Category: Slice of Life

A Slice of My Life – Whistler Edition

February 23, 2013

Well over a year ago, we went to a pre-Christmas celebration at the home of our dear friends Jenn and Jos.  This tradition was one of my favorites of the season.  Jenn and Jos welcomed us into their beautiful home with their perfect tree and lovely decorations, and cooked a much-stressed about meal (they came to all my cooking classes and felt some very unnecessary performance anxiety about cooking for me), and poured special and delicious bottles of wine from their collection.  On this particular night, they were both sporting new and blinding rings on their left ring fingers.  They had gotten engaged.  We were beyond thrilled for them.

We spent that evening talking about their upcoming wedding.  They had chosen Whistler, a mountain resort in British Columbia – site of all the skiing events in the winter 2010 Olympics – as the place for their wedding.  It was where they had taken their first vacation together and also where they had gotten engaged.  They asked us tentatively whether we could come and we both yelled “YES!” before their question had even left their lips.  We started getting excited about planning a mini ski vacation around their wedding.

When we decided to move to Oakland last summer, Jenn and Jos figured large in my mind.  Not only are they terrific friends who we would feel sad saying goodbye to, that Christmas tradition was important to me, and not attending their wedding was not an option.  One of the first things we did when we made the final moving decision, was to book flights to Vancouver and reserve a hotel room in Whistler.  It was the first vacation we booked flying out of our new city.

Our trip there was wonderful on so many levels.  I had not been to Whistler in ten years and seeing it post-Olympics, with the village so much larger and yet retaining its unique charm, was such a treat.  We got five nights there, a bit of time to spend as a family and lots of wedding festivities.  We got to ski and also just enjoy the lovely town and relax.

Whistler is a resort made up of two mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, both of which are huge.  Blackcomb is just a hair higher but both of them boast one of the longest verticals in North America.  That means if you find yourself at the top of the mountain at the end of the day, it will take you about 45 minutes to ski down to the bottom.  Even though we were there over a very busy weekend, we only waited in a few lines.  That is the benefit of a big mountain and speedy lifts.

Our first full day there, we put the boys in ski school and had a whole day to ourselves on the mountain.  I grew up skiing and have been lucky enough to ski some amazing mountains, but I am really a fair weather skier.  Fortunately, the weather was more than fair, gorgeous sunshine and temps around 30ºF.  We truly couldn’t believe our luck.  We stayed put on Whistler and got in some great runs.  The boys seemed to do well in their lessons.

The next time we skied, we did so as a family.  The boys both did two years of ski lessons when we lived in Seattle, and Graham also had some lessons in Sun Valley when he was five.  Graham has become a really good skier, able to keep up with us for the most part.  Spencer is still only six and tends to just point his skis downhill, do a “pizza” (snowplow), and go.  We had to urge him to turn and do “french fries” (parallel), instructions he may or may not have listened to.  At least this year, he didn’t fall much, since falling tends to involve all parts of his ski equipment falling off, followed by tears.

Whistler is set up really well for families and young children.  There are “learning zones” on both mountains and the ski schools are incredibly efficient and well run.  The kids have their own lodge where they eat lunch!  There are cool little finds on both mountains, such as this castle.  We took the gondola over to Blackcomb and found our way to this treasure.  The boys took their skies off and went down the slides for a while.

The cool think about going over to Blackcomb is taking the incredible Peak 2 Peak gondola.  This is an incredible, and relatively new, gondola that we caught up at the top of Whistler.  It holds several world records, one of which is that it has the longest span between ropeway towers – 1.88 miles.  If you are afraid of heights, which I am not, I would not advise going on this gondola.  Especially not in one of the two cars that have glass bottomed floors!  I would have taken more pictures from the car but we were gliding through fog.

This is what two boys look like after a day on the slopes and some time in the hotel pool.

(Wedding reception menu, just for the vegetarian.)

Ah, the wedding.  Jenn and Jos are considered by all who know them to be very generous people.  In all respects.  If you ever have the opportunity to go to a big party thrown by two generous people, I suggest you go.  This was the nicest wedding that I have ever been to, with no expense or experience spared.  They were extremely thoughtful about all aspects of the parties, both  for the rehearsal dinner at  the Rimrock Cafe and the incredible reception at Bearfood Bistro.

At Bearfoot Bistro, the tables were simply lovely with tons of white flowers and themed tables based on places where they had special experiences.  I was at the Paris table, fitting for me.  Course after course of amazing food came out.  I have no idea how they were able to get all the dishes out at one time, everything hot, perfectly seasoned, and beautifully plated.  If you have ever had bad wedding food, and we all have right?, this was the antitheses.

In addition to being treated to amazing food, beautiful tables, and an incredibly moving ceremony that had me cursing the decision to wear regular mascara, we got to saber our own champagne in the wine cellar.

And we got to taste vodka in a frozen room.  Are you a vodka drinker?  I am not so I abstained from doing a shot but I did take a sip and what do you know – vodka tastes better in a frozen room!

That is me, on the right.  I might be wondering how I can smuggle that coat, which we were required to wear in the room, out of the restaurant and into my luggage.  It had eight layers of goose down and I felt totally warm in a -24ºC room.  Then again, I might not need that coat in California…

A Slice of My Life – Week 6

February 11, 2013

Last Sunday we went to a Super Bowl party in Mill Valley which is in Marin County.  There are two ways to get to Marin County from Oakland.  The quickest way is to drive north and head across the Richmond Bridge.  The slower way is to go across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco, then go across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Because the boys had not been across the Golden Gate Bridge yet, we opted to go into the city, have lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf, and then across that beauty of a bridge.  (I realize that the configurations of the Bay Area might be mysterious to those of you who have never been here.  I’m thinking of doing a Bay Area post at some point.)  I myself had not been across that bridge in 13 years, so it was a treat for me too.

Tuesday I went back to Marin County to meet up with Denise and Tracy.  We meet for lunch on the first Tuesday of each month and it was Tracy’s turn to pick where we went.  Murray Circle is in a beautiful secluded spot in Sausalito and we had a delicious lunch.  I love a plate with lots of different things on it.

I met these two ladies back in 2009 at the first BlogHer conference and over the years we have truly become friends.  I met some other great friends at that same conference, people I have kept in touch with and seen over the years.  The moral of the story is, if you have a blog and are thinking of going to a conference, go for it.  Even if you get nothing out of the sessions, you will meet some great people.

Her name is Veronique and she is essential when I am driving anywhere other than my little ‘hood.

New birthday tradition in our house.  The birthday boy gets to pick whatever cereal he wants.  Back in November, Graham chose Lucky Charms and last week Spencer chose Trix.  I actually had a moment when I thought they wouldn’t like the sugar cereals because they have the refined palates of their mother.  WRONG!!

Me.  Bright light.  Wet hair.  I think I might be over the bangs.  Time to grow them out?

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I had experiences that continued to confirm how awesome it is to live in the East Bay.  It all started with this salad.  I met a friend for lunch at Burma Superstar, a place that was recommended to me no less than 20 times since we first moved here.  It is called the Rainbow Salad and it stars 22 different ingredients, four of which are different types of noodles.  All of the food we had was crazy delicious.

After lunch I walked around Temescal Alley, a tiny network of shops just off Telegraph Avenue.  So many great things there including this lazy Susan, with wine corks, that came home with me.

Saturday, I finally made it to the Grand Lake farmers’ market.  So much citrus!  Avocados!  Lettuce, all kinds of greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and SO MUCH ELSE!!  Also, a beautiful day.

I put my bulging bag of produce in the car and then walked around Lake Merritt.  It was hard to believe the East Coast was getting pummeled while I walked around in a lightweight jacket.

On the way back to the car, I stopped in to Oaktown Spice Shop.  I had been missing my favorite spice shops in Seattle but now, I’m over it.  There were so many good things in there and I can’t wait to go back.

Date night skirt.  Also, red boots.  I dragged Randy to a ramen place that was on the cover of San Francisco magazine and also profiled in the New York Times.  We waited 2 hours to sit down (which is what I was expecting) and then were underwhelmed by the food.

Two locals expressed shock and dismay that I had not yet been to Monterey Market.  So, on Sunday, while the boys had separate birthday parties to attend, I hopped in the car and went.  Produce nirvana, seriously.  And incredible prices.  It’s about a 25 minute drive from my house but I will be going there weekly for sure.

I made chips using my T-Fal Actifry.  Not as good as the fries I made a couple of weeks ago, but still delicious, especially considering you only use one tablespoon of oil.  And guess what.  I have one to give away.  Stay tuned!


A Slice of My Life – A Dinner Party

January 28, 2013

And now for something completely different. Rather than show you the ins and outs of my week, I thought I would take you through one of my dinner parties. Randy and I both really like to entertain and having people over for dinner is a great way to solidify budding friendships. We had another kindergarten family over on Saturday night, one with whom we can see becoming fast friends.  Spencer has informed me, on several occasions, that their daughter is going to marry him, that she chose him over another boy using the “eenie meenie mine-y mo” technique.  So, if we are in for a lifetime of knowing these folks, we had better get started.

The first step for me, always, is deciding on a menu.  I have a food notebook where I write down the menu of each party I do, whether it is just a casual dinner for four at our house, or a big party that I cater, or a class that I teach. I split the menu out into tasks that can be done ahead of time and list those tasks out by day. I don’t always take this step, sometimes thinking that the menu is simple enough that I don’t need to make that kind of list, but things go much smoother in my kitchen when I write things down. If I am catering, I also make a list of things I need to bring, one side of the page is food and the other is equipment.

Now, this might sound awfully organized. I need to assure you that I am not a particularly organized person. Years of working as a personal chef with very young children and very limited time, forced me to find ways to keep on top of what needed to be done. I got to be an expert at picking recipes apart for things that could be done ahead of time, a quality that has served me well as I prepped for classes I was teaching, or just for dinner parties at home. I am not a list maker in other parts of my life but I find the act of sitting down and writing things out, calms the chaos in my cooking mind. Try it.

At any given time, I usually have a dish swirling around in my head that I want to try.  Appetizers, main dishes, desserts, side dishes, and breads have all taken up residence in that part of my brain.  When it comes time to plan a menu, I zero in on that one dish that has been nagging at me, and build the rest of the menu around it.  If I try to start 100% from scratch, building a menu becomes a task with too many choices and no focus.  I have 150+ cookbooks, 20+ years of food magazines, blogs I read, not to mention my own site and inspiration from restaurant dishes I have eaten and produce at the farmers’ markets.  With that incredible abundance, I can get lost easily.  Lately the dish that has been speaking to me to try is the Eggplant Parmesan from Jamie’s Italy (Jamie Oliver, that is).  With that one decision made, the rest of the menu came together easily for me.  I always make buttered orzo when I make Eggplant Parmesan, and blasted broccoli seemed like it would go well. For the salad, I wanted to have arugula with roasted grapes, blue cheese, and fried shallots with a vinegar-y dressing. I made this salad (a Dana Treat original) for a party that I catered recently but didn’t actually taste it myself.  I found dessert inspiration in the Sunday Suppers at Lucques book, a never-ending source of treasures. Lemon Crèpes with Hazelnut Cream sounded like a perfect challenge for me. I had one disastrous experience with crèpes many years ago – a vegan recipe – and have been scared of making them since. So yes, I picked a dinner party for people I don’t know all that well as the time to tackle a cooking fear.

You see, I don’t believe in that adage that you should only make tried and true recipes for company. I think having guests is a great time to make a special recipe you have been wanting to try, even if it is outside your comfort zone. I probably wouldn’t make every single menu item a challenge, but I like having a special occasion as an excuse to try something new. I trust myself, I am a good cook and baker. I can follow a recipe to the letter when need be. I know I’m not going to screw up royally. And when it comes to dessert, there are (almost) always homemade cookies in the cookie jar so even if things go sideways, we will have a treat to enjoy.

So, the menu was:

Arugula with Roasted Grapes, Blue Cheese, and Fried Shallots
Eggplant Parmesan
Buttered Orzo
Blasted Broccoli
No-Knead Bread
Lemon Crèpes with Hazelnut Cream and Prune Armagnac Ice Cream

Here is how I broke it down:

Grapes, salad dressing, (over) fried shallots.

2 days before.  Roasted the grapes and made the salad dressing. Made the base for the ice cream. Set out slices of bread to dry for the breadcrumbs.  Toasted the hazelnuts for the crepes.



No-Knead Bread dough.  (This was after an 18 hour rise.)

The day before. Made the tomato sauce for the eggplant. Mixed together the dough for bread. Grated the Parmesan cheese for the eggplant. Mixed together the crepe batter and made the hazelnut cream. Cut the broccoli into the size pieces I wanted. Turned the bread slices into breadcrumbs in my food processor.

Baked eggplant.

The morning of.  Fried the shallots. Than I realized that I had taken them too dark and not drained them well enough, so they were a little black and a little soggy.  I threw them out. Toasted some walnuts instead and chopped them up. Sliced up the eggplants and baked them, and then just left them out at room temperature stacked on the baking sheet to cool. Finished making the ice cream. Chopped the garlic for the broccoli.

Assembling the Eggplant Parmesan.

Ready to go in the oven.

Crèpes.  The first five were awful.  Then I got the hang of it.

Filled and topped with hazelnut cream.

A few hours ahead.  Assembled the Eggplant Parmesan. Made the crepes, allowed them to cool, then filled them and topped them with the hazelnut cream. Left them out at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap. Finished making the bread. Set out the broccoli on a baking sheet. Took the grapes and salad dressing out of the refrigerator so they weren’t too cold.

Once everyone was here, there wasn’t a whole lot to do, which is how I like it. The Eggplant Parmesan and the broccoli needed time in the oven, bread needed to be sliced, salad needed to be tossed. Nothing that kept me especially tied to the kitchen.  All in all, the dinner was as lovely as the company.  The star for me was the Eggplant Parmesan.  I have been making a different recipe for years that delighted me for a while then made me mad when it came out of the oven all soupy.  I feel sure that Jamie’s recipe will never make me mad.  The sauce has some zing (thanks to a tiny bit of wine vinegar), the eggplant is not greasy (baked instead of fried), the nutty flavor of the Parmesan really came through, and the crunch on the top was a wonderful texture change from the rest of the dish.  And it was not soupy at all.  I promise to share the recipe if you promise not to mind that the photo is not the best.

Baked and devoured.

The best.

Baked for a bit, topped with hazelnut browned butter and a scoop of Prune Armagnac Ice Cream.  I wanted to be over the moon about these but I wasn’t.  Still, a fun dessert to make and very impressive to serve.  Plus I am over my crèpe fear!

I’ve long thought about teaching a dinner party class.  Where we would cook a menu similar to this and I would share my wisdom about making it do-able.  Assuming I someday find a spot in which to teach, what do you think?  Would you come join me?

A Slice of My Life – Week 3

January 21, 2013

We had another busy week with house guests and LOTS of food.

Flowers from last week’s grateful guests.  (Psst – the Apple Crumb Crostata recipe is in that post for those of you who wanted it.)

Last Tuesday, Julie and I hit the Mission district on our way to take her to the airport.  She actually scheduled her flight so we would have time to visit some bakeries.  I love that about her.  As we were looking for parking she shouted, “Craftsman and Wolves!  I have been dying to try that place!”  So that was our first stop.  In an cool industrial-style place, magical baking is happening.  The top photo is of some of the incredible offerings.  There were twice as many not pictured.  We settled on a gougère with sharp cheddar and spicy peppers.  It was huge, about the size of a softball, and perfect.  Crisp outside, soft interior, not too eggy.  The spice was perfect too.  We loved it and I resolved to perfect my gougère making skills.  We also tasted an olive fougasse, a caramel cake studded with chocolate pearls, and something else that is escaping me at the moment.

Then we headed to Tartine.  A moment of silence, please.  With my love of baking, it seems unconscionable that, until last week, I had never visited this tiny spot.  I should say that, in the time we have been living in Oakland, I haven’t ventured into San Francisco hardly at all.  There is a lot to keep me busy in the Easy Bay, food-wise and life in general, and I am a bit intimidated by the public transportation and also by parking if I chose to drive.  All of that hesitating vanished after this couple of hours with Julie.  Oakland and Berkeley are amazing food centers and I have barely scratched the surface.  But San Francisco – San Francisco! – is just across the Bay and it became clear that I need to make a Tartine pilgrimage on a regular basis.  It is also a good jumping off spot to visit other amazing food places in the area.

The croissant, oh the croissant.  I have a deep love for croissants.  And I never eat them.  To me, there is no point when almost all of them are terrible.  Even during our month in France, I didn’t eat them, preferring to focus my gluten attention on the simple baguette or two that we bought every day.  I could tell just by looking at that gorgeous specimen that this was the place to trust the croissants.  I was completely right.  A shattery exterior and supremely soft and layered interior with amazing butter flavor and no grease.  My friend Cheryl says their recipe in the Tartine book is her go-to and I am going! to! try! it! once! and! for! all!  We also shared a veg version of a Croque Monsieur (bottom photo).  A slab of their perfect bread (only available in loaf form after 5pm Wed-Sat – boo hoo!) coated with béchamel sauce, perfect roasted shiitake mushrooms, and a couple of roasted tomatoes for a hit of acidity.  Some nutty cheese over top and popped in the oven.  Why oh why has it never occurred to me to make this at home?

I catered a party last week that required a birthday cake.  I didn’t have any cake boxes to transport so I had a harrowing drive to the client’s house, up and down hills, while the cake slide up and down and side to side.  Thankfully, it never fully slid off the plate.

Palm trees make me really happy.  We pass this guy every morning on our walk to school.

The ongoing reality of a remodel.

Sunny lunch on the deck and revisiting my copy of Jerusalem.

Two of our beloved Seattle babysitters came to visit us this weekend.  One of them is an extreme cheese lover.  So much so that she and her soon-to-be husband are going to serve cheese instead of cake at their wedding.  I had to bring her to the Cheeseboard Collective and just as we walked in, she showed me her arm.  Full on goosebumps.  We got to taste some terrific cheeses, bought three of them as well as some baguettes and amazing oil-cured olives.  But the highlight of that trip was one of the women who worked there telling me she reads my blog and welcome to the area.  (Hi Stephanie!)

Story time with the BB’s.  (Beloved Babysitters.)

We spent some time in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland.  There are some very famous restaurants there and a couple of little alleys that have tiny and super cool shops.  So many discoveries to be made.

Brunch at Doña Tomás.  A perfect Huevos Rancheros with poached eggs.  I scooped up that extra sauce with a spoon.

We visited a donut shop where they custom fill each donut with your choice of a few fillings.  The boys got the “naughty sauce” which was kind of like a vanilla pastry cream and Randy got the strawberry jam.  If I was a donut person, which I am not, I would have gotten the chocolate pastry cream.

“Hey honey, can you go out and pick me some lemons – I need a bunch of them.”  That will never get old.

Neither will this.

I crush hard on salads.  This is the current obsession.  Recipe coming this week.

Quite a few of the lemons went into this lemon cornmeal cake.  Yes, that is rosemary in the glaze – it’s in the cake too.  This is the only decent photo I got of it and I would say that you kind of need to eat it the day you make it.  Still want the recipe?

A Slice of My Life – The Holiday Weeks

January 7, 2013

Soon after our move to Oakland in August, we decided what to do about the holidays.  I could not imagine a Thanksgiving away from Seattle, so we opted to travel for that holiday and stay put for Christmas.  Even though I knew I would feel sad to not celebrate with my family, I also knew it was important to start establishing new family traditions.  We made sure to have a tree and put our beloved decorations up.  We went to some nice parties and had good family time.

I took this photo of my kitchen before the holiday madness set in.  Before I made treats for all the teachers and helpers, before I made three cakes for a birthday party, before I hosted lunches, brunches, and dinners.  Before I made a big giant mess, in other words.

On Christmas Eve, we took BART into San Francisco.  (For those of you who don’t know, BART stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit and it is the subway system in the city and the East Bay.  It is terrifically convenient if you happen to live and/or work near a stop.)  It was an absolutely glorious day and we spent some time walking around Union Square.  They had an ice rink set up and a beautiful tree.  We went in to Macy’s to see the decorations and were surprised by a super short line to see Santa.  So the boys put in a few last minute requests.  We ended our time in the city by walking down to the Ferry Building and joining the last minute rush for good bread and cheese.

Christmas Day was joyful to say the least.

One of the things that Graham wanted most was a basketball jersey so my parents sent them to both Graham and Spencer.  He has barely taken it off since Christmas morning.  We went to Alameda to check out the lights a few days after Christmas and stopped to get pizza.  Graham ate four pieces.  And not four “kid size” pieces – real pieces.  I am going to be in trouble when he hits his teens.

Megan came to town so I hosted a lunch for her and Sam along with Denise and Lenny and Tracy.  I made Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger, Ashley’s amazing Brussels Sprouts Salad (I made this several times over the break and I added pomegranate seeds to it), and a bunch of tartines.  My favorite one was topped with a thin omelet streaked with lots of green herbs and topped with harissa.

I cooked and baked a lot.  Some old favorites and some new things.  I love having large batches of delicious things around the holidays to put in gift bags and also to hand out to the garbage guys and mailman.  I had never tried Christmas Crack before but it’s going into regular holiday rotation.  It’s about as easy as it gets and totally addictive.  I ended up making two huge batches.

This is a dreadful photo of a terrific dessert.  I make it every December.  It is a chocolate torte – a layer of chocolate cake topped with a mousse, whipped cream, and raspberries.

Enough wonderful food people whose taste I trust have written about this gorgeous cake that I decided it was my turn to try it.  A huge hit.

A lovely apple walnut cake from the new Macrina cookbook.

From the same book – a brioche bun with a little fromage blanc mixture in the center.  I was really pleased with how they turned out both in looks and taste.  Not a quick recipe by any means but not difficult.  I’ll share the recipe on Thursday.

My in-laws came to town for the week around New Year’s.  We spent some fun days showing off our new area and then took a little trip to Monterey on Randy’s birthday with the boys in tow.  The weather could not have been more perfect for a lunch outside and a couple of hours in an incredible park.  We stayed in a hotel with a (heated) pool and the boys would have spent the entire night in it if we hadn’t had reservations for dinner at La Bicyclette in Carmel.

We spent the next morning in the aquarium which, if you ever find yourself in Monterey, you really must visit.  This was my third visit to that beautiful city and my first time in the aquarium.  It is magnificent.  I liked these jelly fish the best.

Just a side note.  I took this photo on a random street in December.  The fact that so many trees still look this way really blows me away.  Happy New Year!

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