May 26, 2010

how to get out of chores

We are trying to be organized about our upcoming move to the Bay Area. The move is two months away, and ... I am a little concerned. 1200 square feet of space houses a lot of memories, to be sure, but also a lot of stuff. The state of our closets is especially worrisome, as I don't ever remember organizing them, um, possibly ever, in the three years we have been living here. Eep.

 We spent most of Saturday cleaning and getting organized, which felt satisfying and productive, but left us tired/hungry (and, if I'm being honest, way cranky in my case). I started to feel a little better after a Shiner and a quick dinner of cold soba noodle salad but then -- my ambitious husband bounded up and suggested tackling the hall closet. Ugh. Desperate to avoid anything else resembling cleaning or organizing, I suggested I could, maybe, I don't know, make brownies ? You know, if he wanted to work.

 Magic words. Magic words, because Mark is a sucker for brownies. (This is the man who once ate an entire 8x8 pan of brownies in one sitting in order to prevent his brother from getting even one.)
 I'm fairly particular about brownies: chewy brownies are my thing, and fudgy or cakey brownies need not apply. My current favorite brownies are these cocoa brownies by Alice Medrich, which we first made when we went skiing in Colorado. Despite having to adapt them for high altitude baking, they turned out awesomely, with a deep and dark chocolate flavor and a major chew. Love. So, chewy brownie fans, I recommend those.

 Unfortunately, this particular Saturday night found me without cocoa powder. I did some googling for brownie recipes using unsweetened chocolate, which I did have, and found this article in Saveur claiming Katharine Hepburn's brownies were "incredibly chewy." Long story short: they are not chewy. Not even a little. Though the brownies have a nice, sugary topcoat and the batter --which you make on the stove -- is easy enough, these brownies are lacking that chewiness I find so alluring in brownies. Ms. Hepburn may have been able to wear the heck out of a pair of trousers but her brownies are not my ideal. I offer this recipe in case they are yours.


Katharine Hepburn's brownies

For chocolate, I used chopped Callebaut chocolate, which melts beautifully and has a deep chocolate flavor. I love this stuff, which I can buy at Central Market for around $5/lb. It may cost a tiny bit more than the ubiquitous yet mediocre Baker's chocolate at the grocery store, but I think it's worth it.

8 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1⁄2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup roughly chopped walnuts (optional)
1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄4 tsp. fine salt

1. Heat oven to 325°F. Grease an 8x8 baking pan with butter. Line the pan with parchment paper; grease the paper. Set the pan aside.
2. Melt the butter and the chocolate together in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and stir to make a smooth batter. Add the walnuts (if using), flour, and salt; stir until incorporated. Pour the batter into the baking pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40–45 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Cut and serve.

May 20, 2010

how to have fun in the Bay Area

Take a hike in quiet, cool, and peaceful Muir Woods (get there by 7:45AM and you will have the entire place to yourself).
Drive up Highway 1, stopping to take pictures of the rocky beaches and foggy coastline. Stop at Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station, watch them make cheese, and pick up a crusty baguette from Brick Maiden Breads and a big hunk of the most delicious, buttery, flavorful cheese ever (my choice is funky smooth Red Hawk). Have yourself a picnic in the sunshine. Seriously, Cowgirl Creamery is a can't miss. I forget how good cheese can be sometimes.Drive a winding road, past hundreds and hundreds of grazing dairy cows, over to Point Reyes lighthouse and witness how hard the wind blows up here.

After the lighthouse, hike Chimney Rock trail, with spectacular views of the Pacific, endless sky, beautiful bluffs, interesting wildflowers, deer, and lazy elephant seals.

Ogle the wares at Heath Ceramics in Sausalito. Find perfect thin crust pizza and wash it down with a Lagunitas ale. Celebrate your adorable friends (congrats Matt and Nicole, love you guys!) in Napa Valley. Cap off the weekend with a long stroll through Golden Gate Park (along with thousands of drunken people in costumes), hot pot, and Bi-Rite Creamery's. Brown sugar ice cream with ginger caramel swirl. It was the best ice cream moment of my life.

May 7, 2010

where I tell you about my birthday

I turned 27 this week! If my birthday celebrations are any indication, I just might be in for a wonderful year. My birthday actually started a few weeks ago, when Mark's parents took us to Feast for their weekend lunch. Fine dining wise, Feast has the best weekend lunch deal in the city -- 2 courses for $14 or 3 courses for $18. For interesting, carefully made food and locally sourced and raised meat/poultry/eggs, I call that a most delicious bargain.
 Last Friday, we got Vietnamese food and Mark took me to see Two Door Cinema Club and Phoenix. Super, super fun. My favorite part was when Thomas Mars announced: "'Ello, we are Pheenix and we come from Paris, France." I love Frenchy accents. And I love Phoenix! They put on an amazing show.

On Saturday, I flew to Bama to visit my best friend Julia and her husband John. Our birthdays are all within a week of each other, and we celebrated in style: a fire pit, burgers, beer, and 10 pounds of smoked wild boar butt. Beyond delicious. We spent Sunday on the couch, coughing and eating chicken noodle soup I made and watching Out of Africa, and it was still great. I love my best friend! (J, can you believe we've been best friends since we were 15?!)

Mark had to go out of town and missed my birthday and the trip to Alabama; needless to say, he was bummed about missing out on the company (and that wild boar). But when I opened all my gifts from everyone, I felt so loved: sweet cards, silver earrings, some cookbooks, a gift certificate from my brother, mad money from Mark's parents and Julia, and a gorgeous ruffled pie dish that I seriously looove and had been coveting for ages. Sour cherry pie, you are in my future. Coincidentally, I also received my new French oven on my birthday, which made me very happy. (Le Creuset replaced our chipped French oven at no charge! They have the best customer service and such a generous warranty.)

Our next trip is a week in the Bay Area - having fun, eating, and seeing our friends Nicole and Matt get married in Napa Valley. As matron of honor, I hope to bring a respectable level of matronliness to the position. Mark has been busy lately (nothing new there) -- wrapping up his class, the normal grant proposals/papers, and an interview in NJ -- so we are both totally excited about this trip.