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July 2008
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September 2008

Birthday Travels

Birthday Travels

It’s my personal policy to avoid working on my birthday at all costs. The last birthday I worked on found me stuck at my desk late, working on cleaning up a crisis someone else created. It reinforces the importance of this rule. Ahem.

This year, with the birthday falling on a weekday, I thought it would be worth it to attempt a trip to Napa* for dinner with friends and some wine tasting. But a broken dishwasher and uncooperative property management, and my significant other’s last minute early next morning meeting conspired against that.

Many phone calls ensued. Eventually, I ended up with part of my birthday free, and we hopped in the car, and sped up Highway 101 in time for lunch at Bouchon in Yountville.

I had been thinking Bouchon would be similar in food and vibe to Balthazar for some reason (presumably from the many write-ups I’d seen of Bouchon, and the many yummy lunches I’ve had at Balthazar.) But it was a lot more low key. And despite being full of tourists, in décor and service felt a lot more like a small town restaurant. The bathrooms under renovation that left a port-o-potty outside for the men, and a fairly unkempt men’s bathroom with a wet floor for use by the ladies, was a poor start to the meal.

We started off with creative and refreshing house cocktails that I didn’t think to write down (birthday girl was concentrating on her sparkling champagne cocktail). As a starter, the salt cod beignets were amazing. They looked just like their Café du Monde inspiration, and had the same textures when you bit into them. Their fried sage accompaniment was a nice touch but the tomato confit didn’t really enhance the crunchy morsels. Overall tho, they left me happily anticipating my entrée.

The boy on the other hand absolutely hated his chilled corn soup. It turns out he only heard the “corn” and “soup” portion of the special. So when he slurped up a large spoonful of the pureed cold soup…he was surprised. And not unexpectedly pleasantly surprised. Oh well.

After really loving my inventive starter, I was prepared to be wowed by my steak frites. It’s my typical comfort food dish, and I had figured they would have a great one. The herbed butter on top was delicious, but the cut of meat, a prime flatiron, was fatty and chewy and the French fries were unremarkable and not as crisp as I like them. I left as much on my plate as I ate. My boyfriend’s Croque Madame was a far better choice.

We finished with profiteroles doused with a not especially flavorful chocolate sauce, and a blueberry infused pot de crème.

Overall, I have to admit I was a little disappointed. For the prices and location, I expected more from Bouchon. After all, they have to compete with Bistro Jeanty right up the street, where I have many outstanding lunches over the years. Our waitress was difficult to obtain service from, and never inquired after the half-eaten dishes were taken from our tables. At most Bay Area restaurants, if you leave even a forkful of food on your plate, someone asks what was wrong with the food. But since the waitress never checked in while we were eating, and was not the one taking away the plates, apparently she did not get the message. And by the time we flagged her down for the dessert menus, I was over wanting to talk about it.

I do have to call out props for their bread. We went next door to Bouchon Bakery and bought an epi baguette to take home.

The rest of the day involved splurging on T Vine zinfandel, Mariage Freres tea and various cooking supplies at Dean and Deluca, plus wine tasting at St. Clement and Cline. Not a bad way to spend a birthday.

* Trying to drive through Napa on a weekend is nearly impossible due to all the traffic the tourism generates. Trying to wine taste at all on weekends is maddening.

Two Days 'til slowfoodnation Kicks Off

While many San Franciscans will be headed out to The Playa for Burning Man this weekend, I am excited about staying home. Why? Because of all the slowfoodnation events this weekend, of course. I have tickets for the tasting pavillion, and plan to hit up the Civic Center as well. Undecided about the workshops-- may just wait and see what is available once I arrive at Fort Mason. Are you going?

Save the Date: CUESA's 2008 Sunday Supper to be Held October 5

Every year, the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), the folks responsible for the wondrous Ferry Plaza Farmers Market's home at the Ferry Building, holds a bountiful benefit dinner dubbed "the Sunday Supper."

Featuring 50+ of the Bay Area’s best chefs, a dozen regional wineries, two local distilleries, and sustainable farmers from across the state, diners enjoy an hors d'oeuvre reception with 20 hors d'oeuvres stations and a wide variety of cocktails , followed by a four-course meal that highlights the region's delicious artisan-produced foods.

One of these years I am going to brave the crowds for this.

Grocery List 101

Menu_pad_3 Typically, I am a haphazard grocery list creator. I may jot down a few items on a random piece of paper, but I don't always leave the store with everything I need. Resolved to do a better job (and avoid revisting the store twice in one week) I snapped up one of these handy menu planner pads at Stacey's Books a while back, and slapped it onto the refrigerator.

Now, if I am planning my week's shopping and have some new recipes to try out, I start with one of these sheets instead of a random sticky pad. It helps me keep track of all the special items I'll need, while prodding me to check my cupboards for staples I tend to just assume I have on hand.

Now if only I could find a way to avoid the long checkout lines...

How We Eat Lecture Series at The Commonwealth Club

In conjunction with the slowfoodnation events, The Commonwealth Club has been hosting How We Eat, a series of food related lectures. A few of the ones coming up piqued my interest.

Monday, August 25th @ 5:15 pm
Jenni Ferrari-Adler
Alone in the Kitchen with Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone

Is there a stigma about eating alone? We all cook alone at one point or another. Jenni Ferrari-Adler lets us know that other people are as hung up on it as we are. Her essays make good company: They're meant to inspire, entertain, comfort and provide practical help in the form of recipes for one. Please note: This event will take place at the Commonwealth Club, 595 Market Street, 2nd Floor. Admission is free for members, $8 for non-members. Check-in is at 4:45 pm. For reservations and information, please call 415-597-6705.

Tuesday, August 26th @ 6:00 pm
Marion Nestle and Davia Nelson
Pet Food Politics and Hidden Kitchens

There's more than meets the eye in that box of Meow Mix. The pet food industry links matters as diverse as global food safety, health policy, international trade, and corporate and governmental influence. Marion Nestle's examination of the 2007 pet food recall developed into an expose that revealed glaring gaps in food safety between the United States and the developing countries that produce the food. She will speak about her research, which follows tainted pet food from its source in China to its destination—feed for pigs, chickens and fish in the United States. Please note: This event will take place at the Commonwealth Club, 595 Market Street, 2nd Floor. Admission is $12 for members,  $18 for non-members. Check-in is at 5:30 pm. For reservations and information, please call 415-597-6705.

Foodie Podcasts

The bulk of my iTouch playtime is not the several days worth of music it holds – it’s the podcasts. And not surprisingly, I have found a couple of good foodie podcasts.

KCRW’s Good Food

This weekly podcast by Angeleno Evan Kleiman is my favorite foodie podcast, hands down. Always thoroughly informative, and featuring a regular farmers market report, I listen to this one as soon as it’s released. Favorite recent stories include cupcake fetish, a kugel-off, and the art of Mexican cooking.

Kitchen Window

This weekly podcast focuses on a timely topic each week, with a different food lover at the helm. The cold summer soup story was especially timely, given the cold corn soup I had enjoyed at Bouchon a few days prior to listening.

Hidden Kitchens

This weekly podcast takes you to small/unconventional kitchens throughout the world. It satisfies my foodie wanderlust.

I listen to Hidden Kitchens and Kitchen Window primarily through the NPR food page's associated podcast. In addition to grabbing the weekly editions of those 2 podcasts, it also aggregates food related content from NPR's wide range of podcasts.

I am hoping to find more foodie podcast content soon. Or even start making some of my own.

Making Homemade Pasta

When I first brought home Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking , I dove in to the recipes for homemade pasta, determined to try my hand at it. But it never happened. You see, I am cursed with a galley kitchen, its limited counterspace eaten up by my convection oven, Kitchen Aide mixer, and espresso machine.

I am also cursed with the need to see visual demonstrations of new cooking techniques in order to understand and execute on them. Marcella's books were beautifully written, but didn't give me much guidance.

Fast forward. KQED's foodie blog has a step-by-step pictorial on making pasta. It gave me the visual queues I needed to get the process. Now if only someone can help me double my counterspace...

A Delicious Obsession: The Work of M.F.K. Fisher

The Book Club of California celebrates what would have been M.F.K. Fisher’s 100th birthday with "A Delicious Obsession: The Work of M.F.K. Fisher." The exhibition runs September 8 - October 27 with over 50 works on display, including first editions of "The Gastronomical Me" and her translation of Brillat-Savarin's "The Physiology of Taste" with illustrations by Wayne Thiebaud.

In conjunction with the exhibit, culinary historian Joan Reardon will speak on M.F.K.Fischer on September 8, at 6:30 p.m. Her books on Fisher include M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters: Celebrating the Pleasures of the Table (1994), Poet of the Appetites: The Life of M. F.K. Fisher (2004), and M.F.K. Fisher among the Pots and Pans (2008).

Exhibit and lecture are free, held at the Book Club of California, 312 Sutter St., Suite 510, San Francisco; (415) 781-7532;

cupcake fetish

KCRW's Good Food had a fun piece on cupcake obsessions. Before listening, I had no idea that cupcake lovers had amassed a google map enabled cupcake compendium called Cupcake Fetish.

mmm cupcakes.

I have a coworker who is a cupcake-obsessed home baker. This morning, she tried out a new valhrona chocolate cupcake on her loyal/eager cupcake testers. Nothing is more of a guilty indulgence than a teeny tiny baby cupcake.

After I try out one of the brownie recipes in this month's Saveur to break in my Baker's Edge brownie pan, I am definitely going to play around more with some cupcakes before we are finished with summer berries at the market.