Runner Beans

September 28, 2010

Eating Well in Yosemite

Filed under: Restaurants & Excursions — Tags: , , — Andrea @ 3:31 pm

group in front of bridal veil falls
Last week Sam and I went camping in Yosemite with my sister Laurel and brother-in-law Joe. Yosemite is the land of waterfalls and granite mountains, including Half Dome and El Capitan. And bears. There are bear warnings all over the place.

laurel cooking

Laurel and Joe love cooking in the wilderness almost as much as they love the wilderness, so they planned our menus for the camping trip and brought along their impressive collection of camping cooking gear. This is my sister Laurel!

turkey 3 bean chili

The first night we had Turkey Chili, Cornbread and Green Salad. The impressive part about the chili is that Laurel made it from scratch at the campsite! She used this recipe from Instead of using only white beans, she also used black beans and kidney beans. With an ice chest to keep the ingredients cold and a camping stove to cook the chili on, making the chili on the spot was pretty painless.

We also had freshly baked corn bread.

joe cornbread batter

The secret to baking while camping is to use a Dutch oven heated by coals. In this photo, my brother-in-law Joe is pouring the cornbread batter into the cast iron Dutch oven.

dutch oven with coals

By putting a specific number of hot coals on the top and bottom, Joe knows exactly what the temperature is inside the Dutch oven.

cornbread done cooking

After about 40 minutes of baking, the cornbread is ready! There’s nothing like warm, freshly baked cornbread to accompany a piping hot bowl of chili.

chili cornbread and salad

We had a green salad to round out our hot and hearty meal. The chili was delicious, and I will definitely make it at home this winter.

If you’re curious what we ate the rest of the trip…

Breakfast: eggs, sausage, pancakes or oatmeal
Lunch: PB&J, trail mix, fruit
Dinner: Smothered Chicken served over wild rice, salad
And, to crown off the smothered chicken meal, Joe made brownies in the Dutch oven!  A hot, gooey brownie eaten in front of the fire sure beats s’mores. 🙂

Here are a few more Yosemite shots:

half dome

Half Dome.

autumnal leaves

Yosemite was showing signs of autumn.


My deer friend. When I peeked under a log to see her better, she peeked down to see me and started posing for me.

yosemite mountains


vernal falls

Sam and I hiked to Vernal Falls.

double rainbow

Can you spot the double rainbow in the Vernal Falls pool?

rocks and trees

Rocks and trees.

el capitan

El Capitan. Apparently people sleep overnight suspended from the rock face. Scary!

sam and andrea bridal veil falls

Sam and me in front of Bridal Veil Falls.

September 16, 2010

Farm Visit: Cowgirl Creamery and Marin Sun Farms Butcher Shop

I know, Cowgirl Creamery and the Marin Sun Farms Butcher Shop aren’t strictly farms, but they do make great destinations on a Farm Visit day, not to mention these are the places where farm goods are sold.

After our visit to Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, we drove back to the town of Point Reyes Station, which we had passed earlier. Point Reyes Station is a cute little town, and it’s hard to get lost. Still, don’t confuse “The Old Creamery” with Cowgirl Creamery—The Old Creamery used to house the town’s butter, cream and milk but is now home to the local library. Walk 2 blocks southwest from the library, and you’ll find Cowgirl Creamery located inside Tomales Bay Foods, a barn converted into a retail space for local and gourmet foods. You can watch through a glass window the cheese being made. At the cheese counter, the cheesemongers dole out generous samples of cheese, moving from mild to pungent cheeses. I have a weakness for the Mt. Tam Triple Cream, though I do love the Chevre. In addition to Cowgirl Creamery, Tomales Bay Foods houses a stall of beautiful local produce, a cafe and a clothing shop. Tomales Bay Foods is a great place to buy picnic fare, though beware you’ll be paying tourists’ prices.

The cheese sampling whetted our appetites, and we were ready for more substantial fare. We hopped in the car and drove 2 minutes south to the Marin Sun Farms Butcher Shop, just outside the main part of Point Reyes Station. Now, this is no ordinary butcher shop: it is also a hip cafe that serves gourmet burgers, beer and Blue Bottle Coffee. When Sam and I visited Marin Sun Farms in June, we came here for lunch after our farm tour. We enjoyed our lunch so much that we were excited to bring my parents and sister to try the burgers on this outing. Sam and I ordered goat burgers with a soft sheep’s milk cheese and caramelized onions; my mom and sister ordered lamb burgers with blue cheese; and my dad ordered the good ole’ classic beef burger. Oh—and we ordered the lard-fried french fries. The fries were crispy and flavorful, a definite must if you visit the butcher shop. If you like your burgers medium-rare, then this is a safe place to order it medium-rare. Most ground meat travels thousands of miles before it reaches its destination and is at high risk for contamination, but the Marin Sun Farms meat comes from local pastures and is grass-fed, resulting in clean meat and a tender, flavorful burger. And if a goat burger sounds odd, you might be surprised to discover that it is milder in taste than lamb. Eating our way through the day left us quite tired, but a cup of Blue Bottle Coffee was all we needed to energize us for the car ride back to the City and suburbs. I love living in the City, the hub of all that is new and hip, but I also love living so close o the country, where we can take a day trip, slow down and watch our cheese being made and walk in the fields where our burgers were raised.

Observing the cheesemakers at Cowgirl Creamery.

The Cowgirl Creamery cheese counter, where you can sample all sorts of cheeses.

Beautiful produce inside Tomales Bay Foods.

More produce (though I wonder what the bananas are doing there? They’re definitely not local.)

Goat burger with caramelized onions and soft sheep’s milk cheese.

Lamb burger with blue cheese.

Beef burger with bacon and cheddar.

Lard-fried french fries. Quite possibly the best fries I’ve ever had. And they’re not even greasy.

September 14, 2010

Farm Visit: Drakes Bay Oyster Farm

Filed under: Restaurants & Excursions — Tags: , , — Andrea @ 5:04 pm

Farm Visit: Drakes Bay Oyster Farm

In June, Sam and I visited Marin Sun Farms in Point Reyes. When we walked through the fields to see the cattle, we were told that an estuary and piece of land adjacent to Marin Sun Farms was Drakes Bay Oyster Farm. Seeing the oyster farm spawned talk amongst our group: the oyster farm was in danger of closure because its lease on the land and water would soon be up and certain activists wanted to return the land to the wild and not renew the contract. The Drakes Bay Oyster Farm is fighting to stay open because not only are they providing food and jobs for local people, but they are responsible stewards of the land.

So, with the looming possibility of Drakes Bay Oyster Farm’s closure, Sam and I knew we wanted to visit the oyster farm soon. In mid-August, Sam, my parents, my sister and I piled into the car and drove the hour and a half to the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm. We didn’t know what to expect. Would it be commercialized? Would there be a lot of visitors? How close could we get to the oysters? And how in the world do you farm oysters?

As we drove down the windy gravel road to the estuary, we realized we were in for a good old-fashioned oyster farm experience. Though Drakes Bay Oyster Company produces nearly 40% of California’s shellfish, it is anything but commercialized. Aside from a few kayakers, we were the only visitors. A small white building housed the counter where we could purchase fresh clams and oysters of all sizes. Closer to the waterfront, about 8 men worked on prying apart oyster shells with electric screwdriver-like machines. To the left, mounds of oyster shells rose at least 10 feet high.

After observing the oyster farm workers from a distance (this was a true work site, after all—no glass window separated us from the workers), we headed inside the shop to try some oysters. The oysters tasted fresher than any we’d ever had before, though they were a little too fresh from the sea (i.e. salty) for some of us. We also bought a dozen oysters to take home to barbeque. This was the first time I’d had barbequed oysters and they were wonderful—warm and juicy. The manila clams had been harvested that very morning, so we couldn’t resist buying a couple pounds to make Sam’s favorite linguine with clams for dinner.

Before we went home, however, we stopped at a few more food-related destinations. Come back tomorrow to hear about the rest of our food finds.

September 7, 2010

New York City Visit Highlights

New York City Visit Highlights

Hello Friends!

Sam and I are back in the Bay Area and I wanted to share a few food-related highlights from our trip.

Le Pain Quotidien Waffle Window at Central Park

waffle window salmon on waffle

Waffles have a long history in New York City. New York was originally colonized by the Dutch, who brought waffles to the New World.  While walking through Central Park, Sam and I discovered the Le Pain Quotidien Waffle Window, which serves waffles with numerous toppings, both sweet and savory.  Sam and I ordered a waffle topped with lox, spring onions and sour cream. The waffle was light and crispy, and it was refreshing to have a savory instead of a sweet waffle topping. The lox and waffle combo would make an excellent brunch item.

TAO New York Restaurant

In my “Greetings from the Big Apple” post I asked for restaurant or food recommendations for New York City. Bethany recommended that we try TAO New York Restaurant. Following Bethany’s advice, we made reservations and headed out for a night on the town. TAO has a hip, trendy atmosphere: dim lighting, city-chic concrete walls, a giant Buddha statue and thumping techno-lounge music. Yelp reviewers complained that the music at TAO is too loud, but we were lucky to be seated at a quiet table tucked into a nook.

TAO takes its guests on “a sensual trip through the cuisines of Asia,” serving dishes from Japan, China and Thailand. Our sleuthing on Yelp revealed that guests were crazy for TAO’s Teriyaki Glazed Chilean Sea Bass. We ordered the sea bass along with a side of vegetarian fried brown rice. This was hands down the best sea bass either of us had ever had—creamy, melt-in-your mouth delicious. We also ordered Thai crab cakes, which were very satisfying. We were disappointed with the lobster spring rolls because the portabella mushroom overpowered the lobster flavor. For dessert: banana pudding with fried bananas on top. Great banana flavor and a fun way to finish the meal. The hip atmosphere and good food made our evening at TAO a fun memory.

P.S. Sorry there are no pictures for TAO! It was way too dim in the restaurant to get any good shots.


Zabar's coffee

Zabar’s is a fine foods and kosher foods emporium, “specializing in the finest smoked fish, caviar, coffee, cheese, kitchen equipment and housewares.” Established in 1934 by Louis and Lillian Zabar, Zabar’s has become a New York food landmark. The staff behind the meat, cheese, baked goods and coffee counters are happy to help you find just the item you are looking for. We bought a pound of Zabar’s French Italian coffee beans. Though we haven’t had a chance to try our coffee beans yet, we’ve heard good things about Zabar’s coffee. Upstairs, Zabar’s has possibly the largest selection of kitchen equipment I have ever encountered. From kitchen appliances to bamboo spatulas to cupcake liners, Zabar’s has great selection at incredible prices. If I lived in New York City or was staying for a longer period of time, I would definitely visit Zabar’s again and stock up on their meats, cheeses and breads.


EAT bread

E.A.T. deli and cafe is the brainchild of Eli Zabar, son of the couple who founded Zabar’s. Eli Zabar founded E.A.T. in 1973, and since then his establishment has grown to include several restaurants, a Kosher bakery, a mustard and vinegar factory, a flower shop and a summer ice cream shop. Whew! When we entered E.A.T., we were tempted by a whole-grain, seeded loaf, which we brought home with us and are still enjoying. We also stepped into the E.A.T. café next door and ordered coffee, smoked salmon and rugellach off the Teatime menu. The smoked salmon was excellent with the assortment of Eli’s breads it came with. The rugellach was disappointing—tasted like a standard cream cheese pastry crust. Still, I’d go back to E.A.T. in a heartbeat.

September 2, 2010

Bouchon Bakery Macarons

Filed under: Restaurants & Excursions, Reviews — Tags: , — Andrea @ 2:35 pm

Bouchon Bakery Macarons


Macarons—the silver-dollar sized confections filled with buttercream—remind me of tea parties, little girls and all things sweet and small. Bouchon Bakery, near the southwest corner of New York’s Central Park, has done away with the petite size, however, creating macarons as big as an English muffin. Don’t worry: the mammoth proportions haven’t compromised the quality.

In fact, it took me eating Bouchon’s macarons for me to finally understood why some people are crazy about macarons. Macarons I’ve had elsewhere were overly sweet and chewy to the point of sticking to your teeth. Not Bouchon’s. The pistachio and chocolate macarons I ordered tasted so intensely of pistachio and chocolate, I found it hard to believe I was eating macarons rather than decadent pistachio ice cream or chocolate molten cake. No, these were macarons. Light and crisp on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. The macarons were not too sweet, but they were very rich, perfect for nibbling.They even withstood being carted around in my backpack for a day in the humid 90* temperatures—impressive.

It’s not happenstance that Bouchon Bakery crafts such divine macarons; it’s thanks to Thomas Keller, the legendary chef of Napa Valley’s The French Laundry restaurant. Keller also has restaurants in Las Vegas and New York and wanted to create a bakery to bake fresh bread for his restaurants. Thus, the Bouchon Bakeries were born. If you’re dying to try what could very well be the mark of all macarons, make a bee-line for your nearest Bouchon Bakery and sink your teeth into pastel heaven.
macarons 2

July 27, 2010

Chicago Food Tour

Filed under: Informational, Restaurants & Excursions — Tags: , — Andrea @ 3:17 pm

Chicago Food Tour

One of my favorite activities in Chicago was going on the Chicago Food Planet Food Tour last Thursday. Over the course of three hours, our group of 11 tourists and 1 tour guide walked to 7 restaurants and shops, sampling specialties and learning about food.

Ashkenaz Reuben

We began our tour at Ashkenaz Jewish Deli in the Gold Coast neighborhood. We built our own Reuben sandwiches using marble rye, Vienna Beef pastrami (the brand is essential!), sauerkraut, cheese and Ashkenaz’s special dressing, which is pink from the beets it contains. I loved the pink dressing. It tasted absolutely delicious.

Tea Gswendner Iced TEa

The Reubens made us thirsty, so we were glad to drink Cranberry Mango Iced Green Tea at our next stop, Tea Gschwendner. This international German tea shop sells high quality bulk tea. While we were sipping our tea, the store manager and tour guide taught us about the differences between different types of tea and how to brew tea so it doesn’t become bitter.

Spice Merchants

Stop number three—The Spice House—took us to the Old Town neighborhood. As we stepped inside The Spice House we were overwhelmed by the smell of cinnamon, cumin and other spices. After smelling and sampling different spices, we learned about the different types of cinnamon and pepper. Fun Fact: Did you know that ground spices only last 12-18 months, but whole spices can last for 25 years? That’s a good case for buying spices whole and grinding them yourself.

Old Town Oil

(I forgot to take a photo at Old Town Oil, our next stop, so this photo of The Spice House's back garden will have to do instead.) A couple doors up the street we stopped at Old Town Oil, a shop selling specialty oils and vinegars. We were set loose to mix and match different olive oils and vinegars samples as we pleased. In addition to the standard olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars, we sampled flavored oils and vinegars, such as roasted walnut olive oil, Persian lime olive oil, fig balsamic vinegar and strawberry balsamic vinegar.

The Fudge Pot

The balsamic vinegars were sweet, but the toffee we sampled at The Fudge Pot was even sweeter. Stepping behind the counter to the refrigerated table where the Fudge Pot makes its famed fudge, we talked about how chocolate is made. Though The Fudge Pot doesn’t make their own chocolate, they cast Chicago’s Blommer’s chocolate into fun-shaped molds like cats and airplanes and create other chocolate-covered treats.

Pierogi and Kolachkis

A few blocks up the street at Delightful Pastries, a European style bakery. Nodding to Chicago’s large Polish population, we tried pierogis stuffed with potato & cheese and kolachkis, a piece of pastry dough folded over a spoonful of jam. True to the European tradition, the kolachkis were not overly sweet.

Bacino's Stuffed Pizza

Our last stop took us to Bacino’s Pizzeria in the Lincoln Park Neighborhood. We ate their famous Stuffed Spinach Supreme pizza. Remarkably, the hefty slice of pizza wasn’t as heavy as I thought it would be. In fact, it has been recognized as a heart-healthy pizza because of the skim ricotta, tomatoes and spinach it contains. While it probably isn’t something to indulge in everyday, an occasional slice will make you heart-happy.

My two favorite stops were Ashkenaz Deli and Tea Gschwendner. The Ashkenaz dressing on the Reuben sandwich tasted really delicious, and I loved exploring all the different teas at the tea shop. I didn’t take a Reuben for the road, but we did bring home three types of teas from the tea shop.

If you are visiting Chicago, San Francisco or any big city, I highly recommend going on a food tour. Not only were we able to discover some hidden gems of restaurants and shops, but the wealth of information from our tour guide was invaluable. Sure, we could have looked up the food tour stops and gone to them on our own time, but then we would have missed out on the interesting anecdotes and historical information related to the tour that our guide shared with us.

Go on a food tour! You won’t regret it.

July 20, 2010

Still Life: The Days of Unprocessed Food

Still Life: The Days of Unprocessed Food

Hello Friends! I’m out of town this week visiting Chicago. Since I haven’t been doing any cooking and have decided to not take pictures in restaurants anymore, I thought I’d share a few food-related images from my visit this morning to Chicago’s Art Institute.

I love studying these still lifes—especially the four from the 17th century—because they provide a glimpse at life before processed food. The vegetables are wild and beautiful with their uneven contours, and the dead game is a solemn reminder that meat didn’t always come wrapped on Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic. There is one thing, though, that hasn’t changed in the hundreds of years since these still lifes were painted: mankind’s fascination with and celebration of food.

Cotan Still Life with Game Fowl 1602

Juan Sanchez Cotan: Still Life with Game Fowl (c. 1602) What variety of fowl! These four birds trump the generic chicken and turkey I eat.

Snyders Still Life with Dead Game, Fruits, and Vegetables in a Market 1614

Frans Snyders: Still Life with Dead Game, Fruits, and Vegetables in a Market (1614) The abundance of this painting reminds me an “I Spy” book. Do you spy the pickpocket?

Claesz Still Life 1625

Pieter Claesz: Still Life (1625/1630) A lavish banquet: the lemons, olives, sweetmeats and tableware are luxuries only the wealthy could have afforded.

Barbieri Kitchen Still Life 1640

Attributed to Paolo Antonio Barbieri: Kitchen Still Life (c. 1640) I was drawn to the simplicity of the foods in this painting: a basket of chestnuts, two wheels of cheeses, almonds, currants and mushrooms—the offerings of the land.

Renoir Fruits of the Midi 1881

Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Fruits of the Midi (1881) Renoir probably painted these colorful peppers, eggplant, citrus and pomegranates while traveling along the Midi, the Mediterranean coast.

Harnett For Sunday's Dinner 1888

William Michael Harnett: For Sunday’s Dinner (1888) In person, this painting looks eerily realistic. My queasiness, however, turned to delight as I realized this naked bird was going to be Sunday’s Dinner.

November 3, 2009

A Few More Halloween Pics

Filed under: Restaurants & Excursions — Andrea @ 12:30 am
Halloween 09 006

Stirring the caramel, eyes constantly glued to the thermometer (who says a watch pot never boils?).

Halloween 09 007


Halloween 09 005

Chef Sam.

Halloween 09 002

Team Very-Sticky-Halloween-Caramel-Corn.

October 30, 2009

De Afghanan Kabob House

Filed under: Restaurants & Excursions, Reviews — Tags: , , — Andrea @ 11:12 am
oct 25 09 002

Bolani, a flat bread stuffed with potatoes or leeks.

oct 25 09 005

Lamb kebab plate.

oct 25 09 007

Afghan bread and a salad of tomatoes, red onions and cilantro.












It isn’t exactly the most beautiful of places.  The street is empty and parking easy to find (and free). The displays in the shop windows are faded and I wonder whether they really do show movies in the dilapidated theater and who would go see them? But it’s not the movie theater we’ve come to visit, it’s the shop next door where we hear the man rattling off something to a customer in a language I can’t understand and the smell of spices from the kebabs cooking washes over us. We’ve come to De Afghanan Kebab House in Fremont.

With only three or four small round tables (covered in glass, business cards and event advertisements slid underneath), a seat inside can be hard to come by. Most guests prefer to take their orders home with them. We decide to eat in, though, and it proves to be a feast for our senses: heat emanates throughout the matchbox-sized restaurant from the open flame where the kebabs cooks, nice on a cool October day. The photographs covering the wall–all of Afghan people or places–pull me past the Afghanistan of the news and make me wonder how many people in Afghanistan were eating kebabs at this very moment and did their mothers and grandmothers hand down coveted recipes for seasoning the kebabs?  I am certain there must be some secret recipe behind the kebabs in this restaurant. I’d had them once before and they were the best kebabs I had ever had. Craning my head around the counter, I peek at the owner grilling the beef, lamb and chicken kebabs over the flame. An elbow away, a woman prepares massive bolani for the griddle. The thin pan bread is stuffed with seasoned mixtures of potatoes or leeks and then fried on the griddle.

Twenty minutes after we order our food, the owner brings us a bowl heaping with yogurt and squeeze-bottles of mint-cilantro chutney and red chile chutney. Then he proudly presents us with a large platter with of bolani fresh from the griddle and sliced into manageable pieces.  The bolani is huge — easily the size of a large pizza! And it is  only our appetizer. We tear off pieces of the hot bolani and dip it in the yogurt and chutneys. Between sips of Coke (you need soda with spicy food!) and blowing on the hot bolani, I savor the crisp exterior of the bread and the steaming mashed-potato filling flecked with chili flakes.

A few minutes after our bolani arrived, we scoot our Cokes and bottles of chutney to the side of the table to make room for our kebab plates. We ordered two kebab plates for three people, but we will still go home with leftovers. Generous portions of rice, Afghan bread, a potato-and-chickpea salad and a salad of tomatoes, red onions and cilantro accompany the kebabs. Once again, I am amazed by the incredible tenderness of the meat and delicious seasoning on the kebabs. Could such a small, grungy restaurant really make such wonderful kebabs? As we pay for our meal and shuffle past the other customers standing in the doorway, waiting to order their meals or pick up an order to take home to their families, I know the answer. De Afghanan Kabaob House makes the best kebabs I’ve ever had, and judging by the flock of people waiting patiently for their kebabs, I know I’m not the only one simulataneously marveling at the apparent squalor of the restaurant and the utter deliciousness of the hot bolani and tender kebabs. But the grunge isn’t enough to keep these people away, and it’s not going to keep me from coming back for another kebab either.

Still curious? Check out De Afghanan Kabob House’s website or read what other people are saying about De Afghanan on Yelp.



August 18, 2009

Cape Cod: Ice Cream on the Rail Trail

Filed under: Cape Cod 09, Restaurants & Excursions — Tags: , , — Andrea @ 9:02 pm

This is the rail trail that leads from Chatham to Dennis Port. I think I have a special place in my heart for rail trails because Sam and I met on the rail trail in our town.


While we were biking on said rail trail, we saw this sign alleging that the ecentric house to its left held summer's sweet treasures: "ice cream, yogurt, H2O."


We wandered closer and discovered that this Christmas light-covered abode did indeed harbor such indispensable indulgences.


Lo and behold, there were many flavors from which to choose.


We chose Coffee Kahlua Brownie. A very good choice.


Ice cream brings a smile to many a tired traveler's face. (Notice painted tires stuck half way in the ground and bordering the yard.)


Not only were there tires sticking out of the ground, there were carousel horses. I still wondering whether they were springing out of the ground or getting sucked under...


We, however, did not have to worry about getting stuck in the enchanted ice cream land. This helpful sign tree not only told us what direction we needed to go but precisely how far the trek was. If you find yourself on the rail trail, I highly recommend stepping off for a moment to check out the wonders of this singular ice cream stand for yourself.

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