Sunday, August 21, 2011

Summer Notes on Summer Impressions

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, still,
treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.
-Rumi ("The Guest House")

You know you're a young and hip 20-something when, at 10:30 on a Saturday night, you fall asleep. While it's true that things have been busy and your fatigue may be warranted, you still can't help but marvel at how the times have changed. Staying up is no longer as easy as it once was.

Then again, I've got an excuse. Many excuses, in fact. The main one is summer, that magical time when you do all the things that you don't normally get to do--sleep in, eat out, have lazy Sundays, read long books like Middlesex (truly, one of my major summer accomplishments), go to movies, cook feasts with friends, do fun things on weeknights, like go to Picasso exhibitions at the de Young (see what summer is really like in San Francisco? McDonald's said it best with their ad campaign for the Mango-Pineapple Smoothie: "Mango-Pineapple smoothie, colder than a summer in SF!") ....


As this fantasy season is rapidly drawing to a close, I figured I'd give you a recap of some of my highlights, particularly those from the last month. It's amazing how much can happen in a mere 3 weeks...

I love going out for any kind of Asian food--Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Lao, Vietnamese--but I sometimes worry that I get stuck in a rut by constantly ordering the same thing. Or, at the very least, variations on a theme (pumpkin curry, I'm talking to you! Peanut sauce, too.). This is why when the Greek and I randomly decided to get lunch one day and ended up at the Thai Lao restaurant in North Berkeley, I went for a catfish noodle soup with basil and mint. It tasted as good as it looks!


Also, can you really ever have too many pancakes for breakfast on the weekend? I bought a bag of cherries in late July--shockingly, my first of the season--and went to town with this recipe. And they really hit the spot. I will eat cherry anything, especially when they're fresh. Try these with coconut oil (it's the best butter substitute ever, especially if you like the taste of coconut) and there will be no regret.

I had a few people over for dinner a couple of weeks ago and we had a small Indian feast, under the careful guidance of Madhur Jaffrey. What you see below is Chicken Saag, Cauliflower with Ginger and Spices and Saffron Rice. My apartment--much to my great pleasure--smelled like spices for days.

And though not at all Indian, we went with Almond Cake (the almond cake that I rave about on this blog every two weeks because it's really the best thing since sunshine) for dessert. It looks and tastes extra good with raspberries on top.

Then, as a friend and her husband were leaving for Pasadena, we went out to dinner at Pizzaiolo, which is an Oakland favorite of mine. The pizza is not only delicious, but interesting (I prefer the one with nettles and pecorino, although I inevitably end up drinking a gallon of water due to the salt content) and the servers are both warm and friendly. Best of all, at least on this particular occasion, is that a friend of the newlyweds--a bona fide chef whose delicious creations I have tried before--had just started working there and was working that night. This meant that in addition to the things we ordered, we were given two extra salads and dessert on the house. It helps to know people in delicious places. Because it was dark, I didn't take many pictures, but I did snap a shot of the simple and elegant Lillet Blanc that I ordered.

Besides social gatherings (come to think of it, it's really not at all shocking that I slept for about 12 hours last night), I also recently did something that I've been wanting to do for a really long time. Last Sunday, I went to a photography class! While I can't say that my "craft" (in reality, my hobby-craft that is very much in development) has been perfected, it was a useful experience and quite interesting. I have a better idea of the basics now and, more importantly, it's also driven home the point that my current camera and I have reached a crossroads...I'm pretty sure we're going to have to break up. It's not like we haven't had good times together (the camera, with the help of my newfound knowledge, delivered lovely landscapes of the city on the night of the class--the first picture on this post and the one below), but I simply need the option of manual mode.


In the meantime, however, it can continue to be my partner in crime. It served me well at Nook, where I read about icons and had a coffee and a lemon biscotti....


And it did also did a lovely job at Campanula in North Beach, where the Greek and I went for dinner since I had bought a coupon (through Daily Candy San Francisco) back in early July. Below is the Lamb Carpaccio (in the past year, I've eaten a lot of lamb), but the meal was both beautifully styled and delicious all around. I was most impressed by the fact that this restaurant offers reasonably priced desserts. We had the (amazing!) melt-in-your-mouth pot de creme with Peanut Brittle and it was $3.50, which, between you and me, is the appropriate price for such a dessert. Mind you, I love chocolate cake, but $6 has always seemed a bit steep, especially considering I could bake you a chocolate cake for under $10 and you could eat the whole thing yourself. But even as I complain, I understand why it's done. Ambiance. Location...in short, excuses.



And, of course, there was yesterday. I got up and, after a quick breakfast, decided to bike (I complain, but it is awfully convenient!) to the Farmer's Market at Lake Merritt. This was one of the best decisions I've made in a long time. I sampled all kinds of sugary melons, honey, sorbet and also went around buying things that I could use all week: apples, zucchini, white nectarines...I bought so much stuff that it was slightly difficult to bike uphill (4 zucchini weigh more than you think), but I finally made it home, sweaty, but satisfied.


I responded to a few emails that were pressing, did some work and then needed a late afternoon snack before making dinner. The best thing about baking is freezing what you make for those moments when you want something sweet, but without the baking. And back in June before I left for the east coast, I had baked cookies to take to a few of my friends--our lovely hostess and another who had just celebrated her birthday. I again reaped the fruit of this labor by digging out the Curry Coriander Shorties (I wrote about these around Christmas) and the Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies I love from Pink of Perfection.


These cookies were a lifesaver because, while making pizza, you really can't help but want to munch on the grated cheese...unless, of course, you have superhuman strength and willpower, which I don't. In any case, this sauce-less pizza incorporated most of the things I bought at the farmer's market--zucchini and tarragon--and was first introduced to me by the friend who recently left for Pasadena. I'm not sure mine is as good as hers, but thank you, Karina, for the culinary inspiration!


The Greek had also brought over a bag of 8 peaches and I was vaguely worried about how we were going to use all of this fresh food in a timely fashion. But then he surprised me by telling me he had a confession to make: Tired of Facebook, he had instead been procrastinating by reading Joy the Baker (between you and me, this is the best kind of confession. Maybe the best confession ever, in fact.). He was thinking we could make these with all of the peaches. Will I ever say no to an excuse to stuff fruit with butter, nuts, coconut and oats? On top of yogurt, it makes a good breakfast.


Finally (yes, we've finally reached the end!), I have a confession of my own to make: I bought ice-pop molds. I think it was because after I had used My Sweet Mexico to make the marzipan, I found myself reading the section on ice pops, or paletas, and was intrigued by the idea of the Mango-Chile. Then, David Lebovitz was talking about his recent trip to New York and his trip to La Newyorkina and, naturally, I wanted to go there, too (the power of suggestion is at the heart of capitalism). My memory was triggered and, suddenly, I was remembering the hot summers in Pennsylvania when I was little and how my brother, our friends and I, after running ourselves ragged in my grandparents' yard, would go to the freezer in the back cellar and pull out boxes of popsicles to cool ourselves off. Popsicles had always been a quintessential part of my summer and I hadn't had one for years (the Bay Area turns humans into popsicles, so the thought of eating one isn't always appealing). But as I couldn't just pick up and go to New York, nor did I want to just go to the store and buy popsicles, I decided to bring the taste of La Newyorkina and my childhood to my own kitchen. After getting the molds, things fell into place; the Greek had recently made a yogurt dessert out of Greek yogurt, lime zest and juice, and sweetened condensed milk and I decided we'd start with that. The mixture froze beautifully and I've already been reunited with the tangy taste of summers past. And, needless to say, if ice-pops scream summer, thanks to these star-shaped molds, I might never have to say goodbye to this magical season (even if classes start on Thursday!).





Greek Yogurt and Lime Ice-Pops
Yields 6 pops
Inspired by life itself

20 oz. Greek yogurt
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 limes, zested and juiced

-Mix all three ingredients together in a large bowl.
-Pour into ice pop molds.
-Freeze for 4-5 hours.
-Taste the joy of summer past!




2 comments:

  1. Ahhhh, what an amazing post! I miss you soooo much already! I am so glad you enjoyed the pizza, and I am sure it was even better than mine:) The inspirations you have given me are truly countless, and I am having so much fun with all our new wedding present toys! We are supposed to be getting internet on Wednesday at home, so more to come of our adventures down south soon:)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Your mans is too cute. What a confession:)

    Someday we will dine in the same city.

    ReplyDelete

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