Saturday, June 28, 2008

Just another Monday night...

A few nights ago, I went to dinner with some of my restaurant friends. And true to the industry, we went out for a late night dinner at Beretta out in the Mission—started at 9:30 pm (which is late for me, especially on a Monday night!) Two of them had worked (even though Mon's are traditionally their days off). Me? I worked that day too...then a quick gym workout before making a stop at another party first.

It's so much fun seeing these guys, they all use to work together at Postrio, and are still pretty close. I'm just lucky they let me into their little group. When you go out to eat with them, anything goes...discussion topics vary (and most are NOT 'proper' dinner conversations- which is probably why it's so fun!)

We joke, we tease each other, and we order everything on the, cocktails, dessert. You name it. See a favorite on the menu? Get it. See something that sounds interesting? Get it. See something that you heard was good? Get it. See something that you heard was not good? Still get it. Yes, this is dining with foodies, chefs or restaurant people.

At one point, the server came by and said 'Sounds like you guys are in the industry'. He must have over heard the chefys talking food costs and me critically eyeing their menu and commenting that I didn’t want the rhubarb dessert on the menu, declaring 'It's already the tail end of rhubarb season! I’ve had too much rhubarb! I'm over it!'

One of my chef friends jumped in and started talking about Alembic, where he worked, that the cuisine would be considered a 'gastro pub' and on and on. Meanwhile, my other chef friend, Chad, was hanging back and letting them talk. I couldn't resist. I chimed in 'He's a chef too. At Baraka. It's really good...'

I don't even remember who picked up the conversation at that point or what they were saying. I had this out of body experience where I saw myself talking. Oh my god. I was like that annoying proud parent that won't stop bragging about their child.

Yes. I'm generally super proud of all of my friends. You pick on any of them, and I'll set you straight. But when it comes to my friends, I'm especially proud of this one. I've known him since Kindergarten. Yup, through elementary school, junior high, high school...Through learning our colors and numbers to high school dances. We haven't remained close this whole time, and only really reconnected in recent years, but this was a guy that I grew up with, that lived down the street from me…I just knew he was gonna be big one of these days and I was going to talk him up!

We ended the night fairly early (for them, late for me!)...and despite the encouragement from Chad to go out drinking, we all headed home. After all, it was only a Monday. This gal was beat, and I still had a long week ahead. Til next time...which knowing the four of us, it'll be another few months before we all have the same night free. Big smooches to Jim for driving me home...even though I’m sure all he wanted to do was get home to his partner and even though I'm totally out of his way. He's always lookin’ out for me! With friends like him, living in the city is made a little easier for this girl.

City of Foodies

Yes. I live in a city of foodies. From the homeless guy I saw eating Nutella out of the jar with a spoon (seriously), to the cab drivers, San Franciscans know how to appreciate good food.

One time, I hailed a cab across the street from a restaurant I had just dined at. The can driver assumed I had just dined at the restaurant I had just been standing in front of (Absinthe Brasserie & Bar) and started grilling me the second I got into the cab. 'Was dinner good? Was it expensive? Is it overrated or was it good?' I told him I didn't actually eat there, and never had, but that all my bar experiences there had been amazing.

He started going on and on about restaurants in the city. Thought Zuni Cafe was overrated (agreed! Good, but overrated), where did I go in the Mission for burritos, he thought you can't find good Greek food (although he loved Kokkari), what about the food in my neighborhood (you can't beat U-Lees for good Chinese food!), and on and on.

It was the most interesting cab ride I've ever had! I found myself a little sad as I was nearing home. I wanted to stay and talk longer!!

The other night, it happened again. I got in the cab and told them where I was going. 'Joey & Eddie's...where the old Mooses use to be.' The driver (a SHE by the way!!) got into a conversation about how she couldn't believe Moose's had closed. And that she had heard mixed reviews about the place...and what did I think? While we were on the topic of North Beach restaurants, she brought up Washington Square Bar & Grill closing, and 'How could the WashBag close??'

It was great to be engaged in some interesting food dialogue with a cab driver once again. Another reminder that this city is filled with food crazed people. And another reminder of just why I love this city so much.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wedding Cupcakes

I made cupcakes the other night. They're 'Wedding Cupcakes'. I wanted to make a celebratory wedding cake for a co-worker and ended up making wedding cupcakes (easier to share!). We're not close friends, so you might wonder why I decided to make him wedding cupcakes, but it's because of this touching email:

On June 26th I will be getting married to my partner of seven years. I will be out of the office from June 26th until the 30th. In my absence please direct all home office issues to…

It was so sweet of him to disclose this information about his personal life to the office (he's normally kinda quiet) and it really touched me! And heck, any reason to bake and celebrate, and I'm there! Hope he liked 'em (wouldn’t it be horrible if he was allergic to chocolate or something? Or hated cupcakes more than anything?)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Next Airline Charge

Remember how I few weeks back I asked what the next airline charge was going to be? My funny friend Paige guessed charging you to go to the bathroom. :) Nope, not yet.

Instead? You're being charged to fly standby. Check it out (from Budget Travel's blog):

Continental has just implemented a $50 stand-by fee to help the airline offset rising fuel costs. The change went into effect starting with tickets issued June 17, a representative for the airline says. If you purchased a ticket before that date, Continental will still let you fly stand-by for free.

It’s not the first time that Continental has passed costs on to its passengers (and some other U.S. airlines are even more guilty of the practice). In April, Continental raised its fee to change a ticket reservation on a domestic flight from $100 to $150, following United’s move to raise its change fee from $100 to $150. US Airways followed suit within days.

I only found out about the change in Continental’s stand-by policy because I’ve called the airline several times over the past several weeks to ask about flying stand-by from Pittsburgh to New York this weekend—and today was the first time an agent mentioned the new policy. I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere on Internet news sites, or on Continental’s own website…
Are other airlines going to follow Continental’s lead by charging passengers to fly stand-by, or by raising the penalty to change a ticket reservation? And if so, is the public going to know about it?

Wish there was some way for us to protest all of this...but why punish ourselves for the high cost of gas/fuel? I'm not going to let them win. I'm not going to stop traveling and exploring and seeing the world! This won't stop me from traveling! In fact, I just bought tickets to Australia. :)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Salumi Cycle

Salumi makes me happy. Seriously. What could be better than a little cured meat, wine and cheese? I would never get tired of it and I think I could seriously live off that!

So imagine how happy I was when I learned Chris Cosentino was opening up a store for his Boccalone meats...and at the Ferry Building, a place I'm at all time too! Yummy cured meats, and in my neck of the woods? Perfect. I was ready to join the Salumi Society!

Well. Life just got better. Eater SF broke this story today...can you imagine if they delivered salumi to you at work?? Oh my god. I've died and gone to heaven. Or I've found myself my next dream job. Biking around this gorgeous city and bringing people their cured meats? What could be better?

My Love for Canned Air

I love canned air. You know what I'm talking about. The stuff you have in your office to clean your keyboard. I love how the can gets icy cold, and the sound it makes when you spray it. It's fun to use. And it creates a cool pattern on the surface.

At work, when I'm frustrated, I spray a little bit of the canned air, and it let's out some of our frustration. It also brings a smile to my face. Such a silly thing. One of my team members once ordered me a bottle of canned air, and gave it to me as a present. It was such a great surprise. Made my day.

Why am I writing about my love for canned air? Something that should probably not be made public?

Well...on the news tonight, I saw that someone died from inhaling canned air. A 17 year old boy was apparently sniffing my beloved canned air and using it to get high. Seriously.
It made me sad. That boy's poor parents. The potential he had! He was so young...a whole life ahead of him. But then I got mad. Kids do such stupid things. Canned air is for cleaning and a good laugh, but not for sniffing!! Come on!

I still love canned air. I'm not going to blame it for his death. If you think I'm going to stop using it, don't be silly. And if you're thinking of giving me canned air the next time I'm having a hard day, keep 'em coming. It still brings a smile to my face.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Peanut Butter Ice Cream Recipe

So everyone’s asking me for the peanut butter ice cream recipe. The recipe I’ve been using is from Saveur (originally from Bruce Weinstein’s The Ice Cream Book), but I’ve tweaked it a tad. Here’s my recipe:

1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
3 eggs
½ cup organic peanut butter (there are more natural oils in the organic/natural peanut butter)
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste

Heat milk and cream in a saucepan over medium heat until just hot. Meanwhile, beat sugar and eggs together in a medium bowl until thick and pale yellow.

Gradually whisk hot milk into egg mixture in bowl, then pour milk-egg mixture into saucepan.

Return saucepan t medium-low heat and cook custard, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, about 5 min.

Remove saucepan from heat and stir in peanut butter.

Let peanut butter melt into mixture. Strain custard into a large bowl, stir in vanilla.

Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 6-8 hours.

Process mixture in an ice cream maker according to directions. Finish with chopped peanuts if desired. Or mix in some chopped chocolate chips for your own Reese's Peanut Butter Cup ice cream!


Scare of My Life

I'm serious. Last night, was one of the scariest, worst experiences of my life.

I was at my cousin's wedding banquet, making small talk and having some wine with dear old dad. We hadn't had too much to drink at that point, and had just started eating dinner. I'm not sure if it was the lack of food he had eaten that day, or hot weather we'd been having, lack of water, or what, but all of a sudden, he started choking and then his eyes rolled back in his head, he swayed over, fell out of his chair and onto the floor.

All I remember jumping out of my chair and falling onto the floor next to him, kneeling down, shaking him and yelling 'Dad!!!' When he wasn't waking up, I grabbed my phone and dialed 911.

By then a few other people had raced over and a few minutes later, he woke up. It took him a few seconds, and was unsure of where he was initially, but then he seemed ok. Sat back up, drank some water, and was telling everyone he was fine.

He was probably a little embarrassed and scared himself. My friends know me well enough to know that by now I was totally crying and the whole experience had started sinking in. Basically at every point during the night when someone came by to see how he was, I would start up again. I know. Way to go on keeping my composure huh?

My family is the most important thing to me and I don't know what I would if anything were to happen to any of them. So Dad...hope you hear me loud and clear. Take care of yourself!!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Is It Too Late for Payard Vegas?

A few weeks ago, I was in Las Vegas for a conference...and one of the most memorable experiences of my life was at Payard Patisserie. Located in Caesar's Place, we experienced a five course dessert tasting menu...and every dish was perfect. Just a few days ago, I read this post on the LA Times blog:
A couple of months ago, I wrote a story on the latest round of restaurant openings in Vegas. The best bargain I found as part of that story was the elegant buffet breakfast at Payard Pâtisserie in Caesar’s Palace — $16 for coffee, fresh-squeezed juice, as many of the exquisite morning pastries as you can eat, plus cereals, yogurt parfaits and house-smoked salmon with all the fixings. However, it seems as if the management at Payard felt that petit déjeuner was too much of a bargain. A reader alerted me soon after that the price was now $22. OK, it was underpriced at $16, but isn’t that the definition of a bargain? Still, a $6 hike seems a bit steep. In another change, the bistro is no longer serving their dessert tasting at night, which is a real shame. I guess they never developed enough of an audience.

I was disappointed to hear that the dessert tasting menu was no longer being offered. In what must have been one of their last services, here are photos and descriptions of everything I was lucky enough to eat!

Our amuse...a soy and chocolate marinaded piece of fish, a chocolate polenta with duck, and a piece of thinly sliced beef (I don't remember what was inside!)

Poached Sickle Pear with Pomegranete, Cabrales Cheese and Szechuan Pepper Ice Cream...that was amazing ice cream!!

Warm Ricotta Tart with Citrus, Mint Salad, White Balsamic Vinegar...the mint salad was absolutely perfect. And on top? Baked Parmesan cheese!

Roasted Pear with Maple Syrup and Brown Butter Ice Cream. No need for any other was perfection.

Tiramisu My Way: Chocolate Mousse, Espresso Granita and Mascarpone Cream. This deconstructed tiramisu was surprisingly easy to eat (and share).

Coffee Eclair, Milk Chocolate Mouse and Flaky Sable. The Flaky Sable (essentially a crispy, thin, chocolate cookie) was amazing. I've got to learn how to make it.

Red Wine Tart with Sangria-Prune Ice Cream. The ice cream was a good. Inspiration for me and my new ice cream machine. Oh. And yes. There are a lot of glasses in the back. We had a different sparkling, moscato, or port paired with each one! :)

Devil's Food Cake, Cardamon Pot de Creme, Chocolate Pudding and Whipped Creme Fraiche. Can you see the 'devil's horns' shaped with thin chocolate? There were yummy rice krispy like rice puffs surrounding the cake.

Peanut Butter Napoleon with Milk Chocolate Rice Krispies. Not too peanut buttery, and not too rich. This was perfect.

The classic. Warm Hazelnut Chocolate Tart with Cocoa Nibs Tuile and Hazelnut Ice Cream. Amazing. Perfect.

This amazing truffle machine in the Payard patisserie has clocks around it that shows the time at all of his locations around the world...Tokyo, New York, Sao Paolo, etc.

Ice Cream Across the Country...And My Next Flavor!

Go Bi-Rite! Glad to see this lcoal favorite is making it's way into the national headlines.

This has turned into quite my diary of my ice cream making adventures. Anyone curious about what the ice cream for this weekend is? Peach ice cream! My farmer's market trip this morning turned out to be very fruitful (no pun intended!) Aside from the gorgeous sweet peaches, I also came home with a big bag of cherries and a brand new cherry piter. I've always wanted one! Not sure yet if I'm going to do a plain cherry ice cream or something fancier like a cherry rum ice cream (recipe from Emily Luchetti).

It was a beautiful SF morning, so lots of people out at the Farmer's Market. I was lucky we went early, and more crowded and I couldn't have wanted to stay! The first Saturday market day for Chris Cosentino's Boccalone...which from what I saw today, is already a huge success. Spotted some of my favorite San Francisco chefs checking out the fresh produce and mingling with other chef friends and locals. It was really nice to see and made me happy to live in such a great food community.

Friday, June 20, 2008

What's Next?

A lot of you have emailed me and asked what ice cream flavor is next (it really made me happy that so many of you were reading!) And I'm glad there's so much thought to my experimental ice cream making!

Maybe bacon ice cream, although I'd like to save that for my next Incanto whole pig dinner...Maybe salted caramel, although who could beat Bi-Rite's yummy salted caramel ice cream?Maybe fresh homemade strawberry. Something simple and classic.

Any requests? Maybe you'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I've got to write about the worst recaps of the most horrible magazine launch party...Stayed tuned!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Making Icy Progress!

I'm finally figuring out my ice cream maker. It was a birthday present (one of the best birthday presents ever!!), and the first few tries were quite unsuccessful. I started off with a lemon sorbet. Too slushy. Then I tried a fresh strawberry frozen yogurt. Too icy. I was beginning to feel frustrated. I was following the recipes from my ice cream cookbook exactly and couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong.

Then, a friend gave me Emily Luchetti's ice cream cookbook and everything changed. In her intro, she talks about the secret behind ice cream. The fat. There is no cutting corners. If you are going to eat ice cream, eat ice cream.

My next experiment was fresh mint chip ice cream from her cookbook. I didn't make sorbet. Didn't use yogurt. I didn't even use low fat milk. This time, it was whole milk and heavy whipping cream. I had success!! It was the best mint chip ice cream I had ever tasted.

It was so good, that I wanted to see if I could do it again. The next time? I turned my head for one second...and BAM. Scrambled eggs. It was late at night (why is it that I'm always experimenting late at night?), and yet, I was determined to do it again, despite how tired I was at that point. The only problem? I had just used up all of my eggs. The last three were now scrambled in a mess of cream on my stove top. Pissed off and in my PJ's, I headed out to the grocery store.

But the second time? Success. I was beginning to feel confident. I was getting the hang of this! The fat was the secret! Next recipe? Peanut Butter ice cream. A friend had emailed me the recipe and my friend that gave me the ice cream maker LOVES peanut I thought, what could be nicer than to make this for her? First try--BAM! Success! It was heavenly. So good. And just as I was confident again...failure. I was just too tired and too disheartened to try again. I couldn't figure it out. I didn't do anything different. :(

Tonight, the stars were aligned for me. I figured it out! I had too much 'liquid' in the ice cream maker. There wasn't the opportunity for air to get mixed in, and there wasn't enough space to churn. I divided it into two batches, and presto! Ice Cream!

Ice cream is about the chemistry and the science. Everything has to be measured and perfect. You have to be at your best, and you have to be fully engaged and paying attention. Not something you can half ass.

It made me think. If I had actual training...or someone teaching me...what would my potential be? Not just me reading a recipe and then just seeing what happens, but actual training.

Or alternatively, if I could spend all day in the kitchen, testing recipes, and trying again and again after each failed attempt, where would I be? Would I hate that lifestyle or would I thrive and actually make progress and feel like I was accomplishing something?

Perhaps in another life...I will be in whites in a kitchen somewhere!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Aspen...Observations, Tips and Lessons

Sorry. Still learning the technology... and I lost the end of my last post. :(

But here are my recreated lists...

10 Celebrity Chef Observations and Thoughts:

- Bobby Flay needs his Starbucks too

- Michelle Bernstein also needs to rush to the bathroom after a long seminar

- Chefs like meeting their idols just like you and me

- Chefs like Grateful Dead cover bands

- Tom Colicchio can't dance...but doesn't let it stop him!

- Danny Meyer can have a hard time getting a liquor license too

- Chefs are like any other people...some don't like the spotlight. As I was running through a kitchen, I caught Dave Chang in the corner, beer in hand. He was clearly overwhelmed by all of the people and was content in the kitchen away from the spotlight.

- A smile counts! Michelle Bernstein was always smiling, and so approachable! She wins the prize as my new 'favorite celebrity chef'

- Chefs are supportive of each other. Even at the early sessions, I saw chefs in the audience supporting their fellow colleagues, asking questions and being fully engaged. It's a supportive industry. It was nice to see.

- It's a small world. Everyone seems to know everyone else. But there are cliques too.

Top Five Lessons Learned from Aspen Food & Wine:

- There are a lot of parties. You won't know about them all. Hell, you won't even know about half of them. Get over it. But have fun trying to make as many as you can. :)

- The outfits are the most important part of the weekend. Be prepared for any weather, any party, any event, and any occasion. Pack your whole closet.

- There's plenty of free booze everywhere you go, but the substantial food is actually harder to find. When you do find some, load up. Trust me. You can't get through this weekend with alcohol alone. It's a test of endurance.

- On that same note, there is water every where you go. It's there for a reason. Hydrate. Re-hydrate. Repeat. We grabbed water every chance we could, and even threw bottles in our bags/purses. You don't want to pass out too early. There's too much going on and too many parties to go to! (See Point #1)

- Who says there's no global warming? The sun's rays are strong up in the mountain. My face, arms and legs are proof. Next time? Plenty of sunscreen. I'm gonna lather up next time.

So, see you there next year?? :)

Some thoughts from Aspen Food & Wine Classic

I just returned home from three days in Aspen. It was like a dream. The annual Food & Wine Classic is an amazing time of year when all of the heavy hitters in the industry gather together for days of discussions, panels, tastings, networking, and well...of course...parties. All with beautiful Aspen as the backdrop.

I personally think the F&W journalists are some of the industry's nicest group of writers. So this was a fun weekend to see them all (not in NY during a 15 min desk side or at a long James Beard dinner), but to see everyone a tad more relaxed (although it can be stressful to run from party to party). And it was even more fun to see the journalists mixing it up with 'regular people' who had bought the consumer passes, as well as mingling with the many chefs and restaurant industry people and publicists that were there.

Sightings of celebrity chefs included: Tom Collichicco, Padama Lakshmi, Jacques & Claudine Pepin, Barbara Lynch, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, David Chang, Bobby Flay, Ming Tsai, Michelle Bernstein, Masaharu Morimoto, Jose Andres, Bradley Ogden, Wylie Dufresne, Michael Symon, Michael Samuelsson, Roy Yamaguchi, Paul Kahan, Rocco Dispirto, local SF celebrity chef Nancy Oakes (and my pal Ravi!)...and on and on and on.

Additional 'celebrities' included wine great Richard Betts, cocktail mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, restaurateur Danny Meyer, and top chef publicist Scott Feldman. Top Chef alumni spotted included Hung Huynh, Illan Hall, LeAnne Wong and Marcel Vigneron (no sign of brand new Top Chef Stephanie).

My first evening included a stop by at the Welcome/Kick-Off reception at the St. Regis, the Wines of Spain party, a industry party at the Sky Hotel, a mescal party at the Little Nell and then a retro disco party at the Belly Up. All in the first night. What a hard life I lead.

I've heard Aspen referred to as the Las Vegas of the mountains, and I believe it. And over this weekend? Even more so! Because these are restaurant people, despite a late night, the next day started off with an 8:15 am session. Wow. You mean we're not just here to party? There are classes? These people are not messing around. And we have to do this for 3 days straight? Hmmm...a test of one's endurance for sure. My second session of the day (for the record, a 10 am session), was a wine tasting! Hmmm. I hadn't even had breakfast yet and I was tasting seven wines from Italy's Alto Adige region. And you just couldn't spit, they were too good not to swallow! That's just how they do things in Aspen.

The Grand Tasting tents of the festival are maybe the most fun to be had. There are hundreds of chefs, vineyards, spirit companies, etc. with tables offering you all the free food and booze you could ever hope for. It was amazing. My friend and I were on a mission to see as much of it as we could in the little time we had. We were practically running from table to table, and kept focused and only visited the tables worth visiting. We saw friends in the tent, tasted some odd things (no more takes on pea soup please!), and some incredibly delicious ones too (deconstructed marshmallow s'mores...yummmmm.) I had wine, beer, more wine, margaritas, more wine, champagne, infused vodka, more was perfect.

Friday night is the Food & Wine magazine's big publisher's party that only the top notch folks are invited to. Needless to say, yours truly was not invited. It turned out to be a much needed 'relaxing night off'. My friends and I had a nice dinner in town, and then some post dinner cocktails. There were many more parties that night, but it was honestly so much work to track everyone down, time it so that you were at the right party at the right time, to wait for the folks coming down the mountain from the publisher's party...and not to mention, I was exhausted and had been on a nice buzz a number of times throughout the day already! I was done.

The 'night off' was the best move I made. I had renewed energy Saturday morning (I actually had more than four hours of sleep!), enjoyed two sessions, walked through the Aspen Farmer's Market (surprisingly small), stopped in on my favorite store in Aspen (Les Chefs D'Aspen), went to a Sam Adams beer tasting (ever had a beer milkshake? It's DELICIOUS!), saw a team building a DJ booth over the pool for a party later that night, went to a Wines of South Africa seminar, and even spent some time laying out by the pool reading and napping. All in my hot Tory Burch shoes! :) The perfect Saturday in Aspen.

Sightings of the Best New Chefs happened that night at the Best New Chefs (BNC) reception at Aspen Meadows. We saw Jim Burke, Gerald Craft (ummmm, SO CUTE!), Tim Cushman, Jeremy Fox (go local guy! and first chef to be named to the BNC list that represented a vegetarian restaurant), Koren Grieveson, Michael Psilakis, Ethan Stowell (had the cutest chef team helping him out of all of the BNC), Giuseppe Tentori (such a nice guy!) and Sue Zemanick. By the way, any one know why Eric Warnstedt wasn't there? Here's the view from the balcony of the second floor of the event:

Not only was I lucky to get to attend this event, but I attended as the guest of a friend of mine...who happens to be a member of the press. Wow. Those press folks sure do get it good. We were allowed into the event before everyone else (although there was a slight snafu with timing and we were standing outside waiting for a good 15 min), and barely had to wait in line at each station since it wasn't too crowded yet.

Best sight of a mentor in action? Paul Kahan (BNC back in 1999) working behind Koren Grieveson at the BNC event. He gave Grieveson all of his support and made sure the limelight was on her. It was awesome to see, and even more awesome to see a female chef kick some butt.

From there, we headed to Dave Chang's foodie party at the Hickory House...

Dave was roasting a whole pig, making his famous pork buns, there was a crab boil, and more food (and Mint Juleps!) than a gal could ask for (and if you must know, yes, I had just eaten at the BNC event, but how could I turn down the pork bun??) Wylie Dufresne was a guest chef that night and at one point, I saw Wylie serving up food to Bobby Flay and Michael Symon (who came in together with some friends) while Michelle Bernstein was sitting at a nearby table and Dave was looking on. Just an amazing group of people in that restaurant that night.

I did a horrible job of taking photos this weekend (no celebrity chef wants a camera shoved in their face by a non-member of the media during trade seminars or when they're partying!) But Eater did a great job of capturing some Kodak moments (and also got a heated discussion started during a trade seminar about blogs and public opinion), check it out.

Who did I hope would be in Aspen this weekend but wasn't??
- Mario Batali (rumors it was his son's graduation weekend?)
- Daniel Boulud
- Gavin Kaysen
- Thomas Keller
- Charlie Trotter
- Laurent Tourondel
- John Besh
- Michael Mina
- Eric Ripert
- Anthony Bourdain (ok, pipe dream. Don't really suppose Aspen F&W is Tony's 'scene')
- And my Sam's: Sam Mason and Sam Talbot

And more San Francisco chefs!! I felt like the whole thing was a little New York centric...and as I've said here before, all those New Yorkers think their city is the center of the universe, but I think San Francisco is! Bring on Chris Cosentino, Traci des Jardins, Craig Stoll, Nate Appleman, Hubert Keller, Laurent Manrique, Charles Pham... why isn't there more of a San Fran presence?

I also think there could be a greater emphasis in pastries...bring on the star pastry chefs for seminars, demos, and of course tastings! You could easily pull together an all star cast including François Payard, Emily Luchetti, Sherry Yard, Gail Gand, Elizabeth know where you can find me! :)

I'm having problems with my posts...but my Top 10 Celebrity Chef observations and Top Five Lessons from Aspen in a future post.

The Beauty of a Nice Cab Driver

Don't underestimate the value of a good cab driver. Especially for this carless city gal, a cab driver is either your best friend or worst enemy. He can have a clean cab that doesn't smell, he can know all the short cuts and generally,be a good driver. Or. On the other hand, he can get you stuck in the worst traffic, he can be smoking like a chimney while you're in the cab, or he can turn around and stare at you so much, it makes you uncomfortable.

It's a crap shoot. You never know which kind of driver you're gonna get. At the end of a long trip away from home,all you want is one of the good ones.

I lucked out today. Not only did I score with a super nice driver, but my guy was even willing to
carry my super heavy, Aspen outfits filled suitcase up my two flights of stairs. What a nice way to end the most amazing weekend.

Hats off to the cabbie. More postings, stories and memorable moments from Aspen Food & Wine Classic later! :)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Yet another charge

United Airlines announced today they were joining the ranks of American Airlines...they were going to charge passengers $15 for checking a bag. Not a second or extra bag, not an overweight bag (there are extra charges for all of that too mind you), but just for your FIRST bag. Sigh. What has this world come to?

I asked rhetorically, 'What will they charge us for next?'

My friend Paige responded with "Going to the potty". So sad, but yet...anything's possible!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Those Leftys and Rightys

I know I'm lucky to live in San Francisco. The amazing food, great weather (with global warming working to our favor, our summer's have gotten less and less foggy), tasty food, gorgeous views, a variety of cultural options, oh. And did I mention the food?

But seriously. What I forget is, as I'm reading up on all of the latest and greatest trends and hot spots from around the country and experiencing it all right in my own community, the rest of the world is still a world behind. I forget about the days of chain restaurants in suburbia, or the days of not knowing what ingredients were seasonal, or the fact that people in the rest of the country don't know the name of the mixologist (not bartender mind you!) that made their cocktail.

I find that it takes me leaving SF in order to really appreciate what we've got. After a day/night in Denver, I already miss my city just a little bit. In the middle of dinner with two Denver foodies, I found myself asking them questions about their food scene and comparing notes. What ingredients are they seeing now? What's the restaurant scene like here? What are the top restaurants in town?

I found myself saying "What? You don't get stone fruit fully in season until Aug?" or "You're JUST eating ramps? I'm almost ramp'ed out already!" Yes. We are lucky in San Francisco...and well, frankly, sometimes it is easy to get snobby about it! I think the folks in NYC feel the same way, and although I make fun of New Yorkers for being NYC-centric, I think you could accuse me of the same thing in SF.

Thanks to my friend Melissa for the shout-out on her blog. Some of the spots I rattled off to her as a spot worth checking out during her visit: Tartine Bakery (Whoo hoo! Congrats on the Beard award! Check out their great cookbook), Bi-Rite Ice Creamery (you MUST have the salted caramel), and to check out Mission Dolores Park (pick up some goodies from Bi-Rite market and picnic! No better way to spend a sunny weekend day!) These spots came to mind since she and her sister were talking about a day in the Mission neighborhood...maybe I'll make more neighborhood based recs in future postings.

While you all may not have my cell number for the direct line to the foodie helpline, you do have me online, so email me if you'd like a suggestion of a place to check out in SF!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Little Head to Tail...and A Lot of Growing Up...

So last night was the Head to Tail dinner at Incanto Restaurant. Chef Chris Cosentino and his team did an amazing job. The dishes were beautiful and good, the wine pairings (and one beer pairing!) were great, and everyone from the front of the house greeters to our servers were spot on. I was surprised by how totally crowded the restaurant was, even at our early reservation time. A lot more foodie people in San Francisco than even I thought! (The dinner was sold out Monday night!) It was nice to see and refreshing to see that people had an open mind about food and what we eat.

What did I take away from the experience last night? Lots of things. I like ox tongue, blood sausage can be good, and umm, goat kidneys are not my favorite. I have a great group of adventurous friends that will try anything (and most that loved it!) and who are great to spend an evening eating, drinking and laughing with. That I've found my place in this city...with these friends that share my interests, thoughts, philosophy, and passions. Oh. And that my friend Tim sure can eat a lot of spleen!

What else did I learn? That other people can be naive about what is edible and good and what is not. People tend to stick with their comfort zones and can even be narrow minded about the world we live in. I think we forget that most people in every other country around the world eats many things we don't (including offal) and appreciates it, and considers it 'normal'. Only Americans are especially squeamish about eating innards and can't get past the visual and thought of what they are eating.

I took some shots of the dishes we experienced last night. The dishes were cooked beautifully, and if I do say so myself, my photography skills aren't half bad. :) The food looked good. If you didn't know what the dishes were, or if I had told you they were a 'normal' cut of meat, most people would have thought everything looked delicious. However, once people know they're looking at (or eating) an organ, or a 'non-traditional part', then they have a hard time with it. Some friends even told me it 'was the most disgusting thing I've ever seen'. Hmmm. Did it really LOOK disgusting or did you just think too much about what it was...and what it meant to you and then decided it was disgusting?

Now, I'm not saying that everyone has to love eating offal, or even want to. BUT, I am saying that it's something worth trying. And that you should respect the people that do eat it. That you shouldn't judge or decide if you're going to like it or not without having first tried it. If you've tried it, then you can say you don't like the taste. But only then, when you are making up your mind based on your own brain and thinking and experience, can you say that fairly. It makes me mad.

In any case, here are the shots. Aren't the plates beautiful? Anyone want to guess what the dishes are?

I guess when it's all said and done, all I've got to say is, we've got a long way to go...

Monday, June 9, 2008

Testing Blogging Via Technology!

I figured out why I don't blog more. By the time I get home, I've been in front of my computer all day. I've been thinking, some of my best thoughts, and many of my moments of freedom, actually come when I'm on public transportaion heading into work in the morning, or sitting in a cab en route to my next destination. SO! How great would it be to be able to blog from my CrackBerry??

Let's test this out and see if it's doable, readable and if it will indeed increase my blogging frequency! :)

Playing with Fondant...Oink Oink

I've always wanted to work with fondant, but have been intimidated in the past. But how could you not be intrigued by all the amazing things you can do with it...and with that perfectly smooth surface?

I've seen lots of recipes and photos...but as much as I like to bake, cake making is not really my cup of tea. Most of the uses for fondant were for cake decorating (wedding cake decorating to be specific) and so I've never had the drive to experiment. Cupcakes that's a different story!

Here's the photo that inspired my latest cupcake creation and first go at using fondant:

Pretty cute huh? Some friends and I are going to Chef Chris Cosentino's Annual Head to Tail dinner tonight at Incanto Restaurant. So...I had the great idea...Wouldn't it be a cute thing if I made these cupcakes for everyone as a take-home goody?

It started off as a great idea, and the recipe was super easy (basic cupcake recipe). Even the fondant decorating part didn't seem too hard. Well. It ended up being a long night. The circle cutting part wasn't too hard, but when it came time to cut the ears by hand...well, let's just say, that was not so easy. Here's what I ended up with:

Umm, not quite the same. I didn't read the recipe closely enough and had initially thought the curly tails were also made using the fondant, but it's actually frosting (which of course I didn't buy and didn't have the time to make.) So, my pigs are tail-less. Not too horrible for a first try...but definitely not as cute as I had imagined in my head.

Let's see if they're a hit tonight...

In the meantime, I have the red food coloring dye all over my hands!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Long Trip...And Some Complaints

I work for a hotel company, and am generally lucky enough to stay at our hotels. On those occasions when I'm not able, I'm always curious to see what's ahead of me. On a recent trip, it was one thing after another that disappointed me. Here's a few of them:

- The lack of robes in the room (isn't one of the best parts of being in a hotel the plush robes you get to use?)

- Lack of in-room recycling bin (I must have killed a tree with the amount of conference papers I tossed)

- No mini-fridge/honor bar was appalling (I don't really NEED any of that stuff, but I want the comfort of knowing that a midnight chocolate craving could be met if need be.)

- The room was dark, and although I would have preferred natural lighting, even an extra lamp or light would have been appreciated!

- The iPod docking/radio (generic brand, not apple) is STUCK to the end table. Like glued on or something. Don’t want those Vegas punk kids to take it I guess.

All of that was bearable. But when I headed out to the convention center at 8 am, and I put the 'Service Please' sign on the door knob, I expected the room to be cleaned when I got back. When we made our way back to the hotel in the early afternoon during a break, I was a little surprised the room hadn't been cleaned yet. But, I figured they were busy, and that it would surely happen later. Less than an hour later, I left. No one had knocked while I was in the room, and so as I left, I kept the 'Service Please' sign on the door knob.

When I came back at almost 11:30 that night, the room was still dirty!! I couldn't believe it, but at that point, was so exhausted, I just wanted to go to sleep.

The worst part of the entire trip was the check-out process. In addition to the room service charge for breakfast, there was a 'Business Center charge'. I told her I didn't go to or use the Business center (I didn't even pay the $13.99 for the WiFi!). It was finally determined that the $12 Business Center charge was for having 2 FedEx boxes delivered to the hotel. As the front desk agent put it "Oh sorry miss. We don't do that here." Hmm. Really? If the boxes were oversized, or extra heavy, or if there were a lot of them, I could have understood. But come on!!

At this point, I was thoroughly annoyed and so decided to also mention to her that my room was never serviced. I let her know I had even put the 'Service Please' sign on my door and didn't understand what had happened. She had an apologetic look on her face and said 'Oh yea, that happens. The housekeepers see the sign on the door and think it says Do Not matter which side it's on'. Ummm, silence. I bite my tongue, but had to ask: 'You mean this has happened before?'. Unbelievable. Seriously driving me nuts. I couldn't get out of there quick enough.

As if that wasn't enough...

I generally don't sleep great when I'm on the road. Worried about the wake-up call or alarm not working and oversleeping...not use to the noises of the room (or in the case of the Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas I was just at, not use to the sounds of the construction workers on strike outside.)

I have a flight out at 10:14 am, and I had planned it that way so that I could get some sleep the night before, but still fly out early in the day and get back to the office and have the majority if the afternoon there. Well, delay after delay, and almost three hours later and we still haven't left. The plane isn't even here. No one has information, no one can help, and everyone is confused, frustrated and unhappy. When the plane finally gets in and everyone has boarded, we still don't move. The guy next to me sighs and says 'Wonder what now'. Turns out because of some 'winds' in SF, we can't leave for another 30 min...and we don't deplane either. We just all sit here. The plane that was scheduled to leave after us and that they swore wouldn't get to leave before us, is no longer at the gate. I ask how that other plane left for SF and the flight attendant says it didn't leave. My neighbor and I look out the window to the gate next to us where the plane was, and plane. We can physically see that the plane's left and they all still say that it hasn't.

Traveling has just become more and more challenging and expensive. You can help but wonder what's going to happen to the industry in the future. In the meantime, the memories, sights and seeing friends are all worth the hassle.