Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Blackberry, Peach, and Corn Cobbler, and 24 hours in Sacramento

This past weekend, I took some time off to head north to Sacramento and visit foodwriter Garrett McCord of Vanilla Garlic and Melt fame. Garrett's been trying to get me to visit, and finally thanks to the flexibility of summertime, our schedules synced up. I've also been meaning to check out Sacramento for some time now, since recently its food and arts scene has sort of been exploding. Of course, it's always been the California state capital and home of some awesome Gold Rush era sights that I visited on school field trips as a little kid, but other than that, in the past while I was growing up in the Bay Area, Sacramento as a town was never particularly a destination (especially to us snottier SF Bay folks). But all that has been changing recently, and after hearing so much buzz about the town, I was really excited to be able to see it for myself. And Garrett, who knows the food/arts scene there really well, was the perfect guide. I was only in Sac for about 24 hours, but I already can't wait to go back again.

I kicked off the weekend by doing some cafe writing at Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters (waiting for Garrett to get off of work) so that I could try the new "nitro coffee" craze. Nitro coffee is cold coffee served out of a tap, and it has this ultra clean taste with tiny bubbles. It's not at all bitter and doesn't have any of that deep roastedness that regular coffee has, and it was an interesting experience to drink coffee that texturally felt like beer. Then, Garrett took Sabrina of The Tomato Tart and me to this amazing Thai restaurant called Thai Basil for dinner (pictured below). It takes a lot to impress me with good Thai food because there's so much of it where I live, but Thai Basil did not disappoint at all. There's this amazing seasonal menu that had dishes I've never seen before at a Thai restaurant, like this nam prik ong dipping platter, of ultra fresh veggies and rice crackers, with a meaty, tomato, chili-y sauce. So. Good. We rounded off the night at B Street Theatre, watching the current production of The Explorers' Club, which has this awesome mix of high society British colonialization comedy and unexpected slapstick. We sat in the dark, popping Andy's Candy chocolate-covered salted caramels in our mouths between laughing, and all in all having pretty rollicking good time.

The next day, I spent quite some time hanging out with Garrett's adorable menagerie of pets. I travel too much to have animals of my own, so I try to spoil my friends' pets with all the love and affection (and camera stalking) that I can whenever I get the chance. ♥

Then, we headed to the farmers' market to pick up some ingredients for a potluck that we were attending that afternoon. Garrett and I waffled back and forth about what we wanted to make...a salad? a dessert? It had to be something that would be delicious and simple but stand up well in the heat outside. And it also had to be something that struck the right balance between light and heavy, since no one would be wanting to eat a triple-layered cake in 100 degree weather under the afternoon sun on a dusty, drought-parched hillside. Finally, inspired by what looked best that day at the market, we settled on a blackberry, peach, & corn cobbler.

Garrett has a beautiful section of thyme in his garden, and so I chose some silver thyme, which has bright lemony overtones to throw in with the sweet yellow peaches and inky, midnight-black berries. For the biscuit topping on the cobbler, we added plump kernels of fresh yellow corn for a natural sweetness and gritty cornmeal for extra texture, and used sour cream instead of butter for a lighter tang to the biscuits. The overall cobbler was not very sweet at all, and allowed all of the market-fresh summer flavors to shine through in their unadulturated glory.

(Also, may I say that I am now sooo lusting after Garrett's beautiful Le Creuset oval baker that we used.)

The cobbler was a hit at the potluck. Someone else brought orange blossom meringue cookies, and we discovered that in breaking up some of the sugary sweet, floral meringue cookies and mixing them in with our rustic, fruity, earthy cobbler upon serving, together they made an even better dessert. It was like the best of potluck kismet.

Thanks once again to Garrett for the wonderful (and naturally, delicious) Sacramento weekend!

Read on for recipe...

Friday, June 26, 2015

Postcards from Paris: Out and About

When I went to Paris for the first time in April, I was much more excited by the prospect of desserts and museums than I was about actually seeing the big "sights". Like the Eiffel Tower. It was about a week after I'd arrived in Paris that I actually made it to the tower--because, how big of a deal could it actually be?

But, once there, at sunset, watching the lights glitter, with the silhouette against an uninterrupted gradient of colored sky, I got it. I understood the romance.

Mostly when I travel, I just like to walk around and run into whatever I run into. A few weeks after returning from the trip, I discovered that my phone's health app had been tracking my steps each day, and for the week I was in Paris, it was off the charts. I walked everywhere, hoping that my meanderings, combined with serendipity, would take me to see the best, undocumented-in-a-guidebook corners.

When not walking, I did sort of fall in love with the Paris metro system. Maybe it's just that it was wonderful being back in a city with a proper metro, by which I mean one that runs at reasonable hours, with a convenient and constant availability of trains, and with stations pretty much near everything. Throw on top the beautiful station-specific designs that pepper the system, and one starts thinking of the dizzy, convoluted, dense maze of colored lines as idiosyncractically artistic. The metro system sure does have character, I'll give it that. Also, if you are ever near the Arts & M├ętiers stop, you must go explore it. I missed my chance of getting a photo of it (I have a phone photo somewhere...), but one level of the station is totally steam-punked out, covered wall to wall with copper plating, holographic portholes, and gigantic exposed gears protruding from the ceiling.

I will say, though, Paris gardens are a funny breed. After being used to the rambling, "I woke up like this" unkemptness of English gardens, I wasn't expecting the expansive, gravel-sand boulevards that are favored in Paris, which are lined with hedges cut in unnaturally rectangular rows and studded with statuary. Also, everytime I find myself in England, or now Paris, I'm thankful that I'm from a country that doesn't care so much for people to walk on and enjoy the grass, because what's the point of swaths of lawn in no one can wiggle their toes in the dew-green blades?

The ducks get to enjoy the grass...

So this post is just about the outdoor scenes in Paris. For inside museums, see the previous post here. I'm saving the food for last... and also, a most serendipitous meeting with a fellow food blogger halfway around the world.

One last thing, yay, SCOTUS! Go, equality.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

STEEPED book signing in San Francisco

A quick update: if you're in San Francisco tomorrow night, come to the STEEPED book signing that Annelies Zijderveld is having at David's Tea! There will be tea-inspired snacks, and you'll get to hear Annelies talk all about cooking with tea. As an added bonus, I'll be there, too... because, you know, I'm never one to miss out on a good tea party! :) Hope to see you there!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Pencil Asparagus Frittata

(Above photo from STEEPED book shoot)

When spring semester finals are done, and grades are turned in, and all the students move out of the dorms and go home, the real work starts. Sure, the school year is busy, but that's just sort of day-to-day busy-ness, filled with things like teaching and admin. Summertime is when most academics (at least, at research unis) do the lion's share of what our jobs are about: busting our asses to get research going, writing grants, writing papers, revising papers, exploring new data, re-exploring old data, crunching through analyses, reading all the papers, setting up labs and experiments, all the things.

Sure, it's nice that there are fewer daily constraints on time (i.e., I don't have to be in class at x time or at a faculty meeting at y time), but I honestly feel like the hours fill up faster during the summer. There's never enough time to get what needs done done!

But, quick breaks are necessary for sanity, so when my little chamber music trio--made up entirely of swamped summertime paper-writing academics--had an uncharacteristic mid-week rehearsal recently, I pressed pause on the paper-writing to make sure we had a yummy but quick lunch to go along with rehearsal.

Lately, since I get to work from home a bit more during the summer, eggs have been my lunchtime jam. They're super easy and satisfyingly filling, and I find the blank canvas of egg dishes to be really exciting creatively. This time around, I decided to go with one of my favorite, easy-but-impressive make-ahead dishes: the frittata, which can be made the night before amd either served cold the next day or re-warmed briefly with great results. This pencil asparagus frittata is a simple but elegant affair, with thin pencil asparagus roasted to a savory crisp, embedded in a fluffy kefir and asiago cheese frittata, and flavored with just a dash of Worchestire and sumac. The top of the frittata, after it comes out of the oven, is sprinkled with lemon zest for a bright burst of summery freshness.

Okay, that was a quick update, but paper deadlines are once again looming. Back soon!

P.S. Want more Desserts for Breakfast? Come say hi on the new tumblr companion blog, for more frequent, quickie updates!

Read on for recipe...