Category Archives: events

Events

Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

We have a wonderfully talented group of food writers, bloggers, photographers and food lovers in the Bay Area and thanks to social media we know who we all are and, on occasion, we get together for some shenanigans.

Dolores_Park_photo_montage_panorama_2013-04-13_14-39

From Wikipedia Commons

This year I took on organizing a date for a picnic in San Francisco and chose Dolores Park for our venue. It’s usually sunny there, it has a great view of the city and is reasonably close to BART and other public transportation. The park is also right across the street to BiRite Creamery. A picnic with fun people, a pretty spot and decadent ice cream, it is such a winning combination.

The morning fog blew away pretty quickly and despite the stupidity of the City watering the lawn during the night (very soggy and muddy lawns) we had a very merry time.

Many lovely friends and new friends came to share in the afternoon and of course the food was terrific.  I made my favorite sangria and that was a big hit, and I could have doubled the quantity and still would have not made enough.   Next time I will bring two jugs worth, or six bottles of wine!
Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

It was one of those magical times when we were not playing with our phones *overmuch* or taking pictures constantly, we were in the moment and enjoying each other’s company, trading stories, singing goofy songs and talking about food and writing.  We did play some hilarious music on our phones, tucked into a red Solo cup for acoustical enhancement purposes.

Yes, it’s true, we were all singing Makin’ Bacon Pancakes, the New York remix, for way too long and it’s still in my head today.

Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

When the sangria ran out and the fog started to blow back in, we gathered up our soggy Mexican picnic blankets (funnily, almost everyone brought one) and headed to the long line at BiRite Creamery.
Insanely long line at BiRite but we don't care - sundaes!!!!

Despite the line being ridiculously long we were patient and chatty, and it really was worth the wait.  Just sampling their vast and unusual selection is worth a bit of catching up on life and people watching, and soon enough we all had our decadent ice cream treats in hand.  With frozen mouths and sunburned faces we chatted a bit more before scattering to our own destinations – Tartine, a tour of the Mission, BiRite Market, home.  We said farewell and until next time.

Picnics in the summer are my favorite thing to do and this time so many of my favorite people were there.  Thanks to everyone who attended and for your amazing and decadent treats!

Thanks to:
Faith - Blog Appetit
Diane  - Will Write For Food
Amy – Cooking with Amy
Owen – The World of Owen Rubin
Jenn – FootBat and EastWest Pastry
Lori and Doug – Fake Food Free
Deborah and friends – Lunch In A Box
Nathan – Knit1Eat1
Christian – Dad in the City
Jennifer and Baelson – Revel Kitchen
Orly and friends – Yumivore
(if I missed your name here, I’m so sorry!)

The Recipe:

Carmen Miranda Sangria – San Francisco Style

If you live in the Bay Area and want to join the Bay Area Food Bloggers group on Facebook, ask to join here, and also there is a Google group, ask to join here.  We are food writers, bloggers, photographers, culinary-minded entrepreneurs and food lovers.  We are also people who used to do all of the above (i.e., lapsed) but are still interested in food and culinary scene.  We connect to share opportunities, ask questions, get support and socialize.  These are not forums to promote yourself or your brand, however.

Grown Up Boozy Treats – Negroni Jelly

I was invited to attend a craft night by a local art and yarn shop this week. Our hostess provides wine and nibbles but welcomed contributions so naturally my thoughts turned to cocktails.  Knitting and drinking a cocktail is positively the best thing ever.

The Negroni is my favorite cocktail these days, equal parts of St. Georges Terroir gin or #209 gin, Campari and Carpano Antica sweet red Vermouth, stirred with ice and served up in a swanky glass with a bit of orange peel. The diehard Italians serve it over ice in a highball but I prefer it my way.

I drink alone, yeah, with no body else! #Georgeknows

It’s not often convenient to bring a cocktail shaker and ice and cocktail fixings with you to a craft night, especially when the venue is a comic book store, so why not resurrect the old 80′s favorite of Jello-O Shots in Negroni form? Since these are grown up boozy treats I like to call them jellies as the British do.

Negroni jelly is shockingly easy to make. Actually, I forgot to make these until about 12:45 am and rousted myself from bed and mixed them up in under 2 minutes.  I heated up a cup of water in a measuring cup, added a few pieces of orange zest and two packets of unflavored gelatin and microwaved it until the gelatin was completely dissolved. Every 20 seconds or so I would stir the mixture with a fork. Then, I poured this into my small casserole dish, and measured in equal parts of  #209 gin, Campari and Cinzano Rosso, gave it another stir with the fork, and put it in the fridge.

To serve, cut little cubes with a spatula, plop into a cup and serve.

Negroni jelly

I preferred to eat the jelly with my fingers, a kid at heart always!

Negroni jelly

Besides being visually stunning, their flavor was truly zingy.  The presence of the orange was lovely and subtle, the flavor of a good Negroni was really clear and the jelly had a pleasant, bitter tang of gin and Campari. We couldn’t stop eating them and wiggling them at each other.

The evening was really fun and a bit surreal.  We were a bunch of pretty girls (and one cool guy) sitting in a comic book store knitting and eating boozy jellies and sipping wine.  The regular customers were pretty cool about our being there but there was a distinct feeling of being in an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Although the Negroni jelly had a strong alcohol flavor it doesn’t really have much alcohol, so one can eat them with without compunction. I will be making more jellies of a boozy nature for the upcoming craft nights. What flavor should I do next?

Negroni Jelly

Cocktail Adventures with LUPEC

Like any urban lady I love sipping a well crafted cocktail. It was my pleasure to join an amazing group of ladies called LUPEC or Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails. Many members are bartenders or business owners or aficionados like myself and several of the members are some of my best friends.

At our last meeting we had the opportunity to try two fantastic cocktails. The first was a wonderful cocktail using Casa Noble Organic Reposado Tequila.

CN Reposado Angle

Casa Noble is located in Jalisco Mexico and uses blue agave for their tequila. You don’t find organic tequila very often and the Casa Noble tequila is quite special. The Reposado is aged for just under a year in French white oak barrels, like fine wine. Their Anejo tequila is aged between two to five years in the oak barrels. The Reposado tequila tasted more like a fine whiskey to me, smokey and oakey. A fun note about the distillery, they have partnered with famed rocker Carlos Santana. Not only does he make amazing music and sexy shoes for us ladies but now he makes tequila. I just love this guy, and he’s local too.

carlos

Casa noble

LUPEC met at Laszlo, which is a fun bar in the Mission district and the bartender there, Kevin, made a wonderful Old Fashioned for us using the Reposado tequila.

I have long loved the Old Fashioned cocktail, ever since the Commander of the US Power Squadron sat me down one day at the tender age of 12 and taught me how to make one. The Power Squadron is like a country club but for yachts and powerboats, and my late father was Commander for a time. The Commander I remember the most was a family friend and he would have us over to his home on the Peninsula often. The Old Fashioned was his favorite tipple and he was shocked that his favorite “bartender” only knew how to mix the perfect martini. I guess you could say I had rather of an Auntie Mame childhood, mixing cocktails for my family’s friends and guests.

For those of you unfamiliar with the cocktail, it’s a drink of a sugar cube dowsed with bitters and a few pieces of fruit or orange rind, muddled together in an old fashioned glass, named for the drink naturally. Whiskey and sometimes a dash of soda water are stirred in with a few large hunks of ice and garnished with more fruit. I used to carve out the ice myself with an ice pick and block ice because that’s the way he liked it. These days I love the silicon large format ice cube trays such as these from Tovolo.

Tequila old fashioned

You can vary the Old Fashioned by changing up the bitters or the whiskey, using American whiskey or rye, and now, using an aged tequila. What a great twist on an old favorite!

Kevin’s version used simple syrup instead of a sugar cube and although I am not sure what kind of bitters he used I am quite fond of either the Bitter Truth aromatic or orange bitters. This Old Fashioned had a mysterious and alluring smokiness to it from the oak barrels of the Reposado. The brandied cherry was a nice touch.

Square one

We were served another fun cocktail that night featuring vodka from Square One.

Square One is another organic distillery that I have enjoyed getting to know over the past two years. They use organic rye from the US to make their vodka and water from the Grand Tetons; it is so lovely and smooth. They infuse some of their vodka with unusual flavors and I am quite fond of the Basil infusion. It has organic Thai, lemon, Genovese and sweet basil varieties, plus a touch of organic coriander (cilantro), honeysuckle and lemongrass. It is very aromatic and unusual and makes great cocktails.

We were served a riff on the Last Word, called at Laszlo as the My Word and it was definitely refreshing and a little dangerous. One could have quite a lot of these on a thirsty night.

Both of the representatives for Casa Noble and Square One are delightful ladies and it was great fun to get to know them and sip their cocktails. I am hoping to add the Casa Noble Reposado and Anejo tequilas and the Square One Basil to my liquor collection for some cocktail play at home.

Make these yourself!

Reposado Tequila Old Fashioned

2 T water
1 lump of sugar —- or 1 tsp. agave nectar
Angostura bitters – or any bitters you like, there are some amazing ones, my current favorite is the Bitter Truth orange bitters
A 3” piece of orange peel, no pith (white part)
Ice
2 oz Casa Noble Organic Reposado tequila
Brandied cherries or maraschino cherries (or a piece of pineapple, a piece of orange or all of them)

Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in an tumbler. You can use agave syrup instead if you like or simple syrup. Add two dashes bitters and a piece of orange peel, but twist the orange peel first then rim the glass with it before placing it inside the cocktail glass. Muddle (smash gently) with a spoon for a few minutes. Add a large cube of ice (large format) or fill 1/3 way with ice cubes, add the tequila and stir well. Garnish with fruit. Sip!

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—–

Square One Basil My Word

3/4 oz. Square One Basil vodka
3/4 oz. yellow Chartreuse
3/4 oz. maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice

Mix all together in a shaker with ice, shake or stir well until very cold. Strain and serve up in a coupe or martini glass that has been chilled. Sip!

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Oysterfest

This weekend I was invited to a wonderful Northern California treat, an oyster picnic at Hog Island Oyster Company. Oysters are a perfect protein and a great example of sustainable and environmentally responsible seafood farming in California. Located along the Tomales Bay, the Hog Island Oyster Company, among others, grows over 3 million oysters a year, all Food Alliance Certified Sustainable.

My friends have an annual tradition of picnicking at Hog Island with their family and friends and I was delighted to be included this year in their wonderful picnic, which includes raw and grilled oysters fresh from the bay, plus wonderful wine and side dishes brought from our homes.

For years I have had oyster parties where we would buy a couple of boxes of medium oysters from Drake’s Bay Oysters (formerly Johnson’s Oysters) and grill them over mesquite with a variety of savory sauces or just lemon and hot sauce. Drake’s days of operation are coming to a close because the National Park Service decided to shut them down, and fabricated and misinterpreted evidence and have steadfastly ignored all scientific evidence to support their claim they operate sustainably while protecting the environment. We are continuing to hope they can get the NPS to overturn their irrational and puzzling decision and listen to Drake’s and all of the environmental and scientific groups supporting them to let their oyster farming continue.

I no longer have a place to grill at home but remember my oyster parties fondly and was very excited to have a chance to join a party of oyster lovers. My dearest friends joined me, D___, my little friend Bug and L___ are major oyster aficionados also so we packed up the car and hit the road.

Love this view

The drive north and west was quite pleasant, despite a bit of traffic along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard that leads from San Rafael all the way to Highway 1. The slow pace afforded us time for a natural history lesson given by yours truly on some of the wildflowers and trees in bloom in the chaparral, riparian and redwood forest environments. We passed through Samuel P. Taylor State Park, a beloved place for creek walking, picnics and hiking, and I hope to go there soon to do some of that with my friends.

Arriving at Hog Island on a weekend is an adventure. Highway 1 is lined with cars trying to park precariously on the side of the road to access the various oyster companies and restaurants that line Tomales Bay. We were very lucky to snag the last spot along the bed of oyster shells along the shoulder near Hog Island’s spot. Each night after the oyster farm closes they dump wheelbarrows full of shells along the shoulders, where cars crunch them into pure white and rather fragrant gravel.

We trudged along, carrying our loads of picnic baskets and apparatus to the reserved group picnic tables that hug the edge of the cove. If you don’t have a reservation don’t bother going, it is so very crowded there and the lines for oysters and a spot to sit were ridiculous. Instead, buy oysters to go and find a picnic spot in Point Reyes National Seashore; there is nothing finer than slurping oysters while sitting on the beach!

Pretty sunny day
(windblown but happy with the great view)

The sunny sky dotted with dragon and dolphin shaped clouds was perfect, just enough sun, the wind was up but it wasn’t too strong and we didn’t need coats at all, which is a complete miracle for the unpredictable weather along the bay. As experienced picnickers in Northern California we were prepared for everything, including wool hats, thermoses of espresso and flasks of whiskey, to sunhats, SPF 30 and chilled wines. Both D___ and I have glorious picnic baskets with all the accourterments required for sophisticated picnicking.

I brought a foie terrine to the picnic today
(a treat from D’Artagnan)

Cheese plate: chèvre, St Andre, Dubliner
(chevre, Dubliner and St. Andre)

Fun nibbles
(a trio of fun nibbles including chicharonnes from 4505 Meats)

We laid out our pre-oyster feast of savory tidbits along with L___’s batch of divine lemon meltaway cookies, bite sized lemony buttons that were egg-free (for me!) and D___’s enormous container of beignets fried up freshly that morning, just like the ones from Cafe du Monde! She even brought along a container of powdered sugar to redust the fluffy pillows of fried dough. Such evilly delicious treats and both sweet treats were the hit of the day.

L___ looked at me with a glint in her eye and said,

“Yes, I am really going to go there…. oh yeah……. I am!”

She then spread a bite of beignet with the foie pate. Oh my stars, did that ever look amazing. I had to try it too and it was true evil genius.

An evilly brilliant idea, pâté on a homemade beignet

After a very long wait in line our oysters arrived. Oysters really are just the perfect picnic food. Contained within their rugged and ruffled shells are the perfect bite (or two) of saline, oceanic goodness. Hog Island provides each group reservation with a bag of ice, a huge bag of oysters, a tray, gloves and an oyster knife and shucking instructions if you want them, and mesquite charcoal for the grills, plus all the oysters and mignonette sauce you desire. C___’s mom brought up a pair of sauces that were sloshed on the oysters as they grilled: a red Thai curry sundried tomato sauce and a delicious garlic herb butter. I had intended to bring my amazing garlic butter for oysters but a mishap in the kitchen that morning prevented its use, next time!

LunaRaven13s photo of our oysters

(L___’s photo of our enormous sack of oysters – please check out her other photos and art here and photos of our picnic here)

Everyone got into the fun of shucking and the shucking jokes flew fast and wild. N___, D___ and I took up our knives and started prying oysters open, some to slurp just then and some to put on the grill. Even young master Bug had a go and we were soon drenched in brine and well dusted with bits of shells, miniature mussels and limpets. Oddly this year we noticed the oyster shells were really crumbly and flakey but no one seemed to mind much the bits of extra calcium in their treat. No pictures though, shucking oysters is a messy business.

My method of grilling oysters is simple. Over a bed of coals, you place the rounded side of the oyster on the grilling rack and watch them. After a few minutes liquid will start to bubble and burst out of the shell. At this point, remove them from the heat with tongs and using a towel or hot pad and an oyster knife it is quite easy to slide the knife between the two shells. Remove the top (flat) shell and discard, and cut the oyster free from its curved bottom shell. It’s much easier opening oysters this way than trying to pry them open for a raw bite. If you ever watch an oysterman or a chef at a raw bar open oysters you must understand just how physically tough they are.

Now, return the oyster in its open shell back onto the grill and dollop in a little sauce and watch them again. Remove the oyster from the grill when the sauce is bubbly. Repeat until everyone is full. If you are grilling for more than 30 minutes you will need to add a few more pieces of charcoal to the bed of coals to keep the heat going – I bank them along one side of the grill and move away the oysters from the live flame.

Mini sweaters were a big hit
(lots of wonderful wines and my mini sweaters were a big hit although the whimsy was lost on a few folks. I think they are an essential part to any table.)

The 50 pound bag of oysters seemed large but it didn’t take long to go through them all. We opened more wine and sat back and watched the beautiful view and chatted with each other in a sated fashion.

My BFFs @Biggie and R - such a fun day
(Bug is taking a break after all the pate and oysters in his glamorous Mom’s lap!)

We are all very excited about N___ and C___’s impending move to the Bay Area. I looked around the table and realized that these people, all so near and dear to my heart, were all friends that I found through Twitter.

Picnic buddies @lunaraven13 @knit1eat1 thanks for having us!!!
(C___, N___ and L___)

L__ and I met and bonded over Massa Farm’s duck harvest one year, and she knew D___ from food blogging so the three of us had a blast one night organizing a dinner of the Bay Area Food Bloggers and have been the best of friends ever since. We are like sisters and it’s a wonderful thing.

Mustache gang(the Bay Area Food Bloggers infamous mustache incident on our first excursion together)

Two years ago we had a twitter-sourced meet up of local knitters, crocheters and dyers and met N___, who is an incredible knitting designer and artist, and his husband C____, who graciously kept us company and allowed us to geek out over fiber and fun. Through the magic of Twitter and Facebook we have deepened our relationship and having them move closer is going to be fantastic.

We are planning another visit to Tomales Bay this summer for more oysters and picnicking. I shall be sure to correctly prepare my garlic butter sauce but in the interim will enjoy it on prawns and grilled fish.

Fondue of Butter for Seafood
2 cubes of unsalted butter (1/2 pound or 1 cup)
1 head of garlic, peeled and trimmed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. shallots or onion powder (if desired)

In a small saucepan over very low heat melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook very slowly without simmering for an hour or until the garlic is extremely soft and tender and yet not browned. It is very important to monitor the heat of your stove to ensure the butter does not boil and brown and the garlic stays creamy white. When the garlic is super tender use a fork or an immersion blender to puree the garlic. Add salt to taste, the paprika and the shallot/onion powder. Keep warm while grilling the oysters in a small pot on the corner of the BBQ and dollop spoonfuls into the oysters. Grill until bubbly.

Also, if you are feeling too challenged by dealing with placing the oysters on the grill to finish with the garlic butter, you can place a grill-safe skillet on a corner of the grill and fill with the butter, and plop in the oysters as you open them after their initial grilling. Your guests can use a cocktail fork or spoon to scoop up an oyster as they wish.

Printer-friendly recipe

A few notes: Please buy your oysters and seafood from reputable, sustainable sources. On the West Coast you can gather your own shellfish but the red algae that plague our waters can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), particularly in mussels, therefore a quarantine applies to our coast from Oregon to Mexico and shellfish are generally unsafe between March and October. You can phone the Biotoxin Information Line 1-800-553-4133 to get updates on current quarantines and health advisories throughout the year. Other types of shellfish, including oysters and clams, and commercially harvested mussels from certified companies are not included in the quarantine. The commercial companies test their shellfish and are certified as toxin-free.

Perfect Protein:

This summer I will be writing about sustainable seafood as part of the Perfect Protein project, created by Eric Ripert and Mario Batali. The book, “The Perfect Protein: A Fish Lover’s Guide to Saving the Oceans and Feeding the World” by Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless, is a new, thought-provoking book on why and how we should and can quickly increase the amount of wild seafood in our oceans; as well as how as consumers we can shop and eat more of the right seafood to help feed the world, address hunger and improve the world’s health. I am proud to be part of this project this summer as I have long been a proponent of wild and sustainable fishing, whether fished by myself or by commercial sources. Since I was a teen I have carried a copy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch’s guide in my wallet, and now have their app on my phone. I love seafood, and feel especially lucky to live on the California coast with all the wonderful edible creatures off our doorstep.

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Weekend Fun and This Includes Brunch

This weekend we had warm weather. This time of year in San Francisco is like the rest of the world’s summer, one can go to work without a warm jacket and suddenly ladies wearing skirts with bare legs looks like a good idea instead of scoffing at all their goosebumps. I dusted off my linen skirt, said hello to my pasty legs and took them out for a spin.

My dear friend C___ invited me to join him to a trek to the Livermore Valley. He had been gifted a wonderful bottle of wine from Murrieta’s Well Winery and wanted more. The winery is built on the site of the spring where Joachin Murrieta, the famed outlaw and bandit, used to water his horses. There is a nice little fountain built using the spring water and no more wild horses. The wine, however, was fantastic and well worth the drive.

At the vineyard
(me standing on actual dirt! It feels as if I haven’t been outside in years. Oh wait!)

Chris at the vineyard
(my dear friend C___ whom I’ve known since I was a sweet young thang of 18.)

Murietta's Well is where he camped, fascinating
(If there is a historical plaque I am compelled to read it, thanks to parental training.)

Chris at Murietta's Well
(THE spring, please note the horses and Senor Murietta depicted on the tile)

It is a beautiful spot, very hot and arid and this seems to suit the vines. Surprisingly to a few folks wine grapes, like good tomatoes, like to be stressed.

Ascension
(detail of the steps leading up to the wine tasting room)

Vineyards
(peeking out the window to the vines and patio)

Their winemaker is Chilean and has been planting Portuguese grape varietals but making them in a Rhone style. I learned a lot about varietals I had never heard of previously. The tasting room was busy but we got the full treatment and ended up having a glass of wine on the balcony overlooking the vines while they pulled our wine from the “library” since we were allowed to buy some things not usually available. I like my wine friends and their superpowers!

Not enough of a recommendation for me.
(one of their award-winning whites, but who knew Houston had a wine competition / rodeo?)

View from the balcony
(a fine view with a glass of wine)

Me and Chris at Murietta's Well
(happy happy)

We ran into some traffic in Livermore, some of the side streets were really cute but overall the place is reminiscent of Los Angeles sprawl with housing tracts popping up on the hills. Some vines were being planted too, I would rather see the wineries expand myself.

Traffic in Livermore

I came home from winetasting and made myself some of my homemade bacon! Wow! Then I took a nap! Then, I had more wine.

Delicious! Murietta's Well 2010 Cabernet Franc
(a post-wine-tasting glass of wine)

Sunday morning I went to brunch. Please note this is the most social weekend I have had where I just did things for fun and it felt great to be “normal” and to make plans with friends and be able to actually attend them. Brunch was a popup for a local bakery, Marla Bakery, at the State Bird Provisions restaurant. If you are going to be in SF this Sunday I would recommend having their brunch, email them for a reservation or go early at sit at the counter like we did.

Marla cherry tart
(cherry and frangipane tart)

Anticipation is building for @marlabakery brunch

Marla’s pastries are incredibly beautiful. This the Marla bun which is like a palmier but made into a larger roll.

Lovely cherry & tarragon scones @marlabakery

I had dried cherry and tarragon scones with a little jar of marscapone and rhubarb compote piped in. All of these years searching for decent clotted cream in the city and I realize, stupidly, that I should have been using marscapone. It was truly brilliant. I didn’t get much of the tarragon but it is allergy season after all and my nose proved shamefully incapable of detecting aromas this weekend.  These sold out before Noon and I am very glad I had the foresight to order one to go.

Keep thinking about this lamb & fattoush @marlabakery brunch

For the brunch “entree” I had roasted rare lamb that took three days to prepare. It was rubbed in yogurt and barahat and was roasted perfectly.  Tender, thin slides were drizzled with harissa spiced yogurt. The flatbread had been brushed with spices too and was enormous and warm like a hug. The fattoush salad was herby and tart and included pickled onions and crispy flatbread crackers.

Darling coffee service @marlabakery brunch

I washed this down with a glass of cava and coffee service by Wrecking Ball. Ethopian coffee in a tiny carafe really hit the spot. The little biscotti were a nice touch too, I gifted them to my friend as they contain almonds and I can’t eat them right now.

I wish I could go back this Sunday but I will be off on another adventure!

Where to Go

Murrieta’s Well
3005 Mines Road
Livermore, CA 94550

Marla’s Bakery
Every Thursday between 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm at the Mission Community Market at 22nd & Bartlett in San Francisco
Watch their Facebook page for pop up brunch locations

State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

A Day in the Sun

There is a kind of a euphoria that falls over me after having a migraine. I don’t know if it is the relief of not being in pain or if it is an increase of seratonin or if it is just a feeling of wellness after being unwell.

Whatever it is, after five full days of an evil migraine, today I am pain free and feeling happy.

20130427-182458.jpg20130427-182631.jpg(Peruvian riff on a mule and a piña pisco punch)

I was able to sit in the sun and have a lovely brunch with a friend and relax and chat about food and family and enjoy being outside. It was a bit surreal, is this what normal feels like?

20130427-182816.jpg(I enjoyed the montadito burrata without the egg)

In this euphoric state I have a lingering feeling of lassitude, a bone deep fatigue that lifts off like a wisp of ash floating up from an ember. There is a mental vagueness, which is problematic during the work week, but on the weekend I just go with the flow. Sitting in the sun and slowly eating and sipping and watching the buzz of the Bay was just the right speed. The patio at La Mar is a very pleasant spot.

20130427-183023.jpg(a super chifa)

20130427-183252.jpg(yes, it’s true, I ate and enjoyed brussel sprouts but there was candied bacon involved)

After brunch I made my farewells to my dear friend and strolled to the Ferry Building to play. I only had simple decisions to make today. Should I buy some burrata and bread? Yes. Should I treat myself to a salted caramel vegan donut for breakfast tomorrow? Yes, yes. Do I forgo dinner and just nosh on a meat cone from Boccalone and the bread and cheese? YES Please! Should I rest when I get home. Oh, yes. Most assuredly.

Should I buy a stuffed chicken for the Roost? Hmmm, I’m still thinking on this one.

20130427-183630.jpg

I am slightly sunburned after brunch and still stiff and sore all over, part of the effects of the postdrome migraine phase, but it’s all good. I have the entire weekend to relax.

I Miss You / I Miss Your Onion Dip

Everyone was talking about what they were cooking and eating for the Superbowl, our last sports hurrah until Spring Training starts in a few months.  It started me thinking about all the fun parties my family used to have for the Superbowl and how much I miss those days.

My mom would have a dichotomous party at her fabulous Russian Hill apartment, the 49ers hopefully would be one of the contenders, we wore our colors and sipped Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and ate her lavish spread of appetizers and something luxurious to fill in the corners, like lasagna and her Boston cream pie.  Friends from the choir, our blended family, and other family friends would join the sports fanatic side of the party rooting for the teams, while other friends (big wigs in advertising) would root for their commercials and discuss that side of the Superbowl experience.  It was so funny to hear people say, “Shhh! The commercials are on!”

My dear sister would often make her onion dip for picnics and football game watching parties to eat with the ubiquitous ridged potato chips.  It’s a marvelous concoction with the usual ingredients (sour cream and onion soup mix) but it had a special, wonderful nuance to it.  She shared with me one day that it contained a small shot of very fine gin, now isn’t that a brilliant idea? Who would have thought, but it really made for the most perfect onion dip.

I always had sort of an Auntie Mame fantasy of my sister discovering this wonderful addition – her sipping an elegant martini in her tiny SF kitchen while adding this and that to the dip, and then…….

Hmmm, perhaps a touch of dill, a little more cracked black pepper, some onion powder, oooops! There goes the martini!  (pause to taste….)  ((big grin))

I am sure it really was nothing of the sort but you know, it’s a fun “movie” to run in my head and I know she would laugh at it.

My family has moved away and life’s changes has made our getting together a rare experience.  As I had the Superbowl on and was alone eating store-bought salsa and waiting for my humble vegetable soup to cook when I had an epiphany that I missed my sister’s onion dip, and I miss her even more.

Diner en Blanc San Francisco

Ever watch those viral videos of flashmobs dancing or doing other crazy things? San Francisco had it’s own version of a flashmob – a dinner al fresco where everyone dresses all in white called Diner en Blanc San Francisco.

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Originally from France, the Diner en Blanc phenomenon is where diners are dressed with the height of fashion and descend upon a secret location at a designated time and dine al fresco, until the end, when everyone magically clears up their picnic and tables and vanish into the night leaving nary a trace of ever being there. Imagine it as an Occupy movement but with food and happiness instead of violence and arrests.

I was invited to attend Diner en Blanc San Francisco with some friends. Months ago the tickets to the event were purchased and the date was set for the late fall but the location was a secret.  We waited excitedly for the email announcing the location, and by 3 pm on the day of the event we learned we would be dining at the Marina Green!

Sadly our brief warm weather departed that morning and the fog was thick and “frizzle” was falling heavily. Frizzle, if you are not in the know, is fog and drizzle, where visibility is hazed and one feels a constant and light prickling of tiny droplets on your skin. It’s quite refreshing if you are a fern but for humans and cats it is quite sodden.

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(Warm but with damp hair)

We had a great time figuring out what to wear and how to decorate our table for the dinner. Our shopping efforts to find elegant, all white evening wear resulted in mostly white denim and linen but we added warmer things like blankets for the laps and luxurious pashmina throws for chilly, frizzled shoulders. I was fortunate enough to have on loan from my mom a luscious cream wool coat with a white fur trimmed hood, normally my apre ski wear but perfect upon this chilly and damp occasion.

We arrived at the Marina Green by 5:00 pm to claim our table and rent our white chairs from the organizers. There were hundreds of dining tables set out on the green and thousands of diners setting their tables and arranging their decor for the evening.

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Our table was dressed in D___’s great aunt’s heavy white damask linen and lace table cloths with matching serviettes, her grandfather’s railroad silver service (Reading Railroad, no less) and a variety of white table wear. I brought along the Block china demitasse set from my late neighbor Lucille, complete with silver demitasse spoons, a S’Well thermos of espresso and another of frothy steamed milk. We had a lovely floral arrangement of cream roses and hydrangea and lime green Irish belles, wrapped in a banana leaf inside a round vase. Tiny votive candles were arranged in little clear cups weighted down with a spoonful of water.

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Despite this elegance, our first effort at Diner en Blanc made our table look like we were the poor churchmice cousins at a fancy dress ball. Surrounding us were tables with extremely elaborate settings teeming silver chargers, 5′ high floral arrangements, candelabra, tiered stands filled with the finest delicacies, silver footed champagne buckets and fancy cocktail shakers, arbors of fairy lights and hanging Chinese lanterns. Someone had recreated the Golden Gate Bridge all in white as their centerpiece!

We vowed next year to take our decor up to the next level and go all out. Nonetheless, we really enjoyed our cozy and quietly elegant table for four.

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Our menu was representative of the bounty of San Francisco: Columbus Salami’s new Farm to Table fennel salami, local cheeses from Rouge et Blanc and an Acme baguette, a salad with strawberries, feta, walnuts and a balsamic dressing, red cooked Chinese chicken, garlic roasted mushrooms and a deluxe French chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, chocolate dipped strawberries and chocolate shavings.

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We sipped Mumms Cuvee Rose sparkling wine and Stag’s Leap Pinot Noir under the foggy skies, and at dusk, lit our candles to dine. The event began with the ceremonial waving of the serviettes and the crowd hooted and cheered until our arms tired of waving the fine linen around in circles.

Throughout the night pockets of cheering erupted as the San Francisco Giants dominated over their playoff game for a spot in the World Series. We saw elegantly dressed people furtively watching the game in flickering candlelight. GO Giants!

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The wind picked up and the frizzle fell firmly but everyone was undeterred in their enjoyment of the evening. Under the drapery of our table linens we were cozy and warm with heavy blankets covering our laps and feet. The breeze played havoc with our votives but we discovered by toppling the cups over they still burned perfectly protected from the wind.

We savored our wonderful dinner.  The salad was teeming with surprise goodies with each bite.  The red cooked chicken was so complex and melt in your mouth and was perfect with the garlic laden miniature mushrooms.  Our bread basket lined in heavy linen became damp from the frizzle but the chewy sourdough and fresh, sweet butter were the quintessential San Francisco accompaniment to our multi-cultural meal.

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We lingered over the wine, nibbling here and there on cheese and salami until the dessert hour was reached.  Cheers went up and more serviette twirling ensued when the Giants won the game, hooray!   We finished the wine at last and then poured steaming hot espresso topped with hot, steamed and frothed milk. The gorgeous cake was cut and a wonderful sugar and caffeine high lifted our laughter above the crowds around us.

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(After – sorry for the flash photo)

Finally, at 9 pm, we hastily packed up our leftovers and table settings, returned our chairs and strolled over to our princess parking by the seawall.

Farewell Diner en Blanc, until next year!

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Stuffed Layered Polenta from Herbivoracious

I had the pleasure of meeting a very talented Seattle chef and blogger, Michael Natkin, as he toured the United States promoting his new vegetarian cookbook Herbivoracious by Harvard Common Press.
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The event was geared towards local bloggers and it felt like a mini reunion with over half the people in the room I would call dear friends.

Over glasses of lovely Barbera we chatted informally with Chef Michael before he started his cooking demonstration.

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Chef Michael’s book really appealed to me because despite of my great love of fruits and vegetables I feel that my execution of vegetarian cuisine is still in its infancy. I prepare a great variety of vegetable side dishes but the majority of my cooking is very meat-centric and I feel that my menu easily slips into a rut.

I have a few friends who are vegetarian and have very elevated palates. When we have get-togethers I always stress over what to make for them as my first thoughts generally run to bacon.

Chef Michael’s fresh and innovative dishes put together ingredients in a manner that made me think “Oooh, that’s terrific, now why didn’t I think of that?!!”

We were treated to three stunning dishes that night, and I have included the recipe of my favorite dish of the night for you to try: the stuffed and baked polenta.

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I made it a few weeks ago before I was allowed to stand and I must admit cooking while healing from surgery was quite the Herculean task. I needed to rest after each step but I did it. I wasn’t able to do the final bake but a dear pal took care of that for me. My friends who devoured it with me were very appreciative and the kids loved it too.

I made it again yesterday for friends who were dining with me at home and it turned out so good, I think I may have to make this part of my regular rotation.

I made my mother’s bechamel, which is simmered slowly with an onion studded with cloves, bay leaf, nutmeg, and knifepoint of cayenne pepper. The minced fresh tarragon was stirred in right before using.

For the mushroom and greens filling, I had bunches of dino kale, beet greens, and rainbow chard. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can use all of the greens, including the stems, if they are chopped rather finely. You can also use up any greens that you might have in your refrigerator, including lettuces that might be too limp to use in a salad.

The assembly of the dish is a lot of fun. You spread the cooked polenta into a greased dish and then top it with the greens and the bechamel. I had to use my largest stockpot to make the 9 cups of polenta the recipe called for, and since I cannot stand at the stove for very long, I sat on the seat of my scooter and stirred. It worked out rather well and was less tiring.

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I also added a good handful of grated Parmesan, and the larger pieces of the soft fontina that I could not grate because the cheese is just too squishy. I let these cheeses melt into the polenta before I spread it into the pan.

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The mushroom and greens mixture is spread on top. A good tip is to let it cook down until it is fairly dry to prevent any vegetable juices from softening the lower layer of the polenta after baking.

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The bechamel is spread over the top of the greens. It is very important to be sure you spread the sauce into each corner.

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The remaining batch of polenta is spread onto the top of the filling and smoothed over and topped with cheese.

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When viewed from the side through the Pyrex casserole dish you can really see the beautiful layers of the creamy polenta, the savory greens and mushrooms, the creamy bechamel, the rich top layer of polenta and mixed cheeses on the top. It is slid into the oven to be baked until bubbling and golden brown and a little crispy on the edges.

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While this was baking it smelled so divine. We could barely stand it until the timer went off but we held on for a bit longer to let it cool for about 10 minutes until it firmed up a bit so that it could be sliced into perfect straight edge slabs to be slid onto our ready plates. The next day all the leftovers were reheated briefly in the microwave and devoured for lunch. We looked at the empty dish and felt quite sad. It was gone!

The full recipe is here.

I am really looking forward to making this again. I think that I may add a fine lardon of bacon to the vegetable mix for extra porky sinfulness.

Honey Heaven

I am a California girl and literally grew up in a land of milk and honey. My mom was conscientious in her grocery shopping from the local co-op and we ate a lot of local products including some of the finest honey that our little bee friends produce.

(Photo courtesy of the National Honey Board)

Most of our honey was orange blossom or clover and occasionally we would be treated to honey in the comb, to be chewed on slowly like gum until little pellets of beeswax were left behind to be genteelly spit out (or not so genteelly, like when my sister and I fought like little animals, bee wax pellets were the perfect sticky projectiles).

As an adult doing my own grocery shopping I became a regular customer at the Marshall’s honey stand at the farmer’s market. There were so many different varieties of honey to sample, including my childhood favorites, and new ones very local to San Francisco, such as star thistle (we knew they had to be good for some purpose), eucalyptus and cappings honey. Cappings honey is the honey cut from the end of the combs which has a naturally thick and creamy texture. I began to use bee propolis which is the royal jelly and pollen, to help my allergies.

Honey is an ancient food,l and a natural preservative. Archeologists have found preserved honey in Egyptian tombs that albeit rather petrified was still edible after thousands of years. Honey in its natural state stays perfectly well for a long time, and if it crystalizes one can re-melt it and it will be no worse for the wear. In itself honey is a perfect food.

(Photo courtesy of the National Honey Board)

I was so delighted to be invited to a cooking demonstration and honey tasting party by the National Honey Board. The amazing New Orleans born pastry chef David Guas has his own cafe and bakery in Virginia, the Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery. He is on a tour for the National Honey Board to share the versatility and varieties of honey and a few local writers, media and bloggers were treated to a lovely event at the fabulous Ketchum test kitchens. Chef David is honey collector and advocate and is so impassioned and enthusiastic about honey that despite my inherent love for honey I was motivated to expand my honey collection even more.


Isn’t he a honey?

It was an intimate, casual event, and Chef David visited with us as we sampled some of his signature recipes prepared for the National Honey Board, such as a Tropical Honey Coconut Water Cooler made with tropical fruits, coconut water and toasted coconut on top. We had little bites of walnut bread topped with slim slices of blue cheese and drizzled with buckwheat honey, and Chef David’s “Crunchy” Honey Toasted Almond Spread on celery sticks.

After catching up with our friends and getting to know Chef David we proceeded into the Ketchum test kitchen, my how I wish I could just move right into that glorious room!

Chef David had six pots of honey laid out on a counter and we were given a chance to sample each type of honey in a blind tasting. What a challenge this was to apply a wine tasting lexicon to the subtleties of honey, but it turned out to be a revelatory experience. The range of flavors, textures and aromas in each honey sample was so different, and between sips of water we tried to guess the varietal of the source pollen based on the flavor profiles. Very few of us had accurate guesses and it was fascinating to hear how each of us interpreted the flavors of the honey.

(Photo courtesy of National Honey Board)

Here are some more unusual varietals of honeys from the United States, some of which I had never tried before:

AVOCADO
Primarily produced in California, avocado honey is gathered from avocado blossoms. It is a well-rounded honey with a rich, buttery flavor and a flowery aftertaste.

BASSWOOD
Basswood honey has a fresh taste suggestive of green, ripening fruit. It is often characterized by its distinctive lingering flavor.

BLUEBERRY
Taken from the tiny white flowers of the blueberry bush, the nectar makes a light, amber-colored honey with a moderate fruity flavor and the aroma of green leaves. It is produced in New England and Michigan.

BUCKWHEAT
Typically produced in Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as Eastern Canada, buckwheat honey is dark and full-bodied. It has been found to contain more antioxidant compounds than some lighter honeys.

CLOVER
Clovers contribute more to honey production in the United States than any other group of plants, with Red clover, Alsike clover, and the white and yellow sweet clovers the most important for honey production. Clover honey varies in color from clear to light amber and has a sweet, flowery flavor and a pleasing, mild taste.

EUCALYPTUS
There are over 500 varieties of eucalyptus plants with the majority found in Australia and Canada. Eucalyptus honey varies greatly in color and flavor but tends to be a stronger flavored honey. Some eucalyptus honeys have a slight menthol flavor and scent.

FIREWEED
Fireweed honey is light in color and comes from fireweed, a perennial herb that grows immediately following a forest fire. Primarily produced in the Northern Pacific states and Canada, fireweed honey is a delicate, sweet honey with subtle, tea-like notes.

ORANGE BLOSSOM
Orange Blossom honey, often from a combination of citrus sources, is usually light in color and mild in flavor with a fresh scent and light citrus taste. Orange blossom honey is produced in Florida, Southern California and parts of Texas.

SAGE
Sage honey, primarily produced in California, is light in color and heavy-bodied, with a mild but delightful flavor. It is extremely slow to granulate, making it a favorite among honey packers for blending with other honeys to slow down granulation.

SOURWOOD
Sourwood trees can be found in the Appalachian Mountains from Southern Pennsylvania to Northern Georgia. Sourwood honey has a sweet, spicy, anise aroma and flavor with a pleasant lingering aftertaste.

TUPELO
Tupelo honey is a premium honey produced in northwest Florida. It is heavy-bodied with a mild, distinctive taste, and is usually light golden amber with a greenish cast. Because of the high fructose content in Tupelo honey, it granulates very slowly.

WILDFLOWER
Wildflower honey is often used to describe honey from undefined sources.

Source: http://www.Honey.com | http://www.Honey Locator.com

Chef David fired up the glorious Viking range and started his cooking demonstration to illustrate the incredible diversity honey has in the kitchen, beyond spreading on hot buttered biscuits or stirring into tea.

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We perched convivially on stools around the capacious islands in the test kitchen, our attention rapt as Chef David toasted slivered almonds and then whirred them into a creamy almond butter spread. He used copious amounts of honey to caramelize more toasted almonds in a saute pan with a little butter then mixed quickly with corn flakes for a super crunchy tasty almond crunch to sprinkle on top of the almond butter filled celery boats.

He confessed the almond and cornflake crunch doesn’t last for very long in his house because of his voracious little boys, but it would keep quite well and crunchily for over a week.

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Chef David then whisked together a quick creamy salad dressing with honey and tossed this with halved flame grapes and slivered almonds and peppery baby rocket for a refreshing and delicious salad. I imagined adding chunks of leftover roasted chicken or turkey for a faux Waldorf salad for a fast summer supper.

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His next demonstration made me feel he was near and dear to my heart. Chef David honey glazed bacon slices in the oven, and turned them into crispy-chewy honey glazed BLTs. Holy cow, was this ever fantastic. The honey flavor really showed well against the smoked bacon flavor and I mentally kicked myself for not trying this sooner with my pig candy experiments.

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Chef David then showed us his simple yet scrumptious honey brined pork chop with a honey whole-grain mustard sauce. Brining pork chops is a standard for many, including myself, but brining chops using honey instead of sugar imparts all the complexities of the honey into the pork and obviates the need to add additional flavorings such as fruits, herbs and aromatics.

The brined chop was seared in a pan and finished in the oven and removed to a platter to rest. The pan drippings, or fond, were dissolved in water and dollops of honey and whole grained mustard were added to reduce for a quick pan sauce. I don’t think even Wordsworth could describe the sweet, savory and meaty nuances this pork had in each juice bite. Pure heaven.

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Honey has been used largely for desserts and Chef David gave us his favorite and show stopping honey lemon cheesecake dessert pops. Imagine an eggless cheesecake with Meyer lemon zest but in a popsicle form, resting on a huge platter of buttery crispy honey graham cracker crumb crunch. One picks up the creamy, glistening pop half coated in crunchy crumbs and nibbles this confection slowly off the popsicle stick. His sentiment, “Everything tastes better on a stick” is something I have said for years and it was such a playful and friendly dessert, so very charming in its simplicity and the flavor of honey was perfectly highlighted. I may never eat regular cheesecake again.

The combination of honey and almonds in the demonstration recipes is not a coincidence. Besides producing honey the honey bee has an enormous role in California and the world’s agriculture by pollination. Almond trees, for example, are solely pollinated by bees, so if the bees did not exist we would never have an almond.

The news has been filled with the collapse of bee hives throughout the world and the scientists are still trying to figure out the cause and how to prevent this tragedy from continuing, for the sake of our bees and for the future of agriculture. Some speculate is it due to a mite infection in the hive, others blame pesticides and genetically modified crops (GMO) such as those created by Monsanto. There is an interesting article about Monsanto buying the world’s largest bee research firm here, one wonders what this means about their future veracity.

This is an important issue to stay informed on and I hope as you enjoy your next bite of something in the kitchen with honey, or try some honey in the comb you think about the magic that our bees produce and what we as responsible consumers need to do to help preserve our bee population. Please support your local honey producers and buy directly from them whenever possible.

Chef David Guas’s Recipes:

Tropical Honey Coconut Water Cooler

“Crunchy” Honey Toasted Almond Spread

Grape and Almond Salad with Honey Yogurt Dressing

Honey-Candied Bacon & Lettuce Sandwich

Honey and Whole Grain Mustard-Glazed Pork Chop

Honey BBQ Pulled Chicken on Buttermilk Biscuits

Honey BBQ Sauce

Buttermilk Biscuits

Honey-Lemon Cheesecake Pops

Resources:

For more information about honey, honey bees and recipes, please visit the National Honey Board

To learn more about the different varieties of honey and what is harvested near you, visit the Honey Locator