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Posts from the ‘snacks’ Category

avocado bruschetta with smoked salmon (san francisco part 2)


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.


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.

astoundingly delicious (and easy!) homemade bread


I know, food is a communal joy, a pleasure to be shared around the table with family and friends both new and old. But to each of you reading this, let me say that I wish for you just once to experience the moment of utter, profoundly selfish delight I felt this week while eating a slice of bread.

To backtrack: this was no ordinary bread. How I stumbled upon it was rather ordinary—I photocopied a few pages from a friend’s book, My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey. True, the titular claim sounded a bit far-fetched. But bread-making had been a distant goal of mine for some time so I decided to give it a try.

The Lahey method stressed full dependence on time, and I was in no rush. I mixed the dough. I waited the requisite 18 hours, then a bit more for good measure. I pulled the dough out of its bowl and into a dishcloth. I waited another two hours. I heated the oven, with an old Le Creuset pot in it, and when it reached 475 degrees I awkwardly dumped in the dough. Thirty minutes passed, and then the room began to smell like bread.


It was a wonderful—no glorious—aroma, the kind that draws you to the oven to peer inside. It was time to remove the lid and let the crust brown, and it was all I could do to fidget around the room for ten agonizing minutes, rearranging piles of mail and straightening the tablecloth. When I finally pulled it out I felt the sort of pride I’d previously associated only with my fifth grade reproduction of Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, or maybe my acceptance into college. In the recipe Lahey had specifically warned against cutting into the loaf right away, recommending an hour’s wait. An hour? An iron will (not in my arsenal) would be required.

I stood alone in the kitchen with my bread, the crust almost too hot to touch and the inside a soft, fragrant network of air pockets. The first bite was joy, pure and simple, the crispness of the exterior giving way to a moist and tangy center. I ate slice after slice, dipping them in olive oil sprinkled with salt. It was the kind of reverie you awake from to find, to your confusion, that the sun is still shining and half the loaf has vanished.

An hour or so later I lay immobile, the sheer volume of the bread I’d consumed weighing painfully with every breath. But Oh—it was delicious, worth every bite.


Jim Lahey’s No-Work, No-Knead Bread

The chemistry of this bread is fascinating–Mark Bittman describes it eloquently in a way even my meager science mind can grasp. The traditional recipe calls for 3 cups of bread flour, but I had great success substituting in one cup of whole wheat. I also found I consistently needed more than 1 1/3 cups of chilled water to create a moist enough dough.

2 cups bread flour (I use King Arthur)

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 cups chilled water

wheat bran (or cornmeal)

Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl, then add chilled water and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a cohesive–but very wet–dough. Set aside in a warm environment for 18-24 hours.

Lay out a clean dish towel (not terry, as it can shed) and sprinkle with wheat bran. Gather your dough (it should be doubled in size and dotted with bubbles) with well-floured hands and transfer it to the center of the towel, pulling in the edges of the dough towards the center to create a nicely-shaped round. Sprinkle the top of the dough with wheat bran and loosely cover with the edges of the towel. Set aside for 2 hours.

After 1 1/2 hours, heat your oven to 475 degrees with a large, lidded enamel or cast iron pot inside. When the oven is heated, remove the pot (careful–it’s very hot!) and coat it lightly with olive oil and flour, then transfer your dough from the towel to the pot. Cover and bake for 20-30 minutes, checking if the aroma begins to indicate burning. Remove the lid and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the crust is a dark brown. Remove from the oven and lift the bread from the pot with a wooden spatula, then set aside to cool for as long as you can resist.

crunchy garden spring rolls with pickled carrots

I’m not generally the type to make friends in transit. I don’t quite go the full sunglasses-and-headphones route, but I usually board the subway or plane with a book and a non-committal smile at the ready for anyone who edges towards small talk.

So it was with little expectation that I surveyed my seatmate on the train this weekend, a small, gray-haired Vietnamese woman with a white bucket hat and her feet tucked under her. We read—me, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and she a book in Vietnamese—I worked on a few crossword puzzles, and she quietly readjusted her hat and feet. Then, just as we pulled into Los Angeles and an overhead voice made the tragic announcement that corn dogs were no longer available for purchase in the dining car, she turned to me and asked about my cell phone plan.

How the conversation turned from that to grilling vegetables I don’t know, but fifteen minutes later I was gesturing enthusiastically as I tossed imaginary florets of cauliflower in olive oil and slid them into the oven. Olive oil? At 400 degrees? She nodded earnestly and assured me she would try it, confessing she’d been looking for a new way to do vegetables and had never tried roasting them in the oven. In return she shared with me the merits of oxtail, multiple uses for fish sauce, and where to buy spices for a perfect pot of Pho while I frantically scribbled notes on a scrap of paper. As we neared her stop she reached into her bag and pulled out a crusty roll with cucumber, thinly sliced meats, daikon radish and pickled carrots: a homemade Banh Mi. Breaking it in half she offered me the larger portion, and we munched happily while she extracted a thin strand of carrot and told me the method she used to pickle it. As I helped her off the train after a quick hug I was reminded that even friendships that last less than 30 minutes can yield memorable moments–and memorable recipes.

Crunchy Garden Spring Rolls with Pickled Carrots and Peanut Dipping Sauce

These are the easiest–and tastiest–snacks to make, especially if you have lots of veggies on hand. The only tricky part can be finding the rice paper wrappers, but they are widely available at local Asian groceries and some large markets like Whole Foods (the same goes for the slightly more ubiquitous fish sauce and sriracha). Please feel free to play around and add more types of vegetables than I suggest.

For pickled carrots:

2 large carrots

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup honey

Slice carrots into thin strips and set aside in a shallow bowl. Add water, vinegar, and honey to a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then pour over carrots until they are completely submerged. Soak overnight before sealing and storing in your refrigerator.

For spring rolls:

1 packet Vietnamese rice paper wrappers (round or square)

1 cucumber

1 avocado

2 carrots, pickled (see above)

lettuce leaves


Slice cucumber, avocado, and any other veggies you plan to use into thin strips. Tear lettuce leaves in half and cilantro into small sprigs, and arrange all veggies (including pickled carrots) so they are close at hand.

Pour hot (not quite boiling) water into a shallow dish, and dip a sheet of rice paper in the water until soft and pliable. Lay rice paper on a dry surface and arrange lettuce, carrots, avocado, cilantro and other veggies in the center. Roll tightly while tucking in the edges, then cut diagonally in half and serve.

For spicy peanut sauce:

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup peanut butter

sriracha hot sauce

Combine the first four ingredients until smooth. At this point, it’s all about taste: more salty? Add fish sauce. More sweet? More honey. More tangy? Bring out the rice vinegar. Adjust with peanut butter for desired thickness, and finally add sriracha for spice.

sweet and spicy vanilla chai

Aphids. Job searching. Plant morphology exams. Rain. For all life’s minor trials and tribulations, there is but one foodie equivalent to the bubble bath: Chai.

Chai latte, to be precise. My chronology of chai began with Starbucks (ubiquitous purveyor of fancy drinks), and it was a “tall soy chai, no water, in a personal cup” that my mother asked for every Saturday morning as we began our weekly round of shopping. I joined her (with my own personal travel mug) all through high school, but like all who begin their specialty journey with Starbucks it wasn’t long before I was going more gourmet. Soon my sister and I had discovered the Garden Market, which featured a steaming mug of sugary chai with creamy, frothy foam. That chai (and several others along the way) led me to an important discovery: my favorite drink did not begin, as you might imagine, with tea. Sad to say, I was a die-hard fan of chai powder.

One of the benefits of chai powder (other than an insane sugar rush) is that it makes the chai latte as easy as boiling a pot of water. As a college freshman I drank chai lattes in bed, in class, as late-night snacks and morning pick-me-ups. I drank them so often, in fact, that my desire for chai began to wane. Years passed with only the occasional Starbucks visit when I went home, and then, when powdered chai was all but forgotten, I passed a display of chai latte powder in Trader Joe’s last week.

It was a spur of the moment purchase with consequences that shook our small apprentice world. The initial can of powder was gone in two days, and the following two we bought followed shortly after. When Pim gave me a box of Chai spices after a macaron class I began doctoring my insta-latte, and soon I was adding milk, vanilla extract, honey… and somewhere along the way I made it back to tea. Now I sprinkle just a light dusting of powder in my chai, and if nothing else it offsets the 5 tablespoons Phillip and Sara Lieber put in theirs.

Sweet and Spicy Vanilla Chai

black tea (loose or bagged)


1 tsp chai spice blend (star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves)


vanilla extract

1 tsp chai latte powder

Brew your black tea in a teapot or mug until strong. Remove teabag or leaves and add milk, chai spice blend, vanilla extract and honey for desired sweetness. Sprinkle chai latte powder on top, stir or froth, and enjoy!

almond crumb cobbler with nectarines and plums

The first time I walked into the kitchen in our apprentices’ cottage, I was more than a little apprehensive. With my cast iron skillet under one arm and a bag of groceries under the other, I surveyed my new home: the condiments and margarita mix piled on a ledge overhanging the oven, the leaning tower of drying rack, the linoleum muddied from countless dirty tennis shoes. There was even a piece of shriveled cactus suspended between two curtain-less curtain rods. I took the seat offered by Lisette and the beer offered by Phillip, then I looked around the room one more time and decided I liked it.

To be sure, the odds were stacked in our little kitchen’s favor. In every place I’ve lived the kitchen has felt most like home, and I take up residence there before I unpack my clothes or make up my bed. The size or lighting of a bedroom doesn’t mean all that much when you’re sleeping, but the kitchen is where you live—cooking, eating, sitting at the table on a Saturday morning with David Sedaris and a lukewarm cup of tea. It may be a bit cramped (when we’re all seated for dinner you can barely open the oven), but our kitchen never fails to charm me with its tile-topped table and pair of large windows with a view of the wild turkeys roosting in the adjacent grove of redwoods.

When I’m alone in the kitchen I’ll sit in the same spot for hours, but once other people start cooking it’s like a sneeze—I have to do it as well. If Ross or Phillip has already started dinner my backup plan is dessert, which means that though I’m really more of a cook my baking skills have taken a marked turn for the better here. The size of our kitchen does make it difficult—I found myself making bread pudding on the dryer one night—but it gives me the satisfaction of something to do with myself and the Costco-sized bags of flour and sugar in our pantry.

This was the backstory of the crumble I was making the other night, and while Phillip fried tempura-battered pieces of green tomato and broccoli I sliced away at nectarines and plums and cut my finger (again) on the blade of our food-processor grinding butter, oats, and almonds. I slid the pie dish into the oven as we started in on our fried chicken, but when dessert time rolled around the top still didn’t have that golden crispness every crumble needs. Ross suggested putting it under the broiler for a minute or two, and with the oven door closed we all went back to laughing like fourth graders at a particularly unfortunately shaped tomato.

Ten minutes later, the smoke began. Pouring from under the stovetop it gushed out as I flung open the oven door to see a crumble lost beneath a foot of flames. In a moment everyone was in emergency mode: Christine and Adam pulled back the chairs, Phillip commandeered the dish-washing hose at the sink, Ross grabbed hand towels to smother the flames. Me? I don’t remember much, but apparently I stood in the middle of it all lamely flapping an oven-mitt and crying out “Oh no! Oh no!” at regular intervals. And as we sat on the stoop minutes later replacing the blackened oat topping with giant spoonfuls of ice cream, I said a little prayer of thanks that I have friends whose cool heads meant our kitchen would live to see another day.

Almond Crumb Cobbler with Nectarines and Plums

3 ripe white nectarines

2 ripe plums

6 Tbsp butter

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup oats

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup almonds plus a few more for sprinkling on top



vanilla extract


Slice the nectarines and plums and arrange on the bottom of a 9″ glass pie dish. In a food processor mix butter, flour, oats, sugar, almonds and spices, grinding until the mixture becomes a moist crumb. Sprinkle crumble on top of fruit and give the dish a shake, then sprinkle with a few almonds and a pinch or two of salt before baking in a 350 degree oven until the top is a perfect golden brown. (Resist the urge to use the broiler. Trust me.)

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