Monday, September 25, 2006

Need drama?

Have you ever eaten something so spicy you actually cried? A jerk chicken dish I ordered while dining out with a friend a while back did just that. It wasn't even chilies that got me, but plain pepper. Black pepper. Lots of it to be exact. Unlike the chilie burn that sort of numbs one's lips, the spiciness of the pepper made my eyes fill with tears so that it appeared I was having a massively emotional response to whatever conversation we were having which I would guess was something along the lines of "how's life."

Sunday, September 24, 2006


I was at Peet's awaiting my morning cup and decided to browse the shelves. Toting my bag of citrus bread (fancy name for lemon pound cake), I turned my attention to the cute coffee and tea accoutrements. I picked up a mug. It felt good in the hands. Then I picked up a packet of coffee filters I'd not seen before. Before I knew it, the whole display of coffee filters was sliding off the shelf. Hanging onto my breakfast with one hand, I managed to stop the cascade of paper with the other. Disaster averted. I turned towards an unfamiliar tea brewing gizmo. As soon as I picked up the tea filter it disengaged from the mug and I nearly dropped the whole contraption on the floor. At this point my order appeared, as if the barista knew I was on the verge of dismembering the store. Too bad I ordered decaf.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Falafel Madness

Two consecutive nights of falafel fun. It didn't happen intentionally, but it was great for my taste buds.

First up, Falafel Drive In. This corner shop has a quaint little neon sign that I've yet to see lit, and it's amusing to see that all the other signs along this stretch of Stevens Creek dwarf its retro signage. I ordered the falafel special which includes a large falafel pocket and banana shake. At first I was a bit skeptical of the banana shake, but I was quickly won over by its flavor, which doesn't exactly go with falafel, but that's besides the point. Round pita pockets filled with freshly fried falafel. Iceberg lettuce rough chopped and tomatoes are the extent of the veggies, but the ketchupy red sauce gives the whole thing a nice little kick. And watching the folks in the kitchen put together order after order is nothing short of mesmerizing.

The next night I checked out Mediterranean Wraps where I had a slightly more gourmet falafel wrap. This falafel was extra crunchy and had a bit more spice to it which I thoroughly enjoyed, but perhaps more exciting was the presence of cubed cucumbers, cilantro, tomatoes, onion and tahini. Wrapped up in foil, the wrap got a bit soggy towards the end, but it wasn't much of an issue since I pretty much inhaled it.

Falafel Drive In - 2301 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose, CA
Mediterranean Wraps - 425 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, CA

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Premier Night Menu

Sometime during the year Grey's Anatomy became a time when I could catch up with certain folks in my life (and I'm not talking about McDreamy or Evil Spawn) whose busy lives didn't always intersect with mine. On occasion we'd make a night of it and cook dinner and yammer until the show started. Other evenings were about efficiency and we'd tape the show to watch commercial free. Tomorrow marks a new season, and rather pressed for time, I decided to host a simple dessert night straight from the grocery store shelves.

Ghirardelli Double Chocolate brownies - yes, from a box, but so wonderful that I've pretty much given up on making them from scratch anymore. They contain chocolate chips and always turn out perfectly gooey. They're in the oven as I type. For calcium lovers, vanilla black raspberry ice cream. For fruit lovers, boysenberry and raspberry sorbet. And for those who crave salt, popcorn, straight out of the microwave. I can't remember the last time I bought popcorn, but staring at all the versions that populate the store shelves made me a little dizzy. I actually spent five minutes picking up various boxes and comparing the nutrition labels. What did I learn? Not much.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Oatmeal was at one point an okay thing in life. Exposed to nothing more that instant oats, I usually made the dish more exciting by adding some maple syrup and perhaps bananas. A satisfactory meal.

And then I discovered the real thing.

Steel-cut oats first toasted with a sliver of butter, then cooked slow on the stove, finished with a dollop of maple cream. To make the dish just right, pour warm milk over the mess. It's chewy, it's hearty, it's just so good. A rare breakfast that's good enough to get me out of bed.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Oh the excitement!

I just got myself a plane ticket for a little winter holiday with one of my favorite people around...which means I can get serious about my list of NYC eats, just now upgraded from "Eats in Theory" to "Eats in December."

My trip last year culminated in a day where I really did have about six meals. How did this happen? Too little time and too many things to try. I think if I give this a little (or a lot of) thought, I could manage to not exceed three meals and a generous snack on any given day. Here's what I have so far - feel free to chime in with your favorites.

So delicious that I have to make a second (or even a third) visit:

Grimaldi's Pizza - Two of us finished an enormous pizza on my first visit, and to be honest, I ate about two-thirds of it. I might visit Grimaldi's in conjunction with a stop at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory which was closed last time. I'm not convinced that back-to-back eats is the wisest move, but I'll walk across the bridge afterwards to make sure I'm still mobile.

Lady M - I treated myself to an extravagant afternoon of coffee and cake here. Not only is the Mille Crepes cake divine, but they steam the milk that accompanies the coffee. It is true that I walked by the shop at first because I mistook it for a boutique. It is also true that a woman seated at the neighboring table was wearing a fur coat and all sorts of sparkly baubles.

Veselka - My dear friend took me here on a wintry night where I had my first taste of pierogies. I can't quite decide which ones I like best so I'll probably get an assortment and then lament that I can't try anything else on the menu. I also sampled my first black and white cookie here. So wintry was the night that walking home, we had to hang onto each other for fear of blowing away in the blizzard that chose to bear down upon the city just at that moment. The airports closing for a day on account of the snow was a good excuse for me to extend my trip and continue my jaunt through the city's eateries.

Murray's Bagels - I'll probably upset some folks who have certain bagel loyalties, but I will say that this fine establishment won last year's Bialy Challenge, a very serious contest my family conducted. On my last morning in New York I visited H&H, Ess-a Bagel, and Murray's to grab an assortment of bialys. Six hours later in California, we did blind tastings of each. Murray's was the clear winner.

71 Irving Place - One morning, particularly pleased with myself that I'd been able to give a random person in the street directions on how to get to 5th Ave, I failed to watch where I was going and fell down the three steps leading to this wonderfully cozy cafe. Since the door is made of glass, I had quite an audience. Embarrassed perhaps, but not about to give up my morning cup, I dusted myself off and walked boldly to the counter.

Zabar's - This place makes me want to cook, something I don't usually do while travelling. We brunched on their spectacular potato-onion knish, chicken noodle soup, and whitefish salad. This time though, I'm headed straight for the whitefish, sans salad.

Next time: Places I've heard about, read about, or even dreamt(!) about

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Three is the Magic Number

I seem to be doing about as well as the Raiders in their Commitment to Excellence. I had three desserts on Thursday. I bet you would too if this were your menu:

Mango Mousse with Coconut Cream
I had the good fortune to show up on one of mom's "experiment in the kitchen days" so I was able to sample one of her prototypes. Served in antique Italian glassware, the mouse was delicate and fragrant. I did express a preference to go without the coconut cream next time which reflects my own bias against coconut. Though the combination worked, the coconut overwhelmed the delicious late-season mango flavor.

Ice Cream Sundaes
S decided to have a welcome home party for houseplant and that the gathering featured ice cream was secondary. Okay, it wasn't secondary since she actually asked her guests to send ice cream flavor suggestions. Gracious hostess that she is, Everything But The... appeared at the table, as did freshly baked brownies. Of course this combination screamed brownie sundae to my already happy tummy. Yummy.

Berry Parfaits
I originally called EA to see if she was free for dinner. Instead she invited me over to her Pride & Prejudice dessert party (aka Colin Firth-a-thon). She whipped up delicious honey yogurt parfaits and served them in an assortment of beautiful stemware. This is definitely the most healthy dessert of the bunch, but by no means the least tasty!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

we came we saw we slammed

The night before Slamfest 2006 the host sent an e-mail "preview" of the biscuits and captioned the display:

"I almost shed a tear it's so beautiful"

And for the first time I saw the rumored-to-exist Arnott's, which according to Jem taste exactly like TimTams. She called me from Cost Plus when she found the Double Coat(!) and Caramel and yes, Original. It was a great phone call.

Back at Slamfest 2006, host CW started the festivities by leading the uninitiated in the art of slamming. There was a "slamming table" - slamming in the sense that it had helpful directions printed on a page and also because chocolate of all kinds ringed around the star attraction. For me it was a coffee and Chewy Caramel kind of day - the very best kind.

P.S. For the life of me I cannot find the word for "slam" in Latin - those Romans sure missed out!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


My usual strategy is to drink the real thing if I'm going the soda route, so when I got to the vending machine and saw that half the window was filled with a particular bottle, I assumed it was regular soda. Talking to a friend later about how I needed my fix of sugar water in this hot weather she pointed out that I was drinking diet...

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Brewing Brouhaha

Between N's travels and mine, we'd managed to miss each other for an entire season. Happily, tea dates never go out of style.

I set out for Coupa Cafe with every intention of having a cappuccino - my drink of choice this season, and deliciously strong at this particular cafe. But it was late. I was running late. I arrived to find N presiding over a square tray elegantly set with teapot, cup and saucer, and another saucer upon which was perched a Tea Forte tea bag. It was a marvelous picture. I changed my mind.

A few minutes later I had my own tray. N had already launched into her summer story and between hoots and giggles and question upon question, I set about brewing my first cup of Citrus Mint tea.

A year ago or maybe two, I'd seen the stylish Tea Forte bags at the Fancy Food Show. Always taken in by attractive packaging, I instantly loved the design of the individually-wrapped pyramid tea bags. The product website calls them "unique Silken-Tea-Infusers" which is an elegant name for an elegant product, but to me it's still a tea bag that one tosses out after a brew.

I did appreciate the way the bag sat firmly at the bottom of the cup, immovable unless I maneuvered the cute tea leaf handle at its apex. But the neat freak in me found it hard to watch the tea leaves swim around the bag and stick to the walls of the pyramid. To rectify this aesthetic mess I found myself pouring more water into my brew to clean off the bag and then having to quickly pluck the bag out of its pool before the leaves could wander off once more. The barista had thoughtfully provided a second saucer upon which I could land the now tidy pyramid. You can already imagine that brewing became a very attention-consuming, obsessive process.

I took a sip. And then another. In total I had two pot's worth of tea, which was entirely insufficient for N and I to ramble through our stories, but apparently the cafe was closing. For all the brouhaha this teabag has engendered, I'd rate the tea ordinary. Would I try it again? Possibly. Aesthetics are a powerful thing.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Let the Planning Begin

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. No cards, no presents, no candles, no cake. Just family and friends gathered around a table. A week of shopping, two days of cooking, and ten minutes to a solid food coma.

For the past ten years or so I've been the apprentice. In preparation for Thanksgiving, Chef runs to about five different grocery stores looking for just the right leeks, pristine carrots, and potatoes of a rotating variety (yukon gold has been the recent favorite). It's a meticulous undertaking. Meal preparation of late has spawned spreadsheets and e-mails, and in an act of fanaticism, this year we did some preliminary planning in August.

Decided so far: No need for a heritage turkey. I'd actually forgotten that we had one last year, but the rest of the crew drew upon their fantastic taste memory and recalled a fit, though scrawny bird. We've decided to go with a plain Distel bird this year.

The meal is fairly traditional, but Chef and I like to tweak a few things from year to year, all in the pursuit of garnering a perfect ten from the crowd. We unmercifully put our guests on the spot each year and ask them to rate the meal. We're still teetering at a 9.5.

The Baker keeps tabs on the PPR - the Person to Pie Ratio. Historically it's been 2:1 (yes, that would be two persons, one pie). We're still negotiating what's being served this year since everyone has their favorites. Baker has been known to stay up until 4AM baking if a pie comes out to less than her exacting standards.

For the centerpiece, we usually go with an edible theme. When we deviated from the edible theme one year, Dad and I got into a scuffle over the gorgeous red and orange leaves he'd scooped up from the road and proposed to scatter artfully around the table. Alarmed lest any uninvited critters partake of our Thanksgiving meal, I insisted that the leaves be washed and dried prior to said artful scattering. Guess who spent the morning dunking leaves in a bucket of water and using a hairdryer to banish errant droplets?

It's never too early to think Thanksgiving. It's only 80 days away.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Fourth Reason to Love Sunday

Lamb chops.

And no, I did not eat all of them.

Three More Reasons to Love Sunday

1. Bistro Maxine
2. Farmer's Market
3. Queen of Sheba

On our way to the farmer's market this morning, we detoured to Bistro Maxine, a sunny creperie in the heart of downtown Palo Alto. Canary colored walls and cute iron-footed tables made a good first impression which was bested only by the breakfast special of cappuccino, orange juice, and a banana and nutella crepe. I thoroughly enjoyed the chewy crepe and look forward to returning for a savory buckwheat edition.

Bistro Maxine - 548 Ramona Street, Palo Alto

Next up was the farmer's market. Though I spent my summer wandering through winter markets all over Australia, I've dearly missed plucots, plums, peaches and nectarines. Not to mention pretty things like heirloom tomatoes, beets, and strawberries. Some of our finds...

Heirloom Tomatoes & a bit of squash too

The Peach Parade

Glorious Beets

And finally, to Queen of Sheba for lunch, where I dined with friend Charles on delicious things the names of which I know not, but I'm sure I'll be back for more. Time to educate myself on Ethiopian cuisine and perhaps on public transport too. If you haven't got a car and want to check out the injera at Queen of Sheba yourself, Charles has his excellent train/walking/strawberry adventure written up at Car(e)free in California.

Queen of Sheba - 1860 The Alameda, San Jose

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Balancing Act

My mom confiscated the Tim Tams. My dad keeps buying me cake.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Quitting is Hard

I'd been averaging a pack a week. All along I'd told myself I didn't need them. I thought it would be easy to quit, but officially acknowledging that I'm quitting has made it more difficult.

Already looking forward to Slam-fest 2006 a.k.a. Tim Tam Amnesty Day.