Posted on September 30, 2013
All week long I’ve had figs on my mind. I spent hours pouring over new recipes to try, and daydreaming ideas to improve old favorites. Figs come twice a year, but are at their best in the later summer and early fall. To me they are the perfect kind of sweet, not too sugary, not too tart, the way I imagined nectar tasted to bees when I was child. Like a with a good cheese, your first taste of a ripe fig should be held on the tongue for a moment, taking time to appreciate its subtle flavors before it melts away in your mouth.
I like to get to the market early on Saturdays. There is always something delicate that comes in small quantities and is gone if you sleep in, even just a little. For me its worth it to give up a little sleep to have a chance to grab green garlic, the first pears, or a handful of mushrooms. This week we were running a tiny bit late and when we arrived I headed straight to the back to look for figs. To my delight, there was one carton of half a dozen figs left. As soon as I’d set them in my basket, a well-dressed man came rushing up, asking if they were the last ones, and I was sorry to tell him I thought they were.
Years ago, I had an internship in the mountains in eastern South Africa, and next door to our lodge was a tiny little gift shop called Nina’s, that also sold the most amazing light lunches. They had a fig and Roquefort pizza that was a hit with my fellow interns. I’ve never forgotten those amazing flavors and decided to try to make something similar.
The result was better than I remembered. I used far less Roquefort than I would mozzarella on a typical pizza (about an tablespoon and a half vs 1/2 a cup). The Roquefort melts and spreads out thinly over the other ingredients, it’s sharp salty flavor mellowed by the sweetness of the figs and caramelized onions. The mister is not a fan of non-traditional pizza (he loves a good red sauce), but even he wolfed down a few slices and tried to describe how the flavors interacted.
Outside it was sunny with a cool breeze, and I took the entire pizza board outside with a glass of sparkling vinho verde; the perfect lunch for an early autumn day.
A few tips:
Consider a pizza stone. We keep one in the bottom of our oven at all times. Pizza stones help your oven retain heat that is usually lost when opening the oven door. This use of high, even heat combined with the kind of wet, aged dough we use, results in a crust that is crunchy on the outside and chewy within. I’ve mentioned that we use the dough from this book, but here is a similar recipe from Food Wishes.
Aged dough already has really amazing flavor, but I think that brushing a little olive oil over your dough before adding any ingredients really adds another level of amazing flavor. A tablespoon should be enough for the whole pizza.
Caramelizing onions takes a while. I usually start well before I’m ready to make the pizza, and they are easy to keep in the refrigerator if you want to make them ahead of time or even the day before. Just be sure to set the container out when you begin working on dinner; they’ll be easier to spread over the dough if they’ve had a chance to warm up. I caramelized two medium onions for this pizza.
Roquefort and other blue cheeses aren’t the easiest to crumble, but its easier if they are cold. Keep the cheese in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
You can quarter the figs if you’d like, but I find thin, even slices make for easier eating.
I think that a light sprinkling of salt over the assembled pizza really helps bring out the flavors. I take just a pinch of good sea salt and hold my fingers high above the pizza while sprinkling. This helps get a more even distribution so no one part is too salty. In the case of this pizza, I salted it just before adding the figs.
Posted on September 27, 2013
There is a time every year, when I’ve read one too many depressing pretentious books by hot young authors, that I put them all away with a dissatisfied grumble and allow myself to drift off in a series of what I call “French food memoirs.” Typically penned by Americans or Brits living in France or remembering France, they hit just the right combination of bittersweet memories and mouthwatering recipes, and always, always I want to never reach the last page.
One of the first such books that I loosely grouped into “French food memoirs,” is Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. There’s a short chapter about the early stages of love and eating radishes with butter on toast. At the time, I’d probably never had a radish that wasn’t cut into an underwhelming salad, and I promptly went off to the store to try this supposedly simple, perfect meal.
No doubt it was good, but as I ate them, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would work to saute the radishes in said butter, then serve on a toasted baguette. As it turns out, it was good, very good, and has become one of our go to lazy morning meals as well as an interesting treat we make for guests.
A few tips:
Leave the greens on while slicing the radishes; it makes it easier to stabilize them as you slice and will help prevent a slip of the knife as the end tapers off.
Use a large pan or saute in several batches. If you overcrowd the radish slices, they are more likely to steam instead of brown.
Cook the radish greens for a tasty addition, but beware, they like to hang on to their grit. To get them really clean, float them in a bowl of cool water once you’ve separated them from the radishes. Every few minutes give them a little swish with your hand, and the grit will loosen up and sink to the bottom of the bowl.
Fresh baguette is great, though we like to eat them on sliced and toasted semolina bread, with a fried or poached egg and fresh fruit on the side.
Posted on September 26, 2013
At the end of this trip to California, we headed south for the wedding of one of the Mister’s good friends from college, hopscotching all over Orange County and Los Angeles for various wedding events, visiting family, and getting in a little sightseeing.
We started out in Irvine, staying with family on his side. I wrote a little about it here. To kick off the busy weekend, the Mister’s auntie made us an Italian feast, with homemade gnocchi, eggplant parmesan, fresh fig salad, and on and on. By Saturday morning, we were well-rested and energized for a busy couple of days.
Early Saturday afternoon we drove to Newport Beach for the ceremony. We got to the church about an hour early and walked a block over to the beach to have a look around. It was a gorgeous day, and I wanted to hitch up my long dress and run straight into the waves.
The Mister and the groom come from a tight-knit group of ten or so friends from college, most of whom were able to make it to the wedding. They are scattered all over the country now, and we were glad to spend time before the ceremony chatting and laughing, and catching up with the groom’s family, who they knew well. After the ceremony, the married couple dashed to their vintage ride in a cloud of bubbles, rose petals and cheers, and while they went off to take photos, we all piled into our cars and headed straight to the nearest In-N-Out Burger for a pre-reception snack.
The reception was at the gorgeous Montage Hotel, overlooking Laguna Beach. Cocktail hour and a tea ceremony were held on the lawns, perfectly timed to coincide with the last few golden hours of the day.
We took turns taking each other’s photos and indulging in the champagne bar.
Once the sun had sen, we made our way into the ballroom for dinner, each table set with elaborate ceramics, and bowls of candles and blossoms. We danced the night away to a Beach Boys cover band, under dozens of paper lanterns.
The next morning, we pried our weary bodies out of bed, and drove to Corona del Mar, for a brunch overlooking the beach at the bride’s family home. We sipped mimosas and bloody marys, and watched the waves crash on the rocks a few feet away.
After brunch, and many hugs goodbye with good friends, we headed into Los Angeles to drive around a bit before I had to catch a red eye home. On the recommendation of Kristina, we stopped at Grand Central Market for lunch. We wandered around the building, eating all the food with our eyes, and finally settled on the taqueria with the longest line and no visible name. Amazing.
We also made our way up to Griffith Observatory to take in the views of the city and explore the observatory.
There was so much amazing food and architecture that we couldn’t get to, and now we are both itching to come back soon and taste a little more of what the city has to offer.
Posted on September 25, 2013
There was a point in learning to cook when I went from a frustrated picky eater trying to make food that tasted the way I wanted, to wanting to make simple, beautiful food to share with friends and family. From the first time I saw them, galettes took my breath away, seeming somehow chic and rustic at the same time.
As autumn makes its way in, I’m tempted to make savory galettes with caramelized onions and squash, or sweet ones with apples and figs. And yet, the farmers market is still bright with cherry tomatoes and ears of corn, and I couldn’t help but think of the summery galette Deb recently posted on Smitten Kitchen. I’d practically drooled onto my computer screen when I first saw it, and this weekend I filled my market basket sun golds and sweet corn, knowing what would be making an appearance on our table for lunch.
Deb’s recipes are highly reliable, so if you don’t have a go-to dough, try hers. We keep an everyday sourdough in our fridge most of the time. It’s a little wetter than her recipe, but I’m used to working with it, so I felt comfortable deviating from her recipe a bit. Apart from using a different dough and substituting one of the vegetables, I followed her recipe exactly and produced a wonderful, summery galette.
A few tips:
Mince a little fresh rosemary and add it to the flour when you are making the dough. Rosemary is such a great aromatic to add to breads and cakes, and really makes a sourdough pop.
If possible, make your dough a couple of days ahead. Dough that is at least 24 hours old develops amazing flavors and helps give it that golden yellow color. This is likely the secret to the amazing crust at your favorite pizza place.
I’m not opposed to zucchini, but I don’t love it either, so I was happy to substitute chopped leeks here. Their buttery flavor was perfect with the tomatoes, corn, and green onions. I’m sure it would easy enough to substitute in your favorite summer vegetable, just make sure it’s something that doesn’t release too much liquid.
Posted on September 24, 2013
While in California we had hoped to have a chance to meet up with a couple of good friends who live in the Bay area. We’d all been traveling a lot, only had part of one day free, and they have a baby, so when our friend hit on the solution of meeting up half way in Santa Cruz, we thought “Perfect!” On Sunday morning, we rented a car and made the hour long drive north.
I’d never been to Santa Cruz before and it was really the perfect town to meet up for a few hours. It was still a little foggy when we arrived, so we parked near the boardwalk, got espressos and drifted down to the beach to watch the volleyball players. Not long after, our friends arrived with a beach blanket and picnic food. We set up a few feet up from the water, snacked and caught up, and dug in the sand with the baby, all the while watching athletes complete a triathlon along one stretch of the beach.
Once the sun had burned through the fog and we’d had a chance to soak up the warmth, we packed up the blanket and headed over to the boardwalk to check out the amusement park and the arcades. It was fun to see the baby taking in all the lights and sounds and the movement of the rides, sometimes wide-eyed and sometimes squealing in delight. We hadn’t seen her since last summer when she still so tiny and sleepy, and now she’s practically a pro at walking.
We women snuck off on our own to ride the colorful chair lifts high above the park, and the men and the baby wandered around the rides and booths below.
Like the end of any perfect summer trip, we indulged in
vices treats like corn dogs and chocolate dipped ice cream cones. We wandered into the arcades and did our best to win enough tickets to buy the baby something cute, and when we came up short, we fed more money into the token machines so we could win more tickets. Eventually we racked up enough tickets to get her a soft blue sea horse on a bendable stick, and she rewarded our efforts by laughing and repeatedly giving it kisses.
Posted on September 23, 2013
It was good to be home for the weekend. I spent a lot of time catching up on sleep, cooking, sorting through photos, and celebrating a friend’s birthday. Here are a few phone snaps from the last couple of days.
Posted on September 19, 2013
One afternoon, I found myself on my own with time on my hands and no place in particular to be. I popped in to Adventures by the Sea and asked about renting a bicycle for a few hours. Within a few minutes they fitted me for a small white, dutch step-through style rental bike, taken my info, and pointed me in the more scenic direction of the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail.
This part of California is known for quick weather changes and this day was no exception. On the ride out, the fog (they call it the Sea Layer) clung to the rocky outcroppings and crashing waves, and the landscape was spooky and otherworldly, making the coast seemed wild and a little dangerous. On the ride back, the sun had burned through the fog and everything was bright and warm and calm, and almost unrecognizable from the earlier ride. I felt as though I was returning through a completely different place.
There are numerous little beaches along the way, some of them with benches and picnic tables. I probably stopped a dozen times, locked my bike up to a chain or fence post and wandered down to the beaches, exploring the rocks and tide pools, numbing my feet in the water and looking for sea glass.
There and back, I rode a little under 19 miles in 3.5 hours–pretty slow and leisurely. I’ll probably be back in California later this year, and I’m hoping to pack a picnic and do the entire ride down to Carmel-by-the-Sea. This would almost double the distance and probably take a full day, but I’m looking forward to it.
A few notes on the ride: I started my ride on the paved bike path near Cannery Row. This is part of the larger Monterey Bay Coastal Trail; its a paved multi-use trail that is separated from the street. After Lover’s Point, in Pacific Grove, the paved bike path ends, and I followed some other cyclists on to the street along Sunset Drive. I don’t typically feel super comfortable riding along with cars, but the traffic on Sunset Drive was slow and lazy, and after about two miles a bike path reappears on either side of the road. I followed this for another mile or so to Spanish Bay, then cut inland and joined up with 17 Mile Drive. The road is free for cyclists, $9.00 for cars, and absolutely beautiful. Ride along for a few miles or the length of the trail, there are plenty of places to stop and rest, but be sure to bring your own food and water, as I didn’t see anything available for sale. The ride is relatively flat, with only one incline that left me a little winded. Here’s a map of the approximate ride I did, 8.7 miles each way.
Posted on September 18, 2013
Early one cool, golden morning, we headed down to the beach to explore Monterey Bay by kayak. It was a little breezy, but the water was glassy and calm, and our wetsuits kept us perfectly warm. I expected to see harbor seals and sea lions, and was surprised by just how many animals we saw. I only got photos of a few of them, but altogether we saw sea lions, harbor seals, otters with pups, dolphins, sea nettles, starfish, a sea hare, cormorants, pelicans, and small octopus. Our guide was thrilled about the octopus as it was the first one he’d ever seen there and couldn’t recall hearing of a sighting in three or four years.
Our amazing guide, Alex, from Monterey Bay Kayaks was incredibly knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and clearly loved his job. Alex was careful to keep us a safe distance from the birds and mammals (for their safety), but many of them seemed just as curious about us and swam over to check us out–and occasionally give us a good splashing.
Posted on September 17, 2013
After nearly two weeks spent in California, I’m finally home and it feels strange to no longer be two blocks from the ocean. I already miss the crashing waves and smell of eucalyptus.
I worked via laptop most of the time I was away, so it wasn’t really a vacation. Still, it was amazing to walk down to the bay when I was done for the day and work with the windows thrown wide open because the weather was so lovely. I’ll likely be back again in early December and I’m already making lists of things I didn’t have time to do this time. Longer bike rides and boating, the aquarium and the markets.
California was golden days and the perfect blend of warm and cool. Now I’m home and the heat seems to have burned off for the year. It really feels like the start of autumn and I’m looking up and waiting for the leaves to change. Its been more than five years since I was last in school and summer blends into the other seasons with no clear delineation. This year feels different.
Posted on September 13, 2013
Today I’m working from a relative’s house in Irvine. I got chance to sneak out this morning for a little walk and was delighted to find pomegranate and lemon trees growing in neighbors’ yards. My life’s dream is to have my very own avocado tree, and if I’d seen one of those I might not have been able to stop myself from taking one. Have a great weekend!
Posted on September 12, 2013
Today is my last day in Monterey. Tonight I head south to attend a weekend wedding and hopefully do a little exploring. I’ll share some photos from my time here next week, but for now, here are a few shots around our gorgeous, Spanish-style hotel.
Posted on September 11, 2013
This weekend, we’re heading to Newport Beach for a wedding. The dress code is black tie optional, so I decided to have a little fun and picked up this bright pink maxi dress from Ruche.
It’s light-weight, simple, and easy to dress up or down with the right accessories. Not being very tall, maxi dresses are usually much too long and this one was no exception. Getting the hem professionally altered seemed silly considering how affordable the dress was, so I decided to tackle this one by hand.
I won’t go into too much detail about how to stitch a basic hem since there are lots of amazing tutorials online. I used a simple backstitch, and was careful to use straight pins and a measuring tape to ensure a consistent length all the way around the bottom. All together it took about an hour to do and now the dress is the perfect length. I have a few other dresses I need to take in and am thinking of getting a small sewing machine. If you are interested in altering your own clothes, I love Extra Petite‘s tutorials. Here are a few of my favorites one / two / three / four.
Posted on September 10, 2013
Earlier this summer, I’d been on the lookout for a few pieces of bold, modern jewelry to add a touch of interest and polish to some of my more tailored and understated outfits. Lot’s of what I was seeing was girly and colorful and not quite what I was looking for.
A couple of mentions in various blogs led me to JewelMint and exactly the sort of jewelry I was looking for. I started with two bracelets and a pair of earrings. All three have become work horses in my outfit rotation. They work equally well for conservative business meetings or drinks with friends, and I get lots of compliments on them.
Above: Moto Chic Bracelet (worn with an old turquoise beaded bracelet and a woven bracelet I picked up in Southern Peru.
Above: Golden Arm Bracelet – Currently out of stock but I love this Cobra Cuff
Posted on September 9, 2013
Over the cheese course at dinner on Saturday, the mister joked that it was a shame I hadn’t called my blog “to and fro….mage.” I think my face immediately fell, because, honestly, it was the perfect name. Why couldn’t he have been so clever twelve days ago? Most likely we were eating cheese when I mentioned that I was going to try a blog for sharing photos.
Oh well. In honor of the change, here are a few photos of delightful cheese experiences we have had in recent times.
Posted on September 6, 2013
I’ve been in Monterey for a few days now and its been a wonderful change of scenery. The days have been sunny and cool, and the air smells like eucalyptus which is one of my favorite things about being in California. Here are a few photos from my first walk down along the water.
This weekend we are planning to go kayaking in Monterey Bay, explore Carmel, and drive up to Santa Cruz to hang out with friends. Hope you have a great weekend!
Posted on September 5, 2013
I always get a little sad as the last few weeks of summer produce make their way into the farmer’s market in September. I find myself thinking, “Blueberries won’t taste this good for another year” or “Will this be the last of the summer melons?” And yet, the fall produce appears and I get excited about the amazing things I will get to eat again. Looking through these photos from recipes tried in years past has me excited for crisp temperatures and fall bounty. These all need to make a reappearance on my table soon, and until then I will be savoring the last days of blackberries and heirloom tomatoes.
Donal Skehan’s Pumpkin and Crispy Pancetta Risotto
New York Times Recipe Fig Tart With Caramelized Onions, Rosemary and Stilton
Apple cider donuts are above my skill level but I think they taste best piping hot with apple cider after a couple hours spent picking apples.
Posted on September 4, 2013
Polenta is an amazing vehicle for so many vegetables. In the summer, I like to roast cherry tomatoes, corn, and mushrooms in the oven and serve over baked polenta.
The Mister used to go through the labor intensive process of making polenta on the stovetop, but then we found Joy the Baker‘s amazing baked polenta recipe and haven’t looked back. Its so amazingly simple and there is no need to stand by your oven stirring until your arms ache. I start with her recipe, substituting chicken stock for flavor and goat cheese instead of butter. I also like to add a few red pepper flakes and a little fresh chopped rosemary. Leave in the oven 10-20 minutes longer if you like your polenta a little firmer. Another nice touch is to finish it under the broiler.
There is no set recipe for the vegetables; I usually wing it. For this version, slice the cherry tomatoes in half and toss with chopped mushrooms, onions, red pepper, and corn cut off the cob. Add garlic, salt and pepper to taste, drizzle with olive oil and stir well. Then pop in the oven along with the polenta, taking the pan out to give them a stir once or twice. Allow the polenta and vegetables to cool for about 15 minutes. Top with fresh chopped herbs–basil or lemon balm are great–and if you like sprinkle with grated parmesan, sea salt and a drizzle of good olive oil.
Posted on September 3, 2013
Packing up for a two week trip to California. I like to travel light and have tried to adhere to a great packing tip I read about on Cup of Jo a while back: stick to a simple color scheme. This let’s you mix and match tops, bottoms, layers, jewelry and shoes, so that you can have lots of outfits without lugging around too much stuff. I’ve packed one brightly colored dress, since I have a wedding to attend at the end of the trip.
I’ll be working from California for next two weeks, mostly in Monterey, but spending a little time in Santa Cruz and Los Angeles. Any tips on great places to eat or things to do?
Posted on September 2, 2013
Over Memorial Day weekend, we traveled to central Florida to attend the second part of our four-weddings-in-six-weeks blitz. We tacked two extra days onto the long weekend and rented a cottage on Cocoa Beach. The water was clear and warm, and large waves broke a few feet from shore. We had fun standing right at the break and trying to jump over the waves without getting barreled over. One day we went dolphin watching and were even lucky enough to catch a rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center. After five days we were so relaxed and it was hard to leave our tiny kitschy cottage by the sea.
Video I shot of the rocket launch.
Posted on September 1, 2013
Running my favorite kind of errand. I ❤ Madewell.