Hello world, it’s been a while. Well, blog-wise anyway. For the break in blogging and cooking sabaticle that will commence, I apologize dearly. I enjoy my time away from my government job too much, and therefore have less work stress to channel into culinary creations for all of you. Your loss is my gain, in a sense. Oh, and the humidity is a horrible thing to bake in. If anything, a series on ice cream flavors may be in the near future.
Summer is a wonderful thing. After graduation, I thought I’d never have a summer vacation again because my parents (and basically everyone over the age of 40) constantly reminded me to kiss my summers good-bye. The honest truth is that we start living in the real world and learn to value our precious time away from the office much more than we ever did before. That’s how it worked for me, anyway. Unfortunately, summers do shrink from three months to a week or a few long weekends here and there, but those weekends serve as therapy for those of us who are, say, stuck in a windowless government office for the majority of the day.
I honestly haven’t had a real summer vacation since I was seventeen. When I was in high school, I lived out those summer vacations that they write about in the movies (appropriately, because I grew up in Los Angeles). I spent almost every day at Point Dume and a little seafood shack on the Pacific Coast Highway, where my friends became hooked on fish and chips, epic clam chowder, and tilapia, one by one. But every summer following high school was filled with work — waiting tables, office buildings, exhibit design, even summer school (horrible mistake). Now that I’m working and earning salary, vacations are affordable and much more appreciated… enjoy photos from Louisiana and New York!
Life has been busy and exciting — and the food has been delicious, as always. Here are some cupcakes I made for a friend who just got engaged. I’ve never been a big fan of cupcakes, but she obsessed over them (and a cupcake truck in DC), so I thought I’d give a special recipe a try: sponge cake with fondant icing. Success. I’ve never had a better cupcake in my life — and some people hate frosting, but the marshmallow fondant fixed that problem.
Have I mentioned how wonderful jazz in the sculpture garden is?
When I first started using the ice cream maker, I was obsessed with sorbets — I don’t know why. But at the request of my friends, I switched to ice creams, starting with last month’s almond flavor. The response was extremely favorable, reaching the point at which we even ordered almond-flavored ice cream at specialty restaurants, and it just wasn’t nearly as good.
I’ve mentioned before that I started a mini garden on my beautiful balcony; the thing that grows faster than anything else is the mint. After all, it is a ground cover, and my family spent years digging it out of the yard at home in Los Angeles. Luckily, my mint is sectioned off in a planter, so it can only really take over so much space. We don’t drink nearly enough mojitos at my house, but we do eat lots of ice cream — and mint chip just seemed like the next best option.
2/3 cup fresh mint leaves 1 cup granulated sugar 2 1/2 cups milk 1 1/2 cup heavy cream 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 3 large egg yolks 1/3 cup honey 1/2 teaspoon table salt 1 – 2 cups finely chopped dark chocolate
WHAT TO DO:
First, combine the mint leaves and sugar in a food processor. Grind until the mint is very finely chopped and the sugar takes on a light green color. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks with the sugar-mint mixture. Then, heat the milk and heavy cream over the stove. Bring to a boil, and then immediately remove from heat.
Remove about 1/4 to 1/2 of the milk solution, and mix with the egg yolks and sugar. This gradual mixture allowed the eggs to be tempered, rather than scrambled like they would if you threw the yolks into a pot of steaming milk and cream. Once the yolks form a smooth mixture, add the bowl’s contents to the saucepan. Add the salt and honey, and bring to a boil once again. Then let the custard cool completely, which took about 1 – 2 hours in my refrigerator. Before transferring the custard to your ice cream maker, add in the chocolate, and stir.
Summer. It’s hot. And humid. And the thought of heating up my oven seems unbearable on those hot summer days. So we opt for the easier meals in summer — salads, smoothies, fresh fruit, and so on. How can we blame ourselves? The farmers’ markets are all open, the sun is shining, and all of our favorite fruits and vegetables are in season. Not to mention all the memories that summer produce ignites in our systems; especially for California girls, like me.
The summer foods make me long for my parents’ backyard pool and patio kitchen: the site of pool parties upon pool parties, starting in high school and lasting until the week before I said good-bye to my beloved patio grill, and John Wooden, featured here, who still bartends my Dad’s precious kegerator. With regards to John Wooden’s recent passing, my dad sent me an email with the subject title “Hey, at least I have a pretty valuable bartender now.” I guess it’s only okay because my dad has dedicated such a large portion of his life saluting JW. I suspect the same print out of JW’s pyramid of success has been hanging in his offices for the past 25 years. A lot of my recipes are derivatives of things my parents whipped up on that beautiful patio — mostly things that I haven’t posted here, usually because I can’t take photos at night without a light box, and the fact that the dinners rarely ever last through the morning for photographs. It might be because I don’t like to eat dinner alone, so I generally have people over all the time. What can I say? I enjoy good company.
I do, however, really enjoy the sporadic rain and thunderstorms in Washington. This Sunday, Silje and I made an impromptu trip to Eastern Market, only to rush home within twenty minutes of arriving, because the market had packed up right as an isolated T-storm raged on. Umbrella-less, we decided to hit my kitchen and throw together fresh snacks. Here are a couple of easy balsamic recipes that I promise you will love.
For the Cucumber and Tomato Balsamic Salad:
WHAT YOU NEED:
Sliced cucumbers Sliced tomatoes Balsamic vinegar Salt and pepper to taste
WHAT TO DO:
It’s pretty self explanatory from the photos. Thinly slice the cucumbers and tomatoes, and then drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Grind salt and fresh black pepper to the seasoning of your preference.
For the Balsamic Strawberries:
WHAT YOU NEED:
Strawberries. Lots of them. Balsamic vinegar
WHAT TO DO:
First: don’t hesitate. I know you are all thinking: what is this girl talking about? Who mixes vinegar with fruit?
Well, get over it, and trust me. Every single person I’ve made this for has given me a look of disgust until I force fed them these strawberries — and then they end up finishing the strawberries before I even get the chance to pair it with anything else. Needless to say, my friends do trust me in the kitchen, so I don’t actually force feed them… but sometimes I like to think that, just to feel like I had the power to change someone’s mind, dramatizing the event in my own head.
Balsamic vinegar and strawberries might actually be my favorite unexpected combination in the world. I grew up eating strawberries with whipped cream, or sugar. Until I met balsamic vinegar — which actually makes the strawberries taste unbelievably sweet. If anything in this world could make a bowl of red, ripe strawberries taste even more like strawberries, it’s balsamic vinegar.
So, get out your best paring knife. I prefer to slice the strawberries first across the top, to chop off the greens, and then vertically, so they form little triangles. Then, go crazy. But not too crazy. Drizzle your strawberries in balsamic. Toss. Eat. Alone, or with vanilla ice cream.
I remember the Tanzanian breakfasts most vividly; I had never been a fan of breakfast until waking up to the beautiful setup became a part of everyday life. The fresh passionfruit juice, homemade chai tea, chapatis… just thinking about it makes me want to book a trip to Dar. Not that tracking down the people I met there would be easy at all, but I’ve kept in touch with one of the volunteers, and I’m sure a return trip is somewhere in my future. I’d love to see my students all grown-up, and I would kill to swim in that beautiful ocean once again.
One of the things I brought back with me originated from the days that we would return from school early, absolutely famished. We bought loaves of bread and fresh tomatoes from street vendors in our broken Swahili. With intermittent electricity during the dry season, toast quickly became a distant memory that I had gravely taken advantage of in the states — and a toaster was unheard of, so we resorted to our makeshift waffle iron. It actually worked pretty well — the waffle imprints made great pockets for fresh peanut butter, passion fruit jam, or any other sandwich go-betweens. To this day, I make replicas of the tomato-mayo sandwiches I was obsessed with years ago. Salty tomato sandwiches are still one of my favorite things in the world.
Needless to say, when I spotted a waffle iron panini entry on foodgawker, I had to copy it — anyway, I had a history with waffle iron toast. Why not step it up a notch?
Turkey, hummus, plum tomatoes, swiss cheese, and French bread.
I think you can handle making a sandwich from here :)