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San Francisco

No city invites the heart to come to life as San Francisco does.  Arrival in San Francisco is an experience in living. –William Saroyan

A while back I mentioned something about my trip to San Francisco.  Well I got back from that trip over a month ago now, but as cold, rainy weather stretches out before us here in NYC, I thought it would be nice to revisit the trip to keep my spirits up.

Four New Yorkers left New York with spirits wearied and worn ragged from the snow and ice that has defined this winter, however, the SF weather could not have been more compliant.  After a few days of sunshine and warmth on our skin, we left with a lightness in our beings.  Actually I’m not sure whether this change was due to the weather or the healthy doses of laughter that filled the spaces between our constant conversation.

When you see a dear friend after being apart—even if you have talked on the phone or emailed—the time during a visit seems to be measured not in minutes or hours but in laughter and chatter and hugs.  It seemed like we never stopped laughing!  Ceaselessly we went on about the sun, our surroundings, the sun, the food we ate, the coffee we drank (did I mention the sun?).  We made up for lost time and then some.

Also when visiting a dear friend, every minute is precious and so sleep is the first to go, sacrificed in the name of friendship.  Accordingly, we shook off our jet lag and tiredness and with enough caffeine it didn’t make a difference anyway.  I am so pleased to say that I had more fun than I had anticipated.  For me, the success of a vacation is measured just as much in the food I eat as it is in the sights I see.

If I want to transport myself right back to San Francisco, all I need to do is think about the nachos and burritos we ate in the Mission or the amazing latte and cookie I had in the Sunset (Heather’s neighborhood) at Double Trouble café.

I can’t think of the beach by her apartment without thinking also of Java Beach café and how much the iced coffee and bagels hit the spot.  Of course there was also the incredible brunch at Park Chow (blueberry pancakes) and the vegetable noodle soup and dumplings in Chinatown.

I’ll never think of Berkeley without thinking of the gorgeous Thai place where we had lunch, sitting in the sun on a deck over looking the busy student-filled streets.  We had Thai iced tea and pad Thai and then for dessert (!!!) stopped at a recently opened ice cream cookie sandwich place.

And of course, no visit to California is complete without a stop at In-N-Out!  This was my first time and on the advice of a friend I had a cheeseburger (yes, red meat!) animal style.  It was everything I hoped for.

But maybe the nicest food memory I have is the most simple—of making tea and toast in Heather’s kitchen every morning at breakfast.  The windows were wide open, letting in air that was heavy with moisture and an oceany smell, making the kitchen a comfortable place to enjoy toast with guava jam and Tillamook cheese and black tea sweetened with the honey Heather’s uncle makes.

Until spring comes to New York, I’ll be longing for the feelings I had when we all were walking around at dinner time most days, planning out our next meal. Picture this: Palm trees and murals and bright lights.  A hint of the ocean in the air. The certainty that good food and good drinks are just around the corner.  As the sun goes down, your skin feels sun-kissed and warm and lovely in contrast to the cooling air.  You don’t want the moment to end and so you squeeze every last bit of enjoyment you can from the sun, turning your face to the light and holding on tightly.

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Mmm.  I’m eating pancakes right now.  No, I’m not eating them for dinner.  I had pizza for dinner.  I guess you might say they are my dessert or else they are my second dinner.  No matter, they are the best pancakes I’ve ever had. YES.  You read that correctly.  They are THE BEST pancakes I’ve ever had.

Let’s start at the beginning.  I’ve always been more of a pancake kind of gal.  French toast is nice, I enjoy it now and again especially if it’s made from challah bread.  But for some reason, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always gravitated toward pancakes.  Growing up, we didn’t have pancakes on a regular basis–my parents are the kind of parents who allowed us to have treats on Fridays/vacations/holidays/birthdays but not on a regular basis.  Even soda was banned from our house.  Thank goodness!  At the time I didn’t understand why we weren’t allowed to have a junk drawer, but now I am so very grateful for my lefty-hippie parents.

Anyhow, pancakes.  When I was young, they were a treat.  Summers we always spent at least a week in Maine at the family cottage.  Often that vacation fell within blueberry season and we would pick as many as possible.  I’m talking about wild berries–the small, sweet ones not the huge, tasteless factory farm guys!  Now, my Dad doesn’t cook much but he makes a mean blueberry pancake.  It was a special treat to enjoy his berry pancakes on the deck of the cottage (come to think of it, we still enjoy them from time to time even though we’re all grown up)!  Another pancake memory that I hold dear is eating a whole plate of silver dollar pancakes at IHOP with my Mom.  It was very late at night after one of my Nutcracker performances when I was in second grade.  Another little girl who had happened to have seen the show was there with her mom too.  She recognized me and I felt like such a star!

Ok, so now you understand my pancake past.  Let me tell you about my pancake present.  Lately, a few things have reignited my love of pancakes.   First off, I found some incredible recipes that I’ll share with you now.  But also, New York is getting a huge amount of snow and I think pancakes are perfect for snowy mornings when all you want to do is be lazy on the couch.  Finally, I’m training for a half marathon and my body is craving carbs like never before.

But enough about all that, on to the actual recipes!

Pancake Number 1

I’ve been hanging onto this recipe for a while now–wow, I think for almost a year and a half.  Perhaps some part of me knew I’d be going through a pancake period later on down the road.  These cakes cook up beautifully.  In fact, I thought they would be my favorite until I made the recipe I’m eating right now.  However, these are a very close second favorite. Now here is the link to it, on a food blog called 5 Second Rule but it is modified from The Silver Palate Goodtimes Cookbook.

They are yummy.  Don’t be fooled by the fact that they are “multigrain”.  Although they seem to be much healthier for you than a standard pancake, they are very very yummy.  These are sort of crisp and have a crunch and weight to them.  But they are still light enough to be a pancake.  I added cinnimon to them and I would have added apples if I had had them on hand.  Also, I had blue corn meal and since I used it they all had this nice purplish hue.  Good news!  The recipe makes quite a lot but the batter freezes splendidly.  So if you are a single gal such as myself, go ahead and make enough for a few days and freeze the rest of the batter.

Pancake Number 2

Ok so on to my new favorite pancake recipe.  I was hoping I could find it online since the recipe is Molly Wizenberg’s of Orangette but apparently it is just in her book, A Homemade Life.  I can’t really get into it right now, seeing as this post is already too long, but I almost couldn’t start reading this book.  It wasn’t because I didn’t want to–after all it is a memoir/cookbook, two things I love–but rather because I knew I would be so jealous of her life.  I’m actually not jealous, but moreso in awe of her story.  If you are intregued, look into it later…right now, you have pancakes to make:

-2/3 cup all purpose flour, unbleached

-1/3 cup buckwheat flour

-2 tsp sugar

-1/2 tsp salt

-1/2 tsp baking powder

-1/4 tsp baking soda

-3/4 c buttermilk

-1/4 c milk plus 2 tbsp

-1 large egg, separated

-2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit

-frozen berries

-vegetable oil

-maple syrup or powdered sugar

NOTE: if you do not have buttermilk (as I almost never do!) then subsitute 1/2 cup yogurt and 1/4 cup milk but don’t forget you also need to add the extra 1/4 plus 2 tbsp as the recipe calls for.  Try to use real butter, not margarine and use something other than skim milk if you can.  I had 1% milk and 2% plain yogurt.

1. Mix all the dry ingredients in a  large bowl.

2. Whisk butter milk (or plain yogurt plus milk) with the regular milk in a small bowl or a 2 cup liquid measuring cup.

3. Beat the egg yolk into the cooled melted butter and then whisk this into the milk mixture.

4. Mix the wet into the dry ingredients until just combined, don’t overmix!  The batter is pretty thick.

5. Heat up a griddle and brush with oil.  When it is about hot (I set my to medium-high heat) ladle out the batter no more than 1/4 c at a time.  When the underside starts to set after about a minute, add some frozen berries–I added blueberries and raspberries.  After about 3 minuets total on the first side, flip and let sizzle for 1-2 minutes on the other side.

The recipe yields about 10-12 pancakes and I didn’t freeze any of the batter since I’m sure I’ll have no problem eating all these within the week.  I think these are my favorite because they are so moist and dense and full of flavor.  I actually ate them without any syrup or jam, just a sprinkling of powdered sugar.  I can’t vouch for how they taste without berries, but with them, each bite packs a sweet, tangy punch of yum.

Trust me, whether you are preparing for a half marathon or sitting lazily on a the couch on a snowy afternoon (or if you are doing both!), you are going to love these. Enjoy!

I just got back from spending 5 days in San Fransisco with some lovely friends.  What a rejuvenating time but how difficult to come back to cold, snowy New York.  I’d love to share more about my trip but I’ll save that for later.

Right now, I’m making some roasted root vegetables but I’m so very hungry I just can’t wait for them to be done.  Luckily, a few weeks ago I made some nice soup that I froze and am presently enjoying to tide me over until my veggies are done!  This is not just any soup, this is the first recipe I’ve tried out of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I got the cookbook for Christmas.  Not this Christmas, but last Christmas!  I don’t know why I never got around to making any of the recipes I had dog-eared during my first read through of the book.  There are so many yummy recipes and despite what you might think after seeing Julie and Julia, several are simple and require few ingredients.

Perhaps I was inspired to finally make a recipe from the cookbook after my Mom and I watched Julie and Julia for the second time over the holidays.  It is a sweet movie but the books it is based upon are much much better (isn’t that how it always works though?).  What an incredible thing Julie Powell did, cooking her way through the whole book.  I’m not sure I would survive that task, given how much meat is in the book and how long the book is, so I truly admire her feat.

When I arrived back in the Bronx, I remembered we had some leeks from our CSA that were languishing away in the vegetable drawer.  All I had to do was pick up some potatoes since luckily the recipe only calls for a few ingredients and I had the others on hand.  This soup freezes pretty nicely although it does separate a little bit when it thaws–just add a little extra milk or butter and heat it up, it tastes great!

This is an easy recipe that really any cook of any skill level can complete.

-2 large russet potatoes

-3 cups chopped leeks (both white and green parts), about 2 medium leeks

-3 small shallots or onions, chopped

-4 carrots diced***

-2 quarts of water

-salt and pepper, to taste

-rosemary, to taste**

-3 TBSP butter or 1/3 c. heavy cream

***I added this to the recipe as per Julia’s suggestion.  She includes several variations on the basic recipe, this is something I just love about her cookbook.  Aren’t all of us cooks always adding our own twist and experimenting?   It is one of the joys of cooking!  Check out her book to see this and other variations on the potato leek soup.

1.     Chop all the veggies and put them in a big soup pot with the water and some salt and pepper and a few pinches of rosemary.

2.     Simmer partially covered for about 45 minutes or until they pass what I call “the fork test”—are they soft when you stick a fork in each type of veggie?  The carrots take the longest.

3.     Using a blender or food processor, blend everything until smooth and return back to the pot (this is where an immersion blender would come in handy!).

4.     Add in the butter or cream (or milk if you’d like) and adjust seasonings.  (I added butter.  You have to know that Julia LOVED real butter, remember when I posted about how much I love it to?  Mmm!)

What could be more simple than that?!  You don’t really need to stand over the pot watching it so you can set the veggies to boil while you do other things around the house.  I hope you can make this recipe or run out and buy Julia Child’s first cookbook.  It is worth the cost—the illustrations are gloriously detailed and the manner in which the recipe flows is helpful and clear.  The soup is a delight and even better when you have a cold.

Enjoy!

What was 2010?

I know I’m not the only one out there who can’t believe that 2010 has passed and we are entering into a whole new year.  There is a sort of melancholy about the end of the year.  Of course December 31 and January 1 are just two more days on the calendar, however, they do provide time and space to reflect a little on life.  This time around, I just kept asking myself “what was 2010?”.  In recent years, I’ve graduated from college, finished a post-grad volunteer program, moved back to New York, finished a graduate program…in other words, I’ve hit some very clear cut milestones on this path of mine.  But 2010 was a little different, I’m settled in my same city, same apartment, same job.  So when I posed the question to myself, “what was 2010?”, I meant what have I accomplished, what have I done, how have I grown?  I decided to look through my calendar, my blog, my pictures and here is what I found (roughly in chronological order):

I went to Vermont with friends.  It was snowy and cold but starkly beautiful and a wonderful change from the city.

I traveled to visit my dear friend Carin who lives in Cincinnati.  She is a kindred spirit, one of those rare souls I am so fortunate to have in my life. We toured the city, played with her dogs and ate chili dogs!

I made a bag of plastic bags.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Alas, it is still not totally finished!

I went to Boston to visit friends and the after school program I worked for.  Lilacs (my favorite!) were in full bloom at the arboretum.

I made this beautiful soup, Springtime Minestrone, that I forgot to blog about!  Really it is lovely and I intend to make it this spring so hopefully I will share it then.

I took this beautiful picture of tulips somewhere but now I cannot remember where–maybe in Boston but maybe at the Botanical Garden here in New York.

I climbed Mount Washington with my Dad.  We had so much fun!  What an incredible challenge.

I grew an abundant garden with my garden partner Tiffany.  It was such a hot summer but we had success in a lot of our plants, especially the cucumbers!

Book club turned one year old!  We are still going strong despite the fact that I haven’t written much about our meetings.  What a great group of women.

Dublin the boxer puppy arrived in our lives!  My sister’s pup is a sweetheart who frequently gets into trouble but quickly gets out of punishment because of her spirit and good looks.

I went to Maine.

I went more than once.  I believe you can have many homes and this is one of mine.  Heaven.

I went to Chicago for work.  I toured the city and ate lots of nice dinners and enjoyed my own company.

We had roaches.  We took action.  We won!  (For now at least.)

I discovered that there are still wild, untouched places on the island of Manhattan.

I concocted an ambitious and crazy plan to travel around Europe.  I did it (with my travel buddy).  I went to Romania.  I got to know more types of trains and stations than I knew existed.  I went to Amsterdam and fell head over heels, I just plain cheated on my other love, New York.  I spent time in Germany with my best friend and coveted the pretzels, beer, and pace of life.

I said goodbye to Heather: roommate, travel buddy, confidant and true friend.

I ran a 10k race and signed up to run the 1/2 marathon in March.  Crazy but crazy for a good cause.

I spent countless wonderful days with my family.  Festive holidays, simple quiet days, always good days, always love.

I enjoyed Christmas in New York.  Sometimes it’s a stressful time to live here but if you play your cards right, it can be the most amazing.

2010 was many many more moments, meals, memories than this page can contain.  But these are the highlights.  Perhaps the end of the year is a time for melancholic nostalgia, however, it is also the perfect time to cultivate gratitude for all the was, all that is, and all that (with any luck) is to be.  Here is a nice reminder about gratitude:

Mindfulness of gratitude leads to a direct experience of being connected to life – to the realization that there is a larger context in which your personal story is unfolding.

Happy New Year!  Here’s to 2011.

December Wonder

won·der·ment

noun

Definition of WONDERMENT

1: a cause of or occasion for wonder
2: astonishment, surprise
3: curiosity about something

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the days leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve.  When I was small, although I enjoyed December because it promised presents and cookies and staying up late, I mostly loved this season because the air seemed heavy with mystery and magic and wonder.

The reality of the adult December is often the whirlwind of holiday shopping, the onslaught of corporate messages reducing the holiday to dollar signs, the stress of pleasing friends and relatives, the overeating of treats, etc, etc, etc!  All of this can slowly drain December of any trace childlike wonderment.

So what are you doing this month to take back December?  A while ago, I decided that the specter of “The Holiday Season” would only overshadow the beauty of this month if I allowed it!  Though many of us cannot shirk the responsibilities of present buying or cookie baking, we can all take a bit of time to slow down, turn inward, and perform a little self-care.  When was the last time you took a deep breath and felt a sense of wonder about life?  Now is the time!

Here are some things that are helping me maintain a sense of wonder through this entire month, I hope they inspire you:

 

Nourish yourself, body and soul

I just wrote this post on Circle of Food about my love for soup-making this time of year.  Now is the time to make sure you are eating healthfully.  Holiday shopping and low blood sugar do not mix!  I am a big fan of Christmas cookies and treats, but at mealtime I like to fill my belly with hot soups.  It not only fuels my body but it seems to nourish my mind and soul!  Enjoy the lentil soup recipe I wrote about–it freezes really well so you can make a double batch and have the rest on hand for later.

 

Spend time with friends, but take the stress out of the equation

My roommates and I threw a Hanukkah party.  Although we did prepare quite a spread of food, we asked friends to provide the drinks.  This took some of the stress out of it.  We had a wonderful time and enjoyed the company of great people.

Here are Danielle and Caitlin preparing latkes!

Latkes are time intensive, but well worth it!

Mmm, cupcakes!  Danielle brought out her battery operated menorah–nicknamed Manny the menorah 🙂  She also said the prayers over real candles in her other menorah.

Here we are with friends from our building who just had a baby!

Take time to meditate in the company of candles or the lights from a Christmas tree

For many years of apartment living, I have had a teeny tiny fake tree.  The other morning, I was passing the bodega on our corner and I smelled the beautiful scent of freshly cut trees.  There were several for sale, just waiting for a loving home.  I decided then and there that I would buy one and put it up in our apartment.

Why postpone happiness?  A simple thing like a real tree has brought me so much joy in the short time I’ve had it up.  I was a little worried that I didn’t have many ornaments, but I soon discovered that there were several decorations around the house I could hang on the tree.  For instance, I had some Tibetan prayer flags and some angels that are hanging on my wall and I am using those as ornaments.  Though they aren’t traditional looking, they are beautiful nonetheless.  I also cut out some stars from cardboard and covered them in tinfoil and hung those on the tree.

Isn’t it a beautiful little tree?  I’m trying to spend at least five minutes in the quiet with the twinkly lights every day from now until January.  If you do the same, I guarantee you will find some December serenity.  I like to use that time to cultivate gratitude for all the good things going on in life.

Relive or recreate some of your favorite December childhood memories

The other night, I went to see New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker.  The crowded theater was packed with smiling faces.  Although many of those faces belonged to lucky children, there were countless adults of all ages who wanted to relive (or experience for the first time) a classic holiday experience.  Here we are outside the theater:

And inside the theater:

I’ve also been trying to enjoy as many Christmas movies as possible!

 

 

Wherever you are, I hope something here has inspired you to take a little time today to cultivate December wonderment.

 

 

Thanksgiving Roundup

How was your Thanksgiving?  Mine was great.  I saw a lot of family and I hung out and read and relaxed.  Oh and of course I cooked and baked (and ate, and ate).

 

 

What I love best about holidays  (and cooking, and life in general) are the quiet, simple moments that surround the chaos, the chatter, the movement.  I love the small things that frame the main event.  These are the times when I can look around, inhale, exhale, and savor.  I find that these small things we might overlook end up being the very memories we depend on later in times of trouble and stress.

Here is what I was grateful for throughout the holiday weekend (and continue to cherish everyday).

 

Cutting garlic into thin slices to brown up for green beans.

 

The moment right before my apple crostata went into the oven.  Acknowledging the hours and hours that stretched before me, charged with anticipation of the first taste.

 

 

 

 

Nothing is more beautiful than cooking in my mother’s kitchen, the kitchen that nourished me body and soul as I grew, the kitchen in which I learned to love food and lovely act of making it.

 

 

P.S. Are you interested in the apple crostata?  A Martha Stewart recipe of course!  Not as difficult as it may look, the crust has cheddar cheese in it which creates a divine contrast to the sweet apples.  Check it out, let me know what you think.

To Turkey or Not to Turkey?

Here I am in wordpress format!  For a while now I’ve been thinking about switching to wordpress.  I like the look a lot more than blogger.  We’ll see how this experiment goes….in the meantime, I also will be doing a guest blogger spot on Circle of Food.  Check it out!

Have you seen the City Critic article in the NY Times today?  All about picking out and slaughtering your own turkey.  I don’t know if I could do the actual killing part, but I think it’s really important to be connected to your food–this is one of the reasons I try not to eat meat since I think we are so cut off from any knowledge of how the animal was raised and killed.

For a long time, it was really hard for me to give up the Thanksgiving turkey although I had stopped eating meat for a while.   However, the more I learned about the way Thanksgiving turkeys are raised and killed, the less I wanted to eat of it.  For the past several years now, I’ve opted to stay away from the turkey.  The other side dishes are kind of a different story.  Last year I still had gravy; what are mashed potatoes without gravy?!?  This year, I am going to make vegetarian gravy.  I’ve got a few recipes to choose from, right now I’m leaning toward the NPR recipe.  I’ll let you know how it turns out!

From NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97137098

Note: The gravy thickens up quite a bit, so keep some warm water or vegetable broth on hand to thin it out before serving, and for leftovers.

Makes 2 cups.

1/2 cup olive oil

1/3 cup chopped onion or shallots

5 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 cups vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon dried sage

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour and soy sauce to form a smooth paste. Gradually whisk in the broth.

Season with sage, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until thickened.

From Martha Stewart: Vegetarian Mushroom Gravy – Martha Stewart Recipes

Makes 3 1/2 cups

1 portobello mushroom
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms
4 cups organic mushroom or vegetable stock
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Marsala wine (optional)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon thyme leaves

  1. Remove stems from portobello, shiitake, and cremini mushrooms. Place stems and mushroom stock in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer for 30 minutes. Strain; set aside.
  2. Finely chop portobello cap, and set aside. Thinly slice shiitake and cremini. Place 3 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan over medium heat; add shallots, and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add chopped and sliced mushrooms, and cook until mushrooms are soft and browned, and all liquid has evaporated. Add Marsala, if using, and cook, stirring to loosen any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat, and set aside.
  3. Place the remaining tablespoon butter and flour in a medium saucepan over medium heat; cook until browned and fully combined, 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the enriched stock; bring to a boil, whisking until thickened. Add the reserved mushroom mixture and thyme, and stir to combine. Serve hot.