I Think I’ll Eat a A Cupcake

Looking at the pictures in Miette: Recipes from San Francisco’s Most Charming Pastry Shop is almost as good as eating the beautiful confections  – almost.  I first read about the bakery in one of the New York Times “36 hours” travel columns, but I haven’t been there yet – just drooling over the pictures and the recipes.  The book is my valentine to myself.

Have you been there?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Chocolate and Zucchini

At first glance, Clotilde Dusoulier’s recipes in Chocolate and Zucchini seem to be easier to read than to make.  As a Parisian who relocated to San Francisco and then back again to France, Dusoulier offers  recipes that will make you want to be a gourmet.  She includes lovely menu listings – both in French and in English.  Each recipe has a story and mouth-watering pictures, and like Julia Child, she carefully explains each step simply and clearly.

The introduction is too long and repetitive, but the heart of the book is divided into three sections of recipes and stories.  The first section – “Simplicity” – includes four recipes for each of the topics: salads, sandwiches, savory tarts, soups, eggs.  Some are not so simple, but all look delicious – the kind of food you’d order in a bistro.

The second section – “Entertaining” – raises the level with food for dinner parties and buffets.  The Boulette D’agneaux aux Pruneaux (lamb and prune meatballs) is only one of many that had me thinking I’d look for it the next time I found a good French restaurant – not so sure I’d try making it though.

Finally, the last section – my favorite – “Sweet Things” – offers a mix of easy and glamorous cakes, tarts, and desserts, starting with an easy recipe for the chocolate and zucchini cake from the title and escalating to chocolate hibiscus crème brûlée and blancmange with basil or raspberry coulis.  The lemon butter cookies caught my eye – lusciously lemony – access the recipe by clicking here.

The stories accompanying each recipe demonstrate Dusoulier’s love affair with food and she has her own blog Chocolate and Zucchini to check out for more ideas.

Traveling to Eat

Someday I plan to travel on a book adventure tour.  You know the ones that follow Jane Austen through the English countryside,  Daphne du Maurier in Cornwall, James Joyce or Oscar Wilde in Dublin.  When I read Julia Child’s My Life in France, I wondered if I could find the restaurants she frequented when she wasn’t cooking.

Cookbooks don’t usual inspire my wanderlust, but Nancy Oakes and Pamela Mazzola visited my hometown to do a cooking demonstration.  I ate their food, bought their cookbook, and took notes on their tips:

  • Without consulting a recipe, you should be able to whip out something that thrills families and guests (for me, that’s brownies)
  • Don’t cook with wine you wouldn’t consider drinking (for me, that’s trying not to finish the wine as I cook)
  • Know the difference between “packaged in Italy” and “product of Italy” – olive oil packaged in Italy can have olives from anywhere (read the label)
  • Be the best you can, no matter what you’re cooking!

Now it’s my turn to find the real Boulevard in San Francisco.  I have a reservation tonight – my warm up meal to more eating on this trip: dim sum in Chinatown, and French Laundry in Yountsville.

I can already taste the squash blossoms.

One Amazing Thing

1989 San Francisco-Oakland Earthquake

With daily news of the world literally falling apart – tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, flooding –  it’s easy to feel sympathy for those in the midst of the catastrophe, but hard to imagine what it would be like to experience it.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni invites you to be in the middle of an earthquake in One Amazing Thing, with nine survivors suddenly trapped in the basement of the Indian consulate visa office of an American city.  With the ceiling collapsing, the one way out blocked, and water slowly filling the room, a range of emotions surface –  fear, regret, and hope.

Among the survivors is Uma, a graduate student, inspired by the copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in her backpack, who suggests that each tell a personal tale, to distract from the crisis.  Here the real story begins, and the characters change from a list of names to lives with pasts that include “wars, betrayal, seduction, death.”

  • Jiang, the Chinese grandmother, who escaped the Sino-Indian War, surprising everyone that she speaks English so well, as she tells of a former life
  • Mr. Pritchett, an accountant whose wife has attempted suicide, who tells of a childhood trauma not even his wife knows about
  • Malathi, the office clerk, who tells how she exacted a humorous revenge on a former client
  • Tariq, a young Muslim-American, struggling with his identity after 9/11
  • Lily, a rebellious Chinese-American teenager, with the gift of music
  • Mangalam, the office administrator, with a past and estranged wealthy wife
  • Mrs. Pritchett, who reveals the discovery that led her to attempted suicide
  • Cameron, the former soldier with asthma, who becomes the group leader

The group bonds through the stories, and this is an easy read – but be prepared, the ending will leave you hanging.   Might be a good candidate for a book club discussion.

The Millenium Cookbook – Extraordinary Vegetarian Cuisine

I tasted this book before I read it.  Eric Tucker, chef of the famous San Francisco gourmet vegetarian restaurant, Millenium, was in my neighborhood for a food demonstration and tasting.  I had already decided to eat healthier, but was wary of vegetarian fare – especially desserts – which I’d found chalky or bland, like eating the cardboard box of the granola cereal.  But I was wrong.

The servings were generous and tasty, and the desserts could rival any cream and butter concoctions I’d buy in a pastry shop.  Whether or not I could replicate any was questionable, but I bought The Millennium Cookbook anyway – always hopeful.

What did I eat at the tasting?

  • Appetizers: Raw Daikon Radish Rolls, Grilled Flatbread, Black Bean Torte and Grilled Meyer Lemon Salad.
  • Entrees: Almond and Black Pepper Crusted Portobello, Mushroom and Walnut Strudel, Indian Rice and Lentil Crepe
  • Finally, dessert: Chocolate cake (made with tofu), pecan pie (with flaxseeds and brown rice syrup), almond biscotti (with soy), and Millennium Fruit Crisp.

The book has been on my shelf for awhile – along with many other good intentions, and I had tucked the tasting menu inside.   When I decided to finally try to cook healthy, I found not even one of the salads or entrees on the menu in the book.   I only have a fleeting memory of the good taste, but I was determined to try to relive the flavor.

The tasting menu listed the ingredients for the Grilled Meyer Lemon Salad: chicory, greens, shaved radish, fennel, and red onion, chopped fresh mint, and topped with toasted pistachios, chopped dates – then dressed with Meyer lemon and extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette.  Not too hard –  I decided to forego the grilling, since I wasn’t sure what to grill.  It turned out to be a light salad – different taste from Chef Tucker’s but still good.

Luckily, all the desserts were in the cookbook; the fruit crisp was similar to others I’d made that were not so healthy.  The recipe is posted on Potpourri.

The book is back on the shelf – a reminder of trying to be good – and an invitation to visit the restaurant on Geary Street in the Hotel California.