Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Technically, "home" for me is the San Francisco Bay Area.  It's where I grew up, it's my family, it's where I feel I belong.  But this past year, New York has become a kind of home for me also.  New York is where I work, where I play, where I spend the majority of my time.  Lately, I've been torn between these two homes of mine, between the two coasts, between New York and the Bay Area.  Sure, it's been hard living in New York City, but it's also really hard to leave.

Last Friday, I took some time off work, hopped on a plane, and came home.  Home to California, that is.  It's only been a couple of days, but I already miss New York.  Don't get me wrong; I'm in no hurry to get back to New York.  I love being at home.  It smells clean.  My mom takes care of me like I'm still 10 years old.  And on top of it all, I never eat better than when I'm at home.

This trip so far hasn't been any different.  Especially that last part.  It all started with a weekend in Sonoma and a little trip to Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller's restaurant in Yountville, CA.

The restaurant was amazing.  The kitchen was able to accommodate my pescatarian mother and even my vegan cousin.  My other cousin Joanne and her husband John are in the wine business, so they brought two bottles of some of their best stuff, and the staff happily served it to us.  And the potatoes.  Oh, the potatoes.

They were deep fried to golden, crispy perfection.  And oh so fluffy and soft on the inside.  Mmm.

On to the rest of the menu:  slow roasted prime rib that melted in my mouth, literally.  Freshly picked heirloom tomatoes with sweet, creamy mozzarella.  The most perfectly cooked squash I've ever had in my life.  Sheep's milk cheese (Fiori Sardo) with honey and almonds.  And a tiramisu that not only picked me up, but left me up in the clouds after this wonderful meal.  Seriously.  It was heavenly.

The next day, still swimming in our prime rib reverie, we made dinner at the house.  It was no Ad Hoc, but the tri tip was juicy, the tomatoes were ripe, and the wine was flowing.  What more could you ask for?

I love Sonoma.  It really is just breathtakingly beautiful.  It's a wonderful retreat from city life, and there's plenty of wine and sunshine to distract from, well, anything you need a distraction from.  Now I'd like to say that I've made the rounds to all the wineries and vineyards the area has to offer, but the truth is I've only been to a handful of them.  When your cousins are in the wine business and they provide crates and crates of wine and leave them in the garage for the taking, it's easy to get lazy.

My mom herself is trying to get her feet wet in the wine business.  (I mean that in the most broad and general sense - the woman doesn't even drink wine!)  We've got a small crop of grapevines in the backyard in Sonoma.  It'll be a couple of years before we see any grapes that we can turn into wine, though.  When that happens, we'll have Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Malbec to enjoy!

After our blissful Sonoma retreat, my cousin Krystal and I headed back to San Francisco for Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park:

We heard The Devil Makes Three, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Chromeo, Phoenix, The Budos Band, and Empire of the Sun.  We ate BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, grilled sausage, Korean tacos, Mexican tacos, and quesadillas, and we drank lots beer and whiskey.  It was a perfect Sunday.

Now, you might be thinking that all of this is pretty convincing stuff to move back to California.  Sunshine, food, wine, family...  And it is.  Part of me is ready to move back now, right now.

But.  I miss my friends, my apartment, and just being in New York.  What is it about that great city of ours that makes you miss it as soon as you leave?  Maybe all of the fresh air out here is getting to my head...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Food for Thought

For this week's Food for Thought, a slew of food-related articles and sites, many of which I found via the Food News Journal:

1. Smaller belly = bigger brain?  Not necessarily, but according to this story from NPR, eating meat and cooking food is what has allowed humans to grow bigger brains.  I encourage you to listen to the story, and to remember that there's a reason why we cook our food!  [NPR]

2. So how do popsicles and cakeballs fit into our evolutionary process?  Riddhi Shah concludes in this article that these kinds of fads are perhaps a byproduct of such American values as progress, open-mindedness, and entrepreneurship.  Might be a bit of a stretch, but I do agree that America does lack a concrete food tradition of its own.  The question is whether the lack of a food tradition counts as a food tradition in and of itself.  What say you, wise reader?  [Salon]

3. Michelle Obama on childhood obesity and getting kids to eat right: So, can we change the way kids think about food?  The first lady of the United States thinks we can, with the help of the Child Nutrition Bill.  [The Washington Post]

4. Speaking of American tradition, apparently we're drinking more than ever these days.  I have nothing to say, except... well, that sounds about right.  [Time]

5. And speaking of booze, I've been obsessed with this boozey blog lately.  Ever since David Flaherty did an interview with Serious Eats, I've had a huge crush on him.  It helps that I love both Hearth and Terroir, where Mr. Flaherty is the operations manager.  Check out his blog for some insight into your favorite cocktails, and the results from the 8th Annual Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans.

6. Last, but not least, this little piece from Mark Bittman.  I originally read it on his site, but it's been reposted and posted about and tweeted about up the wazoo in the 2 days since it went up, so I can't ignore it.  Basically, the famous foodie found some plastic in his soup.  Readers, outraged that anyone could not recognize Bittman, went nutty and demanded that Bittman post the name of the restaurant.  Now, this kind of thing has never happened to me before.  An occasional hair that may or may not have been mine, yes.  A bug in my salad, certainly.  But plastic?  I don't even know what I would do.  What would you have done?  Though the restaurant staff handled the situation very, very poorly, I think people are kind of overreacting.  Bottom line: there shouldn't have been anything but soup in Mark Bittman's soup, but no one was hurt.  Yes, diners deserve to know what they're getting when they enter a restaurant, but this kind of thing, if and when it happens, is rarely publicized because it's not just happening to Mark Bittman.  The level of anxiety over some plastic in Mark Bittman's soup seems disproportionate to how much people care about the actual ingredients that go into their restaurant meals.  Just sayin'.  What do you think?  [MarkBittman]

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tips For Staying Cool

This summer, I've been doing a lot of non-cooking.  It involves lots of throwing things into a big bowl, and not a lot of heat.  It's hot enough as it is, and lately I've been craving things that will cool me down, things that won't have me breaking a sweat in our tiny kitchen.  Oven roasting and slow cooking and braising have their time and place; this summer's just not it.  So, without further ado, how to not-cook this summer, or, my Tips For Staying Cool:

1. Have an indoor picnic: Get a baguette, throw together a caprese salad, and add some prosciutto for good measure.  Eat with your hands, sitting on the living room floor with the A/C blasting.  Make sure there's a bucket of ice and some chilled white wine within reach.

2. If you're having guests over, don't cook: Make some no-cook kebabs!  We all know there's nothing like food on a stick.  Who says you have to cook it?  Skewer some bocconcini, tomatoes, peppadew peppers, and olives and drizzle with homemade pesto.  These babies make for an impressive display, and super easy clean-up to boot.  The wonderful ladies in my book club devoured every last one of these!

3. If you must turn on the stove, make it quick: Scramble up some eggs and throw in a handful of chopped garlic scapes, all fresh from the farmers market, of course.  Or quickly saute some zucchini and corn and top with freshly sliced heirloom tomatoes.  These dishes make for a light and easy dinner, or tasty summer sides.

4. Cook without cooking: The best trick of all?  Make some ceviche and let the limes do the cooking.  Chop up some scallops, bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes, throw it in a bowl or jar, cover with lime juice, and... walk away.  Take a cold shower, lay out in the sun for a bit, or call mom.  When you come back, dinner's ready!

5. Try something new: When all else fails and you just don't have the energy to even step into the kitchen, go to a new restaurant, preferably air conditioned, or get take-out.  Try something spicy - it may seem counterintuitive, but it's actually supposed to help cool you down!  I opted to try the new Xian's Famous Food that just opened on St. Mark's.  You just can't beat those spicy liang pi noodles on a hot summer night!

Happy non-cooking!