Friday, December 28, 2007

These Muffins Are Healthy, I Swear

Well look at me posting two days in a row. I guess this really means I’m on vacation with time to spare. I could certainly get used to this life. And (and this is truly worth a tad of bragging), I said I was going to make something and then I DID. Within twenty-four hours. I’m really on a roll.

Those lemon poppy seed muffins I was drooling over last night from my new Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home To Yours, well, it’s confirmed they are drool worthy. Sneaking two at time up to your room to eat alone worthy too. They’re damn good. So moist, lemony, and soft. Even the kids, who usually say things like “what are those black things?” didn’t question. They just ate, and then said “these are really good.” You heard it here folks: these are really good. Even my nine-year-old sister, Chuckie, liked them.

Let me tell you something about Chuck, she’s a sugar fiend. She doesn’t like apples without peanut butter; she doesn’t like strawberries without sugar (who heard of a child that doesn’t like a plain strawberry?); she asks for a bagel with cream cheese, only to lick every ounce of the cream cheese off without a bite of her bagel. My mom cooks kale into her spaghetti sauce, pays her to eat spinach, but she won’t have it. She wants twizzlers, jello, pretty much anything with fructose corn syrup as the first ingredient or red dye #40 lingering somewhere near the end. It’s concerning.

I’m not trying to pretend that lemon poppy seed muffins are health food. White flour, butter, sugar…not exactly legumes and veggies. But at least it’s homemade. At least I know what went in to it. And she ate it. Maybe next time I can sneak in something or better yet, just bribe her with them (extra glaze and all that).

Because you know what? These are bribe worthy.

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins out of Baking From My Home To Yours


2/3 cup sugar
Grated zest & juice of 1 lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tbsp. poppy seeds

1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1.5 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1.Preheat the oven to 400F. Butter a regular size muffin pan.

2.In a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers until the sugar is moist. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3.In a separate bowl whisk the sour cream, eggs, vanilla, lemon juice, and melted butter together until blended. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and whisk until just blended. Stir in the poppy seeds. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

4.Bake for 18-20 minutes (mine were actually done after 16 min.) or until tops are golden brown. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool. Remove muffins from the pan and place directly on the rack.

5.For icing, whisk the sugar and lemon juice together until just liquidy enough to drizzle over the muffins when completely cool.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Now What?

Christmas has come and gone. How did that happen? I’ve had six days off work. I’ve spent time with my family, chaotically Christmas shopped, wrapped and wrapped some more, baked pie after pie, not to mention a few dozen cookies, roasted a turkey, napped (maybe once) and yet, it feels as if I’ve done absolutely nothing.

When I’m at work, I fantasize. Really good fantasies too. Waking up early. Heading down to the coffee shop and getting a lemon scone and latte. I sip slowly, and pinch crumbly bits into my mouth, while I thumb through my newest book (Faulkner, or something just as academic). Maybe I even write brilliant thoughts in a small, worn notebook. Then I stop at the market, pick up ingredients for dinner that night—a meal I’ve methodically planned the night before—and then head home for a quick snooze. I wake up and cook. Perhaps watch an episode of The Office while I wait for my chicken to roast or my water boil. Eating is insanely satisfying (a nice glass of wine helps) and then I fall into bed. I’m out like a light, ready to do it all over the next day.

But when I actually get that day off, I don’t manage anything like that. It’s much more spontaneous and chaotic. And I think now I’m in some kind of post-holiday stupor. I keep making pumpkin pies in the hopes of perfection, stuffing cookies down people’s throats one day and throwing them out the next, and all to what avail? I’m not sure. Trying to figure out what’s next, I suppose.

Based on my Christmas present from The BF, Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home To Yours, I’m guessing the next thing will be something baked, first thing tomorrow morning, or the thing after the first thing, you know, in lieu of the latte and scone. Reading in pajamas is way better than reading at a coffee shop anyways.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

How I Finally Became A Joiner

I'm not a joiner. I'm just not good at it. I'm much better at being a bystander and watching from the sidelines. I'm an observer by nature, and I tend to shrink in large groups. But today, I'm starting over. It's nearly the new year, and with it I'm starting, a new, more DARING me.

I've joined the Daring Bakers. I know, but it's true. I've joined. I'm a joiner. There, I said it. And you know what? I feel really great about it. I feel like I could spend three hours in my kitchen on a Sunday whipping up buttercreams, sampling fillings, and pressing my fingers onto spongy genoise cake. Oh, wait. I already did that. It's only as glamourous as it sounds when you're showing off a Yule Log to all your coworkers, and then watching them devour it. (Secretly, laughing about all the butter and sugar they just consumed. No, I'm not better than that.)

The truth is buttercream is unglamourous. It's downright dirty work. I was up to my elbows in egg whites and butter. I had to make the buttercream three times. I'm not a joiner, and I'm sure as hell not a quiter. So finally, on the third try I had the best buttercream ever. Was it worth it? Without a doubt. I now have a showstopper dessert. Not too mention the glory of being a real, homemade Daring Baker.

We had the option of filling the cake with whatever we wanted and I immediatley thought of something I had seen from past Daring Baker entries: hazelnut cream filling. Only, I couldn't find hazelnut cream (anywhere on the planet), so it became chestnut, chocolate cream filling, which couldn't have been a better fit.

Here's to joining! And shamelessly eating butter and sugar.

Yule Log

Plain Genoise:

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch

one 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).

4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.

5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.

6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.

9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.

10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Coffee Buttercream:

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons rum or brandy

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.

Filling and frosting the log:

1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.

2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.

3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.

4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).

5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.

6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.

7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.

8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.

9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.

10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.

11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Chestnut Chocolate Filling (adapted from Martha Stewart)

2/3 cup heavy cream
6 large egg whites
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup chestnut cream
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup chestnut cream
1 tsp. salt

1. Put cream into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Refrigerate 1 hour.

2. Whisk egg whites and sugar in the clean bowl of mixer set over a pan of simmering water until sugar has dissolved and mixture registers 160 degrees;, 2 to 3 minutes.
Attach bowl to mixer fitted with the clean whisk attachment; beat on high speed until slightly cooled and stiff (but not dry) peaks form.

3. Fit mixer with paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low speed, add butter, several pieces at a time, mixing well after each addition (meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added). Add vanilla, hazelnut cream, and salt; mix until mixture comes together, 3 to 5 minutes. Fold in whipped cream with a rubber spatula. Use immediately.

Marzipan Mushrooms:

8 ounces almond paste
2 cups icing sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
Cocoa powder

1.To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.

2.Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.

3.Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.

4.Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.

5.Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.

6.Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.

7.Smudge with cocoa powder.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Going Steady With A16

Now that my semester is over, I have no excuses for not posting more. Except that, as previously mentioned, I have a tendency to be lazy and gluttonous. For example, the past two weekends I have managed to eat at A16 twice. TWICE. For those of you who haven't heard me go on and on about A16 or have been there yourselves, A16 is a Southern Italian restaurant, specifically based on cuisine in Campania, on Chestnut Street in The City. Definitely one of the most highly reviewed places in The City without being one of the most expensive or white table cloth-y. Then again, white table cloths are out, at least around here. In fact, table cloths in general are getting harder to come by. It's pretty much earth toned paper on wooden sheen or just the clamorous clank of your silverware on worm wood. We're very rustic these days. Needless to say, A16 is rustic, both in food and style. It's certainly a pleasurable rustic. You see it in their appetizers--we enjoyed their Minestra Maritata, which is pretty much the Italian name for Bomb Ass Meatball Soup--all the way to their sides--it's probably bad to say that I've had three of their five sides currently available; I especially loved the anchovy kale.

While I will warn that their pasta dishes can leave something to be desired--we concluded that they are truly meant as a pasta course and not a main entree, they're certainly delicious, but often drastically more mild then their pizzas, entrees, and even appetizer--obviously I truly enjoy every meal I have at this establishment. But even so, twice over two consecutive weekends, is even wild for me. The first was just a celebratory dinner with The BF, and this Saturday, The BF's sister and brother-in-law were coming into town from Wisconsin and just really needed to go there, which of course I respect deeply. You know when you're first dating someone and they seem really wonderful. You hardly notice the annoying way they have of sweeping their hand through their hair or saying "um" before beginning a long thought. They're just down right perfect, until a few weeks go by, a month or two, and then you start to see it all more clearly. Have you really been dating this person all along? Sometimes you shrug it off; it ain't a deal-breaker. But then sometimes, you can't. Sometimes it changes the way you see that person permanently. Well, with A16 and me, I guess I've finally started to pick up on some small flaws. And they are small, but still. The problem is that they're not A16's fault. It's locked in a burden of circumstance I suppose.

Okay, so what is this gripe of mine? The clientele of course. Though not all of them, namely just the overtly snobby ones that crowd the bar and make sniffling comments about wine that I can't stand. These are the kind of people that drive me nuts. People who are uptight and just plain rude. The BF and I witnessed a scene go down involving two of these said gentleman and another couple of (normal) gentlemen over two of the seats at the bar. No, there were no near brawls; there wasn't even any up-in-the-face action. There couldn't of been, since the two stick-up-ass men wouldn't even turn and look at the other guys and have a discussion with them. And the other guys were so very nice and accommodating. But no, stick-up-ass man one would only remark (loudly) to stick-up-ass man two, things like, "Um, should we give them these seats? I think no." Even their A-hole moves were lame as can be. I have Kharma Police Syndrome; basically I can't take it when people get to act mean with no repercussions, so of course, I was upset about the incident all night. I mean I was still able to lick my plate and dessert bowl clean, but you know, it wore on me. A16 isn't supposed to be about being mean for one seat at the bar. It's about noise, wine, burrata, pork and a wood fire oven. It's about eating seasonally and overdoing it on Salted Carmel gelato.

But maybe it's not. Maybe I've been living a lie, and I'm finally seeing it for what it is: all white table cloth-y or not even that, just plain snooty (there, I said it). I really want to make it work though. The way I feel about the pizza bianca and the tuna conserva salad, well, that's love. I can't just let it go. But without out a doubt, the honeymoon period is over. I guess we're in it for the long haul, fights and all.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Thought Really Does Count

In case you hadn't noticed, Christmas is only two weeks away. That's fourteen days. I don't say that condescendingly either, I really didn't realize how soon it was. Until now of course, when only two of the eleven people I must buy gifts for are taken care of. And I've even narrowed it down big time. I cut out my usual holiday baking for extended family and friends. I even cut out Christmas cards, which (in case you're wondering) I feel horribly guilty about. I'm not lazy, I swear. I 'm just busy. Heard that before? Eh, me too, but it's true, for the most part. (Sometimes I do have free time to do productive things and choose not, and that's definitely lazy, but doesn't everyone do that?)

Then all of a sudden it’s present time, and not only do I feel too emotionally fragile to head to the hellish, overly-crowded zoo that is my nearest mall, but I don't have any ideas. NONE. Seriously, notta one.

If it wasn't already apparent from this post (please read sarcasm), I love giving gifts. No really, I do. But not just for the sake of gift giving. I like to put thought into things. I practically can't give a gift to someone, if real thought hasn't gone into it. I'll get guilt-ridden, anxious, and I'll think about it all year long. I'd rather just give nothing--a big hug and a "Happy Holidays." But you can't do that, which is why I'm so distraught. Isn't it better to not get anything one year but know that the next gift will really be just meant for you? I'm guessing, based on the shockingly long lines on December 26th, that I'm alone on this one. I'm thinking of mounting a campaign in '08: Presents with Heart or something. I suppose in the meantime, I better start shopping.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sunday Night Blues

Sunday’s are hard for me. Pretty much always have been. I have a tendency to get more and more down as the day goes by The BF and I made a pact this past summer: We can’t be sad until 8pm. At 8pm we can be complete grumps (read: A-holes) and snap at each other for no real reason, except that it somehow relieves the Sunday pain, even though it really doesn’t. When I say "we" what I really mean is "me", as usual The BF is far better at controlling himself then I am.

The only problem is that in the winter it gets dark sooo early, and 5pm feels more like 8pm then 8pm does when the time changes. And then I get confused. And the confusion only compounds my Sunday night blues. In fact, The BF and I have determined, through intense scientific testing and research that he does indeed suffer from SAD.

So lately we’ve found that cooking for Sunday night meals eases the pains. Mostly because we’re just too distracted and stressed out with cooking disasters (grease fires and the likes) to notice the sun fading, the time just ticking away, another weekend.

This weekend we decided to really embrace the distraction making an entire Indian feast. Let’s see there was Raita, Saag Paneer, Chicken Tikka Masala, Cilantro Chutney, Vegetable Dal, & Naan. I’m still full. But it was good. It was like we-couldn’t-believe-we-made-it good. Also, I think we just wanted to give ourselves some props after an entire day of cooking truly from scratch—we made the paneer (cheese) & Naan from scratch.

I’d include recipes if recipes hadn’t gone straight out the window as soon as we got going. And so did note-taking, right around the time the second gallon of curdled (but not curdled enough) milk was tossed down the disposal (along with a variety of expletives by The BF) during cheese making.

So though I can’t offer recipes this time, I do recommend that you join in a little food therapy next time you’re feeling blue. If you're not up for Indian, you could try these, I think they would help.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The View I Miss Already

Thanksgiving is over and now the true holiday season begins. I’ve returned from a few short days at home (as in where my family is) with a sense of nostalgia. It’s true that around this time of year I oft ponder those Turkey Days of childhood. At the time they seemed so picturesque: long wooden table, big family gathering, cousins galore.

Of course as I’ve gotten older I can see more clearly the falsity in those images I’ve maintained, like picking only the best photos for the album. But it doesn’t make that loss any less of one. In fact, as I write this I realize that sensation of nostalgia is actually one more akin to disconnection. Where is that family now? When did I last sit down for that Thanksgiving?

Part of being a child of divorcees is learning to take disconnection in stride. You disconnect from a bed, a house, a parent to take on the other. And as you get older home becomes less of a place and more of a concept. But I’m still just muddled with longing for the images that I remember, and yet lately find myself realizing are untrue. People change but then don’t change at all, so it’s easy to find yourself disappointed, but places? Some places never change.

Friday Shirley and I, along with another friend of ours spent one final night at the place of childhood fantasies (or mine at least): the Skyview Drive-In. It was an amazing time just lying in the back of the car, covered in blankets, stuffing ourselves with candy, while the cold, fall air chilled our cheeks. But it was so sad too. The drive-in is no longer, not as a gathering place to catch a flick and or specifically in Santa Cruz, where it soon becomes a hospital.

We knew it would be our last night time there, beneath the stars, amidst that big glowing screen. How many movies I’ve seen there, I can’t begin to count, but I can remember watching them from my car-seat as a child. So yeah, another thing lost.

Later that night I dreampt about someone I loved dearly as a child. Someone who flits through my mind rarely, but always brings a smile to my face. In the dream, this person had to tell me that nothing would ever be the same. I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to let my idea of them go. So I did…in the dream.

And I now I need to try to do the same with the drive-in. The one good thing about being [dreaded word to follow] an adult is that you get to finally make some of your own traditions. And stick to them. Or try your damndest to. Then when I’m eighty I can bore my grandchildren with stories about the drive-in.

“The last time I went was November of 2007. You weren’t even a twinkle yet. Can you believe I was worried things might not turn out okay back then?”

Monday, November 19, 2007

How Food And Multiple Homes Don't Work Together

So I'd love to show you all the beautiful Vietnamese dinner that The BF and I made last night. The pure white noodles, nestled beneath the mounds of green herbs, lettuce, carrots, and jalapeño, carrying the heavy load of caramelized-to-perfection pork. I wish you could have seen it as the glistening pink/orange of the nuoc cham spilled over the top, cascading to the depths of my bowl, creating a pocket of sweet amongst my noodles. Yeah, it would be nice for you to see that, but since I didn't have my camera available you can't.

Say hello to one of the many problems that face those of us that live in limbo between two locations: not having the things you need when you need them. It's a frustrating thing, especially when you stay that extra night and you have absolutely nothing left to wear. And you have to run into your own place before work and get completely dressed in a massive hurry. And then, if you've cooked a big meal, you have to move the leftovers to the appropriate house as well, so you don't waste them (and you get your damned moneys worth from that grocery trip that cost far more than eating lunch and dinner out for the next three days would have, but you do it because you love it).

Anyways, there's no point in posting the recipe because without the pictures it just doesn't have the same appeal. Even if I describe it as best I possibly could, it's just never going to do it for you. I understand that, because I'm the same way. Which leads me back to my gripe about not having all my things readily available to me when I'm at The BF's and vice versa. It's not something that can be helped right now. So we must overcome. I must not think about the bottle of Calvados that's sitting nearly full in my cupboard that was bought for just a tablespoon that was needed, and may never be used again. Or about the broth that needs to be made before Thanksgiving dinner at The BF's house that involves using 1/2 cup of Calvados. The same 1/2 cup that is sitting at my own house. Sure, just bring the Calvados from one place to the other. But it's not that simple. It involves planning out the week. Who's house will we stay at what night? Are there plans any night in The City that we must be around for? Is the commute from San Rafael worthy of that damn bottle of Calvados?

Conclusion: if you're going to do the whole food thing you need to either be single or you need to live with your significant other. Or, as an alternative, you need to be super rich so you don't have to feel bad about buying multiple bottles of esoteric alcohol.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Well, There Goes Another Weekend

So this is the post I talked about last time, where I was going to be all positive and "I love life" and stuff, but then decided I just wasn't a good enough faker. Basically, I removed the trite, happy paragraph that led into it, and put this in instead. Isn't honesty always the best policy anyways? I guess sometimes I'm honest to a fault. It was a good weekend though; sure as hell beat this last one...

The weekend before last, The BF celebrated his 25th birthday in the form of a surprise weekend getaway. When he found out on Thursday night that he wouldn't have to be going to work on Friday and that we were going up to Sea Ranch, he was shocked, to say the very least. (Apparently he doesn't give me enough credit for manipulative capabilities.) Needless to say, when we made it up to Sea Ranch and I informed him that we were actually going to be joined by his closest friends (and some of mine too), he was catatonic with astonishment, which was followed with complete panic.

"But, we don't have enough food. I have to clean. Where are they all sleeping? How are we going to entertain them?"

Both The BF and I happen to be Type A personalities; we have a hard time relinquishing control to fate. However, after I assured him that everything was taken care of and everyone showed up, we had a great time. We ate more than I care to recognize, but it was all fantastic. The men cooked a potluck with a variety of food that could never possible go together anywhere else, like short ribs and red chile beans, steamed salmon, flanks steak with chimchurri, as fresh as you can get abalone ceviche, and fish tacos. It was quite the smorgasboard.

We could not have dreamed of better weather, espcially in November, daylight savings weekend, on the northern coast of California. We played out our fantasies of moving up there for a few months or even a few weeks like we always do. And though a good majority of me wanted to just stay up there forever, and pretend The City was just a place I visited, the sunset on our drive home, reminded me that are defintely some things worth coming home for, even with work, all the projects, and daily life dramas (like my Mac costing $700 to be repaired). I wouldn't have wanted to miss that sunset for the world, even if it meant that I didn't have to deal with rent or my crazy clients anymore. Wait, now that's a bit extreme. It was good, but certainly not that good. I'm pretty sure nothing is that good.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Heels On Hardwood

I had my post for today all written out about how I'm all set to enjoy my final weeks of the semester instead of willing them to go by faster, cause I'm "all positive and stuff." But you know what, eff that. It just ain't my style, never has been. Maybe I'll post it, but certainly not today. I'm not feeling "all positive" at the moment, especially when I awoke to the sounds of heels on hardwood this morning, brought to me by who else but my lovely neighbors. I pretty much wake up to their sounds everyday, which is fine. I get it, they have hardwood floors, it's gonna happen, but at 4:45 in the frickin morning? WTF?! Does Ms. Noisy Neighbor really need to stomp around the apartment in heels before 5am on her way to the airport or god knows where? Can she not just place them on her nyloned feet as she walks out the door? Is that so damn difficult?

I fantasize...

Dear Noisy Neighbors,

I do not mean this letter to be an attack on your lifestyle, but rather an informative message so that you might make more considerate daily choices. From downstairs your short runs to reach a telephone in time sound like the violent tremors of giant's feet. Your patterned romps and bed creaks sound both depressing and disturbing. Oh, and are you really moving furniture nightly? Cause it sure as hell sounds like you might be.

PS: Hearing the steady whir and then buzz of your dryer is just plain cruel as we stuff our three week old laundry into overflowing hampers and netted bags to far off locations.

PPS: It's called a space rug. Try it.

I'm bitter, I know. I'll work on it. I mean I won't but, you know, I'm at least aware of it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wholesome Fun With Whole Grains

Admittedly, mistakes were made last Friday. So perhaps to atone for my sins, I spent the rest of the weekend as wholesome as can be, holding babies, lot’s of family time, and of course, cooking. The BF and I spent Saturday in Santa Cruz feeling far worse than we had intended. Needless to say, when we woke up on Sunday we knew we had some amends to make, the first to our disgruntled bods, who were still, yes still, angry about the gin and vodka and gummi bears. We needed something that would heal our weary souls.

Soup, we determined immediately. The BF was outvoted two to one (when I really want something I count as two). It just so happened that I had been wanting to try the Mushroom Barley soup from November’s Food & Wine.

We had a mission, and with all missions, there are obstacles, namely in our case, the grocery store. As much as The BF and I would like be those kind of food people who can whip up something from nothing or cook based on ingredients just “lying around,” it’s not our forte. Unless it’s a sandwich, but that’s a different story altogether. Instead, we must drag our day two hangovers to the grocery store on a Sunday evening , at just about the time when every other person in Marin County is doing the same (sans hangover, I assume). It was foiled from the beginning.

We hit Whole Foods first; we wanted quality meat and mushrooms. My bad mood immediately sets in from crowds and it’s only exaggerated by the types of people you find at Whole Foods in San Rafael (see previous post on snobbery). And then: no pearled barley. Can you imagine? All those effin bins filled with granola, nuts, rice, grains, basically everything you could ever think of, but no pearled barley. I got that panicked, glazed look in my eyes and rushed to find The BF at the butcher counter. The headache was pulsing

“There’s no pearled barley.” I was deranged; I know because my voice hit those high octaves.

“Calm down, just calm down.” I took deep breaths as he followed me back to the dry good aisle, so that he could confirm that there really was no pearled barley.

Forty-five minutes later, after considering using hulled barley for close to ten minutes, we were at grocery store numero dos, United Market, ready to purchase pearled barley and the extra beef broth we forgot (go figure). While The BF ran in—I just couldn’t bear it—I called my mom, who in her endless quest to make sure I know just how overly indulged I act, reminded me that they always have pearled barley at Safeway. Thanks mom, noted.

At home, finally, we began to cook, and though I thought I’d at least have a couple of hours to whine about how much I hate crowded grocery stores while the soup cooked, it turned out I had less than an hour. Hence, this post; I just gotta get it out somewhere, right?

Based on just how damn delish that soup turned out, it seemed that somehow, among the aisles and people and carts, we finally undid our wrongs. If you’re looking for a little redemption yourself, I highly recommend that you make this, especially with the suggested changes. It may be the only thing you won’t regret this weekend.

Mushroom Barley Soup with Mini Meatballs adapted from Food & Wine
5 cups good beef stock
2 cup water
1/2 cup pearled barley
3 large thyme sprigs
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. mixed wild and cultivated mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced (We used cremini, oyster, chanterelle, & porcini)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1.5 lbs. ground sirloin
1 large egg
2 tbsp. dry bread crumbs
2 tbsp. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
salt & pepper

1. In a medium pot combine the stock, water, barley, & thyme. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over at a simmer until the barley is almost tender, about 18 minutes.

2. In a large nonstick skillet heat the oil. Ad the mushrooms and the shallot, season with salt and perpper and cook over high heat until browned, about 10 minutes.

3. In a medium bowl combin the sirloin, egg, bread crumb, cheese, 1/2 tsp. salt, & 1/4 tsp. pepper. Mix until just blended. Roll into sixteen 1-inch balls, about bit-size.

4. Add the meatballs & mushroom mixture to the soup and simmer over medium heat until the meatballs are cook through and the barley is tender, about 10 minutes. Discard the thyme. Stir in the parsley and serve.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I'm Sorry I Called You A Snob

I love the City; I truly do. But sometimes I start to think that the snob factor is just way too high. Maybe it’s because I’m from good ol’ alternative Santa Cruz where we boastfully yell “Go home Trannies” [Trannie is a slang term for a transplant, ie. not a local] to people asking where they might locate the beach—admittedly a form of reverse snobbery—but I can’t get used to the uppity attitude of so many people around here. The food snobs, sure, they're my people; the designer brand snobs, also close friends; the Whole Foods snobs; the Marina snobs; the non-hippy hippy snobs, the higher education snobs, found all the way on the other side of the City where I believed there were no snobs, they all drive me nuts.

However, I’m not going to lie, I think I might just be better than those people. See, that’s where I’m a snob or at least was a snob. One long evening of drinking on an empty stomach can really change a girl.

I’d like to say that it all started innocently enough, but in truth, our company’s Halloween party had most of us drinking before 4:00pm. Post party we headed over to Voda, a vodka bar tucked away on Belden Place. Quite picturesque outside, less appealing inside. Nonetheless, we jovially sipped on (gulped down) quite delicious $3.00 happy hour Lemon Drops, before deciding we needed a change of scenery.

Okay, I’m a lightweight, which is great for the pocketbook and less wonderful for me when I’m out on a drinking night with friends. By the time we made it to Toxic, the Lemon Drops had done their trick. That trick being stealthily intoxicating me without my gag reflexes or mental capacities realizing it. Of course I immediately ordered a vodka tonic and decided that the gummi bears in glass bowls lining the bar (Haribo, no doubt. I love this place now) were a perfectly reasonable dinner.

Since it was just 8:30pm when we got there, the bar was nearly empty, and so we had only one choice but to continue to drink. Only some of us didn’t just drink. Some of us (as described the next day by witnesses) decided to dance rather inappropriately, launch a gummi bear war across the bar, and shamelessly sing karaoke at the top of our lungs. In other words, humiliate ourselves in public. I wish I could blame all of this on an alter ego, but alas, there is only me. Humbled and embarrassed me. Some of you may be used to nights such as this one, but I am not. I was shocked with myself and mildly disgraced.

Thus, I must leave my snobbery at the proverbial door, because I have to face it. I’m no better than anyone else; I can be a real idiot too sometimes. All it took for me to come to my senses was one night in this City with its vodka bars, gummi bears, and oodles of snobs. It just wouldn't be the same without us.

Please note I did pay for my snob prejudices all weekend...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Weather Woes

Disclaimer: Throughout the following post, I will mention the weather in Northern California several times. At no point will I actually be complaining about the weather. I do realize just how damn good we have it up here, over here, or however you want to look at it.

I think the weather, in the Bay Area at least, is copying me. It's all back and forth and this way and that, summer, fall, no actually winter. The weather itself I don't mind. I can appreciate a rainy days interspersed with 70 degree days no problem; it's the mimicking that's pissing me off. I don't take kindly to having all my uncertainty and wavering displayed for the entire City to see. I know, it's not like anyone's going to make the connection, but I do... And that's enough for me. I don't need the constant reminder that I'm indecisive--just standing on the edge of a ridge somewhere scoping out both sides, debating about which will hurt more when I finally fall? The thorny bush side? Or the poky stick side?--I KNOW this already.

Now, what am I so indecisive about? That's an entirely seperate blog that has absolutely nothing to do with this weather. But I will tell you this: I started my Master's program at San Francisco State almost precisely two months ago. So that means that since applying in January, accepting in May, and going to classes since September, that entire time, until about five days ago, I've believed that I was in a two year program. OnlyI'm not. Three years. Three. Count 'em: One. Two. Three. As mix-ups go, this one doesn't have much effect on my outward being becuase I sure as hell ain't dropping out now, but regardless, I can't help describing this feeling as akin to (and I'm just speculating here) finding out that you're actually a year older than you thought.

Internal monologue goes like this: You've got to be kidding me. How? But...That means...Then....Damn. Dammit all to hell.

Once you're managed to accept it, you have to face the facts.

For me that went something like this: Okay, seriously, how am I that stupid? How did I not realize this before? How? HOW? Calm down. "How" doesn't matter; it's just that I'm that stupid. I am that stupid.

And so on. Hopefully, you can see how that kind of realization along with the "other" things I can't even begin to summarize, can leave one (me) in a state of absolute confusion. The weather just taunts me. Is it going to be rainy? Sunny? Bitterly cold? Will she or won't she? There's just no telling.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Apple Pudding Cupcakes, with Bourbon-spiked Buttercream Frosting

It’s not often that I have an idea I’m so passionate about that I need to share it with the world. But a few weeks ago, just when summer was lingering into the chilly evenings of fall, The BF and I enjoyed a divine dessert at Boulevard. I had heart amazing things about this restaurant, and I was definitely not let down; however, it was their dessert that lingered with me the most. Essentially a reinvention of all-American Apple Pie: thick, delectable square of apple terrine; I liken it to the pudding-ed juices that would dribble out as you wrung out a freshly baked apple pie (if that were possible of course), spiced ice cream, sandwiched between two sugar cookies and rounded out with pecans, a final sprinkle of candied apple pieces. There are not words. Let’s just say that The BF was not ashamed to scrape his finger along the leftover bits on his plate.

So how did this lifechanging sweet motivate me? Within a week after eating it, when it was still on my mind, and I could remember it’s textures on my tongue I ran into Cupcake BakeShop’s cupcake contest, with the theme “Reinvention.” I’m not competitive, never have been, I’m all too happy to let others take the gold, but when I saw that contest, my first thought was, I could win. Now whether that’s even moderately true or not, doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I had an idea that I just I had to try.

An apple cake was easy enough, but I desperately wanted to try that to recreate that terrine in the form of a pudding I could dollop inside my moist cake. Well I dug through the internet like I would if I were Googling an ex-crush, but no firm signs of an apple terrine. I did, however, find recipes for apple pudding and one for a terrine that sounded somewhat similar to what I had eaten. I managed to rework them to create the exact flavor I needed and the pudding texture that would set up just right in the cupcakes. My final step was frosting. Buttercream was an obvious choice since it immediatley conjured up the buttery goodness of apple pie, but vanilla? That didn’t seem right, and I already had a lot of spice going on, so what’s the next best thing to vanilla and pie spices…bourbon, of course.

So that was that, and thus, my re-invented Apple Pie cupcakes were borne. Oh, and they tasted amazing too. The perfect Autumn cupcake.

Apple Pudding Cupcakes, with Bourbon-spiked Buttercream Frosting

Cake from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. Cinnamon

1.5 lbs. Granny Smith Apples, peeled and grated
2 1/3 cup cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 cup sour cream

  1. Preheat over to 350 F. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon over the apples and let them sit for 15 minutes to expel some of their juices.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda into a medium-sized bowl.
  3. Pour the apples over a fine mesh sieve and let the juices drain. Don’t press down, just let the natural juices leak through. Set Aside.
  4. Beat eggs and sugar together in a mixer on medium-low speed until thickened and pale yellow, about two minutes.
  5. Add the oil, pouring slowly, until just incorporated.
  6. Add the sour cream on low speed until the white streaks are gone.
  7. Pour in the dry mixture in two separate batches. Mix until just incorporated in the batter.
  8. Finally, add the apples. Stir in by hand to prevent over-mixing. The batter will be runny, but don’t fret, that’s normal.
  9. Spoon the batter half way up cupcake liners. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar in a thin layer on top. Top with batter until just below the liner.
  10. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  11. Let cool to get ready for the pudding and frosting.

Apple “Terrine” adapted from

2 lbs. sweet apples; I used Fuji
½ cup hard local cider; I used Aces here, local to Sonoma County
1 ½ tsp. fresh lemon juice
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp. Calvados (apple brandy)
2 eggs, beaten
6 tbsp. butter

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Peel and chop apples into two inch pieces and place in a baking dish along with the lemon juice and cider. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until they are soft enough to mash down with a potato masher or a fork (if you’re feeling particularly ambitious.
  3. Remove from heat and mash, along with the butter, Calvados, eggs, and butter. Cover in tin foil, bake for another 40 minutes, until much of the liquid has been absorbed.
  4. Remove from oven and chill.
  5. Once chilled use an immersion blender to finish off the smoothing process of the apple. Set aside.

Brandy Buttercream Frosting adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cakes: Fillings & Frostings
3 cold egg whites
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
2/3 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
¼ cup water
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 ¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 2 tbsp. pieces
2 tbsp. high-end brandy; I used Knob-Creek

  1. Stir together the egg whites and cream of tartar, until the cream of tartar completely dissolves. Set aside until the sugar is ready
  2. Clip a candy thermometer to a small saucepan. (Make sure it’s immersed in the liquid but not touching the bottom.) Combine the 2/3 cup sugar, the water, and the corn syrup. Cook over low heat, partially covered until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Stir often. Raise the heat to high and let the syrup bubble vigorously, until the thermometer reaches 240 F; this is soft ball stage. Wipe down the sides of the pot with a damp pastry brush. Remove from heat.
  3. As soon as the sugar is off the heat, begin to whip the eggs and cream of tartar mixture with the 2 tbsp. of sugar on medium speed until soft peaks form. About 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Reduce the mixer speed to low while you pour in the hot sugar mixture. Try not to let it hit edges of the bowl because it will harden on contact. Once all of the syrup has been added increase the speed of the mixture. Beat until stiff peaks form.
  5. At this stage, you can begin to add the butter one-piece at a time until combined. Using a spatula wipe down the edges as the butter has a tendency to hang on the edges of mixing bowl. If you notice that the butter is forming tiny lumps, place the mixing bowl over a saucepan of boiling water and whisk vigorously by hand until combined.
  6. Once the consistency is right, add the brandy and give it a final stir. Using immediatley or set in the fridge until ready.


  1. Cut a small circle from the top of the cooled cupcakes, going about an inch down. Remove the circle and fill with a dollop of the apple “terrine.” Cover up with the remaining circle of cupcake.
  2. Top the cupcake with a generous swathing of frosting.
  3. Sprinkle with cinnamon and enjoy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Neighbors or How I USED To Love People-Watching

I'm admittedly a lurker. I look through countless websites weekly, reading articles, comments, scoping out new pictures and posts, and very rarely do I actually make my presence known with the responses that are brewing in my mind. Maybe that's one of the reasons I started this blog to begin with. I'm an observer by nature, a big time people-watcher. (This is probably related to the melancholy I feel when I look into other's glowing windows on Thanksgiving evening--but that's entirely different post, I'm sure.) But getting that momentary glimpse into someone else's life when they pull back their curtain, leave their garage door open, or have that ridiculously loud phone call in public is intriguing.

In fact, people-watching is one of the only things that I like about big crowds. It's also one of the things I like more about the city then anywhere else around here. The people-watching is constant, endless, and very entertaining. People are nuts, and yes, I do lump myself in with that statement. I'm sure if my own conversations were taken completely out of context, I would seem crazy too. The sidewalks and buses are just rife with the satisfying tidbits of other peoples' lives. But even I have limits. Sometimes it's just too much. Case in point, I was talking to my good ol' pal Scrap Lazy yesterday via IM, and she was transcribing the fight that was taking place between the guy who lives next door to her and his girlfriend.

SL: Thhhhhank you, Ryan. Thank Youuuuu. (Her reenactment of the fight)
SL: I seriously hate her. (Her personal commentary on the situation)

And she seriously does, because this is this tenth time Scrap Lazy's had to listen to one of this upset girl's rants. Knowing the intimate issues of her neighbor's relationship isn't as exciting as it is annoying. I've hit this point with some neighbors of my own as well. The wooden floors so common in the city are gorgeous if you have them, and excruciatingly noisy if you live below them. The first time you hear your neighbors, uh, coupling (floor against bed posts, bed frame against wall, steady, rhythmic) at 9:15 on Tuesday night, it’s funny. The second time it’s gross. The third, it’s just annoying, and every time after that, well, it’s just too much information.

I find myself suddenly wondering things about them that I know I shouldn’t: Is it more then just once a week? Is it always at the same time? Is THAT normal? And every time I see them I find myself wanting to blurt it out, “9:15 on Tuesdays.” It’s so wrong. I’ve been taken too far into their world. They’ve pulled back the curtain, but it’s gotten stuck like that. Now instead of enjoying the momentary fascination with their life, I’m caught up in it. It’s the kind of people-watching that’s just not fun anymore. It leaves nothing, literally zero, to the imagination. I can’t make bitter assumptions and judgments like I usually do. I have to remember that even though they have loud, painfully boring sex above my room, they still let me park my car in driveway when I can’t find parking.

The city’s taught me a lot about people. The biggest lesson learned? That there is a certain group of people that fall somewhere between stranger and acquaintance: neighbors. Beware. They city is crawling with them, and they take all the fun out of feeling anonymous.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Wake 'N Bake

Not that kind of wake 'n bake. This is about actual breakfast. See I have this problem with breakfast. I’m just not very good at it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, because I do. I just happen to struggle with the actual act. I don’t eat breakfast during the week, and on the weekends, when I have the time I never want to eat it. It makes zero sense; during the weekdays all I want to do is lounge around with a plate of pancakes and good book, but on the weekends I find myself holding out on eating until noon so I can I dig into a BLT or an al pastor burrito.

In truth, when I do make it out to breakfast I end up indulging, like eggs benedict with avocado, home fries, and a scone indulging. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s just so good, and it’s never the same at home. I guess breakfast has become some illicit act that I save for one special morning once a month. But maybe it doesn’t have to be like that? The BF certainly doesn’t believe so.

This weekend I finally enjoyed breakfast at home in the form of strata. Strata is essentially a savory bread pudding. And boy is it good. We made it late Saturday night after getting back into San Rafael from San Francisco, and then baked it until bubbly in the oven.

I’d never had strata before. It’s just not quite as ubiquitous as frittatas and French toast at your neighborhood café. But it should be. Or maybe it shouldn’t, because it might be the only breakfast worth staying at home for.

Mushroom, Fontina, & Sausage Strata

7 eggs
3 cups half & half
8 cups sourdough bread, cubed, oven dried
12 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, small diced
4 Italian sausages, fresh from the butcher, 2 hot, 2 sweet
2 ½ cups grated (soft) fontina cheese
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 200F. Spread bread cubes across two sheet pans and cook in the oven for twenty minutes, flipping half way through. Remember we want the bread dry, not browned.

2. Whisk the eggs and half & half together in a medium bowl, with a big pinch of salt and a smaller pinch of pepper. Keep in the fridge until the other ingredients are ready.

3. Heat a saucepan with a tablespoon oil. Cook the onions with two cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of rosemary until caramelized. While cooking, season with salt and pepper. They should vary in color from golden brown to near black. Set aside.

4. Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in a separate pan with a tablespoon or two of oil, two garlic cloves, the remaining rosemary and a pinch of salt. Cook until the juices from the mushrooms have been cooked out. Set aside.

5. Remove the sausages from their casing. Keep in large, bite size chunks and begin to brown in a large pan. Brown until just cooked through, about 8 minutes.

6. Using a 9in. square baking dish, place a layer of the bread cubes, followed by a layer of ½ the mushrooms, onion, and sausage with a final layer of ½ the cheese. Repeat once more.

7. Pour the egg mixture over the entire dish. Place a heavy dinner plate on top of the casserole and press down. Leave for at least an hour or keep overnight so that the bread can absorb the egg and cream.

8.Bake at 350F, covered, for 1 hour. Remove the cover and bake for a final 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

It Can ALWAYS Be Worse

As I was getting dressed this morning, I was thinking about a slew of amazing things. Like what defines a miracle, a human's capacity for pain, the realities of perfection. No, this isn't my usual thought process at 7:00 am, but last night a close friend gave birth to her first child, which also happens to be the first child of any of my close friends. It's a first for all of us. And it's the kind of first that can't help ushering all these rising thoughts about life, meaning, faith. To say I am overwhelmed with joy for the mom and dad is an understatement. What I am, I can't describe just yet, but it did lead me to think outside of my normal morning ritual, which goes more like this: "i hate getting up." "I want to live in the shower." "what should i wear?" "what's the first thing i'll eat?"

One thing that kept coming up was the notion that when we're feeling bad (you know, looking for a pity party, which I am certainly a serial invitee), people tend to tell us why we should be thankful. To remind us that we're lucky. But what I realized this morning was that people always do this in the negative; they remind us that it could be worse. Atleast you aren't living in Darfur, or dying of a painful disease, or fighting in Iraq. It's so strange that we're forced into playing the "there are so many worse things" game. It seems like it would be more logical to say, "but what about last weekend. That was so much fun." Or "we live in such a beautiful location." Why is it so much easier to think of all the things that could make life harder, but challenging to come up with the things that actually make life good?

I contemplated this long and hard while heading out the door for work. Instead of trying (that's the operative word) to be thankful for not being so many worse things, I was determined be thankful for the new life that's joined my friend-family. That was something positive, a net-gain. With this thought in mind it made it that much more difficult to truly express the anger that welled up in me at the sight of a large series of scratches across the left, front-side of my car. Scratches that had certainly not been there the last time I had driven it, maybe four days prior. But there they were, clear as day, on the side facing the street of course.

A scratch is a scratch is a scratch, but these are the worst scratches my car has ever seen. And I wasn't even involved in making them. There was no note with a neatly written name and phone number, no scrap of paper with even a scribbled apology. Nothing. Let me tell you something, when you're standing against your damaged Mazda with no note shaking your fist in the air, and you can see a Bentley and a Land Rover and a BMW across the street, you're really staring down at the injustices of karma. To be clear, a nick on my car does not trump the the birth of a baby in terms of emotional reactions, but I will say that the sensations of varying emotions left me mighty confused. Within minutes I was mumbling things to myself like "it could have been worse." And really, it always can be. But dammit, it can be better too.

Thus, while I will remain my ususal mix of fleeting hope and pessimism with just about everything else, today I can be thrilled about this baby girl.

Welcome Baby Taylin Anichka Witten-Hannah to come...

PS: Damn you, reckless city drivers.

Friday, October 5, 2007

She's a Man-Hater

The BF and I have a few of those on going "debates" that hover somewhere between friendly fire and a full-on battle. I'm sure everyone knows what I'm talking about, those life long arguments that come up now and again that you have with your significant other, your dad, your best friend, your brother. Something that can never possibly be agreed upon but isn't so serious or important or prevalent that would lead to actual issues in the relationship. So what's our big debate? Me, as man-hater. Of course, I'm not a man-hater, hence the argument. The BF feels differently. He thinks I judge men unfairly based only on my experiences (well, duh). He thinks I generalize too much. And that part's true. I do have a certain affinity to "all" and "every" statements, but I don't mean it. In fact, I'm lucky enough to know an incredible amount of awesome men, and unfortunate enough to know an extremely large number of terrible women. So, when I generalize, I am doing just that, generalizing. BUT my generalizations are based on very real circumstances. My point in offering you this information is to make my next statement that much more serious: It's time for us girl's to take some responsibility.

The beloved book "He's Just Not That Into You" is, in my very humble opinion, the biggest generalization in the history of gender generalizations. It destroys the potential for very successful relationships to ever form or grow. How does it do this? Well it gives girls a reason not to put themselves out there, to be pessimistic (which is certainly just as bad as overly hopeful and naive). It lets the smallest guy moves (which really aren't thought through that deeply) be interpreted by said girls as negative, always. I mean, obviously he must not be that into you if he ever reschedules. God forbid, the guy have a life. Or feel unsure or nervous. I mean I thought we wanted men to have jobs and good families--those things require TIME. I thought girls wanted guys that were sensitive and emotionally available--being able to deal with a lady's emotions will require having a few of their own. I do believe in the importance of chivalry and will acknowledge it's slow extinction; It would be nice if all men retained that politeness that's been so lost over the years, but how can women demand that of men when we have lost it as well?

It's easy for me to say, right, because I'm in a relationship. But had I listened to that book, I wouldn't be in this relationship (3 years later). Maybe I'll write a book called, "He's Into You, But He's So Into You That He's Not Sure How To Deal With These Feelings, So Be Patient." Single girls, be protective of your hearts, but don't (please don't--and you know who you are) become jaded and hopeless, otherwise when you do finally meet that guy he's going to accuse you of being a man-hater, and that's not what you are! You are a sucky person hater! Just like me. Damn all them sucky people for making the rest of us look bad. Be nice boys and girls, we really do need each other.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

It's OK To Call It Frisco

If you know me at all, you know I like to read. I count on reading in the way other people depend on cigarettes, pets, myspace. It’s my go-to leisure activity, pass the time plan, sleeping aid, and personal therapy. But it’s not just reading, its books. I love the way in which they're tangible, consistent but ever-changing.

The best thing about SF is that it’s still crawling with independent bookstores. And I got to finally check out one of the more well-known gems this weekend. Green Apple Books on Clement. Just how many people had told me that I needed to check it out, that I’d love it. Have you ever noticed that when someone tells you you’ll just love something, you automatically grow weary?

But this time I did…love it. It was crowded and spread across three shops over two blocks of busy Clement. The colors alone made me happy. Book spines in red, purple, lime green, burgundy, chocolate brown. Endless aisles of books: cooking books, psychology books, plain old fiction books, nature books, used books, new books. A reading Mecca of sorts.

And if I’m the only person who picks up a used book and flicks through the yellowed pages wondering how many people have read this particular copy of this particular novel, then so be it, I’ll wear my nerdiness like a crown, but if there are others out there, then let’s go explore the dusty, wooden shelves of Green Apple together. I’ll even provide the Dim Sum.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gourmet Bargains and Cheap Apologies

I certainly live the city life, don't I? The public transportation--here in SF a moderately terrifying mix of Louis Vuitton bags and bag ladies--overwhelming trips to the grocery store, intimate knowledge of the stomps and sexcapades of the apartment above, shopping trips that cost more in parking than the clothes themselves, and lot's and lot's of take out. Which is why I'm so grateful for the 2007 release of The Chronicle's Bargains Bites. An entire publication devoted to cheap, good eats in the Bay Area, Napa to San Jose, oh my.

The BF and I carry the damn Bites guide with us everywhere we go, often reading out loud to each other the different restaurant descriptions, discussing the merits of PHO while we sit in rush hour traffic on Howard. The best part is that now we can start our manic attempt at eating our way through. We get about 1/8 of the way before we tap out and simply start making second and third, and hell, even fourth trips to the same places. The good news is that we've already hit up all the places listed for San Rafael (in fact, The BF has been laying some bold claims lately, like the Bargain Bite's food writers and editors have some how tapped into his brain and uncovered his own personal treasure trove of cheap, good food...he has a point we HAVE been eating at those places for the past few years), and then of course, there are the places that we did actually make it to last year. I think that puts us somewhere around the 1/4 mark. Perhaps we'll make it through another 10 this year before our desire to eat great, new food, is waylaid by laziness, and a stronger desire to eat good food that we know we already like, perhaps our greatest flaw.

But we're staying optimistic. We've already knocked one off of our list, Gourmet Carousel on Franklin and Pine. Now, why should this Chinese restaurant in "Pacific Heights" be our first choice? It's rather anecdotal really. The Franklin to Lombard route is the fastest route from the downtown or SOMA areas to the Marina, and so, we frequent it often. (The joy of timed lights). And perhaps nearly every time that The BF and I, and often Shirley as well, drive that route we comment on the dive that is Gourmet Carousel. At the bottom of some ramshackle Victorian (isn't everything in this city), with it's bright green sign, from the Franklin side things just look, well, bad. And so, for months it's been the running joke that we'll grab Gourmet Carousel on the way home, if we're in the mood for stomach and intestinal ailments. It's not right I know. So prejudice, so not following the cardinal rule of not reading a book by it's cover. When we saw it on the Bargain Bites we felt ashamed and also fascinated.

Needless to say, on Monday night we placed an order for take out. Barbecued pork wonton soup, two orders of rice, and eggplant with ground pork. Ready in six minutes, or so they said, only it actually was. And though, from the Pine side where there was actually an open curb for me to pull up to as The BF ran in to pay (a mere $12.00+), the place wasn't stunning, but it certainly wasn't awful either. When we slurped up the hot, flavorful soup literally brimming full with tender won tons and sweet pork, and coated our sticky rice bowls with soft eggplant dripping in it's salty pork syrup, we knew next time we'd be trying the seafood and perhaps their broccoli with beef or maybe we'd just stick with the soup and eggplant. Patting our massively full bellies later that night we knew we had some apologizing to do. So, I'm sorry Gourmet Carousel for judging you without just cause. It wasn't you, it was the city. Every time I think I have it pegged, it throws me for a loop.

No, it's certainly not an easy life we city goers lead.

Monday, September 24, 2007

When In Need of Some Serious Comfort

It's been far too long since I last wrote, but it's not that I haven't been thinking. In fact, all I've wanted to do is sit down and write something thoughtful and entertaining. I'd even take slightly witty at this point or "good writing, but dull." But I literally have not had a moment until just now. And even now there are things that I should be doing instead of this, things that I HAVE to do.

But sometimes you wake up from a month of just going and going, after a week that leaves you feeling deflated?--disappointed? frustrated? down and out? I'm not exactly sure how it left me feeling, but I know it's not good--on a Friday when you know you deserve a break, and you just have to not do the things you need to do. It's the only way to survive another four weeks.

And, yes, for the record, I'm officially hanging in there, making it through, if you were thinking you might offer me those words of comfort, please don't bother. It's not that I don't appreciate sympathy. I'm just not sure I can handle another "hang in there." Because I am in fact hanging in, and anyone who knows anything about hanging in, knows there is only so much a person can take before the rope begins unravel and there's nothing left to grasp.

But enough dramatics. The fact is that I am okay, will be okay, have been okay. And there have been some serious highlights lately.

Enjoying amazing music on Treasure Island and watching the sun set over the city. A gourmet BBQ. Seeing one of my closest friends all awash in that pregnancy glow. And of course, cooking with The BF. Our culinary delight this last week was from a non-recipe that his sister had passed on, and so I shall share it with you. I must say, if you want a really good enchilada that's not meat, but also not plain old
cheese then you should try this. And if you are currently working full-time and doing something else that takes up the majority of your life and need something you can cook in an evening but will last all week then you must make this. And if you like sour cream, avocado, and salsa then I demand that you eat this.

Vegetable Enchiladas Suiza

20oz jar red enchilada sauce
regular jar of roasty tomato salsa (we used Arriba)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp Mexican oregano
2 tbsp sugar
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 medium zucchini, small cubes
5 regular red potatoes, small cubes
3 regular carrots, peeled, small cubes
2 Pasilla chiles
regular block of pepper jack cheese, grated
10 fajita-size flour tortillas
olive oil

1. Prep the oven to 350F. Turn on a burner if you're using a gas stove or the grill if you only have electric and roast the pasillas until blackened on all sides. ou'll want to place them in a bag (paper or plastic) as soon as their off the heat, in order to help steam the skin off.

2. Pour a couple of tbsp of olive oil in a large, hot skillet. Add onions and cook until softened and golden, about 15 minutes. Set aside. Meanwhile spread the potatoes and carrots on two sheet pans in one layer. Coat with oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano. Roast in the onion until tender, but not overly soft, about 15 minutes.

3. Combine the enchilada sauce and the salsa in a saucepan and heat over medium heat. Add the sugar and salt to taste. Add 1/4 cup sour cream and blend.

4. Remove the pasilla's from the brown bag and peel off all of the skin. It should be easy to pull of at this point. Once completely removed, slice open and remove the seeds and stem. Cut into a small dice.

4. Combine onions, pasilla, and roasted veggies in a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup sour cream and 1/4 cup cheese to the hot veggie mixture and blend.

5. In an 11x13 sheet pan, pour a thick layer of the enchilada sauce. Dip a tortilla into the warmed enchilada sauce. (This helps make the tortilla more pliable, but be careful for your fingers). Lay the tortilla on a plate and place a thick mound of the vegetable mixture in the middle, pushing it out towards the ends. Top with a sprinkle of cheese and roll up. Place seem side down in the pan. Repeat with the remaining nine tortillas. Top with the remaining enchilada sauce until they are "swimming in it." Sprinkle a final layer of cheese.

6. Bake uncovered for twenty minutes or until the cheese is browned and the sauce is bubbling.

7. Top with an abundance of sour cream, avocado, & hot sauce.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Coastal Cooking for City Palates

I really do love holiday weekend barbeques in NorCal; I’ve never experienced them anywhere else, but still, they seem exceptional. Lot’s of unhealthy variations on salads, meats and fish covered in delicious carcinogens, buckets of alcohol. Group drunken debauchery, multiple embarrassing moments to recount during the week. What’s not to love? But my god, it’s good to get away. Like really away: Cows-farms-500 population town-no internet-access away. I left coworkers playing beer pong on Thursday without batting an eye; I refused a Jello shot and was ridiculed because I was going that far away.

It’s really less than three hours from the city, but it feels like a lifetime away once we’re there, The BF and I. It’s our third consecutive time going on Labor Day, which I’m pretty sure makes it officially a tradition. Sea Ranch is not for those that need to be constantly busy, unless your idea of busy is similar to mine: lounging around the house all day, unshowered, only leaving for walks by the water or pastries and coffee.

Truth be told, a lot of planning goes into these very short but sweet weekends. The BF is diligent when it comes to entertainment and cuisine for me. He rents a bunch of movies, buys me ice cream and gummies, and blesses me with the most amazing meals, all cooked (with my assistance, of course—if I am nothing else, I am a brilliant souz-chef) just as the sun is beginning to set.

In the past we’ve enjoyed red snapper tacos, piquillo pepper crab dip, chorizo and shrimp flat breads, corn chowder, tuna burgers with marinated cucumbers. Nothing has been bad, ever. And this trip was no exception. We still can’t decide what we liked the best. The lamb burgers with hummus and yogurt? The most decadent nachos we might ever enjoy? Roasted shrimp with garlic oil and caramelized lemons? Oh, and we splurged with salads too. A corn, arugula, and bacon chopped salad and a butter bean and chorizo salad with tomatoes and parsley.

In case you’re wondering, I did gain a pound. But, dammit, it was worth it. I also had the best time ever with the best guy ever. And I’m not just saying that.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sexy in the City (Minus Unavailable Men)

So many amazing friends: Work friends, best friends, old friends, new friends, friends of friends. It takes so long to adjust to a new place, faces, ways of life, and then suddenly you look around and think: This is where I live.

The next time someone asks, in that inviting conversation way that polite people tend to ask questions, "Where are you from?" I'll respond with an enthusiastic gloat, "San Francisco." Though it's even more true than I realize; my great-grandparents--the oldest generation in my family that I ever knew--settled in SF after their long voyage from other countries. My ancestral roots have planted themselves firmly in this city.

Although after the delightful debauchery of this weekend, I'm not sure if those roots want to associate with me, or the likes of my friends for that matter. Okay, it wasn't so bad. Actually, it was really fun. There's nothing better than being around people who you know you can have a great time with, and who if you, say, fall over a couch or "lunge" on to a dance floor in a way that both simultaneously spills your drink on a person and damages your knee cap (possibly permanently), makes sure that the said incident is remembered as funny as opposed to what it might have been without your friends: pitiful.

And it was a riotously funny time, and yes, we rode a limo home on Friday night, and hell yes, we didn't have to buy one drink, not one.
(Though some of us couldn't partake in the free beverages because of concerned boyfriends, I mean, ahem, overly-zealous pre-partying). But it was still that good.

Big cheers to all of the gorgeous participants, those in the city, and those who actually had to make a real effort to enjoy it. Thank god we're finally wise enough to know the effects of shots, but young enough to take them anyways.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dateway, & Getting Acquainted with the Neighborhood

Ah, the Marina. So glittery and shiny in the mornings. Almost as if the wealth of the multitudes living in it's cloistered walls oozes from their bodies at night, coating their front doors and sidewalks, their Beamers and nannies pushing strollers with the glean of gold and diamonds. I'm teasing. I love this neighborhood; I truly do. And I assume that it's negative reputation spawns more from envy than anything else. Well, at least, that's what I tell people. "You're just jealous" I say as a friend scolds the yuppies in the Marina for being, well, so yuppie-ish.

It's true that the familiar pseudonym for the local Safeway is "dateway," and it really is so appropo. When my roommate, Shirley, we'll call her, and I venture there after a long day of work wearing our bulky and so untrendy sweatshirts and slippers, we're faced with serious blows to the self-esteem. The girls are either decked out in their best Jeans for All Mankind and Prada shoes or matching sweatsuit/spandex ensembles complete with post-workout sweat beads on their collar--that actually make them look better!? I know, I know. It's unbelievable. But don't feel too sorry for me and Shirley, we're quite brilliant at drowning our sorrows in chips, salsa, and cheap wine.

Or we'll go out and get awesome Thai food (trendy or more authentic), pizza (pie or slice), sushi (bar or restaurant). Certainly there is always something to do in the Marina, day and night. And though I will not pretend that it could find me a decent burrito to save it's life, I appreciate it for giving me 24 hour donuts. In fact, sometimes I embrace the yuppiness myself, grabbing a latte and meandering down Marina Blvd. and Chrissy Fields on a Saturday morning. Watching the dogs frolic and the fog escape, reminding myself how lucky I am that I don't live in the Sunset where the fog doesn't dissipate know matter how much you will it away.

But it's not all sunshine and non-fat capps. I'm often frustrated by my fellow spoiled neighbors. Take the family that lives across the street for instance. They have a beautiful home, as in an actual house, with a yard and everything. They own a nice car, and have two very cute kids ( a boy and a girl). Their life appears to be the epitome of perfect, and yet, after only one night in my own humble basement flat across the road, I heard the makings of the classic dysfunctional family: Lot's of yelling and unkind words over a stupid thing (where the car - Land Rover - was parked). Then there was the time The BF's car was broken into (right on our block!) or all the numerous times we've been yelled at for parking too close to someone's least THEY have one.

But the thing to remember is that all of the neighborhoods in SF suffer from these same problems, they just don't look as good doing it.