Sunday, May 17, 2020

Citrus Peel Syrup and Candied Orange Sugar

"Some may toss citrus peels into the compost pile after juicing them, but the peel itself has its own flavor and aroma. You’re getting all that fresh, eye-opening citrus that wakes you up,” said Claire Sprouse (owner of Brooklyn cafe Hunky Dory) “like walking into a juice shop and smelling all the zest in the air." 

And to think that I'm one of those that has tossed  tangerine peels into my green bin since the season started in December. My favorite Murcotts and Page manderins are still available and I still brave the Monterey Market with a mask to buy them, so I still have plenty of time to concoct Ms Sprouse's specialty:

"To capture the citrusy goodness, place your collected peels in a bowl, dust them with sugar and let them sit on the countertop, covered, for a day or so. The sugar will extract citrus oil from the peels, resulting in a bracingly bright syrup ideal for a Collins or gimlet. Fold a bit of citrus juice (if you have it; water, if you don’t) into the mixture to incorporate the sugar, then cut it with vodka to give it a longer shelf life in the fridge." (from an article in the New York Times on May 7th)

Next: Homage to Ici--their ice cream and candied orange peel

Ici appeared on College Ave some time in '06  and the lines formed immediately. Not far from UC Berkeley in Elmwood, a classic, colorful Berkeley neighborhood, the tiny shop attracted students, locals and tourists alike. Original flavors and giant cookie cones lined with chocolate welcomed the faithful. Owner Mary Canales, a Chez Panisse alum created beautiful ice creams with exotic flavors in startling combinations which changed daily.

Changing flavors of the day displayed behind glass 
Not shown are favorites like cardamom rose, saffron, chamomile, candied orange, ginger, chicory, Earl Gray and many more creative offerings-- lusciously exotic, yet subtle and fresh.

More genius flavors like peach-muscat, honey juniper and basil
For a few years Ici brought a fancy cart to two Berkeley farmer's markets. The lines were shorter than the shop's so I would often indulge in a cup with two flavors. Those were the days!

Goodies at the counter of the College Ave, shop

There was always a tempting display of house made goodies like ginger cookies, gift wrapped bon bons and candied citrus peel near the register. Who could resist? And then suddenly right before Christmas the store  closed. Ici had opened a second location on a nondescript stretch of University Ave, and that store never caught on. Perhaps the failure of the second location brought down the whole enterprise.  In any case, both stores closed suddenly in late November 2018 without an explanation. 

My wrinkled bag of candied blood orange peel bought at Ici a few years ago

Taking a cue from Claire Sprouse, I dug up some of Ici's candied blood orange peel that I stashed away years ago, shook off the sugar clinging to the peel and strained it into a small bowl. Now I have some some precious, zingy orange sugar to put in my hot cross buns, if I ever get around to making them. And luckily, I still have the remaining peel to use in the future. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Food of France Deconstructed

My blogger buddy Jeanette, who taught me everything I know about blogging, has been entertaining us daily with comforting memories of past travels from the armchair of her computer on Jeanette Baird's Studio. Inspired by her daily posts, I retrieved some old food and restaurant photos of my 2018 trip to Paris and the Loire Valley, which I intended to publish in a blog called The Food of France. Now it will be much more fun to offer them in installments a la Jeanette.

This painterly dish featuring pintade and petites légumes di printemps  (spring veggies) was created by the talented female chef at L' Épigramme in Paris. Even though this was our first meal in Paris and we had just arrived exhausted from our flight, I consider this to be the most delicious and  beautiful entrée of the whole trip. And, by the way, Jeanette recommended this bistro before we left.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Falcon Frenzy Returns

 Baby falcon chicks are an annual harbinger of spring in Berkeley and here they are! Three out of four eggs hatched on April 18th atop the UC Berkeley campanile where Annie and Grinnell have raised their chicks since 2017. Last year they were on the big screen outside the Berkeley Art Museum, but this year I love watching Mama and her baby chicks live at any time of day or night on the webcam.


Friday, April 10, 2020

Love in the Time of Corona Virus*

photo from a Kaiser Permanente email——"Enhance your mood with exercise"

*adaptation of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, a classic I never finished

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Passover Seder at a Distance, or, The Geppetto Project

The Swedish  Labryrintspel game with one of two tilt knobs
It started with a call from my sister-in-law Ricki. While she had extra time for organizing during the shelter in place order, she unearthed a Swedish game that she and Dean played when they were children. When she realized that the wooden frame was broken, she called brother Dean to see if he could fix it. She began calling him Geppetto, the kindly old woodcarver and creator of Pinocchio.

This label is affixed to two sides of the game

The object of the game is to get the ball past all 60 holes by tilting the board using the two knobs 

Things being complicated these days, we chose a meeting place halfway between Ricki's house in San Francisco and ours in Berkeley. The Rustic Bakery in Larkspur across from the Larkspur/San Francisco Ferry terminal was agreeable to both parties, and we preordered sandwiches to eat during the trade-off.

The liaison went successfully and we agreed to meet again in Marin the following Friday when Geppetto had completed his repairs to the "labyrintspel." Ordinarily we could have returned the game during our annual Seder at Ricki's, but sadly there would be no family gathering this year.

Last year's festive Seder celebration at Ricki's

At some point I realized that if there would be no Seder, there would be no matzo ball soup, my favorite part of the Passover meal. As the Pollycoves say: "Such a tragedy!" Then I got the bright idea to ask Ricki to make her incredibly delicious version and hand it off at our next meeting in Larkspur. We could trade Ricki's soup for the repaired Labyrintspel - a family affair. I was hesitant to ask her because I knew the hours she puts in boiling chickens for broth and preparing her feather-light matzo balls from matzo meal, a technique she learned from her mother Rosalyn. But when I did ask, she happily agreed to do her matzo ball magic.

Ricki in her mask at the soup handoff  at The Rustic Bakery

During this exchange we enjoyed more chicken salad sandwiches and chardonnay on a beautiful sunny day in Marin County.  Sadly, this would be our last meeting before Passover.

Our simple but satisfying Seder meal

                       An abbreviated home ceremony and a bowl of Ricki's superb matzo ball soup

                                                                HAPPY PESACH 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


Cooped up at home during California's Shelter in Place order, I've returned to one of my favorite activities - BAKING.  I was further encouraged by  Margaux Laskey's article in today's New York Times Food section:  "Amid the uncertainty,  head to the kitchen and bake."

     Last week I tried scones because I missed my weekly ration from Babette café in the Berkeley Art Museum. Babette's makes the best scones ever and I indulge about two mornings a week.  Now they're  closed along with the museum and I'm on my own. Patrick the owner had told me that they used Julia Child's recipe but I never thought of baking them myself. Now I decided to try my hand at both Julia's and Marion Cunningham's recipes, and a third called Mrs. McNab's scones from Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Breads. All three were dismal flops and I can't wait for Babette to reopen.

     Next I decided to try popovers. Long ago my mother baked them in glass custard cups and they were delicious. More recently we enjoyed the superb complementary starters at Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco's financial district. In fact, both the popovers and the scrumptious fried chicken make this Dean's choice for his birthday dinners in June.

You only get one

I was vaguely aware that there was an unopened Chicago Metallic popover pan in my baking cupboard. I remembered buying it at Sur la Table when I worked there at least twenty years ago. This forced vacation seemed the perfect time to unwrap it and put it to use. The pan was pristine and the recipe on the back looked foolproof, but I was wary after my failures with the scones.

My popovers rose and popped like gangbusters but Dean suggested that they bake slightly longer and that they would profit from a bit of sugar. This weekend I'll try them again.

My almost perfect popovers

                                                            Here's the recipe


1            Chicago Metallic 6 cup Popover Pan            
1 1/4      cup flour            
1/4         teaspoon salt            
3            large eggs            
1 1/4      cup milk            
2            tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 even pieces            
1            tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Oil or spray (with nonstick vegetable oil spray) popover pan.
Preheat oven to 400' and set rack in middle of oven.
Preheat popover pan in oven about 2 minutes.
Blend flour, salt, eggs, milk and melted butter until mixture is the consistency of heavy cream, about 1 to 2 minutes. This can be mixed in a food processor, blender, electric mixer, or with a hand mixer.
The batter can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator.
Batter should be used at room temperature.

(Note from Chris:  The way I learned to make Yorkshire pudding in England, was never to over mix the batter.  It's okay to be a little lumpy - otherwise it will be too heavy and not light and crispy. Also to let the batter sit in the fridge several hours before cooking.)

Place 1 small piece of butter in each cup and place back in preheated oven until butter is bubbly, about 1 minute.
Fill each cup half full with Batter and bake 20 minutes.
Reduce temperature to 300' and continue baking 20 minutes.

Makes 6 popovers

Popovers are best right from the oven.
Serve with butter, jams, or other sweet or savory spreads.

                      We had no trouble polishing off all six popovers with jam and butter