Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Postcards: Autumn in Yosemite

It's amazing that I've been out here, near Yosemite for a year now. I recently took a few friends on trips into the park and realised that I'd seen every season this year around Yosemite Valley, and the changes are just gorgeous to witness. Each season is just totally different: cloudy blankets of snow and fog in the winter, roaring waterfalls and exploding dogwood in the spring, dry moss padding underfoot in the summertime, and heavily slanted sunsets and blue-orange-black-browns in the fall.

Here are some photos I managed to capture the past few times in the park. Several visitors are coming in for November, so I'm extra excited to get to see the park at the autumn-winter transition this year.

Get outdoors! Breathe deep! Stand silently at the topmost point and dream.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Farm-to-Fork Sacramento, CA

For me, the best food happens when it's stripped of all the pretension of trying to be "good food." It's when "good food" is treated as an inalienable part of our everyday existence, rather than something that must be saved for special occasions or strived for as a symbol of upper crust society. It's when food is an appreciation of dirty hard work and the vicissitudes of human experience rather than some capstone that has been scrubbed clean of all of its uglier, smellier, muddier parts before getting served up on a fancy platter. It's like the difference between a huge, reflexive bear hug from your favorite kindergarten teacher when you scraped your knee on the playground versus the requisite ceremonial, curt handshake you receive from the Chancellor when walking across a college graduation stage with 1000 other unnamed masses. This is why I prefer Portland over NYC, why I will always choose to go to Berkeley for dinner over some new-fangled trendy place in San Francisco, why I'm the happiest foodie when I encounter good food anywhere, not just in the middle of some highly-Instagrammed locale.

Over the past year since moving away from Silicon Valley, I've been getting to know a lot more about the Central Valley regions of California--our state's equivalent of the nation's "fly-over" territory, where most people whiz by on Highway 5 or Highway 99 without giving a single thought to what lies just beyond the freeway offramps. Ask people what they know about this true heartland, where most of the food for not only California but the whole US is grown, and they'll wrinkle their noses and say, "it's brown" or "it's hot" or "Where is Modesto? or Redding? or Merced? or Sacramento? or Fresno? or Bakersfield, anyways?" But the beauty of what people are missing is this huge, richly culturally-diverse, historical swath of one of the largest U.S. states, where good food minus coastal pretension is found. So when the team behind Sacramento's Farm-to-Fork initiative invited me to a dinner to preview and celebrate their huge Farm-to-Fork festival that's happening this month, I jumped at the chance to learn more about this lesser-known, not-as-widely-popular-as-SF food town right in my backyard.

Dinners in a room full of people you don't know can always be a frightening experience for the socially awkward introvert like me, but sitting down at this table between Sacramento-ans who really appreciated and loved and believed in their food, one could immediately feel the warmth. Our stomachs were placed in the incredibly capable hands of two amazing Sacramento chefs--Chef Oliver Ridgeway from Grange Restaurant & Bar and Chef Ravin Patel of Selland Family Restaurants. Here's the crazy amazing menu:


Melon & Tomatoes
pickled melon rind, walnuts, basil, mint, chili lime dressing

Rabbit Galantine
dill and fennle pollen, radishes, cucumber, sorrel, puffed grains

Chicken Fried Dixon Lamb Sweetbreads
gypsy pepper BBQ sauce, summer squash and blossoms, fried basil, pickled strawberries


Karlonas Farms Pheasant
roasted oyster and beech mushrooms, chamomile nage, brown rice cakes

Passmore Ranch Trout
hierloom bean succotash, baby tomatoes, fried eggplant, salsa verde, charred lemon

Coffee-braised Masami Short Ribs
corn, chili, radish, pickled onions, cilantro, jus

Tortilla Española
local peppers, potatoes, farm eggs, sauce romesco, charred kale, chili oil


Valley Stone Fruit
honey, creme fraiche and lavender ice cream, almond streusel

Cucumber Namelaka
pickled cucumber, rye crumble, dill, white chocolate, cucumber ice cream

My absolute favorite dish of the evening had to be the cucumber namelaka dessert, from Sacramento pastry chef Rod Cuadra, which Chef Ridgeway is plating up below. Namelaka is this super soft white chocolate panna cotta-like concoction, and it was layered with a beautiful blend of slightly tangy cucumber sorbet (thanks to rice vinegar--yay years of Asian palate-training to be able to pick out that ingredient), crumble, and dill. What can I say, I'm just a sucker for desserts that incorporate traditionally savory ingredients (as you well know, if you follow the recipes on this blog).

The other great thing about the dinner was exploring all the drinks of the Sac region. Although Sacramento isn't really conducive to wine growing, it has a rich culture of wine-making. And beer making, and coffee roasting. Basically, Sac-town is serious about its beverages. :) The pairings were chosen for us by Darrell Corti, long-time grocer of the Corti Brothers. We got to try a wine from a grape variety developed at UC Davis--go UC!--and, for dessert, I got to try a wine from Harbor Winery that was made in my birth year! That was a pretty special treat, for sure.

Sacramento's Farm to Fork Festival runs until September 27, 2015 this year. If you're looking for a good weekend or day trip in September, I highly recommend it!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Cake for breakfast at Masse's Pastries (Berkeley, CA)

On the morning of my birthday, my parents asked me, "What do you want for breakfast?"

The answer is always cake. Specifically, cake from Masse's Pastries, which is my favorite local bakery in Berkeley. So at 9am on a Sunday, we went for cake and tea.

So here's a little pro-tip for all you kids out there whose parents won't let you eat cake for breakfast. Just wait until you're a 20-something 'adult'. Then your parents will let you eat all the cake for breakfast you want. It's magical.

P.S. Then my friend Annelies Zijderveld of The Food Poet made me some birthday Earl Grey lollipops out of my other friend Anita Chu's lollipop cookbook!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Strawberry, Guava, Campari Ice Pop-tails

If, like me, you discover yourself at that point of the summer when deadlines are heaping upon you at a mad rate because it's almost the end of summer and everything that you planned to get done (which was too much and too ambitious to begin with) in June when summer first started and everything that's gotten piled on since (beacuse it's hard to say "No" when there are seemingly open-ended months with long daylight hours),... make these strawberry, guava, and Campari ice pop-tails, and take a deep breath. In that order, please.

Seriously, the making process (aside from the freezing) takes all about 5 minutes, and you will thank me because the payoff is worth way more than 5 minutes.... which is more than I can say about the other tasks on my to-do list! Anyways, these are inspired by a good friend and collaborator of mine who was the first one to introduce me to Campari and the first one to show me strawberry guavas picked off a real life tree. Of course, strawberry guavas aren't easily available outside of SoCal, so here I've subbed in a combo of fresh summertime strawberries and guava juice. The great thing about guava juice is that it's often sweet enough where you won't need to add any extra sugar to this ice pop. Even so, it's sweet and summery and lightly exotic--not your childhood's strawberry popsicle!

Grab a ice pop, and ganbatte to all of us.

Read on for recipe....

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Interlude: Avec, Chicago

A few weeks ago, I was in Chicago for a week-long work trip. My head was so far immersed in Linguistics! the whole time that I barely pulled out the big hunk of a camera I insist on lugging around with me whenever I travel (hey, it's good exercise?), despite how beautifully green and vibrant and wonderful Chicago is during this time of year. Hydrangeas everyone! Flowers abloom! The riverside teeming with picnic blankets! The cityscape shimmering in a post-thunderstorm glisten! Intricate American gothic architecture! Fireflies at dusk!

I was so distracted that here are the only photos I managed to get at the Art Institute (which, by the way, was wonderful, and felt like I had stepped into Musée d'Orsay's sibling museum. 

On one occasion, I did manage to get my head screwed on straight enough to get my camera out, and boy, am I glad that I did. A good linguist friend of mine, who happens to also be an expert foodie, took a a few of my colleagues and me to Avec near downtown Chicago. Tucked away in a small storefront that is reminiscent of a hipsterised, wood-paneled version of a shipping container, the tapa-s style French/Mediterranean fusion was so, so good. I have major respect for restaurants that can put together flavor combinations that surprise, and there were definitely several fun moments for the tastebuds throughout the evening.

Above: bacon-wrapped dates and a watermelon-jalapeno-cheese salad.

Below was one of our favorite salads, with season-peak stone fruit and fava beans and this uber-creamy, light, fluff of cheese. We also had this sort of fantastical roasted cauliflower dish, where the top of the cauliflower was encrusted with whole mustardseeds and baked until black, The whole thing was sauced in this sweet honey glaze and layered upon a foundation of something like yogurt or cheese (I can't remember the details). This is a dish I'm soooo going to attempt to replicate at home. I'm thinking Thanksgiving.

To fill out the meal with a substantial "main", we decided on the freshly-made, nice and sardine-y squid ink pasta, coasted with panko crumbs. The sardine-lover in me adored the fishiness, though it proved too much for some others in our party. But hey, more pasta for me! :D We finished up the evening with a cheeseplate, of which I was most excited by the mounds of bright pink, translucent quince paste. Ah, sign this girl up for good quince paste any day.