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Posts from the ‘breakfast’ Category

fruit and nut scones

There’s nothing like handing out Halloween candy to kids in your old neighborhood to make you feel like a grown-up. Home alone with a giant bowl of Kit Kats and a half-buffered stream of my favorite sitcom, it seemed I’d skipped my twenties and landed squarely in old age. So I threw in the towel and made scones.

And, to be honest, indulged in a little food philosophizing. I mentioned the idea of “good food” in my last post, and it turns out that’s a bit of a topic at the moment (at least if you are, as I am, a shameless slave to New York Times op-eds). But while food can taste good, it can’t be good. Food isn’t moral in that way, because then we’d be expecting it to fill hungers it can’t.

The truth is, you can’t grow a great tomato in a hothouse. The truth is also that genetically modified crops feed farmers and their families who would otherwise starve when ordinary seeds wither in droughts that worsen every year. But when we talk about what food can give us beyond mere nutrition (which is important – we’d die without it) we’re really talking about ritual. Yes, I love walking into my parent’s garden and eating warm figs straight off the tree every morning in summer. But I also loved Thursday nights at JJ’s Place and their suspiciously frothy fro-yo. I loved bottles of Lagunitas IPA on the farm, and driving with my college boyfriend’s mom to Chick-fil-A. I love my family’s flaming Christmas pudding every year on Christmas Eve, and a pot of Five Roses every three hours with my dad when we’re both working from home. It pains me to say it, but I might even be looking forward to gingerbread lattes.

It’s the ritual that gives meaning to the food, not the food that somehow gives us meaning. That’s why we eat those awful frosted, lettered cakes at birthdays and graduations, and that’s why we take communion.  Food tastes wonderful and keeps us alive, but whether you’re a maize farmer in Tanzania or a silly food philosophizer like me, it’s the ritual associated with food that truly makes it meaningful.

Fruit and Nut Scones

I adapted the recipe for these scones and always encourage substitutions – I love almonds and dried apricots in everything from sweets to curries, but feel free to use whatever trail mix mix-ins your pantry offers.

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup oat flour (or all-purpose flour)

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

pinch salt

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 1/4 cups rolled oats

1 stick of butter

3/4 cups roasted almonds

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/3 cup Greek yogurt

1/3 cup milk

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place raisins and apricots in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 5-10 minutes, then drain and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, brown sugar and oats. Cut butter into small pieces and rub into dry ingredients with your fingers (trust me – this step is key for that delicious flakiness). Stir in dried fruit, almonds and sunflower seeds, then add yogurt. Add the milk a little bit at a time (using more if necessary) until you have a dough that just holds together.

Place dough on a floured surface and shape into a square that’s one inch thick. Cut the dough into squares and then triangles (you can make them smaller if you’d like), then place scones on cookie sheets and bake for 25-30 minutes.

papaya lime smoothie with watermelon

I was married after dinner on Monday night. The veil was cotton and gauzy, my wedding dress an embroidered velvet cloak. My groom–a nervous Chinese tourist–sweated next to me as dancers pounded the stage in front of us, and when the musical number drew to a close I was paraded around the room–on piggy-back no less–by my new husband’s best man. What can I say? At least the food was good.

Getting roped into a comedic mock-wedding at an Addis Ababa restaurant was one of many adventures I had in Ethiopia, a country I found myself exploring just 10 days after starting my new job. I saw Lammergeiers and endemic wolves. I careened around a city with lovely roads but no traffic lights (they really do matter). I drank coffee so strong it challenged my high tolerance for bitterness, honed by a love of 90% dark chocolate. And I ate many, many rolls of injera.

With the texture of a spongy crepe and the taste of strong sourdough, injera functions as staple food and utensil alike. Enormous platters of the fermented bread arrive topped with meats, vegetables and rich sauces, and when your injera rolls are done you proceed directly to the saturated remains that constitute your plate. Ethiopians possess a strong cultural identity–every driver listens to his cassette of wailing songs, every conversation is carried on in streams of Amharic, every restaurant serves injera. Addis Ababa is frenetic, a maze of concrete construction and “shortcut” alleys our taxi could barely squeeze through without running over someone’s pet (or dinner, if you happen to like lamb). But out in the countryside, where rare birds alight on telephone poles and the mountains break onto vistas of the fertile valleys below, it is easy to see what Ethiopians are proud of.

Ethiopian cuisine is a worthy source of pride too: evenings I ate my injera with relish, and breakfasts were just as much an occasion to anticipate. Enormous pitchers of freshly blended “mixed fruits juice” sat on the table, and once home I was determined to recreate the blend of tropical fruit, its sweetness cut with lime. You can add or subtract to my recipe as you wish, and though I always considered myself a frozen smoothie sort of person–I enjoy a good brain freeze on a summer day–I actually like having this at room temperature. It may take me awhile to master injera (tracking down teff flour alone can be a challenge) but now I can bring at least a bit of culinary Ethiopia into my kitchen at home.

Papaya Lime Smoothie with Watermelon

1/2 ripe papaya

5 large cubes watermelon

juice of 1 small lime

1/4 cup water

Add the fruit and lime juice to a blender and blend well, then add water bit by bit to thin to your desired consistency and enjoy!

buttermilk rusks with fennel seed

Growing up, there are certain things you eat with family that don’t tend to translate well to friends. Visiting relatives in South Africa as a six-year-old I was thrilled to discover “fish paste toast,” a snack served in restaurants and homes that I happily munched whatever the occasion. My later discovery that the “fish paste” I slathered on bread with butter was actually pureed anchovies was a bit of a shock (only a dreamy kid like me could have failed to understand the implications of “anchovette” on the bottle), but by then my allegiance was sealed. I suspect much the same thing was in play when my Dutch friend Anastasia told me she lusts after pickled herring, or my Korean friend Nathan downed cans of Sikhye, a fermented rice drink I found sickly sweet.

There are other South African delicacies that can easily cross the cultural divide—Zoo Biscuits, Boerewors, and Rooibos tea all come to mind—and chief among them are rusks. A sort of hearty, less-sweet biscotti, rusks are baked and dried to a crumbly, toothsome crunchiness that requires excessive dunking in a warm beverage of your choice. In Durban we would have rusks with coffee in the morning, rusks with tea in the afternoon, and (my own personal favorite) rusks with steaming mugs of Milo before bed. What wonderful childhood comfort to gnaw on your rusk while sleep descended, dipping and sipping down to the last half inch of Milo that was inevitably filled with soggy crumbs.

Here in California we soon ferreted out boxes of Ouma’s Rusks at the European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen in West L.A., an expat’s paradise that sells dark sticks of Droewors and boxes of Crunchies. But homemade rusks beat even those made by “Ouma” (grandma), and this buttermilk version with fragrant fennel seed comes from close family friend Cynthia. I cut down a bit on the sugar and used whole wheat flour for a traditional rustic flavor, but even an olive oil fanatic like me wouldn’t dream of skimping on the butter. Now if only there was a reliable recipe for fish paste…

Buttermilk Rusks with Fennel Seed

3 1/2 cups unbleached white whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

8 oz. butter (2 sticks)

1/2 cup sugar

3 tsp. fennel seed

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and use your hands to rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Mix in the sugar and fennel seed. Beat together buttermilk and egg and pour into the bowl, then knead the mixture into a soft dough.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Roll the dough into balls (each about the size of a large golf ball) and arrange them packed tightly into a greased pie pan or loaf tins. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the rusks are deep golden brown on top. Cool the pan completely before carefully breaking the rusks apart (I use a knife to help them come away from each other cleanly). Arrange on a baking sheet and dry out in a oven heated to 225 degrees for 3 to 4 hours, or until the rusks are crunchy all the way through.

avocado bruschetta with smoked salmon (san francisco part 2)

Saturday

5:20 p.m.

We arrive at Bar Bambino early—very early—because I haven’t made reservations. The host gives our six-person group the once-over and decides we are one of those overly-confident foodie families, but after a quick consultation with my father he seats us three and three along the corner of the bar. An elderly man and woman sharing olives and wine are our only dining companions, but by six o’clock the place is packed.

I have chestnut soup with celeriac (feeling very self-satisfied that I know this gnarled root after my time at Love Apple) and we all vie for crispy florets of cauliflower that have been battered and lightly fried. We finish dessert just before seven and my thoughts turn shamefully (and longingly) to my inflatable mattress at our friend’s home in San Rafael, but Stas the music maven has another suggestion: the SF Bluegrass and Old Time Festival. After settling snugly in a basement bar to wait for Hang Jones and the Jugtown Pirates, she and I venture upstairs where a friendly festival-worker lets us in to go square dancing. Immediately I love it—over 30 couples assembled in plaids and dresses, with a live string band and dance moves like “three little ladies” and “let the dove pass through.” At one point a very tall man whisks me two feet off the ground, and moments later Stas and I burst out giggling in the giant circle of dancers, clasping hands for minutes before realizing none of the actual romantic couples are doing so. I laugh a lot. “You look so happy!” My sister cries reproachfully when we pass her in the do-si-dos, with a look halfway between envy and I’m trying not to be embarrassed for you.

Sunday

9:30 a.m.

Sunday morning is farmer’s market round two in Marin, and this time I’m ravenous. A five minutes on the premises I’m sinking my teeth into an Indian spinach flatbread at a stand where we somehow spend $25 (“But he gave us a free samosa!”). From there I buy and devour an extremely large Asian pear, then go for a handful of caramel dates, then finally settle on a pretzel-croissant (let it be known: Germany and France have produced a perfect love-child). It’s a good thing we get lost on the hike that follows because two-hours of walking is exactly what I need.

Sunday night I have made a reservation: a restaurant called Picco that I imagine is “amiable Italian.” One glance at the menu proves me utterly (and delightfully) wrong. There are grilled baby artichokes with smoked ham and tarragon aioli, lamb chops with rapini pesto and cumin yogurt, and a risotto made from scratch “on the half hour.” Each plate arrives to be shared by the whole table, and as we wait to be delighted yet again (nothing disappoints) I’m hard-pressed to think of a meal with my family that I’ve enjoyed more. An avocado bruschetta scores big, and we finish with miniature alcoholic shakes and warm chocolate madeleines.

Sitting at Café Fanny in Berkeley early the next morning, I’m rejuvenated and thankful and full as I nevertheless contemplate a second hot chocolate. Oh to live a life of travel and eating with family and friends—but then I suppose that’s why we work, isn’t it?

Avocado Bruschetta with Smoked Salmon

This recipe–inspired by a similar dish with chorizo at Picco–resulted in one the simplest and most delicious lunches I’ve had in ages.

4 thin slices of good-quality bread (whole wheat levain works well)

1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half

2 ripe avocados

1 small packet of smoked salmon

red pepper flakes

olive oil

sea salt

Cut the slices of bread in half diagonally and toast until lightly browned. Rub each half-slice with the raw garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Place a thin piece of smoked salmon on each toast.

Cut your avocados into quarters and peel. Slice each quarter thinly lengthwise before fanning it out gently on top of the salmon. Sprinkle completed toast with sea salt and red pepper flakes.

soba noodles with garlicky greens and toasted walnuts (san francisco part 1)

Friday

5:20 p.m.

We pull up to the MacArthur BART station in Oakland just as the sun begins to set. My parents and I have driven up to visit my sister in Berkeley for the weekend, but this first evening I’m headed into the city to stay with my best friend Anastasia in her Bernal Heights apartment. The station is under a freeway overpass and crowded with commuters; drums echo angrily from an invisible street performer. My parents eye the scene warily and my mother leans over to zip up my coat—I remind them pointedly that I lived in New York for four years but still feel like a scolded teenager.

Half an hour later I step off the train onto 24th street in the Mission district. There are murals and a McDonalds, the air alive with machismo and more drums (this time upended plastic buckets). I cross the street to avoid lingering hesitantly on the corner and feel the primal thrill of a city after months on the farm and quiet Shepard Mesa.

Stas shares an apartment with an artist in her fifties, and immediately I love it: colorful canvases lounge against walls, books cascade over chairs and shelves, glass jars of beans and grains line the kitchen counters. I examine a beautiful Picasso sketch that hangs over a cluttered shelf. Es maravilloso, Stas whispers, reverting to the fluent Spanish she retained from our high school years.

I start chopping cabbage while she prepares a dinner of sautéed greens, walnuts, and soba noodles, along with a salad seasoned with rice vinegar and sesame seeds. At 8:30 her housemate Annice picks us up for a nearby concert, and we drive down dark, industrial streets that would be hard-pressed to look less inhabited. Suddenly, there it is—a glowing slice of a building with scruffy-haired hipsters and a woman holding a french horn huddled round an outdoor fire pit. A mosaic of art covers the walls inside and soon after we arrive a thin, older man picks up a guitar and starts to sing. His plaintive voice moves between song and spoken word and we sit mermaid-style on the carpet, listening as girls (and boys) in a variety of leggings and artfully sagging boots traipse over us back and forth to the bathroom.

Saturday

11:00 a.m.

After a long walk and a longer wait we are seated at Plow, a popular brunch joint in Potrero Hill frequented by an embracing pair of muscled Abercrombie models and three separate tables of women in yoga attire indulging in their post-workout gorge. I nibble a bit of everyone’s meal before turning to my own, dipping bites of almond and lemon-ricotta pancakes into runny egg yolk. The pancakes are so tasty I end the meal with only slight menu-envy for the smoky sauce and cilantro kick of Stas’ breakfast choice.

It is both torture and a blessing in disguise that we arrive at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market unable to stomach another bite. The day is bright and breezy with a definite nip in the air—apart from that, it could be the middle of summer. People walk by with bags of oranges and plates of chilaquiles, and grannies of the traditional and tattooed variety root through baskets of radishes and boxes of loose greens. Inside the Ferry Building a barrage of wonderful smells warns you of approaching products before you see them: coffee from Blue Bottle, cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, bread from Acme Bakery. We buy South African Pinotage from one vendor and I stand in line for apple cider sorbet made bitingly spicy with cloves.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good museum or a nice hike. But if you’re starting to suspect that 90% of my travel plans revolve around food, well… stay tuned.

 

Soba Noodles with Garlic, Walnuts and Sauteed greens

My best friend Stas is a musician, soon-to-be yoga teacher and creator of such delights as chocolate beet cake and avocado pudding–in other words, she is California incarnate. She is also an admirable enemy of food waste: I once watched her eat a bottom-of-the-backpack banana bruised beyond recognition (a tale my entire family enjoys telling with gusto). My version of the lovely dinner she made for us is so simple that I’ve eaten it with relish every day for lunch this week.

1 package buckwheat soba noodles

two cloves garlic, sliced

several handfuls dark greens–kale (Toscano and Red Russian work well), rapini, chard or spinach

liberal splash rice vinegar

walnuts

sunflower seeds

red pepper flakes

olive oil and salt

Salt a pot of water and set it on the stove to boil. Heat oil in a saucepan and add sliced garlic, stirring for a minute or so until fragrant but not brown. Roughly chop greens and add to the pan with the rice vinegar, cooking until slightly wilted but still green and robust.

Drop a serving or two of soba noodles into the boiling water. Cook until chewy (overcooking results in a gluey mass), drain, and rinse immediately under cold water. Toast walnuts in a small pan until warm and crunchy (add sunflower seeds as well if you desire). Serve noodles in a bowl with greens spooned on top, and garnish with nuts, red pepper flakes, and a splash of olive oil and additional rice vinegar to taste.

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