Friday, April 30, 2010

California Part I: Cheese, Crêpes, And Croissants

Earlier this week, I went to California for a few days. And what trip to California doesn't involve cheese?

My mom and I both share a love of cheese. The festivities commenced with this lovely little crock of St. Marcellin. It's a soft cow's milk cheese from southern France.

It's quite delicious. Soft to the point of runny, and a bit tangy and sour. Bonus: you can keep the little crock it comes in!

Breakfast the next morning was a nutella crêpe from a cafe. Nutella is my favorite condiment. It's something I don't keep in the house because it disappears very quickly.

Upon leaving the cafe, I saw a roadkill baguette. My heart went out to it. It would have been good with cheese!

This mini baguette fared a better fate, and was served up with Saint Nectair "L'Or des Domes" and Manchego. (Separately, not together.)

Nutella made a second (and later, a third) appearance on the menu when I saw this heavenly nutella croissant sandwich. This can easily be recreated at home: buy a croissant, buy a jar of nutella, cut open croissant. Croissant, meet Nutella.

Appropriately, I went with my maman to Chez Maman in San Francisco. It's located in Potrero Hill. They're known for their crêpes.

I ordered the savoyarde crêpe, which comes with bechamel sauce, tomato, prosciutto and brie. They use buckwheat flour in the crêpe which accounts for the dark color. Fortunately, I was not reminded of Russia while eating it.

Afterwards we went to the ferry building, which is home to I Preferiti di Boriana.

Three words. (okay, five) Pecorino cheese and sunflower honey. How have I lived so long without trying this combination? It is perfect. Perfect!

Sadly, Pug was not able to come on the trip. I know he would have loved the cheese.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Those Darned Squirrels

Here's our woodpecker feeder. There used to be a seed cake inside it.

The woodpeckers never got one bite of it. The squirrels beat them to it!

Let me just say I don't want to get rid of the squirrels, or have them rubbed out. I love squirrels! And chipmunks. It's a good thing, because we have a lot of them.

At the very least, they provide cheap entertainment.

Even if that means emptying the feeder of sunflower seeds...

Look at the athletecism involved in being a squirrel!

We have a special species of giant squirrel.

It's actually Pug in a squirrel outfit.

Pug likes to chase squirrels and would probably like to catch one

but for now, he's happy with just looking like one.

Monday, April 26, 2010

From The Kitchen: Spinach Salad with Bacon Wrapped Dates

I try to eat a primarily vegetarian diet. My good intentions and willpower often take the backseat, however, when I come in contact with foods that cannot be not eaten. For instance, if I see the words "bacon wrapped dates" on a menu at a restaurant, as I did last week at Cafe Nola on Bainbridge Island, then it's a done deal. I love bacon. I love dates. Together? I could only imagine the possibilities! I decided to recreate the dish at home.

My spinach salad at Cafe Nola had a slice of herb goat cheese on top. I chose this herb goat cheese from Cypress Grove Chevre at Whole Foods. The label's nice too. I sampled the cheese beforehand: very creamy, and fairly herby. They add Herbs de Provence, and I could strongly taste the thyme.

At the restaurant, the dates were cooked inside the bacon, all wrapped up. So the question when making my own was, do I wrap the dates in the bacon and cook, or cook the bacon a little first then wrap around the dates? I did an experiment and tried both.

In short, neither way worked perfectly. If you cook the bacon first, you'll ensure a quicker and more even doneness, however you won't be able to wrap the bacon around the date. Even when I wrapped the bacon around the date first, most of them fell apart. Toothpicks would solve this problem (we were out).

One of the successful bacon wrapped dates.

However, they tasted just as good with the dates on top of the bacon. So I declared the entire dinner a success.

When cooking with bacon, Pug is never very far away.

He tries to be very patient while we're eating dinner.

Pug has us wrapped around his little finger. He got a tiny piece of bacon.

Spinach Salad with Bacon Wrapped Dates:

baby spinach
goat cheese
thick sliced bacon
pitted deglet noor dates

Arrange the salad how you like. Top with goat cheese. Wrestle the bacon around the dates somehow and cook, or cook and then wrestle. Arrange bacon wrapped dates around the plate and top with a vinaigrette.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Zut Alors!

"Zut alors" is one of those useless expressions they teach you in high school French class. The teachers make it sound like it's très cool to say-- all the French kids are saying it! Well, don't let them fool you. It belongs in the graveyard of once au courant expressions, gone the way of blimey in the U.K. and gee whiz. Just when you think you'd never say zut alors! again, up pops a wine called, phonetically, Zoot Allures. Apparently it's also the name of a Frank Zappa album (I've just learned this).

I am a sucker for cute animals and birds on wine labels. I also like maps. More on that later. And I know I'm not the only who buys wine this way-- I have already heard from a few blog readers expressing that they too buy wine based on a furry or feathered friend on the label!

I'm not going to try it yet because it's 3 in the afternoon. Anyway, I have succumbed to this cute label before and my recollection is that it was tasty!

My one critique of the label is that it should really feature a pug. I like German Shepherds-- we had a beloved one named Spike when I was in high school. But pugs are extremely photogenic.

Pug loves to smile for the camera.

People often ask me why Pug is so sad. You might be asking yourself that same thing. The answer is that he's not sad, it's just how his face looks. He's a very happy pug except when he gets grumpy close to bedtime.

You might also be wondering how he was able to pose so well for these pictures. The answer is duck jerky and baby carrots.

I'm not very fond of duck jerky, but I do like French cuisine (as long as it doesn't involve duck). St. Honoré is one of my favorite spots for pastries or croque monsieurs. Yesterday I went there for lunch and had a baguette sandwich with brie cheese and herb butter, citrus ginger mint tea, and a chocolate éclair (I took half home for Husband).

It would be very easy to replicate this sandwich at home. I'm not so sure about the éclair...

Casse Croute with Brie cheese and herb butter:

1 baguette
double creme Brie
sliced cucumbers
butter (add chopped chives or parsley)
frisee lettuce leaves
toasted sliced almonds

Friday, April 23, 2010

Cirque Du Pug

Cirque du Soleil is in town with their show KOOZÅ. I saw them putting the tents up a few weeks ago, and little did I know that I would be seeing a show... that is, until last night. I had been instructed a while ago to keep the evening free, and so I wrote in my planner *evening plans*, but it was a complete surprise. And I love surprises! Especially when it has to do with Cirque du Soleil. I saw them in Portland years ago, and their LOVE show in Las Vegas. Both were spectacular, and last night's was no exception.

Here are the tents as we made our way in. Unfortunately I couldn't take photos during the show, but let me just say it was amazing, magical, and inspiring. Those are some very talented, bendable, acrobatic folks. It was like watching art come to life.

We came home to our own circus clown: pug. Living with a pug is like living with a clown.

Pug and I like going for walks in the park. It smelled wonderful out, very fresh and mushroomy.

There are many lovely ferns. I'm trying to learn their names. I love the curled fronds on the sword fern.

Going on walks in the park reminds me to enjoy the simple things in life. Nature is free! (um, at least it should be!)

Pug likes to get in touch with his inner wolf.

I like this quote by John Burroughs:
" find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter... to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird's nest or a wildflower in spring-- these are some of the rewards of the simple life."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

From The Kitchen: Crêpes

On the menu this morning: crêpes. They're the perfect breakfast food. They may not be healthy, but you can add healthy toppings if you wish, like fresh fruit. I find that making crêpes first thing when I wake up makes the day feel so much slower and calm. Stirring ingredients together is a good way to get going.

When I make crêpes, I use a tried and true recipe from Betty Crocker's Cookbook (I have the Bridal Edition). I keep eyeing Alice Water's recipe for crêpes from The Art of Simple Food (not the buckwheat ones though-- reminds me too much of Russia). Her crêpes, however, require being made the night before. Someday I'll try it when I'm in a scheduling kind of mood . But when so many things in life need to be planned, I like to keep the cooking I do relaxed and somewhat spontaneous.

I used to use non-fat or 1% milk when baking, just because we had it on hand. I now always use whole milk. It makes a big difference in the final product.

These crêpes are very easy to make. I use a crêpe pan, but any non-stick pan will work.

Placing a piece of wax paper in between each crêpe makes it easier to separate them later. I put a towel over top the finished crêpes to keep them warm while I cook the others.

Pug had his eye on the crêpes and toppings. This morning, we had fresh strawberries, strawberry preserves, and homemade applesauce from Jeff and Judy.

One of my favorite toppings on crêpes is butter and applesauce.

Husband put butter and preserves on his first crêpe of the day.

I couldn't forget pug...

I made him his very own pug-sized crêpe.

He ate the strawberries first.

And then he gobbled down the crêpe!

Crêpe recipe from Betty Crocker's Cookbook:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups milk
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
Butter, stick margarine or shortening

1. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Beat with hand beater until smooth.

2. Lightly butter 6- to 8-inch skillet. Heat over medium heat until bubbly.

3. For each crêpe, pour scant 1/4 cup batter into skillet. Immediately rotate skillet until thin layer of batter covers bottom. Cook until light brown. Run wide spatula around edge to loosen; turn and cook other side until light brown. Repeat with remaining batter, buttering skillet as needed.

4. Stack crêpes, placing waxed paper between each; keep covered.