Monday, December 24, 2007

poached quince


Inspired by a fabulous salad we had at Rivoli (hands down my favorite restaurant in the East Bay), cowboy and I spontaneously bought a quince at Monterey Market, with our best intentions to recreate the winning ingredient. I based my poaching technique on the advice of popular food blogger David Lebovitz:

Poached Quince
1 quince
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 vanilla bean

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the sugar and water. Split the vanilla bean and scape the seeds into the pan (you can add the pod as well). Bring to a boil.
2. Peel and quarter the quince using a sharp chef's knife and cut out the tough core with a paring knife. (Be careful! This is a very hard fruit.) Cut the quince quarters into halves or thirds, making 1-inch slices.
3. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the quince slices to the syrup as they are cut (they begin to brown quickly once cut). Cover the quince with a round of parchment paper, and simmer gently for about 1 ½ hours, or until the fruit is tender.

Once poached, the quince will keep in its syrup, refrigerated, for at least 5 days.

This is a simple and delicious way to enjoy fruit in these cold winter months. We had our quince with blackberries and a dollop of plain yogurt.

And now, to be completely honest, while poaching quince was certainly one of my most exquisite fruit experiences of 2007, it will probably not be making an appearance anytime soon in 2008. Remember how I said to be careful cutting the fruit? Well, I've also been wondering whether I should share my full ingredient list, which actually included "18 Band-Aids" and "1 tbsp. Neosporin". (No worries! I'm healed now...just about.)

Oh yes. And as a prelude to our poached quince, we also made the classic San Francisco fisherman's stew, cioppino, for which we spent the afternoon shopping in North Berkeley's "other Gourmet Ghetto" - at Hopkins St. and Monterey Ave. We visited Monterey Fish for scallops, mussels, and clams (and some wonderful fish stock); Magnani's for Italian sausage; Monterey Market for onions, parsley, bell pepper, etc. This is the only dish I have ever made that calls for both red and white wine. Loved it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

banana muffins..cookies...`ono!


Now that I have spent some time in the wine industry, I have become quite accustomed to my daily news feeds like "Unusual Snowfall in Chilean Wine Region" and "Bordeaux 2006 could be the new 1982". (There is an audience out there for every topic.)

Given the fundamental connection between food and wine, I have also deemed it a part of my job to stay up to trend on the latest happenings in food. (FYI: for anyone interested, Hardee's announced today that it will bring back its Philly Cheesesteak Thickburger, for a limited time only.)

I was particularly amused when, for the first time in my career, I received a business article about muffins in my inbox: Amos seeks fame with muffins.

Remember Wally's Famous Amos cookies? Well, with the Famous Amos brand now under the ownership of Kellogg, Wally Amos has turned his attentions to Uncle Wally's Muffin Co. He has also started a small cookie shop - Chip and Cookie - in Kailua, Hawaii.

Anyway, I actually do have more to say about cookies, wine, and Hawaii, but I will save that meandering for a later post...on to my recipe for banana walnut muffins!

Easy Banana Walnut Muffins
adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 12

1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 3 large)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup milk or soymilk
1 large egg
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped

2 tablespoon brown sugar
tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 12 muffin cups or line with muffin papers (or set out 12 individual silicone muffin cups on a cookie sheet). Sift first 4 ingredients into large bowl. Combine bananas, both sugars, butter, milk and egg in medium bowl. Mix into dry ingredients. Fold in 1/2 cup of nuts. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Combine remaining ingredients in bowl. Mix well, and sprinkle mixture generously on tops of muffins. Bake until muffins are golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer muffins to rack and cool.

Thank you, Siri and Amanda, my Area 4 girls, for the adorable silicone muffin cups! They did a great job keeping my muffins out of trouble in my fickle oven. The finished product popped out easily when cooled.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

hot pink organic food

Vanilla Cupcakes with Organic Lemon Raspberry Frosting

These cupcakes I baked last week served as a useful reminder that even the best marketing tactics cannot reverse the damage of poor product design. I could create the earthiest looking package, printed with nutrition facts in enormous text and maybe an endorsement from Alice Waters, and still you would be hard-pressed to believe that these cupcakes are all-natural, made with organic fruit. In fact, you might just wonder whether Alice Waters has lost her way.

The real story doesn't matter - the one where I pureed the organic raspberries and zested the organic lemons in my kitchen, and whisked the fruit mixture into my bowl of handmade buttercream frosting until I achieved the perfect balance of sweet, creamy, and tangy.

These cupcakes are hot pink, and that says it all - assume artificial flavoring, high fructose corn syrup, Red 40...processed. Welcome to the era of the savvy consumer - we know how to spot fake food when we see it, and we're not afraid to judge.

Which poses an interesting dilemma for the natural food business, I realize. Do food scientists and marketers in natural foods actually have to design their products to look "natural"? (Is it not enough for the product to be intrinsically so?) Can an all-natural cupcake ever be topped with an all-natural hot pink frosting, or are such natural baked goods restricted to the earth-toned glazes of maple, chocolate, and vanilla?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

the airport parfait

Chicago O'Hare

I have had a particularly good week spending time in three of my favorite U.S. cities (including San Francisco) and working on an exciting new product for work. The highlights:

Magnolia Sandwich at Darwin’s Ltd. in Cambridge, MA
Each Darwin’s store names its sandwiches by its neighboring streets, so the “Magnolia” at their second location is really the same as the “Hubbard Park” at their first, which I have paid enough homage to in a previous entry. Darwin's also sells chocolate bars made in Somerville, MA (3 mi away), shortbread cookies from Arlington, MA (4 mi away), and sandwich bread baked in West Concord (18 mi away). How’s that for local flavor?

Delirium Tremens beer at Publick House in Brookline, MA
My friend Chris poured me my first Delirium two years ago. Since then, I have only been able to remember it by the picture on its label, and will probably refer to it as the “pink elephant beer” for the rest of time. To think- me -a victim of critter marketing! (The critter phenomenon has been a much-discussed topic among wine marketers ever since Yellow Tail "the kangaroo wine" took the U.S. market by storm in 2001). But honestly, besides the all-too-prevalent Chimay, I can recall no other Belgian I have enjoyed besides Pink Elephant Beer.

Goji-Granola-Pomegranate Frozen Yogurt at berryline in Harvard Square, MA
Pinkberry clones have penetrated the East Coast! As, apparently, has Berkeley grub - Goji berries at a student “froyo” shop? (Though I was also visiting the Berkeley of the East.) I have been eagerly following the spread of sour Korea yogurt up the California coast after my initiation to Pinkberry in West Hollywood, L.A. in April. I wonder if they've popped up in the middle of the country...

Banh Mi and Che in Little Vietnam, Chicago
Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich made on French baguette and traditionally filled with pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro, and some type of meat (usually chicken or pork) marinated in a "special sauce". It is also notoriously cheap (e.g., 5 for $10). Five years ago, I had my first banh mi with my friend Dan in the Vietnamese neighborhood of inner Boston - this week, we met in Chicago's Vietnam Town and shared banh mi, noodles, and che. (I was completely delighted by che – a soupy, pudding-like dessert with various unidentifiable colorful ingredients suspended in thick coconut milk.)

Sushi at Sakura Restaurant, Mt. Prospect, IL
Fortunately, I have been traveling with a team that shares my passion for all things Japanese and edible. One of my team members managed to find a sushi restaurant in the middle of the country that ranks among the best and most authentic I’ve had on either coast. How’s that for market research?

Anyway, back to the title of this post. So the base of my personal food pyramid is a combination of three simple foods – yogurt, fruit, and granola, i.e. I cannot go too many days without having some form of the "yogurt parfait".

On Tuesday, I bought a “Yogurt with Fresh Seasonal Fruit and Granola” at Boston’s Logan Airport, which consisted of a considerable amount of yogurt weighed down by soggy granola and a half of one strawberry, cut in half again - $4.50. At Chicago O’Hare, for $3.79, I picked up a cleverly designed two-part piece separating the granola (Kellogg's Low-fat Granola with Raisins with 90% certainty – I can recognize the mass-produced stuff when I see it) from the sugary yogurt mixed with reconstituted frozen strawberry syrup and papery, flavorless blueberries. Yuck.

Smart Granola Packaging for Bad Granola

So yes, it’s been a great week of travels, but I’m also kind of looking forward to making my own breakfast at home on Friday morning. Even better, paying Café Fanny a visit on Saturday.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

stags' leap winery


While there's no bad time or place for a glass of Cabernet from Stags' Leap Winery, a particularly good time would be sunset on a summer evening in August, and a particularly good place would be among the Estate Cabernet vines at the Winery. (And winemaker Kevin Morrisey would be particularly good company.)


I've always believed in immersing myself in the products that I work on. When I consulted for an air purifier company, I kept up to date on EPA regulations for ultra fine particles. I ran humidifiers, lit candles, and played ScentStories in my apartment to immerse myself in the experience of my personal indoor air.

For the three months that I worked on a project for a greeting card company, I scrutinized my own relationships with others in the world - and sent out more cards, emails, e-cards, text messages, and handwritten notes to friends and family in those months than I had in the previous three years combined.

Hotel bedding, GPS devices, breast cancer, birthday cards, nuclear power plants, bipolar disorder, ATV helmets, fried years as a consultant have allowed me to delve into a number of different worlds, each as fascinating as the last, to someone perpetually curious about different things and people.

Fortunately, the company I work for shares my belief that one must understand a product deeply - who makes it, where it is made, how it is made and why it is made in such a way - in order to market and sell it. As such, my work periodically involves "kicking the dirt" at our vineyards. Learning that story behind the brand is critical...and fun.

Stags' Leap has a particularly good story. (Have you heard about the ghost?)

June 29. 2007

August 15, 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

vegan muffins

with coconut, mango, & olallieberries

We felt very lucky when Didi Emmons, former chef at Pho Republique, Delux Cafe, and Veggie Planet, came on board at Haley House Bakery Cafe.

Soon after she joined, Didi invited me over for dinner to discuss some of the marketing and business planning work I had been doing for Haley House. I looked forward to the experience of eating in the home of a real chef, and when the day came, I arrived with a carefully chosen 7-Grain pullman from Iggy's Bread of the World.*

Didi introduced me to Henry her cat (for which one of her Veggie Planet pizzas is named). We stepped over her yoga mat and made our way to her kitchen, which was older, more cramped, and much more inviting than I would have expected for the work space of a chef. She returned to pulverizing walnuts with fresh arugula and parsley..."Pesto," she said, in between blasts of the processor.

"I always think pine nuts and basil when I think pesto," I said, trying to keep in step with a professional foodie.

"Walnuts are pretty fun to play around with." Didi shrugged and tasted the pesto. She paused in thought, then drizzled in some olive oil from a little green bottle.


Didi's spunky and creative approach towards cooking is one that has had great influence on me over the years. Didi cooks with an open mind, without judgment, driven by personal intuition, curiosity, and hunger.

Didi and I once had a conversation about muffin making. A baking instructor had taught me about the grave repercussions of over-mixing (over-developed gluten toughens your product and creates those unsightly air tunnels). We were encouraged to implement delicate muffin batter-folding techniques.

As I watched Didi make muffins one day, I inquired about her carefree mixing, and its implications for her gluten structure. She looked at me inquisitively, "I stop mixing when everything comes together." Then she poured the batter into pans and baked them into perfect little strawberry muffins, moist with a soft and crumbly texture.


So, back to California. Recently, twenty lovely friends joined me on an olallieberry picking expedition to Swanton Berry Farm in Pescadero, CA.

When we returned late in the afternoon with juice-stained hands, 30 pounds richer in ollalieberries, Johanna made cake, and Juliann made pies. Cowboy made pancakes. And I took out Didi's cookbook, flipped to "The World's Best Vegan Coffeecake", and, in the spirit of Didi, played around with the recipe until it suited my whimsy.

Vegan Muffins with Coconut, Mango, and Olallieberries
adapted from Didi Emmons' Entertaining for a Veggie Planet

1 cup almonds
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dried coconut flakes
1 cup vanilla soy milk
1/2 cup canola oil
1 small mango, cut into small chunks
2 cups olallieberries (raspberries, blackberries, or boysenberries will also do fine)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or line 12 standard muffin cups.
2. In a food processor, finely grind almonds. Transfer to a large bowl and add flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt and mix well. Mix in coconut.
3. Make a well in the center and add soy milk and canola oil. Stir until the mixture comes together.
4. Gently fold in mango and berries.
5. Divide the batter among muffin cups and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool in pan about 10 minutes.

I don't believe a non-vegan version could be any better. And I have to say, there is something extremely satisfying about eating food you picked from a bush.

*Note: The 7-Grain loaf has been a favorite of mine ever since my summer selling Iggy's bread at the Boston City Hall Farmers' Market. For those who don't know, Iggy's is to Boston as Acme Bread is to San Francisco.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

haley house update, summer '07


I was recently back on the East Coast and was overjoyed to find the Haley House Bakery Cafe doing better than ever. Though I wish that I could be as involved with this program living out here in California as I was during my years in Boston, I am proud to report that, with the strong leadership of Didi, Bing, and Kathe, as well as the dedication and spirit of all the staff and trainees, this non-profit bakery cafe in Dudley Sq. has continued to grow and thrive, both with respect to its community-based social mission, as well as its sustainable food philosophy.

The Bakery Cafe has partnered with the Boston Police to host periodic cooking classes for inner city youth as part of the G.R.E.A.T. Program (Gang Resistance Education and Training). This programs uses cooking as a vehicle for teaching youths to appreciate different cultures (through making Chinese dumplings and Puerto Rican gazpacho, for instance), with the hope that greater understanding will stem prejudice before it is able to take root within the youth community.

Much through the dedication of Bing Broderick, Bakery Director, Haley House has also continued to deepen its relationships with the Boston arts community. The cafe walls exhibit unique and thought-provoking works by local artists on a rotating basis (most recently, self-portrait quilts made at Rosie's Place, a women's shelter in Boston). The cafe has also begun to host independent film screenings and live jazz performances during Sunday brunch.

from Rosie's Place

Both Kathe McKenna, Executive Director of Haley House, and Didi Emmons, Executive Chef, have been diligently testing new sources of local, organic ingredients to add to the menu. [Pssst! Organic beer and wine recently added!] Didi's cafe menu continues to change with the seasons, and, on August 15, Haley House will host a benefit dinner for the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets.

The Job Training Program itself has grown, as trainees are now taught skills on the prepared foods and catering side of the business, in addition to the bakery side that has always formed the core of the program curriculum. This shift has given the Bakery Cafe the flexibility to continue growing its catering business to meet the unexpectedly high level of consumer demand.

I visited during Sunday Jazz Brunch and stayed the afternoon to catch up with the Haley House community over fresh strawberries, carrot raisin/vegan cranberry walnut muffins, and Fair Trade coffee (w/soy). I also picked up a copy of Didi's second book, Entertaining for a Vegetarian Planet, an IACP award-winner in 2004 (International Association of Culinary Professionals - my first recipe experience to follow in my next post).

I encourage readers in the Boston area to drop by Haley House to taste its delicious baked goods, organic/Fair Trade beverages, and creative selection of fresh and flavorful salads and sandwiches. Produce comes from local, organic farms (as much as possible), and prices are extremely neighborhood-friendly ($5.75 for a curried chicken wrap w/grapes+coconut and a side of "Haley's Healthy Slaw"). Haley House also has a great catering program - to support your needs at work or at play.

So please go to Haley House and have a muffin for me. Nourish yourself, and support the Bakery Cafe in its mission to become a self-sustaining non-profit organization supporting happiness, health, and economic independence in the Boston Dudley Square community.

12 Dade Street
in Dudley Square, Roxbury
Boston, MA

Mon-Fri: 7:30am-4pm
Saturday: 9am-3pm
Sunday: 9am-10:30am Early Bird Special;
10:30am-3:30pm Jazz Brunch

Logo by Boston design firm Continuum (pro bono)

Friday, July 06, 2007

hola granola

with cherries, coconut, almonds, cashews & ginger

The bulk aisle at Whole Foods (or Berkeley Bowl for that matter) is very compelling. Bins and bins of rolled oats, crystallized ginger, dried cherries, pecans, almonds, flaked coconut...

After years in the consulting biz, I've become obsessed with adding value. Making granola is all about creating value out of finite resources, and it can almost be guaranteed that your final product will be greater than the sum of its parts (note: this does not apply if you burn the batch).

Cowboy and I recently made a granola based loosely off a recipe from Bon Appetit. (The flaxseed was added for omega-3s, no joke - but its unique flavor also added a nice dimension to the delicious crunchy mixture of fruit and spice.)

Mission Street Granola
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/8 cup flaxseed
1/2 cup whole almonds, halved
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
1/4 cup dried cherries

Preheat oven to 300°F. Mix first 8 ingredients in large bowl. Melt butter with honey in heavy small saucepan over low heat. Pour over granola mixture and toss well. Spread mixture on rimmed baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add ginger and cherries; mix to separate any clumps. Continue to bake until granola is golden brown, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes longer.

We ate our perfectly toasted granola atop a bowl of Nancy's Organic Plain Yogurt, with fresh berries and figs.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

cowboy ciao

the stetson chopped

The other night I was feeling the need to bring some excitement into my regular salad repertoire - something new and different - when I came across this recipe from Not only did the combination of pepitas, currants, arugula, avocado, couscous , and chicken sound fabulous, but the recipe had also received an average of four fork ratings, with 92% of reviewers claiming that they would make the recipe again. As a veteran user of epicurious (and market research data), I knew that this pretty much guaranteed that I would not be screwing up the dish at the culinary equivalent of 95% statistical significance.

Later on, as I was perusing the recipe in the kitchen, I realized that this dish had actually come from a restaurant called Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale, Arizona, and that the salad was originally called "the Stetson Chopped".

First of all, I am definitely one to appreciate cute names. The fact that I was going to be sharing the meal with a cowboy software engineer made it even more interesting.

A week later, as I was catching up on my impressive stack of Wine Spectator back issues, I got to the annual Dining Guide (August 2006). Lo and behold, Cowboy Ciao, with a rating of two wine glasses (i.e. the "Best of"Award of Excellence) for its 2900 wine selections! (For context, Thomas Keller's The French Laundry also has two, while Daniel Boulud's Daniel in NYC has three).

Needless to say, I've checked - it's about an 11.5 hour drive from San Francisco (that's about 4x the farthest I have ever driven for food - see my previous post on the best pizza east of the Mississippi). Though I'm not sure if that will stop me. There'll be a right time and place. And when that comes, I'm going to order the Big Biceps Salad and a bottle of that Bründlmayer grüner veltliner.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

destination dining


When I was growing up, my family frequented Chef Chow's, Chef Chang's, and Mary Chung's. We were motivated to eat out when grandma wanted a break from cooking, and we needed to nourish our bellies. We expected decent food and drink and little else - bottom line was that it would never be as good as grandma's anyway.

But today most restaurants strive to appeal not only to our bellies, but also to our hearts and minds. They invite us to indulge in different moods and settings. They broaden our global awareness, exposing us to the unfamiliar spices, wines, utensils, and music of various cultures; they deepen our respect for nature and the environment as our teacher in the philosophy of eating seasonally; and they constantly challenge our understanding of how a "meal" can be defined.

Restaurants in the U.S. are delivering on more human needs than ever before. As such, many have become "destinations" that people are willing to traverse anywhere from 3 -or 3000- miles to experience. The Michelin Guide has finally granted its internationally-respected nod to those restaurants in San Francisco and NYC it considers "worth the journey" (more recently it also added LA and Las Vegas). Chicago has become a notable culinary destination in the U.S. after the city's Board of Tourism created an official position called the Director of Culinary Arts and Events in the late 90s.

Several years ago, I traveled to the Mad River Valley of Vermont, about 3.5 hours from where I lived at the time in Boston. Food and Wine had run an article about American Flatbread's primitive wood-fired stone and clay ovens set in a converted horse barn in Waitsfield. I felt compelled to witness this experiment in "post modern bread baking" founded on principles of environmental sustainability, community building, and "global forces of peace and understanding".

The pizza was good - it was as good as it gets for any handmade pizza topped with fresh, natural ingredients. But you can find pizza that good elsewhere (The Cheese Board in Berkeley, CA and Arizmendi in San Francisco, to name two). It was the flavor of the wood-fired crust coupled with the triumph of my journey, and the introspective and restorative nature of the property - that made American Flatbread such a fulfilling dinner destination worth every stretch of my 200 mile trek.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

oysters, coffee, and wine


What is so special about the oyster? Why do we delight so much in that shot of salty, chewy, sliminess that's gone with a single slurp? Why are so many restaurants east and west eagerly building raw bars and one-upping each other's oyster tasting programs?

Oysters are the perfect foodie food, because every oyster tells a story about the place from which it came, just like every coffee bean, and every grape. As I see it, Kyushu is to the Kumamoto oyster as Colombia is to café au lait as Côte-d’Or is to pinot noir. These are foods that take you places. Whether you choose to eat globally or locally (equally trendy, of course), it is possible to determine exactly what it is about that place that gave that particular morsel or drop its unique flavor and taste characteristics – be it the volcanic soil or cool breezes, calm tidal patterns or heavy water salinity.

Back in Boston, my favorite B&G Oyster House (Barbara Lynch’s restaurant in the South End) had a list of maybe 40 varieties of oysters, at least 12 of which were available, fresh, at any given time of day. I have whiled away hours at that bar, contemplating the differences between PE Island…Nantucket…Chesapeake bay (and perhaps throwing in a friendly New Zealand vs. California with that second glass of sauvignon blanc).

On Saturday morning, as we waited for a table at Rick and Ann’s, cowboy and I wandered next door to Peet’s, where I indulged in a tasting of two single-origin coffees that are a part of their current Anniversary Blend (Papua New Guinea and Rwanda). As I learned from Peet's friendly tasting guy, the most serious of customers have all refined their own personal blends of coffee beans - 20% Costa Rica…8% Sumatra…etc.

In the afternoon we headed out to Tomales Bay on Point Reyes, where our friendly oyster guy handed us a fishing net with 50 oysters, pulled fresh from the water. (An intelligent business person had developed a rather clever pricing structure - buy your oysters by the dozen, or by the 50-oyster bag. Obviously, any shrewd oyster lover would be unable to resist the fantastic deal of the 50-oyster bag.)

Armed with 50 oysters; limes, lemons, and cocktail sauce from my dear Berkeley Bowl; a loaf of pumpernickle-raisin bread from the Berkeley Bread Garden; and a bottle of Gloria Ferrer's Blanc de Noirs (Sonoma)…we drove along the Pacific surf to Drake's Beach, and started shucking our way to a very satisfying taste of California.

Monday, April 16, 2007

picnic if you're homesick


As much as I love California and all that I continue to discover about the Bay Area, I recently began to feel a subtle yet persistent longing for the plain and honest charm of the city I left back East.

Fortunately, thanks to the kind enthusiasm and understanding of a fellow former Cantabrigian, I was able to soothe my pangs of longing with a highly effective dose of Carmel.


The distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home or attachment objects.

Inexplicable feeling of nostalgia for sports teams you never watched (Celtics), coffee you never cared for (Dunkin' Donuts), as well as miscellaneous memories that had - up until this point - only made your blood boil ("Aww...remember those days when I had no parking garage, and I would have to parallel park my car in the snow? And sometimes...I would wake up to the sound of my car being towed? I miss those days.).

Common Causes
Adventure seeking. Moving across the country. A 3 hour time difference from home.

  • Name: Darwin's Hubbard Park Sandwich.
  • Description: A favorite food item that is unique and special to your past. The Hubbard Park comes with Hummus, Avocado, Apple (we used pear), Carrots, Tomato, Sprouts & Honey Mustard. Since Nashoba Brook Bakery doesn't extend west of the Charles River, we used Acme Bread Co.'s seeded whole wheat.
  • Dosage requirement: One sandwich, at noon, preferably taken with a glass of wine.
Call Mom. And Dad.

We had our Hubbard Park sandwiches on the beach in Carmel, complemented by our favorite parsnip chips and a bottle of Beringer Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2005, served in two plastic wine cups. Not a bad pairing...though I think something with slightly more body would have held up better to the hummus - like an unoaked chardonnay...or maybe a Sam Adams Octoberfest (Yes, people do think about beer and food pairing, at least people who make a living marketing beer.)


P.S. Darwin's Ltd. is an amazing place worth visiting - it's got the hippest music, dreamiest sandwiches, and an outstanding selection of beverages (my favorites being Adina's Gin-jah juice, Irie's fair trade yerba mate tea, and Poland Springs' sparkling lime water). All of their sandwiches are named after local streets and points of interest around Harvard Square. I have a particular soft spot in my heart for the A.R.C., which is named after a local architecture firm (Architectural Resources Cambridge), where I know a highly talented designer! But also, roast beef and BBQ make a nice combo.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

how to throw a wine tasting party...


...for people who don't drink wine.

As much as I've settled into a world in which grape gluts and critter labels have become factors for long-term survival, for many of my closest friends, a restaurant wine list still receives as much consideration as another placemat on the table.

My mission was to create an enjoyable wine experience for everyone from the taro bubble tea aficionado to the Italian traminer aromatico devotee, to all drinkers of Grey Goose, Diet Coke, Hi-C, and vanilla lattes in between. Our goal? To find the best red wine under $20...and to challenge our own palates to a bit of friendly competition at the same time.

2003 Parker Station Syrah, Santa Barbara County


2004 the Little Penguin Cabernet Sauvignon, Australia
2004 Castello Banfi Chianti Classico, Italy

Here are my tips for how to host a wine tasting party that is fun, educational, and not at all pretentious:

Mix and match! A themed party is your best opportunity to get people to chatter and connect, even if they don't all work for Google (a Bay Area phenomenon I've encountered on an unnatural number of occasions). If you like 'em and they've got something to share, invite 'em. Just don't overcrowd. And be reasonable - each person brings a many bottles can you realistically get through in a night? We maxed out at 18 (10-15 is probably ideal).

Your best theme depends on who you choose to invite. If your guests regularly pepper conversation with phrases like "noble rot", then you might want to do a more focused/ advanced tasting - say, 2004 pinots from Carneros. I kept things open with "common red varietals from around the world for under $20" (with a list of specific countries and varietals to keep things manageable).


1. Each guest brings a bottle of wine based on the theme. Each bottle is wrapped in aluminum foil and labeled with an arbitrary name, e.g., Barack Obama or George Clooney. The bottles can all be opened and left in a single tasting area, or scattered throughout your home.

2. Each guest is given a wine glass and score card and sent off to mingle with your fascinating friends, nibble on your fabulous food, and taste through the wines one by one (with spitting opportunities made available to those who desire). For my party, my guests guessed what country the wine came from and what varietal grape it was. I also had them take note of how much they liked each wine.

3. When everyone is finished tasting, each guest is given three stickers to stick on their three favorites bottles.

4. The host tallies up the stickers and has each guest unmask his/her wine for everyone else at the party, going roughly in order from least favorite to most favorite.

5. There are two winners at the end of the night - the guest who brought the most-liked wine (go Seth!), and the guest who guessed the most countries and varietals correctly (go Eric!). Give them prizes.


- Go easy on yourself - don't make it from scratch unless you think your guests will truly be able to tell the difference (or you've got Thomas Keller's kitchen staff for the afternoon). Thus, make the cookie dough but skip the puff pastry...and a note to you overachievers out there - your homemade potato chips are pretty much guaranteed to be underappreciated.
- Aim for finger-foods in bite-sized pieces - guests wielding paper plates means red wine on your carpet.
- Keep wine and food pairing in the back of your mind, but don't focus so much on it that it paralyzes you. So if your theme is bold red wines , then you might want to save the sushi for another time - but don't stress over BBQ ribs vs. kabobs. People are generally easier to please - and wine more forgiving - than you think - give them both food, and they are happy.

- Cheap wine glasses (e.g., IKEA)
- Score cards and pens (it's easy to make your own)
- Corkscrews
- Stickers (dots, stars, etc.)
- Aluminum foil
- Sharpie markers
- Spit/dump bucket
- Plenty of water and cups
- Prizes for your 2 winners

How do I get out a red wine stain?
Baking soda and white wine (cooking rice wine will work if you've drunk all your chardonnay). And good friends to help.

How do I keep it unpretentious?

Limit the relative number of wine geeks on your eVite. Mix the jazz with Ginuwine for kicks

Is it possible to keep the food lactose-free?
Serve veggie-based spreads - using eggplant, chickpeas, pesto. (This isn't easy - I cheated and used goat cheese on my fig and prosciutto flatbread and mozzarella on the tomato, basil and pesto one...)

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

little havana


For anyone who hasn't yet heard, South Bay is 2007's South Beach of the west. I say this, not because the Googleplex breathes sexy in that beachy-pastel/Art Deco-kind of way, but because Scott's awesome mojito recipe comes not from Mango's Tropical Cafe but rather La Bodeguita del Medio, which sits right along California Ave. in Palo Alto.

12 mint leaves with stems
1 tsp sugar
2 oz citrus rum (I make a living marketing alcoholic beverages and am not afraid to suggest Bacardi Limon)
2 oz fresh citrus juice (lemon/lime)
2 oz soda water

In a collins glass, place mint and a teaspoon of sugar. Crush the mint using a muddler. Add rum and citrus. Mix again with muddler. (Scott actually has a muddler - and it did a great job releasing the flavor of the mint - but for those of you without, use a spoon.) Finish with soda water followed by crushed ice. Garnish with full stem of mint.

The original plan was to have a mojito-off, Berkeley vs. San Jose, limes, lemons, and mint. But considering each tasting amounted to two mojitos each, we never actually made it to Contestant No. 2. Though I'm fairly certain that Berkeley would have won.

I feel guilty saying that it was all very fun, given that it was a day of mourning for anyone whose heart belongs with New England. (And I would proudly describe myself as such).

Tom, Troy, Corey, if you wanted to drop by, we'd be happy to fix you a few, extra strong...for another kind of Miami experience.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

baba ganoush

بابا غنوج
[baba ganoush]

So it looks as if Blogger speaks Arabic.

Georgia's visit last week left me pondering the whole East Coast vs. West Coast thing...though less so from a Biggie/Tupac/gangsta rap perspective and more from a Alice Waters/Daniel Boulud/food philosophy perspective.

I am saving my complete thoughts for another space. But her visit did bring me to a deeper level of self-understanding with the realization that, if I could choose only three foods to eat for the rest of my life, they would be maki with white tuna and unagi, peshwari naan, and baba ganoush.

Which led me to a compelling desire to mash up some eggplant. I was pleased with my first attempt:

Baba Ganoush
1 medium-sized eggplant
Juice of 1 small lemon
1 tsp salt
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
3 tbsp sesame tahini
2 tbsp olive oil

Prick eggplant all over with a fork and place whole in a baking pan. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30-45 minutes (eggplant should be very soft). Remove from oven, halve, and scoop the flesh into a small bowl. Add lemon juice and mash mixture with a fork. Mix in salt and garlic, then tahini. Let the mixture cool. Before serving, drizzle with olive oil. Serve with pita bread.

Georgia just graduated from the French Culinary Institute and will be starting next month as garde manger at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. And I love her for that. Congratulations G!