Wednesday, June 17, 2015

June

We are getting very close to the first day of summer but it almost feels like we've skipped a month of the calendar, here in Portland. The heat has been going steady for about a week now. The sun doesn't set till around 9pm now, and that still feels so strange. June has always been one of my favorite months. March, the month of my birthday, is nice and all, but it can be cold and a bit harsh still. But June, June is all exuberance and desire, as though Spring and Summer were slow dancing into the heat of July. June, too, means cold cherries straight from the fridge, and strawberries that barely last a few hours before they start to grow weary of their own sweetness. It means apricots tinged with blush, lovely and delicate, and big green salads, every which way. 

And it's going by much too fast. Summertime, and the 'livin ain't always easy. But Billie Holiday, you sing it so sweetly.  


I made a spring salad the other day with blue cheese, walnuts, strawberries, radishes and butter lettuce and it was of the more satisfying lunches I've eaten in a while. If you haven't ever put fruit in your salads, I suggest starting now. I also had a salad at P's & Q's Market the other day with frisee, fresh figs and house-made bacon that was wonderful and very pretty. As my dad would say, "duplicate it," and I shall I try. When you keep a jar of vinaigrette around, you can improvise the other ingredients, just keeping a good balance crunchy and leafy. When I'm alone, I've gotten into the habit of eating straight from the big bowl usually reserved for tossing, and that makes me happy, if not partly because I don't have to wash a separate vessel. If inspiration ever runs dry I know I can always count on that old Italian standby, arugula with lemon and olive oil, topped with shaved Parmesan. Like a pair of bright white sneakers, it's a true classic that never disappoints. Maybe I'm getting a little carried away, but green salad in June just feels right. 


I've also started making smoothies again, because I prefer super cold drinks when it's warm outside. I was remembering when my mom used to make this creamy shake once in a while with banana and milk and a dash of cinnamon, always in the afternoon, not the morning. Perhaps sometimes she added ice cream, or a capful of vanilla extract. She might have used soy or just old-fashioned milk in place of almond. Anyhow, it was delicious and I was thinking about it today when I saw a recipe for a breakfast smoothie while perusing Food52. I love anything anything with dates in it so I liked the idea of making a "treat" smoothie with almond milk and dates as a sweetener. With my sister's turbo-charged Vitamix, the drink comes together in a matter of seconds. It most certainly is not "cooking" but there are times when such laziness is appropriate. And like so many edible things, it's not particularly photogenic. I'm thinking of all the things you could add, some that might improve its color (cherries? malted milk powder? cocoa?), but really it's just perfect the way it is. 

Banana- Date Smoothie

Adapted from Food52

1 ripe banana, preferably frozen
2 medjool dates
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
A few shakes of cinnamon
1 Tablespoon almond butter (or other peanut butter)
A capful of vanilla extract
A handful of ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until very, very smooth. 

Enjoy! 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Karlie Kookie's, and an update

Can a cookie be healthy? I'd sure like to think so, at least for your emotional well-being. At their very best, they give you a little lift. I think cookies are magical in the sense that they make people happy without much fanfare. As you may know I also have a thing for diminutive treats - the kind you easily polish off in a one or two bites, or share with someone you like (a lot). Popular culture has taught us we should follow that instant high with a hefty dose of guilt but in my opinion that is just wrong. It goes without saying I feel that way about food in general, that it should be, above all, pleasurable. I used to have a lot more guilt about food but I made a conscious effort to let it go and I feel so much freer now. Maybe if you had a whole box of chips ahoy while lying on the couch then yes, you are allowed to feel a little guilty (sorry Chips Ahoy). But one cookie never hurt anyone!



All that said, the cookie recipe I've been working on is particularly guilt-proof. It is free of refined sugar and flour, but it still tastes delicious, and has plenty of chocolate chips for good measure. I got the idea from the model Karlie Kloss, who started a company called Karlie's Kookies with Momofuku Milk Bar pastry chef Christina Tosi. She is a runway model but apparently loves to bake. I almost bought some on their website but the shipping was going to cost more than the package of cookies so I decided to try to make a version of them myself. I changed a few ingredients and scaled down the recipe but otherwise stayed true to the core idea of a gluten-free, not-too-sweet treat that could in theory have after a workout.

I'm still tweaking the recipe, experimenting with coconut oils and olive oil, but they are getting pretty close to perfect I would say. They have almond flour and oats, two of my favorite ingredients, too. I'm working on treats for my sister's business and these are one of the contenders so far. My 2015 if off to promising start, happy February everyone. I changed my blog name and so far I feel good about it. I hope you agree. Let's all stay warm and drink endless cups of hot chocolate until it's Spring! 

I leave you with this gem.

"Sometimes me thinks, 'what is a friend?' And then me say, 'friend is someone to share last cookie with."

 - The Cookie Monster

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Morning Routine

I feel lucky I got to spend so much time with my dad in the year before he died. I was living at home at the time, so almost every night we'd have dinner together, the three of us - my mom, me and my dad. My sister would join us when she visited, too. On sunny days he'd "fire up" the Weber barbecue on the deck, and we'd make burgers or chicken or a skewer of some time. Sometimes I'd catch a glimpse of him outside while he chatting on the phone with one of his buddies, and he would look so content, laughing at some joke, pacing like one does on the phone, all while keeping a careful eye on whatever we were grilling. 

It's been a little over four years now. Four years since his last paddle out into the surf.  

My dad had so many wonderful idiosyncrasies, ways of saying and doing things that were unique and endearing. Anyone who knew him saw this.  I would push him away sometimes because he would annoy me - he would get on my nerves when I was feeling impatient, but I didn't realize how good I had it. I wish I had been easier on him. He was always trying to connect with me, even if he didn't always know what to say. He was flawed, but he was honest, with a strong moral compass. He was kind, and interesting, and funny. 

I miss him. I miss the barbecues and the chats about books and movies and shows we both enjoyed. I miss him telling me to "pace myself." I miss feeling certain of his love. I miss sneaking chocolate malt balls from the bulk bins with him. I know I'm biased, but he was one of a kind. 

Now, when I think of him, I try to remember all those little idiosyncrasies that made him who he was, from my perspective. The other day I was trying to think about all the things he taught me, about everything from cars to socks to showing gratitude. I even started a list. Some of them are strange and I don't always adhere to them, but I certainly think about them all the time. He liked to joke about oddball characters but he was somewhat of an oddball himself. 

He liked routines, especially in the morning. My father was a morning person, like me, and woke up hungry, like I do. He truly believed that the best way to start the day is with a freshly-squeezed glass of orange juice. That, and toast with lots of butter, coffee and cream. It was just the way things were done.  

I've been incorporating this tradition somewhat into my routine since I moved to Portland five months ago. I inherited a juicer so it seemed like a good incentive and citrus season is now in full swing as well. For years my parents made each other orange juice everyday from Valencia oranges and drank it first thing. I'd wake up to our large electric juicer making that familiar whirring sound. Without fail, he would offer me some, or just make it for me regardless with the hope I would accept. It pleased him when I said yes, I could tell. I don't know what it is exactly, but lately I've been craving that jolt of sweet tartness in morning. I drink a glass and I feel like I'm in a Tropicana commercial or something, all happy and nourished. Nothing else will do. Sometimes I mix grapefruit and orange and it tastes like the essence of a sunny winter morning, bright and beautiful and fleeting. 

A few sips, and it's gone. 



Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Spring

It is hard to believe I've been in Colorado for almost a year now. The snow has come and gone and it's currently 72 degrees outside. The farmer's market has started up again in Boulder, and it's officially spring here at 5,000 feet. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about a certain Strawberry Rhubarb pie. Do you remember? It's luscious and juicy and bright, like a early May morning right after it rains. It's a hard one to beat, when it comes to seasonal fruit desserts. Still, I love to try new things once in a while, and I've never made a tart or pie with solely rhubarb. So, my darlings, when I saw this recipe for these little rustic rhubarb tarts with a corn flour crust in my current favorite cookbook, I just had to try it. They're like mini french galettes, but with a intriguing twist. Deb at Smitten Kitchen had interesting variation on the compote, with vanilla instead of hibiscus, and that sounded better to me, so I went with her version. 



You start by making the aforementioned compote with rhubarb, a vanilla bean, and a nice hefty dose of brown sugar. The cooked fruit becomes pleasingly jammy and soft, and turns a very dark red hue. Then you make a quite unusual tart dough with corn flour, cornmeal and regular flour, that is bit crumbly at first but comes together in the end. You gently pat out little circles of the dough with the palm of your hand, fill the circles with the compote, and then fold up the edges of the crust to form rustic little packages. The result? I found them delicate and nicely tart, the crust slightly sweet and very tender. I polished off a whole one in a matter of minutes. The Perfect Afternoon Treat is often talked about, but this really is it, no lie.  


In other news, my sister is getting married in about month, in California, and I'm her maid-of-honor. I just know it's going to be the most beautiful day! With lots of good food of course, too. It's all very exciting. Until then, I'm going to enjoy the warm weather here. I'm going to wear lots of dresses and skirts and hopefully ride my bike around town. The other day I wore sandals for the first time in months, and I felt so light and free. I'm going to be drinking lots of Pellegrino with lime and eating frozen yogurt with fresh berries often, that's for sure. There's tulips everywhere downtown, and the warm evenings usher in drinking on rooftops and eating on patios. And let's not forget about picnics! The dry mountain air can be a little intoxicating sometimes here (to some of us anyway), and when you combine that with the heat, it can make one feel a little delirious, but in the best possible way. 


Now, moving on to lemonade and peanut butter cookies, once again. Doesn't that sound nice? I think it does. 

You can find the recipe for the rhurbarb tarts right here.

Monday, August 6, 2012

NIce to see you again

Hello, friends. Guess what? I moved to Colorado!! I’ve lived in a handful of choice places in my young life – Mendocino, Portland, Santa Barbara, San Francisco – but this is my first time living anywhere so far from the West coast. I now reside in the town of Boulder, CO, and I still can’t quite believe I’m here. I'll always be a California girl at heart, but I'm going to try out being a Colorado resident, and see how it goes. I'm hoping for the best! I moved here with my sister, and we got a pretty sweet spot, if you ask me (thank you, Kyla). We even have a gas stove and loads of counter space (two things that are surprisingly hard to find). Moving was quite the ordeal, and I'm still dealing with the toll it took on me physically, but being here makes it all seem worth it. 



While it’s been challenging adjusting to the weather here, I've been having fun exploring this new place. It's funny because when I visited last November to check out the city and look for apartments, it was snowy and freezing, which everyone told us hardly ever happened (seriously?). Then when we arrived in June, it was crazy hot! And there were wildfires! Of course, everyone has been telling us it never gets this hot. Then there are these thunderstorms here that seem to start out of the blue, with lightening like I’ve never seen it before. Anyhow, the skies are very dramatic here, and it can be both disconcerting and strangely exciting at the same time. They're always changing, and often beautiful.


I started cooking about a week after we got here, and I haven’t slowed down much since, even with the heat. The farmer’s market here is great, and the size sort of reminds me of the one in Santa Barbara I used to go to. In fact, Boulder reminds me of Santa Barbara in other ways too, apart from the weather. Pearl street downtown is like Santa Barbara’s State Street, and where in SoCal you have the beach/surf culture, here you have the mountain/snow/outdoor culture. Both are food-centric, health-conscious places, and both are college towns. Both have an laid-back but upscale vibe, at least in certain areas. So it feels a bit familiar here, yet completely new - I like that. 



My first forays into high-altitude baking have been interesting, but most have been relatively successful. When I first read about all the adjustments you have to make at 3,000 feet and above (we’re at about 5,500), I got a little freaked out, but as I said I haven’t had too many disasters thus far. Recipes just require a little bit of tweaking, that’s all. The blueberry muffins I tried from the Joy the Baker Cookbook came out great, as did some oat raspberry ginger scones, and a French yogurt cake that I made exactly four years ago for my food writing class at UCSB. Once again, the center of the cake fell as soon as I took it out of the oven, but it was still delicious - intensely lemony and delicately fragrant. 


I’ve also been doing a lot of non-cooking, that is, making various frozen delights (ice creams, sorbets, popsicles, etc) and a few drinks. Let me just say that if you have yet had a Mojito in your life, you best make it happen, and soon. You need mint, limes, white rum, simple syrup and ice, so start making a list. Lemonade is always appropriate, too. As for popsicles, well, I never thought I even liked them that much till this summer; when it’s 90 degrees at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, you need something cold and/or boozy to get you through the next two hours, or you might just melt. That’s when a watermelon popsicle sounds too good to be true. Or a smashed berry-coconut pop (incredible). Have something sweet and icy in your freezer at all times, and you’ll breeze right through July, ready for whatever comes next.


Which brings me to one of my favorite times of year, anywhere – peach season. If there’s one fruit that gets me a little weak in the knees even thinking about, it’s the peach. A ripe peach feels pleasantly heavy in your palm, but soft to the touch. Though my favorite way to eat them is straight out of my hand, I love a good peach tart (made this one recently), or a baked peach with honey and a dot of butter. Peaches and cream is downright heavenly. Cherries, I should say, make a close second in my hierarchy of fruit, but to me there is nothing better than stone fruit. It takes some searching to find one truly special, which for me is always more alluring in the end. Even the prettiest specimens from the market can be dull and flavorless, but for every dud I know there is a perfect one out there waiting to be picked, then swiftly devoured. So before I ramble on some more, go find yourself a perfect peach, and tell me don’t you live for that taste each summer.

Hello, August. 
Nice to see you again. It's been far too long!

PS. I joined Instagram recently - you can find me at @acaciamichelle if you're so inclined. 
I'm also on Pinterest, you can find me at http://pinterest.com/acaciamichelle/

Sunday, February 26, 2012

All that waiting

I feel happiest when I'm in the kitchen. Even when things get chaotic and rushed, even when I'm trying to do ten things at once and timers are beeping at me, I still feel at peace in that tiny space of ours. It seems as though it's the most natural place to be, at 6:30 pm on a weekday, standing among the whisks and spoons, the pots and the pans and the cupboards filled with good things I have yet to get my paws on. Even the least glamorous of tasks -- say, the stirring of risotto over a hot stove -- are sometimes my favorite parts. To me, it can be decidedly meditative, all that stirring, all that waiting.


Springtime officially begins in a few weeks, and all I want to do is cook. That, and pore over cookbooks, daydreaming about my next project. I do have a new method-to-my-madness, shall we way, which is to accumulate a good amount of fresh produce and pantry items and see what I can come up with in a matter of hours. I know this is what my mother has been doing for her entire life, and what chefs do everyday, but it's a rather new concept for me. While it's true that during farmer's market season I do do some 'random' purchasing, it always scares me a bit. I have to admit, though, it's extremely satisfying, in a much different way then simply gathering ingredients for a previously chosen recipe.

So when my mom came home with a bundle of asparagus the other day, I remembered a Ina Garten recipe I had filed away awhile back for a 'Spring Green Risotto.' I got inspired. It sounded like the perfect dish for the interim between winter and spring, when it's looks so tempting outside but in fact it's still quite blustery and cold. Luckily, we had most of ingredients already in the house, including Arborio rice, as well as the usual risotto suspects like Parmesan and dry white wine.


Usually when I find myself with some asparagus, I want to highlight it in some way, so it's really the star of the plate, like in this, or this. But since it isn't actually asparagus season yet and what we're getting now is probably from somewhere south of the border, risotto seemed like a good use for it. Since it's studded with bits of green it's not too heavy, and it has a warming quality you look for in late February. Yes, it does require some focused stirring, as mentioned before, but it's rather fun, once you get the hang of it. All that waiting builds excitement, the same anticipation that comes in the days just before March begins, with pink blossoms and much-needed rain. It doesn't have to be boring. The rice gets thirsty every few minutes so you have to calm it down with ladlefuls of chicken stock, and then watch it slowly absorb the liquid. Believe me, it's fascinating stuff! I do like the seasonal additions of leeks and peas (albeit frozen) here, too. Ina is an ardent lemon lover like me so she calls for both the juice and the zest of the fruit, which I also love. I did omit the fennel because I'm not sure I like cooked fennel. I left out the mascarpone too, and I cut the salt in half, which I routinely do with all of Ina's recipes now. I adore her, but she is a salt fanatic


Unfortunately for me, my stomach is having none of this cooking-frenzy business. I cannot even begin to tell you all the things I've been making lately, it would make your head spin (short ribs(!), more cookies(!), pad thai(!), citrus marmalade(!) baked oatmeal(!) - see what I mean?!)* For some reason I can only handle very small meals lately, and though I've been craving rich foods, I can only take them in small doses. This (coupled with the fact that I live in just a two-person household) makes the probability of leftovers quite high, so I've been learning to at least tolerate their existence. I even made risotto cakes last night, and I was grateful to have them. Plus, let's face it, I was worn out, and I wanted to get back to my writing, another thing that makes me happy. Crusty outsides, creamy insides, it was comfort food, Italian-style. Hmmm. Pretty classy for a hum-drum Saturday night, I must say. 


Spring Green Risotto
Adapted from Ina Garten


1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons butter
2 leeks, washed and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
2/3 cups dry white wine
4-5 cups chicken stock, warmed
1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1 1/4 inch lengths
10 oz frozen peas
1 tablespoon lemon zest (about one large lemon)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped chives or green onion tops


Blanch the asparagus in boiling, salted water until tender, about 4 minutes. Plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside. 


Heat oil and butter in a medium to large heavy-duty saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add leeks and toss to coat. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until tender. Add rice and toss to coat for one minute. Pour in the wine and stir until absorbed. 


Add 2 ladlefuls of warm stock and then stir risotto until it is almost dry. Continue adding stock in this manner until rice is al dente, stirring almost constantly with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon - this usually takes 15-20 minutes. Add asparagus, peas, zest, salt and pepper and cook until rice is done, tasting often. It should be very creamy. Add parmesan, lemon juice and chives, cover, and let stand a minute or two. Serve immediately with extra parmesan. 


Serves 6, generously.


* Check out of my Flickr page for a glimpse of some of these projects. I'm particularly fond of a series I took with some tangerines in a brown paper bag. Afternoon light with an orangey glow, caught in a paper sack. Do take a look. 


A couple more things to check out: 
- I love listening to the Joy the Baker Podcast every week. It's not just about food, it has some 'real life' talk too, as they would put it. 
- I'm obsessed with this picture. So gorgeous.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Always a good time

I love to make Christmas cookies. Let me clarify that statement: I love making cookies at Christmastime. I don't like cookies that are decorated with pink frosting and sprinkles and taste like pure sugar and cardboard (but maybe I would if I had a kid). I like the ones that are good-tasting as well as good-looking (yes, I'm a snob). I also like to put them in cellophane bags tied with a brightly colored ribbon, and give them away to friends, keeping any leftovers to nibble on at home. Amid the craziness of shopping, wrapping and menu-planning, it's a big project, but one that makes me very happy.


This year, my friend Anya and I teamed up to do a day of holiday baking together. After some careful deliberation, we decided on four different kinds to make -- an ambitious undertaking which took us the better part of a day and evening to complete. We went through a lot of butter. There was a lot of dishes (thank you, Jacob, for your help). Still, it was worth it. We nearly covered her entire kitchen table with the treats ready to be packed up and divvied up. As you may imagine, it smelled pretty amazing in her house that day.
First we made Orange Sablés, then Mexican Wedding Cookies (with pecans), then Linzer Hearts (sandwiched with raspberry jam) and, finally, Rugelach, one batch with orange marmalade and chocolate, the other with apricot preserves and no chocolate. I often make Dorie Greenspan's rugelach for the holidays, at least I have for the past few years. As they are in fact a Yiddish invention, I feel as though I'm somehow honoring my Jewish heritage during Hanukkah (the one quarter in me, anyway). Plus, they're delicious, each one stuffed with currants and jam and a scattering of nuts. The cream cheese dough is rolled up like little crescents, which puff up and brown ever so slightly in the oven. They almost melt in your mouth, they're so astoundingly tender.
Anya's Linzer Hearts with hazelnuts were also particularly lovely and delicate. And really, why save heart-shaped things for Valentine's Day? The recipe comes from her Martha Stewart Baking Handbook, and had a quite a number of steps involved -- including repeatedly rolling out a fat slab of dough and cutting out of heart shapes -- but I just loved how they turned out. Stacked up one on top of the other, they certainly made a fine gift. 
Sablés, or French-style shortbread, are another of my favorites, a recipe I've already written about here before, but one I've never made with orange zest until now. Though I'm a lemon fiend in both sweet and savory modes, I have to admit the orange version gives the lemon version a run for its money. The Mexican Wedding Cookie recipe came from my this great book, and was the most basic of the four, but their simplicity makes them great, it seems.  They have a nuttiness and crumbly texture that pairs so well with their gentle sweetness. When they were lined up on the baking sheets cooling, they looked like little snowballs, dusted in powdered sugar. They're a winner, for sure.


Perhaps I'm a week or two late to be telling you about all of this, but I figure it's always a good time to be dreaming about cookies. If you're already fantasizing about kale chips and coconut water, well, you're not alone. Anyway. Thanks, Anya, for baking with me, it was fun. I needed some cheering up, as the holiday season can be a sad time for some of us. 


I'm looking forward to 2012. There's so much I want to do. The culinary adventures await.


Happy New Year, everyone.