Tuesday, October 1, 2013

drawing on inspiration; an appeal for beauty to abound


I see the words crème fraîche and pumpkin together in the same recipe title...

Vanilla beans are dispersed into a milky infusion of spices;

Someone mentions they are on to their next cookbook project;

Someone else expresses their love of Campari;

Intricate pattern and lace are carved out of newspaper;

Burrata tenderly torn apart on a plate of tomato juices and breaded eggplant takes me back to my first taste of this decadent cheese -- in my first real job post-college;

A pineapple fragmented behind the glass of a punch bowl, all graciously layered and brushed into life by the hand and sight of an artist;

Gathered ingredients for a simple vinaigrette suddenly look like they belong in a frame -- similar hues of pink, grey, and varying yellows and neutrals bring a torn seal, the wispy skin of a shallot, and a cutting board together.

Sometimes it is too tempting as an artist to spend so much time surrounded by inspiration that we neglect to put our own creativity to use. Inspiration is essential (and it's delightful), but there are times when the busyness of intake overwhelms all opportunities for output.

Just yesterday, one of my young art students sat at her desk bent over a colorful palette of oil paint. She had taken her canvas from its easel and rested it on her lap. Cross-legged, she cradled a little story of life and motion as it came into vibrant clarity through her touch. I was jealous, in the best of ways.

I am beginning to map out a series of artwork through sketch and watercolor application, and I can't wait to share it with you as it unfolds. (Even more so, I can't wait to begin its unfolding and be surprised, myself, with the parts of the process that I can't predict.) Process from start to finish on artistic endeavors is full of unknowns, and I love how often these things start out with one aim or goal in mind and then take on a life of their own. Or how they require life and action to begin even before any sort of end hope is in sight.


Last summer I spent a lot of time painting to get ready for an art show. The timing was burdensome and yet also perfect as I battled my way through the emotions of a break-up. Often times my energy felt sapped, and I wanted to be out in the sun doing nothing. Simultaneously, I wanted to be constantly within close reach of people so loneliness could be kept in check and silence wouldn't surface anything unwelcome. Many of us have been through this sort of thing, I know.

I stumbled upon some writing I had done in that time in my studio and thought I'd share a bit of the artist process that helped me move along, sometimes haltingly so.

In recent days, I have finally chosen to lift up a weapon of resistance to these doldrums, to the weight that keeps me burying my nose in my pillow as my body stirs to morning light. In daylight hours my paintbrush has become a sword wielded in defense of the nighttime emptiness deep in my belly, when a pillow pressed close and long against my body serves to temper the ache.

As subtle of a defiance and as mild of a fight as I have the strength to entertain, taking paint to canvas holds hope. I do not understand how it will help these days pass into a further-healed state, but I am aware that placing a slender piece of wood between my fingers, bristled end wet and coated in deep hue, emotes worthwhile action.

This small measure of being entirely and utterly surrendered reduces down to a basic routine: Fill water cup, squeeze bent small paint tube, select paintbrush tip. Smear colors together, reach, dip, apply to canvas. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. 

Rhythm helps my mind to ease and my breath to release. Rhythm seems so simple, an elementary, intuitive step. But daily rhythms of grace and renewal have been few in number. Of my own selection and impulses, their presence near me has diminished as I have turned and twisted and responded both wisely and foolishly to the unpredictable emotions of being utterly tender...

As I rise up and lay down, as I go to work and cook my meals, as dishes are washed and grief is forgotten in sweet pockets of genuine laughter, I’ll let time move forward. I will wait in hope and in forward motion. I will blink my eyes open at a new day and wonder if memories will be a little less raw in the coming hours. I will attend to my canvases and paint the beautiful details around me and appeal for Beauty to abound. It will again.

Maybe, just maybe, as I am inspired by the links at the beginning of this post and by the reminder and reflection upon putting my artist impulses into action, you will be as well. That is why I share this today.



On a closing aside, a beautiful little space in San Francisco to find inspiration is at the corner of Gough Street at Oak. I popped in with my cousin on a quiet Friday morning at ten o'clock. At that point only a small table was occupied (by three middle-aged grizzly-bearded men in Carhartts sipping Blue Bottle, I might add). This place is pristine (a wonderful juxtaposition to the casual trio customers). That is the word that kept coming to mind, as natural light poured into the space, highlighting each intentionally placed detail. Beautiful lighting, rich fabrics, and authentic vintage decor, 20th Century Cafe has already received press for its interior design by the owner, Michelle Polzine.

We each ordered a cappuccino and split an irresistible slice of the Russian Honey Cake that sat tall and elegant on its cake stand on the corner of the bar. I will certainly be back to try the apple strudel and was left wishing this place was close enough to home to make a regular stopping point.



{In case you missed it, each of the sentences at the beginning of this post does link to a blog very worthy of your time. Promise.}

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Layering Crepes & Wearing Gumboots

crepe cake

I smiled to myself at how silly I must look, pulling off knee-high gumboots while passing through security in arid Oakland, California. Not a cloud in the sky, and I had donned these thick black boots as I headed out this morning knowing that even if it wasn't raining when I landed at my destination, it could any moment. More importantly, the rain could come in heavy the next morning, and I'd be stuck trekking down a small wooded path in heels and potentially ruining them in the muddy meadow below.

Indeed, less than twenty-four hours later, my little sister gathered up the lace skirt of her ivory wedding dress, we ducked under umbrellas, and the three of us ladies on the female side of the wedding party wound downward on a trail of rain-moistened brown pine needles toward the white tent where the rest of those gathered to celebrate awaited.


As it goes with Washington rain, its downfall was gentle and ebbed and flowed, released from a light slate colored layer of clouds and fog over Puget Sound, misted over and only slightly discernible from our hilltop meadow framed in evergreens. There were a few intervals of heavy rain that beat down upon the top of the tent, and though I don't remember where exactly in the ceremony, I do remember swallowing a smile at how perfectly the sound accentuated the drama of the moment. (A few days later, my sister told me how their first night -- staying in a glass-walled one-night rental overlooking the Sound -- she and her husband witnessed the most powerful thunderstorm of their lives. I would take that as a good start to a marriage.)


The initial focus of my return to Bellingham was all wedding. Within an hour of landing I was cracking ten eggs and squeezing the juice out of even more lemons in order to make a French Lemon Cream. A friend had played an essential part in making my dessert creation possible by blending together a large batch of crepe batter the day before. Lemon cream thickened and chilling in the refrigerator, I set to work on building a stack of crepes sufficient for a stunningly tall and beautiful crepe cake. After the rehearsal dinner I returned to this task with my sister and fellow bridesmaid for company at the nearby kitchen table as we sipped white wine, and I began layering crepes sandwiched with sweet buttery lemon cream.


The good food and even better company continued through the next few days, long after the newlyweds flew off on their honeymoon and I camped out in their apartment.

Between the many lingering hugs with an extra squeeze; Friday's stunning sunset; candid conversations of frustration and joy; glasses clinking in cheers; dancing to music you have to shout to sing along to; driving without GPS; and still getting to create new memories with old, old friends; I left feeling filled. It was a gracious sort of loved-to-the-brim feeling that released me to willingly return to my new home and the possibilities I'm still discovering in a place where I look at my black patent Hunter gumboots and wonder if I'll ever find a need to wear them here.



{In regards to making your own crepe cake, resources are not hard to find online. And it truly is as straightforward as stacking crepes with a delicious filling between each layer, though straightforward does not translate to this being a quickly assembled dessert. I whipped up mascarpone, added a vanilla bean and powdered sugar to taste, and folded it with whipped cream for the top of the wedding cake. I would recommend starting at Smitten Kitchen.}


[All photos in this post were taken with my travel-friendly iPhone, except for the fully-assembled crepe cake shot at the top. This one was by my brother, Kiah, and all photo credit is due to him.]

Monday, August 26, 2013

Equally Amazing Feats


It has been a tumultuous week, to say the least. Never one to readily own the characteristic of being "dramatic," nevertheless, the passionate, artistic side of me does swing in stronger sometimes and paint life's moments with additional flair. But always while keeping my feet close to the ground, or so I hope.

With that preface, I can still honestly say that looking back over the last seven days, I've felt a whole lot of gratitude, anxiety, triumph, and despair. It's always a good exercise of humility to put oneself in situations outside of our full competence, and I felt despairingly incompetent as I struggled to smoothly shift gears and keep my car's engine running in the manual vehicle I was so graciously given in this time between owning vehicles. It was a good place to be in the long run, and it's a place I'm glad to have moved beyond...now maneuvering through parking lots and accomplishing other equally amazing feats.


I hopped on the Bart and enjoyed a day and night in one of my favorite cities, exploring it sans vehicle, which is my preferred manner. The smells of San Francisco's streets are sweet, sour, filthy, and homey depending which street you wander down, and I always leave inspired for future kitchen endeavors by what I eat and drink. I recommend Absinthe for a cocktail (but don't stop at the drink menu), Contraband for a cappuccino and morning pastry, and a donut from Bob's, especially if you see them pulling the buttermilk variety fresh out of the oil as you're passing by. Even (especially?) if it is past ten o'clock at night, and you know they're going to turn around, dunk it in that maple glaze and hand it to you so hot that you almost have to alternate it between each hand for a couple minutes. I've never really raved about a donut, and generally can pass them by without much regret, but this was worth every sweet bite.


A recent cake I baked turned out so well, I'll surely return to it and do wish there had been enough to share a slice with you. Half of it made its way to a brunch with some ladies who are fast becoming essential friends in my new city, and the other half went to work with me, where it quickly disappeared down to crumbs in the break room.

The base recipe is from Dolce Italiano, a cookbook I was introduced to at my pastry station at Ciao Thyme. I know it will eventually make its way into my personal cookbook collection because every recipe I've made and heard others have made from Gina DePalma's pages is worth sharing and repeating. Her recipe titles alone make my mouth water.

This zucchini cake is moist enough to improve over a day and last up to two or three. The original recipe includes walnuts and a crunchy lemon glaze, but I had my heart set on adding in blueberries. Whole grain spelt flour was hanging around my pantry, so I substituted it in for part of the flour and added toasted coconut. I was excited about the blueberry-coconut combination as well, but my coconut strands were so small and my measurement of half a cup so gentle that it hardly came through. Nothing was lacking without, though; this cake can stand well on its own without any tinkering. (If you want to fancy it up, though, go for that crunchy lemon glaze or a drizzled glaze of salted caramel and sprinkling of pine nuts.)


Zucchini Blueberry Cake
Adapted from Dolce Italiano

1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole-grain spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups grated zucchini (about 2 small zucchini)

1 cup small wild blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a 10-cup capacity bundt pan.

Combine both of the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices into a medium bowl, whisk, and set aside.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until well combined, about two minutes. Slowly add olive oil while mixer is on medium speed. Keep mixing until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Beat in the dry ingredients all at once on low speed until they are thoroughly combined, then switch to medium speed and mix for 30 seconds. Mix in the zucchini on low speed until just incorporated. Thoroughly incorporate zucchini in this final step by folding in blueberries and giving it all a final gentle stir.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake the cakes for 40 to 45 minutes or until a tester inserted in the cakes comes out clean and the cakes have begun to pull away from the sides of the pans.

After 10-15 minutes of rest on a cooling rack, poke down along the edges of the pan and the inner tube with a butter knife, invert, and de-pan.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Friendship in a New Place and a Salad


It's payday. That is my thought as I note the date.

My second paycheck in this new job is coming through, and this is no dream I'm living. This past week has in fact felt mildly like a nightmare. I've wanted to wake myself up and breathe a sigh of relief as my eyes adjust to the light and all the tension, self-condemnation, and tears become unnecessary.

But it takes release, faith, and intentional energy to quiet these responses, rather than a merciful awakening. The self-condemnation seems to a be a futile wearying cycle for I know I get the point -- be more mindful of changing traffic speeds on the freeway, particularly while changing lanes. Ultimately, I have much to be grateful for; there are no injuries and the collision was relatively minor.

But there goes my car, a combination of constructed parts that apparently I grew quite attached to in two years. It gave me a sense of freedom and initiative, and while it wasn't ever going to last a lifetime, its end does feel premature.

Not having the answers to how things will look in the next few steps of this process is hard. I'm at a place of need and that's a good thing, as uncomfortable as it often feels. It's a chance to let myself be helped and experience the friendships that have indeed formed in the last month.



A few weekends ago I headed out for a wonderful dinner with new friends in a new-to-me home. Hugging a heavy ceramic bowl before me, I brought my contribution: a purple and green salad full of crunchy roasted hazelnuts and walnuts.

Inspiration for the salad came from one of my favorite food sources: Nigel Slater. If I haven't waxed poetic about him on this site then, well, I've been exercising some serious self-control because I am pretty smitten by this man's writing. (Though, if you do a Nigel Slater search on my blog, as I just did, you will find a mention from four years ago that discusses a perfectly wonderful cake...I equate phrases like "perfectly wonderful" with Nigel quite frequently.)

I own Ripe, The Kitchen Diaries, Real Fast Food, and Real Fast Desserts...and will help out anyone looking to buy me a gift by dropping the obvious hint that I would gladly add all his cookbooks to my collection.


So, back to Ripe, which I was thumbing through with salad in mind. I stopped the pages from turning when my eyes fell on A "New" Waldorf Salad and the herb-filled dressing on top of such a simple, fresh flavor palate pulled me in. Not being able to leave well-enough alone, I wanted to add more salad-y bulk, so shaved napa cabbage and raddichio were penned onto my grocery list along with the apples and celery. I had access to a generous amount of local walnuts from last year's harvest and decided to throw in hazelnuts as well to add further crunchy, toasty elements.

Like I said, it was the herbs in this salad's dressing that really got me, and I would encourage you not to hold back here either. Plenty of mint and parsley whisked into an emulsion of crème fraîche and olive oil, seasoned just right, is not just a wonderful thought with apples, celery, nuts, and cabbage but would work well in so many other ways.


A Waldorf Salad (of sorts)
Adapted from Ripe, by Nigel Slater

Serves 6, as a side salad.

2 apples, a sweet crisp variety like Pink Lady
2 celery stalks
Quarter to half of Napa Cabbage, depending on size
Half to whole Radicchio, depending on size
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted

4 Tablespoons Crème Fraîche
5 Tablespoons Flat-leaf Parsley, chopped
5 Tablespoons Fresh Mint, chopped
3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Zest of One Lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

If those nuts are not already toasted, turn your oven to 350F and watch closely as you fill your kitchen with their fragrance, stirring and roasting on a single layer for approximately 10 minutes.

Chop apple and celery. Chiffonade (or thinly slice) cabbage and raddichio. Combine all in large bowl.

Whisk together crème fraîche and olive oil, slowly adding oil until smoothly emulsified. Add lemon zest. Stir in freshly chopped herbs and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add dressing to bowl of vegetables and apples and toss. Toss in walnuts and hazelnuts right before serving.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Like Butter, Sugar, and Eggs

It is easier said than lived out -- embracing the positivity of the notion that a measure of heartache is good because it signifies that something genuinely good has been experienced and its season has simply slipped away to be replaced by a new one.


I say this to myself often, actually, trying to wring the gratitude out of experiences for all that they are worth. It helps me stay hopeful for what's in my present, and, rather than springing up a fresh bout of tears, it keeps a smile behind my lips as my thoughts trail through the past.

I find myself in this place of reflection and hope as I begin each day in a world that I could not have visualized a month ago. I wake up to a sun ready to heat the cement earth all around me by midday. I find respite from this concrete-covered land by heading out my front door to a nearby running trail, though the fact that it is framed by straw-like, brittle foliage and postings of rattlesnake warnings reminds me I am indeed on a new adventure.

In mid-June I intentionally set these changes into motion by accepting a job in the Bay Area of California and within two weeks was on a solo road trip south on Interstate 5. I unloaded my car but kept in mind that was the easiest, most straightforward part of the process of making a new home. There would surely be a thousand more steps to come which would comprise the "settling in" process -- a process with its own agenda, independent of my preferred time frames and expectations.

I mentioned heartache at the beginning because I am indeed missing friends, family, favorite spots, and so much of life that came to comprise my three years in Bellingham, WA. But so much that is new is also good, and it is sweet to find the ways that bright, encouraging pieces are falling into place. It is also invaluable to learn to recognize the bits of familiar in all this newness.


For me, familiar can be as simple as compiling a grocery list with words like butter, sugar, and eggs on it. It can then flow into setting up a KitchenAid on the kitchen counter and watching the familiar sight of butter creaming, walking in and out of the room to the whirr of the machine as sugar is beaten in to the point of becoming pale fluffy sweet cream. Opening a bottle of wine and turning on music I have known for a while helps tremendously at this point, too.

Even though I am no longer required to come up with recipes for work, I have to steer my thoughts away from flavor combinations and schemes for new baking projects at least half of my day. My morning run has become the easiest time to let my mind mentally thumb through favorite cookbooks and new ideas as my stomach rumbles and looks forward to breakfast.

Thankfully, I am finding another essential part of any baking endeavor in this new place: people to enjoy eating it. Already, I have found occasion to bake two batches of cookies, ricotta-filled muffins, and I have a spelt-zucchini loaf cake in the works.


One of these cookies is hardly a new flavor combination, but it is tried and true. For those who love chocolate and peanut butter together, I don't believe we ever tire of dreaming of any ol' wonderful form to eat it in. The other day when I was passing the Newman O's in the grocery aisle at Whole Foods I took a second glance at the peanut butter-filled ones, and with that, I knew I would be making my own soon.

I've played with a few different chocolate wafer recipes in the past year in search of one that I love that stays crisp, is deeply cocoa-y, and only barely sweet. I made Thomas Keller's TKO white chocolate filling this spring but went with a different cookie that had already intrigued me. This time around, I wanted to try his chocolate shortbread and trade in my own well-salted peanut butter frosting. By the time I flicked the last bits of Maldon sea salt from my finger tips to the frosted cookie and lifted it to my mouth, I knew this cookie was a winner. It's a rich little treat, of course, but just the sort that I know would be a hit at a wide range of occasions -- welcome at barbecues, birthday parties, picnics, afternoon tea, or paired with homemade crème fraîche ice cream when you want a special dessert at home. (Though, between writing that sentence and this one, I found this semifreddo recipe that I would eagerly pair with these cookies. Doesn't Salted Butter Ice Cream sound perfectly lovely?)

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting

The Cookie:
Thomas Keller's TKO recipe from Bouchon Bakery. The recipe can be found HERE.


The Frosting:
(Adapted from Ashley Rodriguez at Not Without Salt)

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter (I used Whole Food's 365 brand unsweetened creamy peanut butter -- the one with palm oil in it)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Maldon salt, plus more for topping

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and whip with the paddle attachment until fluffy, 4-5 minutes at medium speed. Scrape down sides and add peanut butter, vanilla, and salt. Continue beating until well incorporated. Taste for salt and sugar balance.

Fill piping bag or use a knife or small offset spatula to spread on base cookies (which must be cooled completely). Sprinkle frosting with additional Maldon salt, and sandwich with top cookie.

I baked the cookies the day before the frosting step and they held up wonderfully, as shortbreads often do. Once they were frosted and shared, they didn't last long enough to determine their life, but they should be at their prime for another day if kept in a sealed container (from there, they will be just as delicious but the cookies will likely soften).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Elsewhere: Meringue Espresso Cake

In the midst of my new pastry chef position, the luxury of blogging in this space has slipped away. I'll spontaneously return until I find a consistent rhythm, but that has not happened yet. In the meantime, please do visit Speaking in Food where you can find a recently composed post of mine plus the beautiful pictures and inspiring recipes of some of my dear friends.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Speaking in Food

I am honored to be part of another project that's brewing in the blogosphere.

Thanks to the vision and passion of my dear friend, Meiko, four of us former college roommates have reunited in a new space. This one is clean and airy, featuring beautiful dishware and conversations beyond the pressure of papers due, naps we long to take, and professors who frustrate us (or have won our hearts). We're no longer dealing with university housing, our plates somewhat match and are no longer dominantly plastic, and we're not compartmentalizing one tiny refrigerator, filled to overflowing with the groceries of four different girls with four different cooking styles.

Yet, our common ground in our diversity of tastes, birthplaces, and languages was the kitchen.

Please take a few minutes to visit Speaking in Food, and keep your eye out as more posts come.