Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sunday supper: chicken Adobo 2.0 and mud pie

Last Friday night, which is technically when this Sunday supper had its genesis, dinner consisted of Mark Bittman's chicken Adobo with linguine and a salad of red leaf lettuce, bell pepper, cucumbers, and carrots.

On Sunday night, I sauteed haricots verts in garlic and olive oil and then added some of the remaining (and gloriously syrupy) Adobo sauce.  Meanwhile, I cooked some more linguini, roughly chopped up the one-and-a-half cooked chicken breasts that were also leftover from Friday, and finally mixed the pasta and chicken with some Greek yogurt and plenty of black pepper.  (Credit to Amanda Hesser, since her pasta-with-yogurt recipe was what first taught me that thick yogurt can be a pasta sauce).  And with that, reincarnated/deconstructed chicken Adobo was served.  No pictures this time, but apart from the beans being a little overcooked, I think the meal wasn't half bad.  Fortunately, Andrew is an uncomplaining - and often enthusiastic - consumer of that which I produce.

Before heading to the Nuthouse, we swung by Aman's birthday dinner at Sundance Steakhouse.  We ordered the "Sundance Mud Pie," which is a towering triangle of coffee ice cream above a thin Oreo cookie crust, topped with whipped cream, some chopped peanuts, and hot fudge.  After a bite or two, we realized that the morning's mocha smoothie was arguably mud pie in a glass, minus only the cookie crust and nuts.  Thank goodness for those green beans!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Palo Alto: Brunch at University Cafe

I would probably have to try brunch at Mayfield, Hobee's, Calafia and Joanie's before being able to definitively name a place "Best Brunch in Palo Alto," but even if I did try those four places, I think University Cafe might still come out on top.  I had had University Cafe's brunch twice over the past two or three years, and both of those brunches were delicious.  That's why I insisted on bringing Andrew here, and on our second attempt, this past Sunday around noon, we fortunately snagged a table next to the window/door.

Caffeine to start: one cup of coffee and one mocha smoothie.  The latter involves two shots of espresso, some frozen yogurt, maybe some other components, and a nice swirl of chocolate syrup around the glass, resulting in the best thing you could want to drink at breakfast (either that, or it's dessert masquerading as a breakfast beverage.  Yeah, that's probably more accurate).  It's not excessively sweet, but we still found ourselves using regular coffee as a palate cleanser.

Our first dish was the veggie omelette - zucchini, mushrooms, some other vegetables, Monterey Jack cheese - with home fries and toast.  Relatively standard, but well-executed, and let's be honest: this is exactly the kind of egg dish you should give your body following an evening at Coach Sushi and Baggy's by the Lake (and preceding an evening at Antonio's Nut House).

I can make a pretty darn good French toast, but University Cafe offers three stellar incarnations that perfectly straddle the divide between French toast and bread pudding.  Between the brioche, bananas Foster brioche, and baked croissant options, we chose the latter, which is essentially French toast that has died, gone to heaven, and come back down to Earth in angelic form.  Righteous.  Also, this dish absolutely must be shared.

Surrounding the food was lots of warm sunshine streaming through the all-glass front of the restaurant, looking out at the gentle bustle of weekend midday on University Avenue.  A lovely, peaceful interlude during a very awesome weekend!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Saturday supper: Oakland's Coach Sushi

Saturday evening found me in Oakland with Andrew, his brother and sister-in-law.  Mike and Mel live practically next to Grand Lake (very pretty at night!).  For dinner we walked around the lake to the [in]famous Coach Sushi, known for its bottomless sake served in cedar boxes by the friendly owner, Coach.  We showed up around 9:00pm and had no trouble getting a table, and a very amusing dinner ensued.  The sake deal is something like $3 per person and involves reading a laminated policy: you have to spend at least ~$11 on food, you can't be belligerent/unruly/regurgitating, you should be responsible, etc etc.  Coach walks around with his sake bottle and continually refills the boxes to the brim, even if you've only downed a few sips.

If you're Andrew, you fold a crane and float it in your sake.

As for food, Mike and Mel shared two sushi rolls, while Andrew and I both ordered the sushi combo.  Not transcendent, but attractive and also quite tasty (especially at the reasonable price point of $16). 

To finish, a [shared] tennis-ball-sized scoop of green tea ice cream, dipped in tempura batter and fried, served on a drizzle of chocolate sauce.  Oddly satisfying.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Palo Alto: Third time's the charm at Mayfield Cafe

On Friday late afternoon, I settled into my favorite bar seat at Mayfield with one of my favorite books, which I like to reread every few years and, in doing so, joyfully re-experience the feeling of discovering what I want to do with my life.  Coffee first (each order is freshly brewed and contains about 2.5 cups), and after a couple chapters, I decided on the "drunken bread pudding" (served with Bourbon sauce).

This time, both food and service were without a single misstep.  For a few hours I was one of the only non-staff in the entire place, and so I got to enjoy the quiet hum of the pre-dinner routine.  By 6:30pm, the restaurant had filled up with the first dinner seating, and there were people next to me on either side of the bar; I headed out quite soon after that.

Palo Alto: Thaiphoon

I was a little surprised to realize that I haven't blogged about Thaiphoon before now.  Out of all the Thai restaurants in Palo Alto, this is definitely the one I visit the most; it may or may not be much better than the others, but I am confident in both its kitchen's consistency and, like Darbar, its staff's ability to handle large groups, whether hall dinners - even two different hall dinners at the same time - or lab lunches.  Prices are also reasonable by Palo Alto standards: dinner can float under or around $15 per person, and lunch tends to be less.

Panang curry with beef

At Thaiphoon I've had various curries (green, red, Panang, Musaman), noodle dishes (pad Thai, pad se ew), a few sauteed dishes (mango chicken, meats or fish with Thai basil), and also the shaken beef.  With the exception of mango chicken, which I think J and I shared once and were both very underwhelmed by, everything has been very well-prepared.  My most recent dinner, on Thursday night around 8:40pm, involved Panang curry with beef, pork with Thai basil, brown rice and white rice.  Everything was as good as I expected, service was speedy, and my half of the bill came to $14 (including tip).

Pork with Thai basil

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mountain View: Tapioca Express

On Tuesday evening around 10pm, after laughing hysterically at various Youtube videos and listening to some undeniably catchy music with deeply questionable musical/intellectual value (this is apparently what happens when we don't have data to pore over), Andrew and I decided to do something semi-productive by going on a mini-adventure to Castro Street.  Between Verde and Tapioca Express we chose the latter.  I was instructed to try the popcorn chicken that is actually called "pepper crispy chicken," served with skewers in a paper bag, freshly fried with some basil leaves.  You can ask for mild, medium, or spicy, and the mild was about right; apparently medium is already pretty intense.  To drink: one coconut milk tea with pearls and one taro milk tea with pearls.

I haven't been to a Tapioca Express for quite a few years, since the franchise in Davis closed because of a rather tragic event, but the one off of Castro is quite pleasant (if a little strange; what's with the weird, vaguely Christmasy arbor between the two rooms?).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lemon yogurt loaves

My mom requested a lemon cake using the lemons from the very productive tree at home, and so this afternoon I decided to bake two: one for my mom, and one as a birthday present for a friend.  I was planning on making the same lemon pound cake I made recently, but healthiness took precedence this time, so instead of going the butter cake route I fell back on an equally tried-and-true lemon yogurt cake recipe from Ina Garten.

Of course, I couldn't resist making two modifications, one being my usual reduce-the-sugar-by-about-25%, and the other being the use of 2/3 cup of lemon zest instead of a measly 4 teaspoons.  I realize that 2/3 cup may sound excessive, but the pound cake recipe had worked so well with 1/3 cup of zest in the one loaf, and I figured people would be unlikely to complain that their lemon cakes were too lemony.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Palo Alto: Coupa Cafe and Cafe220

On Saturday morning, Andrew and I drove to University Ave with brunch at University Cafe in mind.  Unfortunately but not surprisingly, they had a 10-15 minute wait (at least), so we went to Coupa Cafe instead.  The only available tables were outside, but fortunately the little front patio is covered and also has a heat lamp.  With the following carbohydrate-based goodness, we fueled up for an afternoon spent in our respective labs. 

Chocolate chip pancakes:

Waffle with bananas:

The same evening, after doing "two plates and one dish" (the former being RT-PCR and the latter being a Dish run), I met up with E, M and J for a "last supper" at - surprise, surprise - Cafe220.  Falafel plates for me and J, chicken gyros salad for E, chicken kebab plate for M, hot tea, and some baklava to finish.  Exhausted faces all around the table, but plenty of warm conversation nonetheless, under the emotional rain cloud of it being J's last night in town before officially moving to New York.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Weekday dinner: afternoon tea

Between lab and my Cuddler shift last Wednesday, I ran some errands and also had time for a light meal at home.  After going to Whole Foods, I assembled a simple late-afternoon tea of curried chicken salad on wheat bread, two tiny fruit tarts, and a mug of chocolate pu-erh.  Colorful and cheerful!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Guest post by E: Sunday brunch at Stephanie's

(Ed.: I'm pleased to present a review written and photographed by the lovely E.  If you haven't met her or had the pleasure of dining with her, then you're missing out, but this post is a tiny bit of her gastronomical perspective.)

I have had the good fortune in the past couple of months to explore some great local cuisine (and a lot of sandwich platters) during my grad school interview process.  Two weekends ago found me in Boston, and my program booked us for brunch at the famous Stephanie's on Newbury.  This was definitely the most exciting meal I had been offered on my visits so far, and Cynthia graciously agreed to allow me to do a guest post.

What I suspect, after my meal, is that Stephanie's is very, very good at doing a few things, and as a newcomer I really didn't know what those things were.  The current grad students knew what they were doing - one ordered an apple cinnamon oatmeal brulee, pictured below.  It clearly fell in the "specialty" category, and it was spiced, comforting, goodness.

I'm usually an eggs-and-potatoes girl for breakfast, so I ordered the vegetarian omelette, with spinach, tomatoes, and feta, with breakfast potatoes on the side.  It was definitely enjoyable, though I was a little disappointed to find it unremarkable/not quite up to the reputation of the establishment - the omelette was a little watery (I don't know if they accounted for the tomatoes as much as they should have) and the potatoes were a little overspiced, but the company was good.

The highlight, though, was the small piece I ordered as an extra - grapefruit brulee.  Instead of slacking on the simple stuff, Stephanie's went all out.  Presentation was impeccable, and it turns out grapefruit with caramelized sugar is incredibly good.

This was listed in the "sides" portion of the menu, along with the oatmeal I mentioned above - I think Stephanie's excels at making things that don't sound like much taste absolutely amazing.  Their ability to do small things well carried over to the atmosphere in the restaurant as a whole.  It was charming - all dark wood, large windows, and classic leather, and they were able to accommodate a group of our size.  All in all, a satisfying Sunday brunch.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Palo Alto: Happy Hour at Mantra

E and I have been attempting to go to Happy Hour at Mantra since last February, but we finally made it there on Tuesday after work - hooray!  Mantra just finished a rather dramatic renovation, and now the entire space feels much more open.  We took two bar seats toward the inner end, ordered mocktails (I was driving and we were both tired) of lemongrass lemonade and sparkling orange/cranberry/pomegranate, and clinked our glasses to each other and to Paras; we all have much to celebrate and be grateful for.

Our first appetizer was the vegetarian sampler.  I found this underwhelming because, when I came to Mantra for late-evening appetizers with some classmates last spring, the same sampler was much more robust; at that time we were actually served what the online menu advertises: aloo tikkis, samosas, paneer, and salad.  On Tuesday, the plate seemed paltry and thus overpriced (even with the 30% Happy Hour discount), though I suppose it's a matter of perspective.  From left to right: pani puris, garlic edamame (honestly, a little WTF), and some sort of fritter.

The vegetarian samosas we also ordered, however, did not disappoint.  Wonderfully flaky shells, flavorful filling, and quite addictive when paired with little dollops of tamarind chutney and/or mint sauce.

Our entire appetizers-and-drinks spread:

We decided to share an entree of chicken tikka masala, along with butter naan and rice.  E wished the naan was doughier, while I thought it was pretty perfect.  The chicken was nothing revelatory, but satisfied whatever savory craving we had had.

The bill, post-discount and pre-tip, came to around $32.  All in all, a very nice dinner, a year in the making :-).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New York: Pio Pio Salon, by proxy

On Sunday afternoon, I received an unexpected call from Caroline, who said roughly the following: "Cynthia, I have a weird question for you.  I'm meeting up with three friends for dinner, and we don't know where to go.  Can you recommend somewhere on the Upper West Side or Midtown, ideally near the 1 [train]?"  I asked for a few minutes, did a quick Yelp search of Upper West Side restaurants, then cross-checked the top-rated results against what I remembered from the NY-centric food journalism I follow (namely: NYTimes, A Passion For Food, Serious Eats New York, and The Girl Who Ate Everything).  The two restaurants I decided to tell Caroline about were Pio Pio Salon and Kefi, since I knew the former had been praised by Robyn of TGWAE, and the latter had recently shown up on SENY.

Two days later, I got an email from Caroline saying that they enjoyed their dinner at Pio Pio (in addition to smiling, I breathed an sigh of relief), and she also sent me pictures and a brief description of their meal!  Accordingly, the remainder of this post is adapted from Caroline.  She and her friend Roger apparently shared a whole chicken with sides of maduros (ripe plantains) and rice and beans.

Caroline's mom and friend Hannah both had shrimp entrees.  I rather like the plating!

For dessert, the group ordered flan, tres leches cake, and ice cream.  The ice cream was apparently quite standard, and the cake was just ok.  No comment on the service or atmosphere, so I'm assuming they were at least satisfactory.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Palo Alto: Monday night at Mayfield Cafe

I really needed to get out of my apartment on Monday evening and keep myself distracted, so I ran errands and then decided to take myself to dessert at Mayfield Cafe around 8:45pm (they are open until 9:30 on weekdays).  The interior is an inviting one, with the comforting drone of the open kitchen.  I got the same bar seat that I had when I came for coffee and a croissant in September.  Joel the bartender helped me pick the creme brulee with madeleines, over the chocolate tart.

The creme brulee - a very generous portion, certainly enough for two - was excellently smooth, not too sweet, and had a nice citrus flavor and a perfectly thin sugar crust.  The accompanying madeleines, however, were disappointingly dry!  I told Joel about this unfortunate situation, and he immediately said he'd try and get some fresh madeleines, which he did in about three minutes.  The replacements were much better, though not perfect.  Serving madeleines in a restaurant takes courage, because they're ideal right after baking and decent for a little while afterward, but dry madeleines are a travesty.

Replacements are at the upper left

A few minutes after that, the manager (I think?) brought over a plate with a cookie on it, proclaiming, "Here's a warm butterscotch cookie for you.  Again, we apologize for the madeleines."  Quite a surprise, and as it turns out, this cookie was everything you would want in a cookie: a little crisp around the edges, very chewy the rest of the way, and butterscotch/caramel-y without being cloying.  Eventually my coffee came, freshly brewed, and rounded out my dessert feast.  If Mayfield served little versions of their butterscotch cookies with the citrus creme brulee instead of the madeleines, I think that combination would be a knockout.

In both of my visits to Mayfield, I've experienced consistency and timing issues with their food preparation and service.  But, in both visits they handled such errors with class and generosity, in addition to being unfailingly polite and friendly.  On Monday night I was only charged for the creme brulee, which was suitable since my coffee had been rather late.  But regardless, I still put down $12 on the $8.75 bill.  Immediately replacing the madeleines with fresher ones was already a very satisfactory move.  The butterscotch cookie was above and beyond what I would expect, but such little gestures are the sort of thing that really help a restaurant cultivate and maintain clientele, and it's heartening that Mayfield treats diners - even solo diners just stopping in for dessert - this way.  That attitude, along with the warm atmosphere, is why I'll keep returning.  The lunch and dinner menus are [overly] pricey and not very suitable for my budget, but the breakfast and dessert menus are more reasonable.

Weekday dinner: spinach bolani quesadilla

I bought some spinach bolani at the Farmer's Market on Sunday.  Once I remembered that I had leftover pecorino romano (from that Saturday pasta), and after seeing this quesadilla article/recipe in the NYTimes, I decided I should do something similar for dinner on Monday.  Given the quantity of broccoli and red onions that I sauteed, and the fact that I was only cooking for one, I ended up eating the vegetables on the side - with some hummus - and leaving the quesadilla plain and simple.  Pecorino romano is a little strong to my taste, so I probably should have put a little bit less between the bolani pieces, but the cheese did help round out the meal's overall flavor and nutrition.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Meyer lemon pound cake

On Sunday morning, I went to the Farmer's Market and noticed that Meyer lemons were available, so without knowing what exactly I would do with them, I bought four.  Then, while walking the Dish with E and Christina, the subject of Bytes' lemon cake came up, and so I decided to make either lemon cake or lemon bars.  The latter got ruled out because I had used my 9x13 pan for Saturday's apple tart, and the leftover tart in the pan was still at at Andrew's (along with my cookies-and-tarts spatula and my thin, perfect-for-cutting-bar-cookies-and-tarts butter knife).  I could have used different pans, I suppose, but it was easier to simply decide on cake.

SmittenKitchen's adaptation of Ina Garten's lemon pound cake recipe sounded as good as any.  I halved the recipe but, other than reducing the sugar a little (as usual), put in the full 1/3 cup of lemon zest.  The process of zesting four Meyer lemons made my entire apartment smell wonderful, and the finished cake fragrance was a nice sequel.

It's hard to improve upon a lushly lemony pound cake like this, especially with the lemon syrup soaked into the exterior.  Few things pair better with some green tea and a quiet afternoon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Saturday supper: BBQ and an apple tart

Happy Pi Day!  I suppose it's fitting that today's blog post describes the apple tart I baked on Saturday afternoon for a BBQ I attended that evening.  I'm very familiar with this tart recipe from Amanda Hesser (who else?), having used it multiple times last summer when peaches and plums were a-plenty; I did try it with apples once before and knew it worked just as well.  For Saturday's tart, a doubled recipe in a 9x13 pan, I used six Gala apples and six Granny Smith apples, all from Trader Joe's.  The peeling and slicing took a while, but other than that the preparation was very straightforward.

There were eight other people at the BBQ, and it was a tasty and fun affair.  Thanks the highly competent and generous efforts of kitchen and grill masters Caitlin and Jeff, respectively, we enjoyed Israeli couscous, hot dogs and burgers (both beef and vegetarian), Korean BBQ (pork and maybe also beef), and grilled vegetables.  There was also a variety of drinks ranging from Calpico to beer.  We finished with the apple tart, which was warmed nicely by placing the pan on the grill.  One of Jeff's friends even unexpectedly told me that if med school didn't work out I could go into baking, and that he'd buy this tart.  Another person went back for seconds, an equally appreciated endorsement :-).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Davis Creamery

During my brief trip to Davis last week, I managed to finally try what is supposedly the best ice cream in town: Davis Creamery, which until this past weekend was located in the South Davis Safeway shopping center but has just closed in preparation for moving to a downtown location.  I'm glad I caught them before the closure/move!

The owner is very generous with samples, and it was great to be able to taste several flavors: avocado coconut, salted caramel, amaretto, and chai.  What makes this ice cream so good is, I think, the fact that it is both springy and creamy, with that great "pull."  I finally settled on one scoop of avocado coconut (mild and rich, and barely sweet) and one scoop of salted caramel (actually less powerful of a flavor than I expected, but still wonderful).  A single scoop is $2.95, and each additional scoop is $1.   I also bought a quart of mint chip to bring home for my parents; on Thursdays, quarts are $5 instead of the usual $6.50.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Weekday dinner: simplified salmon and beans

I couldn't resist buying another pretty piece of salmon at Whole Foods on Sunday, along with more haricots verts at Trader Joe's.  Since I knew I'd only be cooking dinner once this week, I figured it should be a good one.  Fortunately, with great ingredients, I was halfway there even before the cooking started.

The haricots verts were sauteed with minced garlic and salt in olive oil.  Meanwhile, I poured the juice of one homegrown orange into a hot pan, then added the salmon (which I had seasoned with salt and pepper).  A little while and a few flips later, dinner was ready.  This time, you get pictures!

I'll be in Davis tomorrow and Friday, so that will probably be a hiatus from posting as well.  Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Saturday supper, with pots de creme

On Saturday night, Andrew came over for dinner before we went to see "The King's Speech" (which I enjoyed even more the second time around.  Colin Firth, you are a god among men).  I decided to make a casserole, so I chopped some tomatoes and a zucchini and tossed them with a beaten egg, minced garlic, sea salt, ground black pepper, and cooked ground turkey.  The mixture then went into the oven at 300degF for the better part of an hour.  To accompany the casserole, I decided on spaghetti cacio e pepe, following Amanda Hesser's recipe but omitting the Parmesan.  Simple and tasty.

Dessert was dark chocolate pots de creme, which I had made in the afternoon and let sit happily in the fridge until consumption time.  For pots de creme I generally use this Food & Wine recipe, but with all dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, and also with only half of the recommended sugar.  This time, I halved the recipe, and that still resulted in six single-serving ramekins.  My starting chocolates were one bar of Godiva raspberry dark chocolate (thanks, Paras!), one Portland bar (thanks again, E!), and a little bit of leftover Ghiradelli raspberry dark chocolate.

I also used coconut milk in place of the prescribed milk/cream, and for four of the six ramekins, I used World Peace cookies as a base.  It's hard not to like a chocolate cookie crust, especially with dense, silky chocolate cream on top of it :-).


After the sleep deprivation and general topsy-turvyness that was the latter half of last week, it has felt really great to get my appetite back, go grocery shopping (twice in one weekend!), cook and eat.  A few recent purchases that have been making my kitchen, tongue and stomach very happy: curry chicken salad from the Whole Foods deli, a big bottle of Naked Juice Green Machine, fresh bread, yogurt, fresh salmon, and graham crackers.  All this, along with the fact that I ran the Dish for the first time today (and plan to do so many more times over the next few months), has helped me get back in tune.  Life is good.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Weekday dinner: chicken pseudo-Adobo

The two options originally proposed for dinner two Saturdays ago were salmon beurre rouge and chicken Adobo.  We chose the salmon, and I'm glad we did, but it meant that the chicken idea was floating around in the back of my mind and started poking me while I decided what to make for dinner last Tuesday night.

This recipe provided some ingredient guidelines, though I also decided to add coconut milk.  I had one sizeable, boneless, skinless chicken breast from Trader Joe's, which I cut into two-bite-sized pieces and briefly marinated in a mixture of coconut milk, soy sauce and white vinegar (less than 0.5-cup of each), and freshly ground black pepper.  After sauteing some minced garlic, I poured the chicken and marinade into the pan, let simmer until the chicken was cooked through but tender, then removed the chicken and let the sauce reduce a while longer.

Without the coconut milk, I think the sauce would have been too tangy, but maybe that's the way it's supposed to be.  To accompany was white rice and some stir-fried broccoli with slivered almonds (yes, I've been on a slivered-almonds-at-every-meal kick).

Friday, March 4, 2011

A reflection on food

Today was unexpectedly both tough and disappointing.  To combat the negative feelings, I spent some reassuring time with friends, downed a shot of gin, and have tried to focus on the many blessings in my life.  Two of these blessings are the possession of a pretty good brain and the possession of a pretty good palate.  The following reflective piece is the result.


On my relationship with food 

It is safe to say that I love food, but over the past several years and even the past couple of months, how I think about and treat food has evolved a great deal.  Growing up, I could always eat a lot, and I figured out relatively early that I was blessed with a fast metabolism.  My mom's cooking is low in both fat and sodium - we never bought butter until I started baking, toward the end of high school - and high in nutrients, so my robust appetite was never a problem.

College was an interesting transition to a diet that was more varied but also less healthy, though I was lucky to live near some of the best dorm food on campus for three years.  The "Freshman 15" was something like the freshman five in my case.  I went on my first-ever "diet" during sophomore year, when my desire to be able to dance in a gorgeous, form-fitting white silk dress at Viennese Ball prompted a month of lunches and dinners that were half salad.  It worked, but I am far too fond of carbohydrates and not nearly fond enough of salad to repeat the experience anytime least not before I get married, at which point I would probably be willing to submit to societal pressure and the allure of another beautiful dress.  (No matter what, though, I refuse to be one of those brides who does not eat a single bite at her own wedding.  My wedding dinner will be fantastic, and I intend to enjoy it.  End tangent....)

My foodie identity blossomed during college and, during my two summer at Mae's house, also grew into a habit of wanting to cook and bake for the people I care about.  Food and the kitchen became strongly associated with my personal relationships, with joy and love and loss.  I remember a moment after I cooked dinner for my then-boyfriend, when I set down two bowls of pasta on the counter and was pulled in for a gentle kiss.  I remember the raucous amusement and incredible feeling of affection that filled a summer dinner party with seven friends.  I remember baking a huge coconut cake after taking the MCAT, and then making Justin eat far more of it than he wanted (hey, he was around, and I needed to get rid of it somehow!). 

I also remember the very last conversation I had with Mae, over blueberry smoothies and homemade chocolate-chip zucchini muffins.  I remember how, a few days later, Paras helped me frantically clean the kitchen after we found out that Mae had been hospitalized.  And I remember how, after Mae passed away, I spent hours compulsively cooking and half convincing myself that at any moment she would walk in again.

Emotional impacts aside, during senior year and this gap year, I was surprised to realize that my appetite had become noticeably smaller and more consistent, to the point where I now rarely stuff myself even if I love what I'm eating.  At the same time, the kitchen has become my favorite room, and my “Meditating While Multitasking” refrigerator magnet quite accurately reflects what I do there.  While I enjoy cooking or baking with others on occasion, I usually prefer to wash, chop, mix, sauté, and whisk alone, in silence.  I use this time to reflect, analyze, or just enjoy watching ingredients blend together into potential deliciousness.

During my first few months in this apartment, I baked up a storm just to prove that I could.  After all, nothing says "I am an independent adult!!" quite like making brownies from scratch at 11:30pm on a whim (kindly hold your laughter).  That aside, out of necessity and not just interest or pleasure, I also started establishing a cooking routine in which I try to make dinner - with leftovers for the next day - two or three times a week.  Learning how to cook regularly, efficiently, and nutritiously is something which I will continue to work on, and which I know will serve me well.  More recently, having moved out of the baking-as-an-act-of-personal-agency phase, my baking has reached a sort of steady state.  I love dessert as much as ever, but I don't eat very much of what I bake anymore, and instead prefer to bake for others.

Someone recently said to me, after hearing about my food blogging, "So it seems like food is a really big part of your life.  Maybe you could be a food critic."  My response was that food is indeed a big part of my life, but it is only one part, and I enjoy food because of its associated memories and people.  I have certainly had some fantastic meals after which I primarily remember the food, a 2008 dinner at Aziza being a case in point.  But my favorite meals have been those where I may have forgotten what the dishes tasted like, but clearly recall being red in the face from laughter, feeling warm and blessed and so grateful.  For the same reason, I am happiest when the things I bake, whether a fully frosted and decorated layer cake or a simple batch of cookies, make people happy.

My saucepan and soup pot, which I intend to bring to medical school with me, came from Mae's kitchen and provide me with a daily reminder of her enthusiasm, love, and generosity.  The very last words Mae spoke in her home were said to me after we stood in her kitchen and shared those muffins: “You know, we have so much to be grateful for.”  How she lived in her kitchen reflected how, more generally, she lived a life full of grace.  I aspire to the same.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tidbits from the past few weeks

Some brief notes on meals from the past few weeks that don't individually warrant full posts:

1. Pho Nam in Sunnyvale.  A Vietnamese colleague of my dining companion had apparently touted this place as having the best pho in Silicon Valley.  I enjoyed my pho, to be sure, but it didn't seem that memorable (or better than that pho place at the intersection of San Antonio and El Camino....maybe my pho taste buds just aren't that refined?).

2. Tofu crepe at Crepeville in Davis.  I always order this at Crepeville, and it's never let me down.

3. Moussaka and rice pudding (two separate meals) at Cafe220.  Again, staples, and very satisfying as usual.

4. Homemade french toast for breakfast, using La Brea French bread from Whole Foods.  My latest iteration was stuffed with some lemon curd and, right before serving, sprinkled with sliced almonds.  Yum!