Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cucumber salad.

So I'm planning this wedding. And it's kind of fun, in the I'm-planning-my-wedding-and-I-can-do-whatever-I-want-because-it's-my-WEDDING sort of way. But in other ways, not so much. Like the I'm-planning-my-wedding-but-ohmygod-the-wedding-industry-SUCKS way. Or the I'm-planning-my-wedding-and-you're-charging-me-a-cake-cutting-fee?? way. And especially the I'm-planning-my-wedding-and-I-CAN'T-do-whatever-I-want-because-it's-going-to-cost-an-entire-year's-salary way.

Luckily, I'm not that picky. I can forgo the chocolate fountain and the five-tier cake, and I suppose I could even do without the half-dozen white doves released from their cages as we say "I do." But that doesn't mean I can't still dream about the little things -- my dress, for example, or the first dance, or if it would be weird to use food as centerpieces instead of flowers.

These are the thoughts that consume my spare moments, when in the past I would be thinking of food. Now, instead of browsing through pictures of poached eggs and discovering new recipes on the Web, I'm comparing wedding photographer rates and silently freaking out at the computer screen (This chick's rates start at $3,000? Really? Who are these people?!). Which is why I haven't been too inspired to cook anything lately, which is why I haven't posted anything that I actually made myself since, well...since I got engaged. Holy crap. Have I really gotten by the past two months posting other people's food? Why yes, yes I have.

So I'm offering you this salad. I know, it may not seem like much, but when the money-grubbing wedding industry is getting you down, and when it's 100 degrees outside and all you have in your fridge is a cucumber, this salad is something of a savior. It's sweet and tangy and crunchy and cold and fresh and simple and cheap. Maybe we'll even serve it at the wedding.

cucumber salad

Cucumber Salad
I got this recipe from my mom, over the phone, while at the grocery store buying sugar. So keep in mind that these measurements are her rough estimates, and they can be modified to your taste. If you want it less sweet, cut back on the sugar and rice vinegar. If you want a bit more kick, add more vinegar. Make sure you don't slice the cucumber too thinly -- they might get soggy.

1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 small white onion, sliced
1 cup vinegar (1/2 white + 1/2 rice)
2 tsp sugar
salt and pepper

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir well to coat the cucumber slices. Store in the fridge overnight, or at least for a few hours before serving.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Go White Sox! Go Polish with!

polish with, please.

Murdo and I started dating in November of 2004. I remember this because it was the year before the Chicago White Sox won the World Series.

Weird way to remember an anniversary, you say? Not when you're engaged to Murdo. You see, in the beginning, I knew he had his little quirks and his mini-obsessions -- things like eating cookies and milk for breakfast every day and a having a close bond with his modified X-Box. But because we started dating in the off-season, I had yet to learn what kind of Sox fan he was. I should've known, really. The fact that he wore a different Sox shirt every day might've tipped me off.

play ball!

During the first few months, he'd casually mention how he couldn't wait for baseball season to start. I'd brush it off and think to myself that baseball is the most boring sport on earth to watch, right up there with golf and slug-racing. I might have said this out loud one day, to which he probably replied with an appalled, "What?! Baseball is the best sport EVER!" or something like that, then proceeded to go on about strategy and precision and whatever else makes baseball the best sport EVER. Because Murdo is the kind of Sox fan who keeps a game schedule in his wallet, his car, and on the fridge. The kind of Sox fan who had not one, but two Ribbie dolls growing up (Ribbie is the pink mascot below, on the right. The anteater, in case you were wondering.). If I had been a Cubs fan, we probably wouldn't be getting married. Yeah, it's like that.

Ribbie Roobarb White Sox

So come April 2005, I watched a lot of baseball. I fell asleep during many extra innings, I remembered the names of players and quickly developed favorites (Iguchi, the Asian, of course), I even learned what a double play is and what RBI stands for (run batted in, thank you very much). OK, so maybe baseball isn't so bad. And it helped that the White Sox were really, really good that year.

curly fries rock.

Then Murdo took me to a game at U.S. Cellular field. And I had my first Polish sausage with. (With onions, that is. Murdo was sure to tell me how to order my sausage: Just say Polish with. And don't add ketchup.) And if the thrill of the 2005 White Sox Championship season didn't completely convert me from baseball-hater to White Sox-lovah, that Polish sausage certainly did.

I soon discovered the curly fries, as well, and can I tell you a secret? I might call myself somewhat of a Sox fan now, but I'm just doing it for the food.

this is why i love baseball games.

Aw, just kidding. Kind of. Hey, at least I don't like the Cubs. That's something, right?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Homemade pear pancakes are very nice.

pear pancakes

I hate to say it, but eating out can be exhausting. Finding the right restaurant, reading the reviews, getting there through rush hour traffic and finding a parking spot, deciding whether to splurge on the fish or play it safe with the chicken, then splitting the bill and calculating tip and finally paying...Yes, eating out can get old and tiring. Even on vacation.

Which is why it's nice to have a kitchen while on vacation. I know, it may not make sense to some people. Why work when you're supposed to be relaxing? But to me, nothing is more relaxing than a home-cooked meal. Eaten while in pajamas, freshly showered, feet aching from walking all day. For your next trip, I recommend renting a room or cabin with a stove. Stay in one night. If you're in a different country, go grocery shopping in town. (I've done this before and it's quite interesting.) You'll be surprised to see how nice it is to slow down, and even save a little money in the process.

In this particular case, I was lucky enough to be staying at my sister's house in Alameda, California, where she indeed has a kitchen. Even luckier that she has a husband who likes to cook and a daughter who likes to wake him up at 6 AM on a Sunday. And like any other reasonable, awesome person awake at that hour, he made breakfast. Pancakes. With pear slices stamped right in the center that made the pancakes look and taste as fun and bright as anything I would've ordered in a restaurant. But better, because they were homemade. And I was in my pajamas.

pear pancakes

Pear Pancakes
recipe courtesy of my bro-in-law, Matt

4 Bosc or Bartlett pears
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup , plus more for drizzling
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter
Whole Wheat Pancakes batter + 1 tsp. cinnamon and 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Core pears with an apple corer. Starting at the bottom, slice pears crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rings, and toss in a small bowl with maple syrup and cinnamon.

Heat an electric griddle to 375° or a heavy skillet until very hot. Brush with butter; wipe off excess with a folded paper towel. Place a few pear slices on the griddle, 2 1/2 inches apart. Let cook 1 minute. Ladle about 1/4 cup of the batter into center of each pear ring. Using the bottom of a ladle, gently push batter over edges of pears. Let cook until pancakes have bubbles on top and are slightly dry around the edges, about 2 1/2 minutes.

Using a spatula, turn pancakes over; cook until golden on bottom, about 1 minute. Repeat with remaining pears and batter.

Serves 4.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lunch at Barbara's Fishtrap in Half Moon Bay.

Yes, there is something about simple, local, fresh, light food that just makes an eater feel good about herself and at one with the earth. And then there's something about simple, local, fresh, fried food that makes an eater remember that her true love lies not with light and healthy but rather, breaded and fatty.

Yet in a way, the food at Barbara's Fishtrap in Half Moon Bay is kind of like the Chez Panisse menu. Allow me to explain.

The ingredients are local and fresh: Hello! The sea is right there!

The dishes are simply prepared: These oysters aren't even cooked!


And the food is light: Well, OK. The portions were a bit on the gigantic side. And fried food generally isn't light. You've got me there.

mini fishtrap tempura

But after two nights of eating at restaurants where the patrons are well-versed in wine and cheese and expected to eat with a knife and fork, I welcomed the big plate of seafood tempura (fish, calamari, scallops, and shrimp), the coleslaw, the cold beer, the tacky-in-a-charming-way decor, and the freedom to pig out with my hands and slurp all I wanted.

Oh, and I slurped. First, the clam chowder.

the best clam chowder. EVER.

And I know I said this in my last post about the tea at Chez Panisse, and I probably lose a bit of credibility (what little I may have) every time I say this, but this is seriously the best clam chowder I've ever had. Of course, I don't really have much to compare it to, since I never really eat clam chowder. I have this idea that clam chowder is usually gloopy and chowdery, which just aren't appetizing words. From now on, every clam chowder I ever eat will be compared to this one, and will probably lose horribly, because this clam chowder is awesome.


I slurped this oyster, too, because oysters are meant to be slurped. I've tried a raw oyster once before, in Paris, and I remembered it being cold and slimy and nothing special. After my second try, I still don't see what all the fuss is about. Sorry. They were good and all, and I'll eat them again, but I'm not freaking out about them or anything. Not like the chowder. Oh God, that chowder...

So, I suppose I should confess and say that Barbara's Fishtrap in Half Moon Bay is nothing like Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Chez Panisse grows fresh and local from the ground; Barbara's Fishstrap grows fresh and local from the sea. Chez Panisse is world-famous and Alice Waters is heavily worshipped in some foodie circles. Barbara's Fishtrap is a type of hidden, hole-in-the-wall gem that you'd never know to visit unless you have a sister who likes planning fun excursions and researches the hell out of places. And who is Barbara? The world may never know.

But it's all about the food, really. Both restaurants could become merely overrated, overpriced establishments that sell nothing but a label. But they're not. They just focus on good food with good ingredients -- fried, steamed, baked, raw, whatever -- that you can't get anywhere else. And those types of restaurants are hard to come by. Right, Mira?

"ta-da!" face.

She agrees.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dinner at Chez Panisse Cafe.

I could start at the beginning, with Day One. And then, I could continue from there: Day Two, followed by Day Three, and a brief conclusion with, you guessed it, Day Four. But that would just be too predictable and boring and, well, once you've been to Chez Panisse, you kind of want to sing it from the rooftops and brag to all your foodie friends ASAP.

chez panisse.

Except that I don't really have any foodie friends, and most people I'd tell wouldn't even know what Chez Panisse is, or who Alice Waters is, or what the big fuss is over California cuisine, anyway. And I can't really say I blame them, because I'm not one to gush over celebrity chefs or anything. I hate Rachael Ray just as much as the next person does, and I think Bobby Flay is kind of full of himself (though I follow him on Twitter, anyway).

Chez Panisse Cafe.

The reason I'm starting with Chez Panisse, and the reason I'm so excited to have eaten there, is because I love Ruth Reichl's book, Comfort Me with Apples, in which Reichl lives in Berkeley and visits Chez Panisse when Alice Waters and the idea of fresh, local, simple-yet-delicious cuisine just started taking shape in a big way. I love reading about places, and reading about food, and then going to those places and eating that food. It's like getting a peek inside a completely different world, and then someone opens the door and you're there, and instead of just having to imagine the taste and feel and look and sound, you're actually living it. I reread the book on the plane to California, just to keep Reichl's descriptions fresh in my head.

the kitchen at chez panisse cafe.

And, OK, while I'm being honest and all, I'll tell you that I didn't actually eat at the restaurant Chez Panisse. More like Chez Panisse Cafe, which is upstairs from the restaurant, and is Alice Waters' less expensive introduction to her simple creations. The restaurant is for special occasions with a lover perhaps, wearing a little black dress and heels, and ideally, the lover would be wealthy enough to drop $200 on dinner, and that's not even including the bottle of wine, which is optional of course, but highly recommended. Having said that, the Cafe is nothing to scoff at. No, not at all.

spring greens minestrone. chez panisse cafe.
salad with creme fraiche, basil, and tomatoes. chez panisse cafe.

To start, Michelle and I split the spring greens minestrone and salad with creme fraiche, basil, and tomatoes. The soup was fresh, clean, simple, soothing. The salad was like eating a fresh garden. Minestrone and a simple salad of lettuce and tomatoes. Doesn't seem like anything special, but that's the beauty of it, and I realized after just the first course that Alice Waters and those crazy Californians really are on to something: The freshest, bestest ingredients prepared in the simplest way really do shine through in such lovely lights. Who knew?

shoestring fries at chez panisse cafe.

We got french fries for Mira. Michelle and I had to restrain ourselves, after we had pigged out and almost lost our appetites on shoestring potatoes the night before at Zuni Cafe. I really like fries, but she really, really, really likes fries.

Speaking of my sister, here she is, drinking grape juice that tastes just like wine, because she's got another little one on the way. (Yay!)

michelle. chez panisse cafe.

For dinner, Michelle got the mushroom lasagna, which she described as a cream of mushroom soup in lasagna form. It sounds rich, but it was light and creamy and, here's that word again: simple. Are you sick of hearing that yet?

mushroom lasagna at chez panisse cafe

Matt got the lamb dish, and I can't remember exactly how it was prepared, but you can probably tell from the photo that it was hearty and comforting, the meat and vegetables tender, the broth light yet filling.

matt. chez panisse cafe.
lamb dish at chez panisse cafe

I got the yellowtail jack with asparagus, fingerling potatoes, and a green olive sauce. Oh. Yes. And that's all I have to say about that.

yellowtail jack, asparagus, fingerling potatoes, green olive sauce at chez panisse cafe.

Dessert was cheese and an apricot tart and, here goes, something I don't say very often about food or drink but this is the truth, people: the best tea I've ever had.

mint tea at chez panisse cafe.

Yeah, that's right. Tea. I don't even like tea, and that's probably why this is the best I've ever had, but really, it's that good. Leaves in a pot -- how much more simple can it get? The mint and lemon leaves brought strong flavors that weren't overpowering, but rather calm and soothing and a perfect way to end the meal.

And now, because it's not a post about California without a picture of my niece, here's Mira, watching the Lion King while we dined on simplicity.

mira (watching lion king). chez panisse cafe.

Thanks, Ate and Matt, for a lovely dinner. And for having such a cute kid.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rock Bottom, and I'll see ya later.

grilled salmon sandwich from rock bottom

I don't have much to say about these pictures, besides that they're of the grilled salmon sandwich and fried Caprese salad that I had at Rock Bottom last Friday after work, when all I wanted to do was sit outside and have a beer and a meal with Murdo.

I often play a game where I spy on the couples around us and try to guess who's on a first date, then determine whether or not the first date is going well or not. At the table next to us there was a guy with gelled hair and a black button-down shirt, asking the girl with him what her parents do for a living. Score. I tried to measure the awkwardness at the table, then got kind of bored, so Murdo and I proceeded to pretend that we were on a first date. That turned into about twenty minutes of us making up stuff about our own life. It was fun.

fried caprese salad from rock bottom

Anyway. The main point of this post is to tell you that I'm going on another trip! To San Francisco! To see my sister and my brother-in-law and this adorable kid:


And to eat. Oh how I'm gonna eat. I'll tell you all about when I get back. :)

Have a great rest of the week!