The first Noel, the angels did say… “No Parking”

April 30, 2008 at 10:32 pm (random)

I went climbing today. Forearms tired. Can’t type. Can barely brush my teeth. So this will be another post that will please my lazy-ish sister.

This is what my crazy new landlords did to the front of our pale yellow with light brown brick house. It says, “Don’t park here, but have a Merry Christmas!”:

bright paint

So that’s my submission for the ugliest garage in San Francisco. Maybe in the state or in the country. I hope they don’t paint the rest of the house to match the garage. I start singing Christmas carols every single time I come home. Who knows what would happen if the whole house were bright red and green?

This is the side entrance for the elves:
elf door


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Here’s a post for my sistah

April 28, 2008 at 9:32 pm (food, random)

I like clouds.

sunset on Easter Island

Tamales are yummy.

Tamale from Alemany Farmer\'s Market

They have corn and meat. You can eat them with salsa.

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A Passover and Easter mystery

April 18, 2008 at 3:50 pm (random)

Why is Passover happening in April while Easter was a month ago in March? The events that are commemorated by Easter are intricately linked to Passover and usually, these holidays occur at the same time within one year. A quick Google search didn’t turn up anything useful. Maybe someone out there is better than Google and can tell me?

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Have you ever seen a tamarind? How do you make tamarind juice from that?

April 16, 2008 at 10:18 pm (food)

Tamarinds look like turds! They’re brown, dry and the insides are pasty, like dried fruit in the form of a turd. It’s actually pretty tasty – tangy and sweet. And the juice is really tasty (like in the rainbow salad at Burma Superstar! Went there tonight!). But it’s also very liquidy! But how do you get juice from something that’s so dry! Apparently it involves some mushing and dissolving of tamarind paste into water. So they say. “They” being websites on the internet. I’m not sure I believe that, but I will continue to enjoy tamarind juice.

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Greens Day and Chocolate

April 14, 2008 at 5:15 pm (food, restaurants)

I went to the SF Chocolate Salon yesterday. There were lots of chocolate makers and confectioners and there were lots of chocolate to sample, but that wasn’t the highlight of my day. I’ll get to the highlights of the day later.

A ceramics buddy of mine who is a Guittard of the Guittard Chocolate Company had given us a tasting tutorial one night at the studio, so it was nice to have that preparation when sampling more of their offerings and other companies’ chocolates as well. Guittard had the widest variety and I enjoyed their flavors the most. My head and mouth and nose were all very stimulated and each variety was very different from the next (anything from berries to bananas to anise and more) and also very good. I really liked the Sur del Lago from Venezuela. Scharffen Berger’s chocolates are good, but they don’t have a lot of variety and there’s only really one bar (70%) that I really enjoy. The 60% bar is kinda dull and not as bright as the 70%. Amano might have more bars that they make, but they didn’t have many for us to taste. While they were interesting, many of the bars had weird plastic or gasoline flavors and that overwhelmed the chocolateness.

A photo of some of what Guittard had to offer at their table.

Guittard samples

Most of the tables had chocolate treats. They were pretty tasty, but there were no confectioners that really distinguished themselves and their products in my mind. Christopher Elbow’s chocolates might have been the best, but still nothing blew me away. I got tired of eating these and I kept wishing that there were more chocolate bars for me to taste and compare. A big problem was that everything was so sweet! I think that the confections would have been tastier and more interesting if the sweetness didn’t overwhelm the other flavors. If I ever get into the business of making chocolate confections, I would make things much less sweet!

Christopher Elbow’s chocolates, for display only. They showed us all these varieties but they were only letting people sample three kinds.

Christopher Elbow Chocolates, for display only

They also had chocolate-inspired hair style demonstrations from a salon that specialized in multi-cultural hair. I think the multi-cultural thing is supposed to be the connection to chocolate. While we were waiting to get a table at Greens Restaurant (hold on, hold on, I’ll get to that part soon!), we sat through a chocolate body frosting demo. They had chocolate, paint brushes, and stencils and I guess it’s supposed to be romantic and fun, but the final result looked like moles.

chocolate swirl hairchocolate body frosting stenciles

We also tasted some wine with chocolate, but the wine wasn’t very good. And the wine was causing some weird reaction in my mouth when it was mixed with chocolate and it was not enjoyable at all. I’ll just drink wine (good wine) and eat chocolate separately from now on.

chocolate and wine

We were quite exhausted after eating all that chocolate. Many of us were in chocolate comas:

chocolate comachocolate coma 2

But one of us couldn’t get enough chocolate and needed a take out box:
take out box

The real story is that he couldn’t finish the samples that he was getting and needed a place to hold the chocolate overflow.

Okay, on to Greens! I’ve been wanting to try brunch at Greens and since the chocolate affair was at Fort Mason, we decided to hit Greens. So did a lot of other people. We wound up waiting 2 hours, but it was worth it. It gave us a chance to rest after eating so much chocolate. And the food was really good. Since Christina was complaining about some people having nicknames on the blog while she didn’t, I’ll start referring to people with nicknames. Bourbon Red and Poblano had a Mexican-flavored scramble with the fluffiest tastiest eggs that I have ever tasted. Big Ben had fettuccine with asparagus. And I had a butternut squash gratin with the squash and other vegetables (including poblanos) topped with a fromage blanc custard (I guess that’s the gratin part). There were also cipollini onions and polenta cakes on the side. It was amazing. Unfortunately, there are no photos partly because Poblano was making fun of me for taking so many pictures of food. So I kept the camera in my bag and just enjoyed my food. Number Seven and his Wifey decided to leave before we could get seated at Greens, but hopefully they’ll have an opportunity to go back and have brunch at Greens sometime! With a reservation made in advance!

My Greens Day didn’t stop there. One of Deborah Madison’s (original chef at Greens) recipes from her Local Flavors cookbook was included in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. And it was perfect for this time of year. Asparagus and Morel Bread Pudding. Yes, a savory bread pudding! Brilliant! I couldn’t find morels (I’m so jealous that Bourbon Red got to go morel hunting when he was in middle school. That sounds like fun!) so I used enoki and what I think were oyster mushrooms instead. I made some modifications (soy milk instead of cow milk, two extra eggs because four didn’t seem like enough). The bread was dark so that’s why it looks so dark in the photo.

The resulting bread pudding was delicious and I will be able to enjoy delicious leftovers for a while:

asparagus enoki oyster bread pudding

Next time, instead of soaking the bread in the milk and then adding the eggs later, I will try mixing the eggs into the milk first before soaking. I think that will make the bread more custardy. There were walnuts in the bread that made it extra tasty, so next time, if I use bread with no walnuts, I might add some on my own.

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Mystery photo of the day

April 12, 2008 at 6:51 pm (photography)

A prize goes to whoever can guess what this photo is of. (If you will be using one of these yourself soon, you do not qualify for this contest. I know who you are!)

what is this?

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Animal, Vegetable, Cleveland?

April 11, 2008 at 3:03 pm (books, environment, food)

I recommend reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but I don’t recommend reading it when you’re on a trip to Cleveland.

Before reading the book, when confronted with unfresh, unlocal, not-in-season food, I ate it with mostly no issues. It’s not like I had never had yummy fresh, local, and in-season produce before or that I didn’t know intellectually that buying local foods was better. I just didn’t think too much about it and accepted that there were times for convenience and money when I had to eat the bland and mushy tomatoes and the soggy and flavorless lettuce and all the other stuff from our inefficient world food market. Well, I’m inspired by the book. I don’t want to eat yucky food anymore when the yummy food is not only yummier, but also so much better for my health, the health of farming communities, and the planet’s health. The only problem is that I came to this decision in Cleveland and in various airports where the options weren’t great. As I was reading Barbara Kingsolver’s stories about all the delicious food she was eating, I had to stare at my bland airport and Cleveland* food. I can’t believe they’re allowed to call those things that I ate salads! I think next time, I will plan ahead and bring my own fruit and veggies to snack on.

*I’m sure there are better options in Cleveland. But I was only there for less than 48 hours and I didn’t know where to look. But I did see my first McCain bumper sticker ever!

Here’s one thing that I had never thought to do before and that I was inspired to do: buy extra fresh fruits and veggies in the seasons when there are lots of options and save them for the winter months. I can stock my freezer with sauces and pestos and containers of fruits and veggies that I’ve chopped and maybe blanched and perhaps even measured out for specific recipes. Maybe I’ll try canning or making jam one day. That allows you to eat local even in the winter months. As Barbara Kingsolver said, “it doesn’t go anywhere while it’s sitting in the freezer, so the food is still local.” Or something similar to that but worded in a wittier way. The only issue is freezer space and the energy to power the freezer. But I’m powering the freezer anyway (I don’t turn the freezer off in the winter months). And I can just buy fewer processed and unlocal and packaged foods and replace those with the yummy stuff that I’ve prepared.

I’m also going to try making fresh mozzarella. It is only supposed to take 30 minutes and it involves lots of playing with gooey and stretchy substances. I love mushing and stretching stuff around, especially if it results in something fresh and yummy to eat.

There’s a website that goes with the book… they have lots of recipes and other stuff.

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Ginger coconut ice cream

April 10, 2008 at 5:03 pm (food, ice cream, recipes)

I had some coconut milk that I wanted to use up (actually, some frozen grated coconut that I thought I could squeeze milk out of, but it turned out to be the wrong kind… young coconut and not old coconut). So I decided to make some ice cream. What goes with coconut? To get some ideas, I flipped through The Perfect Scoop and when I saw the fresh ginger ice cream, I knew what had to be done – ginger coconut ice cream!

So I could definitely use the strategy for getting ginger infused ice cream from the fresh ginger recipe, but now I had to figure out how to get the coconut milk in. The recipe for coconut ice cream only used cow milk. There was a pina colada sherbet recipe that used coconut milk, but that wasn’t going to be as creamy as I wanted it to be. So I decided to add coconut milk to the basic milk and cream combo and fiddle with the ratios until I got the right amount percentage of fat and the right volume. The book’s standard ice cream recipe has 1 cup of milk:2 cups of heavy cream. I modified that (with the help of Excel and looking up the percentages of fat in different types of milk) to be 1/2 cup cow milk:1 1/2 cup coconut milk:1 cup heavy cream. Added bonuses: this ratio seemed like it would have a good balance of coconut flavor. And 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk is exactly one standard sized can of coconut milk!


The full recipe:

  • 3 oz. unpeeled fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  1. Thinly slice the ginger (doesn’t have to be peeled) and cover slices with about 1 – 2 cm water in a pot. After boiling for 2 min, pour off all the water.
  2. Add the cow milk, coconut milk, and sugar to the pot with the ginger and heat it until it’s warm. Cover the pot and let the ginger steep for 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a bowl.
  4. Pour the heavy cream in the container that will be the eventual chilling place for the custard.
  5. After an hour of steeping, remove the ginger with a slotted spoon (You’ll strain it more thoroughly later). Rewarm the milk mixture. Slowly pour milk mixture into the egg yolks, making sure to whisk the egg yolks constantly and thoroughly. No scrambled eggs!
  6. Return everything to your pot. Heat the custard until it is thickened so that it passes the wooden spoon test (custard coats a wooden spoon and doesn’t drip or flow after you pass your finger through it). If you have a heat-proof spatula, use it to stir and scrape the bottom constantly. If you have a whisk, use that, but make sure you get into the corners of the pot.
  7. Strain the thickened custard into the heavy cream.
  8. Chill this mixture for at least 8 hours until it is thoroughly chilled. Then it’s ready for your ice cream machine!

The final result of my experiment (standing on the shoulders of giants) was pretty tasty. Perfect balance of coconutty richness, subtle sweetness, and zingy gingeryness.  My one complaint is that it was a little on the icy side. So to fix that, I could either add more sugar to the recipe (but I like the subtle level of sweetness now) or I could add more fat. But actually, I think I need to do nothing to the recipe and next time, just make sure that I don’t make scrambled eggs in the corners of the pot when I’m thickening the custard. It’s likely that the fat that I lost to the scrambled eggs would be enough to make the ice cream smoother next time.

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Fair trade ice cream

April 10, 2008 at 10:15 am (books, food, ice cream, review)

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I made a deal with Christina. I would borrow her copy of The Perfect Scoop. And in exchange, I would share ice cream that I made with her. This works out for both of us because she doesn’t have an ice cream machine and I didn’t have a good ice cream recipe book. But now, we will both have yummy ice cream.

I’ll write another post about the most recent ice cream that I made, but first, I want to talk about the book.

(cover image from

I regularly read and enjoy the blog written by the author of The Perfect Scoop, David Lebovitz. I figured that I’d also enjoy the book. It has a good and thorough introduction, especially if you haven’t made ice cream before. I wish there were a few more notes about the science, but then again, there are other good resources for that (probably McGee, but I can’t check because I’m in Cleveland and my copy is at home). The biggest benefit of the book is the list of yummy and creative flavor ideas. At first, I thought that I could get by without having my own copy of the book because the recipes are pretty standard (ratios of ingredients, technique for making custard). And that I could just get inspired by looking at the list of flavors. But in looking more closely at the recipes, it’s nice to have techniques and tips for some of the funkier ingredients (lavender, ginger) and it’s useful for getting a sense of how much fruit or chocolate or sugar is needed for a particular flavor without having to do a lot of experimentation first. I also like to make my own flavors (for an example, see the post that will be coming soon!), and I found it really easy to mix and match and modify recipes in the book. So it’s really good for beginners who want to follow easy steps to get delicious ice cream and it’s really good for people who are looking for more of a reference to support their crazy ice cream whims.

I also want to note that there’s a photo of coconut ice cream swirled with mango sorbet. Does this sound familiar? I submitted my ice cream flavor to the Haagen Dazs contest in January of 2007 and this book was published in May 2007. I am not suggesting that David Lebovitz borrowed my flavor (but if he did, I don’t mind because copying is the highest, sincerest form of flattery), just that great minds think alike… yes?

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Idea for next season’s Top Chef

April 3, 2008 at 9:15 pm (food, recipes)

They should have an all pastry chef Top Chef next season! I’m supposed to avoid using the word “awesome” because the more you use it, the less effective it is. And it also dates me, I think. But having only pastry chefs compete against each other in various dessert and pastry challenges would be AWESOME!

To get your mind focused on pastries and to help convince you that a Top Pastry Chef season would be AWESOME, I’ll tell you about the nien gao that I made tonight. It’s a Chinese cake made with glutinous rice flour and often has red bean paste swirled in. It’s kinda custardy and eggy, like a clafoutis, but chewier. Speaking of clafoutis, I am having a baking craving for a blueberry clafoutis, and I’m just waiting for blueberries to get sweet and juicy and in season!

The recipe I use for nien gao:

  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups milk (I usually use cow milk, but today I used soy milk. Cow milk is better [firmer, denser, chewier], but soy milk is still pretty good.)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 lb glutinous rice flour (make sure it’s glutinous! I once accidentally grabbed a bag of regular rice flour and it came out really dry and pasty.)
  • 1 (approx 18 oz) can red bean paste
  1. Whisk the wet ingredients and the sugar together.
  2. Whisk in the glutinous rice flour, until the batter is mostly unlumpy.
  3. Pour the batter into a 9×13 pan, leaving a tiny bit of the batter in the mixing bowl.
  4. Mix the red bean paste into the remaining batter. Plop the red bean paste mixture into the pan, distributing evenly, and then swirl it a bit with a knife or knife-like utensil.
  5. Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees F.

The finished product (I cut the recipe in half and used a smaller pan):

nien gao

The edges have a really great texture when it’s still freshly baked! So the corners are the best part! Not living in the same place as my family, I have no competition for the corners so I can’t feel guilty about being selfish. All four corners for me:

all four corners

A closeup of the clafoutis-like texture in the middle and the nice crust of the corner:

closeup of nien gao

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