December 18, 2010

our go-to chocolate chip cookies, remixed

So, we made more cookies. What can I say -- I just can't step away from my bag of King Arthur white whole wheat flour.  The chocolate chip cookie fiend I married suggested it would be instructional to sub white whole wheat flour in an already well-loved recipe, and the idea burned itself in my brain like like a catchy Daft Punk song.
Being mostly unlearned in the art of whole grain cookie baking, I did a little more research first. Facts of interest: White whole wheat flour absorbs more moisture than all-purpose flour does. This means, if you are experimenting with white whole wheat flour, you have to watch moisture levels and may need to adjust hydration. Also, many other websites/bloggers (a quick Google search turned up Washington Post, Orangette, Food in Jars, Habitually Hungry and others) have blogged about making whole wheat chocolate chip cookies from Kim Boyce's book Good to the Grain, with positive reviews. Boyce's recipe, however, calls for traditional whole wheat flour, rather than white. (If I'm trying something new, I always do google searches to see if anyone has made it. Sometimes you find good tips that way!)

My normal chocolate chip recipe calls for 175 grams of unbleached all purpose flour; I decided to replace all of that with white whole wheat and opted to omit ground oats or nuts, given the moisture issue.  After mixing in the dry ingredients, I examined the dough to see if it needed more liquid: it looked identical to the dough made with all-purpose flour, though it felt a good deal stickier than normal. It definitely wasn't too dry, in any case, so I went ahead and baked them. After 22 minutes in the oven, the cookies looked done and I left them to cool.

Ready for the verdict?

These baked up up tawnier in color and somewhat sturdier -- without being tough or heavy -- than the original cookies. On day 1, the cookies were soft and the chocolate was melty. On day 2, the cookies developed a chewy texture. A nutty/wheaty flavor is present, but it is subtle. The big role the whole wheat plays, I think, is to counterbalance all the sugar, because these cookies taste balanced. You can actually taste the butter and the flour, which is a big plus in my book; I'm not big on cookies where the first and last thing you taste is SUGAR. So, if it's not clear, we loved them. My sampler, whose rate of cookie consumption was roughly 4:1 compared to mine, loved them on both day 1 and day 2 while I love them most on day 2. I'm a sucker for chewy cookies.

To recap: The substitution of white whole wheat flour for unbleached all purpose made our cookies sturdier and added a subtle, but appealing, wheaty background flavor. If I had a complaint, it was that I kind of wanted more wheat flavor. In fact, we don't think anyone would know these were whole wheat cookies unless you explicitly said so. That was a pretty surprising finding. Will I make them again? Definitely. Not because they are significantly more nutritious (I suspect they are marginally more nutritious, but still not health food obviously), but because the taste/texture were to our liking. However, I don't think I'll abandon my old recipe just yet; I often like oats in my chocolate chip cookies and I'm not sure these chewier cookies could have supported a full cup of oats.

Who knew you could get super delicious cookies from whole grain flour? It feels virtuous, yet badass.

Chewy white whole wheat chocolate chip cookies
(adapted from David Lebovitz)
yields 2 dozen cookies

This is how I do it: I mix the cookies and bake a few for the first night. While the first batch is in the oven, I form the remaining raw dough into cookies, transfer them to a sheet pan and stash them in the freezer for 30 minutes or so. When the cookies are firm, I put them (frozen, but still raw) in a gallon ziplock bag. Why hello, individually frozen, ready-to-bake cookies available for eating at all times! Frozen cookies take a minute or so longer to bake, but the texture doesn't suffer at all. In fact, they bake up thicker, which I prefer.

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) (115 grams) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch (1cm) pieces
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups (175 grams) white whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 cups (200 grams) semisweet chocolate chips (I also like Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet for extra chocolate punch)
  1. Adjust the oven rack to the top 1/3 of the oven and preheat to 300F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. 
  2. Cream the sugars and cold butter together until smooth. (If using a stand mixer, I beat on low for at least 2 minutes. If mixing by hand, it's important to beat the butter/sugar thoroughly, so that the butter is softened and plenty of air is incorporated.) In the same bowl, add the egg, vanilla, and baking soda and mix just to incorporate. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour and salt, then mix them into the batter. Mix in the chocolate chips.
  3. Scoop the cookie dough into 1.5-2 tablespoon (5cm) balls and place 8 balls, spaced 4 inches (10cm) apart, on each of the baking sheets. Sprinkle each cookie with a scant amount of sea salt. (At this point, if the dough has gotten at all warm (which it likely has), I like to stash the entire baking sheet in the freezer for 20 minutes or so. This helps the butter refreeze, which will prevent your cookies from spreading.)
  4. Bake until pale golden brown. In my oven, this takes 19-20 minutes, but start checking at 16-18 minutes to make sure they don't overcook. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

December 14, 2010

cooking/baking gift guide

A gift guide -- of things we already have and really love -- to help anyone with a home cook or baker on their gift list. You don't need any of these things to turn out good food, but they do make playing in the kitchen more fun, in our humble opinion. 

Digital scale: People of the world: bake by weight. It is our true calling. We might use this baby more than any other tool in the kitchen. It makes measuring easy and precise, and you avoid having to clean 10 different measuring cups and spoons. My baking improved immeasurably when I began weighing ingredients, because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of measuring things like flour, nuts, sugar, etc. Our Salter model is not available online, but this one comes highly recommended. Definitely get a scale that tares and switches between ounces and grams; also make sure it measures in 1-gram/.05 ounce increments.

Nice measuring cups/spoons: Yes, I just finished saying that measuring by weight > measuring by  volume, but we still use measuring cups for certain things. These All-Clad measuring cups/spoons are like the heirloom Rolexes of the measuring cup world; they gleam and feel nice in your hand and don't get dinged up in the dishwasher. My dad bought these for Mark's birthday and literally every time I use them, I'm like, man these are some sweet measuring cups. That's the mark of a good gift, no?

Mixing bowls: We probably have too many mixing bowls, but we use them for everything from mixing waffle batter to whisking salad dressing to beating eggs to serving salad. We use these stainless steel numbers for most mixing purposes, but my favorites are the colorful nesting bowls we inherited from Mark's great aunt Grace. Fellow vintage Pyrex enthusiasts would probably be thrilled to receive a set of the primary colored nesting bowls, which you can sometimes find for a pretty penny on Ebay. If you prefer something new, I also like these and these. You can't go wrong with clear glass nesting bowls either.

Cake stands: Cake stands make a particularly nice gift for people who like to bake or host parties, where they can hold anything from cakes to tarts to, I don't know, sushi rolls. If you do a search on Etsy or Ebay or Replacements, you'll find hundreds of cake stands, from pink depression glass to pale green jadeite to lacy milk glass. I found the best deal on mine, the white milk glass number pictured below, on Ebay. The same stand can be found here.

Pie dish: Of course you can make a pie in any dish, including a $3 clear Pyrex pie dishes from Target. This fluted pie dish is our favorite, though, because the fluted edges make crimping the edges of the pie very simple. Not only is the dish pretty, but our pie crust comes out pretty too.

trimming pie crust

Salt cellar: It's handy to keep a container filled with kosher salt by the stove for cooking. We have this one, which holds enough salt that we don't have to refill it more than once a month. I also like this one.

Enameled cast iron French oven: If I were rich, I'd buy all my friends one of these. They are lovely to cook in: they heat evenly, retain heat well and have this nice enamel surface that is kind of nonstick but produces lots of fond  (caramelized bits that appear after good searing). I'm partial to Le Creuset because of their truly excellent warranty, but Staub/Emile Henry and even Kirkland (Costco) make nice looking ones. 5.5 quarts is a good size: it is big enough to braise a double batch of ragu bolognese, bake a loaf of bread (just remember to unscrew the top if you put it in the oven!), sear/roast a fat pork tenderloin and simmer soup for 8.

Chef's knife: I think you can get away with having one good chef's knife, one sharp paring knife and one serrated bread knife. The chef's knife, for me, is most crucial. The most important thing is how the knife feels in your hand and how sharp it is. From there, it's all about how much you want to spend. We like Shun knives best.

Ramekins: For souffles, puddings, creme brulee, individual gratins and for setting out nibbles at parties. We have these but I don't think there's any need to spend so much. I got these for my sister last year. 

Silicon baking mats: Technically, you can get through life with baking mats, but their nonstick/heat resistant properties provide a good surface for kneading dough or rolling pie crust or for baking cookies or whatever. We have two and use them constantly. 

Essential cook's tools: Microplane grater (hooray for grating ginger, citrus zest, hard cheeses without grating your knuckles raw at the same time). Locking tongs. Silicon spatulas. Wooden spoons and spatulas. Bench scraper.

Pizza stone: If you want to make good bread/pizza in a home oven, you need your oven to get really hot and to stay hot. You need a pizza stone. (I've heard some people use unglazed tiles from hardware stores, but I was slightly concerned about chemicals that might be present in tiles.)  

Kitchenaid stand mixer: Our kitchen workhorse. If you want to know if we're home, listen for a  whirring sound.  If you don't do a lot of baking, or if your baking repertoire doesn't include heavy-duty tasks like brioche kneading, you probably don't need one. Also, if space is a concern in your kitchen, it probably isn't the best option; you can make dough with other tools, like a hand mixer and, you know, your actual hands. But if you do a lot of baking (like, more than twice per week) and if that baking includes dough making, by all means get a stand mixer. It makes routine tasks much easier and makes certain recipes, like brioche, attainable.

Cookware: We love our wok, which is heavy-duty, well seasoned carbon steel. Ours looks a lot like this one, but it was a gift from my best friend Julia so I'm not sure. Stay away from stainless steel or lightweight woks with nonstick coating. We cook bacon and steaks in a cast iron skillet and eggs in a nonstick pan.  We have a set of heavy/tri-ply pots and pans for almost everything else. Everything but the wok and the cast iron skillets conduct heat unevenly, so they're not perfect but they work for now.

Bakeware: I don't really have any specific recommendations except, if you bake a lot, to get pro-grade heavy baking sheets that won't warp in oven heat. We have these Chicago metallic sheet pans and these cake pans, which seem to be holding up well. We use an old, beat up (no name) loaf pan for bread because it heats evenly. Our Le Creuset stoneware loaf pan is super pretty but sticks a bit.

Dish towels: Every gift guide seems to have a bright, graphic tea towel on the list. There are many pretty towels out there but I can't bring myself to spend $$$ on a towel I know I'll spill chocolate sauce on. That's why I like these linens from Ikea (these and these), which are cheerful, cheap and eminently replaceable. They double as pot holders and, if my linen napkins are all in the wash, I'll set out kitchen towels instead. (I do like this Pride and Prejudice "in vain I have struggled" dish towel though.)
 puffy oven pancake
Food Books:
Mark's favorite food book is Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. If you have ever been to our house, Mark has probably pulled out this book at some point to settle a food science debate, like "why does fish smell?" Definitely good for food geeks, but it is also a legitimately useful resource.

Mark's go-to bread baking books are by Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice (we like his pain a l'ancienne and his pizza dough) and Rose Levy Berenbaum's Bread Bible (we like her rye, pumpernickel, hearth bread and flax seed bread). We also use Dorie Greenspan's Baking book, which includes a wide variety of desserts. The only bad thing is that she doesn't include weight measurements, but her recipes are great.

I really, really love Nigel Slater's food writing, particularly Kitchen Diaries -- the photography is super appealing and I love his perspective on cooking seasonally. Plus, he's not afraid to admit that he buys frozen chips sometimes. He is probably my favorite food writer, actually.

(I'm not sure I can suggest a go-to cookbook. I basically taught myself to cook using Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World but, now that I consider myself a confident/fairly skilled cook, I don't think I would recommend it to beginning cooks. The good: he makes complex recipes/ingredients accessible and some of his recipes have become total staples for us -- shrimp with parsley and garlic, two way chicken, his general technique for enchilada chile sauce. The salad section and the pasta sections are useful, too. The bad: the instructions are often vague and many of the recipes don't really work (do not recommend his biryani, for instance). I learned a lot, but more because I was motivated to become better and not necessarily because of the cookbook.)   

Food: I am a big fan of homemade food gifts. Mark's parents send us batches of homemade jams and sour cherries they put up each summer. I've also received platters of cookies and jars of spiced pecans and biscotti. The only hard thing is finding pretty containers. For cookies or biscotti, I like these jars from Ikea, along with bakers twine or nice ribbon and a card listing all the ingredients. Mason jars are always handy, too. If you are giving liquids, these bottles from Ikea are excellent. And for platters or bowls, I like old silver platters or milk glass candy dish, both of which I often see at thrift stores for not much money.

December 12, 2010

the smell of warm butter and toasty flour

I've recently discovered white whole wheat flour. Have you used it? White whole wheat flour is ground from white spring wheat. Compared to traditional whole wheat flour (which is ground from red wheat), white whole wheat has a lighter, milder taste but still has all the great nutritional benefits of whole grains. (You can read the label of my flour bag here, if you are so inclined.) I know I sound like an infomercial (but wait! there's more!) but the fact is, I would like white whole wheat flour even if it didn't have the nutritional benefits: it bakes into something with the toasty complexity of traditional whole wheat, without the bitterness. I happen to like the flavor of traditional whole wheat flour, but not in everything, and the knowledgeable folks at King Arthur suggest substituting white whole wheat for all-purpose flour in cookies, brownies, waffles and pancakes, among other things. Well, they didn't have to tell me twice.

The first thing I made with white whole wheat flour was digestive biscuits. If you aren't familiar with digestive biscuits, they are semi-sweet wheat cookies popular in the UK and other Commonwealth countries. The closest thing we have to digestive biscuits here in the U.S. is probably graham crackers, though digestive biscuits are simply butter/whole wheat flour/white sugar/salt and graham crackers are often flavored with brown sugar and sometimes vanilla or cinnamon. 

digestive biscuits + tea

Anyway, I love digestive biscuits but, thanks to an irritating inner voice that persuades me not to buy store bought cookies, I haven't had one in way too long. Like, 5 years. Happily, my homemade digestive biscuits were worth the wait. I was super pleased with how they turned out:  wheaty, buttery, with a crisp and sandy texture and just slightly sweet. Mark has been spreading them with a chocolate/hazelnut spread I made last week, while I like eating them plain or with a swipe of homemade cherry jam. And they are a nice accompaniment to milky tea, of course; that goes without saying.

These digestive biscuits are worth making just for the amazing aromas that will pervade your house, but they are also one of the most delicious things we have eaten lately. I imagine a festive tin filled with these would make a lovely holiday gift though, if you wonder whether "digestives" are special enough to give as a gift, consider calling them by another name (just as correct) instead: whole wheat shortbread cookies. Whether you eat digestive biscuits or whole wheat shortbread, may your house smell like warm butter and toasty flour.

like shortbread, but better

Whole wheat shortbread cookies, also known as English digestive biscuits
slightly adapted from King Arthur
Makes about 23 2.5 inch cookies 

Notes: I made a few changes to the original recipe. As mentioned, I used white whole wheat flour rather than the combination of whole wheat and all-purpose flour called for in the original recipe. I added a scant amount of salt, which was a good call, I think. Finally, the recipe called for room temperature butter, an instruction I must have blithely ignored because it is so opposite to what I normally do when making shortbread dough. Instead, I cubed the butter and stuck it in the freezer for 15 minutes, which worked well. If you have an aversion to working with cold butter you could try, as the original recipe directs, using room temperature butter. (Kindly report back on the outcome!)
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) white whole wheat flour  
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 ounces (3/4 cup) confectioners' sugar
  • 4 ounces (1 stick or 1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces (1/4 cup) cold milk
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Ready a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.
2. (See note above.) Cube the butter (1/2 inch pieces or so) and set in the freezer for 15 minutes or so, until hard.
3. By hand: Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine the ingredients. Quickly, working with your fingertips or a pastry blender, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. Add the milk and work through to form a stiff dough. Turn out on a floured surface and knead until smooth.
Using a food processor: Measure the flour, baking powder and sugar into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 10-15 seconds to ensure all the dry ingredients are evenly combined. Add the cold butter and pulse until butter is evenly combined, 4-5 pulses. Add the milk and process 1-2 seconds. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead slightly until you have a smooth dough.
4. Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to a bit more than 1/8 inch thick and cut into rounds, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. You can keep rolling the scraps together to make additional dough. (If you prefer, use a sharp knife to create square cookies and forget the whole scraps issue.)
5. Transfer the biscuits to your baking pan and, if desired, use a strand of uncooked spaghetti to prick the biscuits with holes. Bake 15-20 minutes until biscuits are somewhere between pale gold and pale brown. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack. Note: If you undercook them, the biscuits will taste floury (not good). I like them to be crisp, so mine stayed in the oven around 20 minutes. Don't be afraid to put them back in if they are not crisp enough. 

December 9, 2010

fast fare

You know that feeling when you've made something, and it's not bad, but it's not amazing either? And you wish that you could go back in time and just say: "Take it from me, self. That carrot soup you are thinking of making is not worth the effort. Make yourself some scrambled eggs, plop on the couch, catch up on Modern Family and call it a day." Yup, I know this feeling. This post is about the food you turn to when you're burned out. That food should still be good, but it should not require a lot of work.

These are the kinds of things I make for myself when I realize it's 2:30pm and I've worked through lunch (just one of the perks of working from home) or for lunch on Sunday when we have very important errands to attend to (picking up new LED lights and seeing Harry Potter). Besides the celeriac soup, which is another staple, we've been eating these six -- raw kale salad, roasted cauliflower salad, avocado toast, lemon rice, braised kale, kale topped with an egg -- quite frequently. I'd eat any of these for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Kale salad with pecorino (adapted from Melissa Clark)

   lacinato kale salad

Wash/trim 1 bunch of lacinato (aka Tuscan aka dinosaur) kale and slice into 1/2 inch thick ribbons and add to large bowl. Using a mortar and pestle, pound garlic into a paste. Transfer garlic to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese, 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, pinch salt and black pepper, and whisk to combine. Pour dressing over kale and toss very well to thoroughly combine (dressing will be thick and need lots of tossing to coat leaves).

Roasted cauliflower salad with yogurt and mango pickle

Roast your cauliflower, using the method I describe here. Top with plain, full-fat yogurt and a generous dollop of storebought Thokku mango pickle. I like Khazana brand, found at my Indian grocery, but anything spicy will work. Harissa, salsa, canned chipotles. 

Quick braised kale
Serves 1 as a main, 2 as a side.

I love this cooking method; the kale becomes tender and sweet instead of chewy and bitter. (It retains some bitterness, of course. It's kale.) I really like this with the Siberian variety of kale, but this recipe is also a perfect use for run-of-the-mill curly kale you often see at the grocery store. I would eat all of this myself with a little rice, or with an olive-oil fried egg on the side.

1 bunch washed kale, leaves picked off the stems and roughly chopped/torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 onion, chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
2/3 cups liquid (I prefer the sweetness of homemade chicken broth, but you can use water, vegetable broth, a low-sodium canned chicken broth, etc.)
lemon juice

Heat the oil in a wide, deep skillet on medium heat. Saute the onion in the olive oil until slightly browned and translucent. Add the chopped kale and stir so that the oil is evenly distributed throughout. The kale should just begin to wilt and the leaves will glisten slightly with oil. Add 1/3 cup of liquid and let the liquid come to a brisk simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is almost entirely evaporated. This takes 2-3 minutes on my stove, but could take longer depending on your heat level.

Add another 1/3 cup of liquid and let the liquid cook down until the kale is soft and tender. I like my kale to be crisp-tender, so I stop cooking at this point. Should you like even more tender leaves, you can do one more cycle of adding liquid and cooking it out. Add 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and squeeze of lemon juice and stir.

Kale with an egg on top

So simple. Braise your kale, salt well, and top with a fried egg. Alternatively, fry your kale. Heat a skillet or French oven. Tip in olive oil, enough to form a thin coating on the bottom. Add chopped kale (I used the leftovers from our kale salad!) and toss so that the oil is evenly distributed throughout. Continue tossing until the kale is tender and cooked, adding a few tablespoons of water if desired. Salt. Top with a fried egg.

Lemon rice

I fell in love with lemon rice thanks to my friend Sravanya. The recipe below is for a basic version, but sometimes I dress it up with chopped green chiles and frozen peas. Add with the asafetida and turmeric. I also sometimes borrow inspiration from kedgeree and top with a quartered boiled egg.

lemon rice 
Heat a wok or wide skillet over medium heat. Tip in oil to lightly coat the bottom, then add 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds, handful cashews, and 2-4 curry leaves. Lightly fry until cashews lightly brown and mustard seeds are popping. Add a pinch of asafetida, and 1/4 turmeric. Saute 10 seconds or so, then add 1 cup of cold basmati rice and fry until rice is uniformly yellow and warmed through. Off heat, add juice from 1/2 lime and taste. I like my rice to be on the tart side but not overwhelmingly so. Season with salt and garnish with cilantro.

Harissa avocado toast

A slice of whole grain bread, something that toasts up nubby and crisp (flax seed loaf is great)
1/2 of a ripe avocado
Harissa (optional, see other suggestions below)

Toast a slice of bread. Meanwhile, mash half of an avocado with a fork so it's slightly lumpy. Once your toast is crisp and ready, spread a thin layer of harissa on one side and plop a mound of avocado on the toast. Sprinkle with sea salt and eat.

(Aside: I've made this harissa recipe at least half a dozen times, and we love it. But it's a pain to make, and this is avocado toast so you shouldn't fret too much. You could try a storebought harissa, a swipe of Dijon mustard, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lime juice, a sprinkling of red pepper flakes or simply leave the toast plain.)

December 8, 2010

holiday traditions

I meant to post this recipe for pomegranate and citrus salad when I was talking holiday traditions yesterday. I first made this dish a few years ago after impulsively buying a 20 pound bag of Texas red grapefruit and a box of beautiful pomegranates. I don't know how I found this recipe, but now I look forward to pomegranate and citrus season every year! Holidays are filled with rich foods, so it's nice to have something light and refreshing in your back pocket; this salad is perfect for those whose palates are weary of butter and sugar and cream and more butter (i.e. me). Others (ahem, Mark and my brother) are more than content with a big cinnamon brioche.

Pomegranate citrus salad with minted sugar
From Bon Appetit

Fair warning: this dish looks simple, but it is not. Cutting between the membranes of citrus fruit is time-consuming (I turn on music to keep me company) and removing the seeds from a pomegranate can be a messy affair. I usually remove the seeds underwater, like so. The first time I made this, I was cursing the recipe but then I tasted it and couldn't get enough.

Some advice: Peel/segment the citrus the day before serving; it will keep perfectly in the refrigerator overnight. Also, wear dark clothes when de-seeding the pomegranates and take care with your cutting boards, counter tops and carpets. Finally, I like to include some of the citrus juices in the salad, but feel free to add any leftover juice to a winter cocktail instead.
  • 2 white grapefruits
  • 2 pink grapefruits
  • 6 large navel oranges
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Seeds from 1 pomegranate
Cut peel and white pith from grapefruits and oranges. Over a large bowl, cut between membranes to release segments. Combine fruit and some of the reserved juices citrus juices in a pretty serving bowl. (Fruit can be segmented 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) 

Just prior to serving, place mint and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Using on/off turns, blend until mint is finely chopped, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Sprinkle mint sugar and pomegranate seeds over fruit. 

peeling/sectioning grapefruit

December 7, 2010

hi, December

Our Thanksgiving break in Washington State involved a mind boggling amount of butter, a snowball fight on a magically snowy day and a hike to a pretty spot on the coast.

hiking, Washington coast

We also drove to Canada, where we sought out delicious dim sum in honor of Mark's birthday. Man, Vancouver really does dim sum right! If I wasn't so burned out on rich foods, I'd have a lot to say about how amazing it was but for now even typing the words "deep fried taro root and minced duck dumpling" feels excessive. I'll just say for the tenth time that Vancouver is one of our favorite cities (food and otherwise) and leave it at that.

We flew back to San Francisco, lightened our meals considerably (my official goal was to O'D on vegetables and I believe I succeeded) and we both spent the rest of the week under piles of work. Otherwise, Mark experimented with his birthday gifts from my sister, lemon bitters and celery bitters. (He discovered that he likes gin martinis, while I discovered that I don't.) We also pulled out our box of ornaments, made a Christmas music playlist and decorated our Christmas tree.

Two ornaments that I always put near the top:

Mark's parents send us a different crystal snowflake ornament each year, beginning the year we got engaged. The tradition is actually much older than that, though; while we were in Washington, we decorated the tree with almost 40 years worth of crystal and sterling silver ornaments given to Betty and Dennis from her parents. I love that.

And I like this goofy Sammy the Owl, too.

Other Christmas traditions: Mulled wine. A hot toddy called a Polar Bear that involves hot chocolate, peppermint schnapps and creme de cacao. (Mark prefers Scotch but I think it's yum.) Watching lots of movies with my family. Eating pomegranates and winter citrus (below is a picture of a pomegranate salad we like to make on Christmas morning). Making a new ornament or wreath for the tree. Midnight mass. And A Christmas Story, of course. I can't believe it's already December.