so no one will care." One professor I know refuses to wash her mug so that no one else will use it, and she'll always have something available to drink from (though even I question the health risk of drinking out of said mug). Another professor I know thanks her husband in her dissertation acknowledgements for making sure she showers from time to time. As for those cardigans, mine are often riddled with holes, but as long as the sleeves are still ~80% attached, I dare say they are still wearable. Plus, thumb holes (even if unintentional) are so hip, right?

Luckily, however, we do somehow manage to make up for day-to-day unrefinement every now and then. Like at Sunday tea. We academics know how to do tea.

My good friend and colleague, Andréa (who is also a recipe developer for sated), invited me over last weekend as part of a Lab Ladies' Sunday Tea. In a somewhat unusual circumstance, Andréa is part of a lab that is predominantly female, which is quite awesome given the usual gender imbalance (read: male dominance) in the more theoretical and STEM-oriented subfields of linguistics. It was so much fun to be a member-by-courtesy and to get together and talk about linguistics, debate how to properly drink tea (milk before tea or tea before milk), and vent about dissertating. We even had a bit of a more formal dress code for Sunday tea, to be proper--I think it's the first time I've worn actually girly amounts of make-up in ages (and brushed my hair). And, these girls are all talented bakers, as demonstrated by the impressive homemade spread they turned out:

[Top: Cinnamon challah; bottom-left to right: sweet potato-pecan cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, apple and cheddar salad]

My contributions were teacups (naturally, and also some plateware and wood boards--after all, what is a food photographer's prop closet good for if you can't break out pretty props from time to time for use?) and an array of jams: seville orange marmalade (a must for tea), a homemade strawberry gifted from Annelies, and Blue Chair tomato-nectarine jam. (We also had some delicious Blenheim apricot jam leftover from a previous study group.) One of our friends even brought a type of Northern European caramel goat cheese, which was fascinating. Yay, learning about new foods!

[another lesson I learned: apparently, the tradition is to not cut challah, but break off chunks instead. We learned this after making the first cut. :)]

In perhaps the most impressive stroke, Andréa made her own croissants. They were so delicious and flakey fresh out of the oven--the entire kitchen smelled perfectly divine while they were baking. Having freshly made croissants is such a rare treat that moments like these (which are thankfully shared with awesome friends) definitely make up for the unglamour-ousness of daily academic life. I asked Andréa if she would share her croissant recipe here on the blog, and she agreed, so it is below!

Read on for recipe....

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Morning hazelnut plum tarts

It's been a long (or too short?, depending on how you look at it) summer of dissertation writing, but I'm almost there. My oral defense has now finally been scheduled (meaning I've somehow convinced my thesis chairs that I'm worthy of attempting the last rite of earning a PhD), and now it's just a matter of final details, filling in the blanks in the argumentation, and writing the intro and conclusion. Almoooooost.

This is the first dessert I've made in months. Given my self-imposed thesis hermitude, I've missed so much of summer's great fruit, so I wanted to take advantage of the tail end of stone fruit season before it disappeared altogether. This hazelnut plum tart is sort of a hybrid of a cake-y tart, with a thick, almost linzer-torte-like base and slices of fruit baked in on top. The secret to this "morning" tart is that the dough itself is spiked with orange zest and just ever so subtle of a hint of Turkish coffee and cardamom--enough to give the tart a dark and complex depth without stealing the scene with too much coffee flavor. It's a barely-there roasted spice flavor that helps to enhance the hazelnuts, alongside the brightness that the orange and plums provide.

It's going to be a bit slow-going while I try to reacclimate to "normal" life after my myopically-focused dissertation summer, but hopefully this also means the beginning of many more desserts coming out of the kitchen again.

(P.S. See that teacup in the photos? It's a UC Berkeley Wedgewood set! that I found at the antique fair a few months ago. I first saw these Berkeley Wedgewood place settings when I had dinner at the Chancellor's House as an undergrad, so I'm quite excited by the fact that I now too have a tea cup designed especially for my college alma mater. :D #geekpride)

Read on for recipe....

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August update: Scenes as of late.

Hi! Yes! I'm still alive! Really!

I know this blog has been super quiet as of late, and just know that it kills me not to be spending at least some time in the kitchen or behind a camera. With the deadline for the dissertation looming fast, large, and imminently, I've had to slap my own hand away every time I even *start* to think about anything but the thesis. But rest assured that I have been keeping an ever-growing list of Things To Do After the Dissertation, on which many, many recipe ideas have been jotted. So DfB will be back soon, I promise!

In the meantime, I do pop up every now and then on twitter and instagram. I mean, a girl's gotta stay balanced and sane somehow, right? Right? My doctor recently said at a routine check-up that I was healthy and the least stressed dissertator she's ever seen. Apparently, I'm doing it wrong! because all signs point to needing to be way more frantic than I am. :) But really, guys, writing a thesis isn't easy. Really. Thankfully, I've had good people along the way with the cheerleading, which makes it so much better. And it makes me appreciate the little moments that make me smile. Thank goodness they're instagrammable:

Oh! This reminds me. One of the items on my Post-Diss To Do List is to write a post about propping and food photography. (It's been more than a year since my last post about food photography, so it's high time, I'd say.) To that end, if you have any questions about props for me, please leave them in the comments below. I most definitely don't consider myself a stylist in any sense of the word, but there are certain things that I've found have worked for me and wanted to share my thoughts. So, I will try to answer questions you throw my way!

Okay, back to hyper thesis mode. Wish me luck, and I'll see y'all again on the other side (I hope)!