Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I finally like wine!

Let's acknowledge the truth- while it can add so much to a meal, the consumption and/or appreciation of wine is not a necessity here is the United States of America. A person can live his or her entire life without a drop and be just fine. If wine is not for you, I understand. It's expensive and- let's all be honest now- does not taste good at first. In fact, I would guess that the sommeliers with the most sensitive palates didn't like wine when they first began drinking it. How could they? Honestly, I did not like wine for probably 25 years of my life. However, as a trained chef, I felt it very important to develop a taste for it in order to go as far as I possibly could in my culinary experience.

Like chopsticks, appreciating wine takes practice. And (unlike chopsticks) a lot of money. For a long time, when I drank any kind of alcoholic beverage all I tasted was "burning." I started, as recommended, with cold whites. Riesling was immediately my favorite, and I ordered that a lot to begin with (I still like it). As they began to taste to sweet, I moved on to dryer whites and reds- I could tell my taste was shifting, but really, if I skipped a glass of wine my dinner wasn't missing anything. If I was honest, I still preferred a Pellegrino.

I didn't realize that I had truly begun to have good taste in wine until last June, at my sister's graduation party. I hesitantly chose a bottle of wine for the party of eight or so that were coming to dine with us, and was very proud when everyone raved over how good it was.

In Europe, wine consumption is very different. Allow me to share one of my favorite pictures from my time in Crete:

This girl was one of the cutest things I had ever seen- sitting on a bar stool at my sister's wedding reception, swinging her legs, swirling and sniffing the last few sips of her parents' glasses, and obviously getting a little tipsy. We all know that if this was the US, the authorities would have been notified and this girl would have been in foster care by the end of the night. Not here, though. They simply view wine differently than we do, and my little friend was learning to responsibly appreciate wine from a young age. (By the way, it's not like she drank every day. This was a wedding, and we were all celebrating).

Just as when I was in Tokyo I thought to myself, "I'm so glad I've learned to use chopsticks!" While I was in Crete I thought to myself, "I'm soooo glad I've learned to like wine!" Something there definitely would have been missing if I hadn't. I am glad I have finally gained a taste for wine in a way that enhances rather than overpowers my food experience. My bank account may not be, but I certainly am! ;)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Annika's best kept secret

By accident, we discovered brunch at the Four Seasons hotel in Downtown Seattle. There is a restaurant in the hotel called "Art." Sounds pretentious and expensive, I know. But it's not. Here are the reasons you should check it out....

1. Great food. Always the most important factor, of course. You can tell they chose fresh, high quality ingredients.

2. They treat you like royalty. Being that you are in a Four Seasons hotel, they ought to. It's decorated very chic, and all the chairs are fluffy, comfy arm chairs.

3. There is almost never anyone there. No wait- and I really get tired of waiting an hour and fifteen minutes for lunch at Portage Bay Cafe.

4. All entrees between $10 and $19. Very decent, in the end.

5. I saw Toby McGuire there. That's Spiderman, in case you don't know.

6. I love this song!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Things I've purchased, and things I still want

If anyone is interested...Here is a list of recent (and by recent, I mean the past year) purchases for my kitchen that I am happy with.

Wusthof Classic 8" bread knife. I debated adding to my Bob Kramer for Shun collection, but I decided that the bread knife was entirely too large. I wanted mine to be handleable (not a word, I know), and opted for this nice little size (and 25% of the price).

Krups Belgian Waffle Maker. I finally broke down and purchased this. I have to say, it doesn't have the best reviews (it doesn't have the worst, either), but it is working just fine for me. Now my waffles are all crisp on the outside and soft on the inside like I like them.

Mitered Hem Napkins. I have wanted cloth napkins for a long time, but took a while to find the right ones. I want napkins that I can abuse and have them still come out of the wash fine. And who in their right mind would buy dry clean only napkins?

Le Creuset 7 1/4 quart round French oven. I bought this today! Just as I was lamenting to my husband that sometimes I feel unequipped for large party cooking, and as he was responding that Le Creuset never goes on sale, we saw it. Sitting on a shelf at Sur La Table, shining like the sun in all it's discontinued "Dijon" glory. It was marked down 30% off, which was enough for me to bring it to the register to buy, but even better when the sales girl took an extra 20% off that. The final price was $150 for a $365 pot that will be of infinite value to me. Cha-ching!

Now, I want a splatter screen, but refuse to pay $59 for one out of principal. Any suggestions?

Also, seeing as my blender smells like burning motor every time I use it (which isn't actually that often), I am on the lookout, but not in a hurry. I like this one:

Waring Professional Bar Blender
. But it can wait.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Trying to be cool

Occasionally, I like a vanilla latte. Whenever I run into a coffee shop to get one, I always slow down for a minute and look at the people sitting around. Inevitably, there are a few people sitting here and there typing away on their laptop computers. You know the ones I'm talking about? They sit there, slowly sipping coffee and using the free Wi-Fi, obviously working on something very cool and important, like the graphic design of some band's newest album, or maybe writing an article for a fashion magazine or a clever political commentary. I kind of always feel a twinge of jealousy and fascination when I see them. How do they have the time for this? What awesome thing are they so intently working on? Who actually gets paid to sit and sip coffee? Could I ever be so cool?

I had the perfect opportunity to try it out today. I had to take my dog to get his hair cut, and the salon is about 25 minutes from my house- too far to drive there and back mulitple times in two hours. I don't have to be at work until 1, so I thought I would try my hand at looking awesome with my MacBook in one of my favorite places- Volunteer Park Cafe.

I am actually here right now. Although I want one of their super good house made pastries, I ordered a granola and a soy chai latte. I ran this morning (adding to my cliche coolness today), and need something healthy. I sit down to type. How does a person type and eat at the same time anyway? The man next to me (who also has a laptop) asked me if my internet connection is working. I think this must mean that I'm in the cool-person-with-a-computer-in-the-coffeehouse club. I even have something cool to write about- food!

But let's be honest. I now have to go to the bathroom, and I have a $1200 computer with me. Now what do I do? Leave it out on the table with my purse and my cell phone? Ok, not to mention the sun is now shining directly on my computer screen and making it difficult to see. My chai is now cold, and I still have an hour before Toby is done being groomed. Hmmm...It's kind of loud in here, too. I really can't see my screen now. Also, I'm kind of embarrassed at how dirty the screen is. I'm sure a rule of being in computer-coffeehouse club is that your laptop must be free of fingerprints and dust.

I don't think I'm cut out for this. I think I'm going to pack it up, go to the bathroom, and continue my blogs from home.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I didn't intend for that last blog to be such a downer. I had an absolutely amazing time in Crete, and was (am) going through withdrawal. Also, I was reading through my last post and realized that although I kept talking about how good everything was, I never gave any specifics as to why it was so good.

So, here are a few things I have taken home with me:

-Feta on everything. Kinda used like butter- on your bread, your potatoes, etc...It's in everything, as well. The feta there was usually all sheep, as far as I could tell, and very mild. Not the sharp, tangy taste that you imagine.

-Yogurt thicker than anything I've ever experienced. I just don't know if there's anywhere to get it here. I have been buying "Fage" for years, but apparently in Greece that's the cheap, crappy stuff.

-Simple dishes. Straight meats and vegetables, nothing extremely fancy, but everything extremely fresh and perfect. Except, I guess, the lasagna and moussaka, which are more labor intensive.

-Something I'm very excited to try is baking salmon on a bed of rock salt. It draws the fat out, and leaves just the pure salmon flavor. The taste is similar to when it is smoked.

-Celery leaves for flavor. I am always trying to find ways to use everything I buy, rather than throwing stems and greens away (although, I've already admitted I often do...)

-They use a lot of bell peppers, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Those vegetables are definitely what I saw the most of. It makes sense, but not at all what I pictured.

-No hummus! It's not Greek! Not to mention the tatziki was just greek yogurt and a bunch of garlic. I never ate a pita or a falafel. They did serve dolmas, though.

Unfortunately, what I could not take with me was the 40 Euro worth of Cretan honey that I bought. I had to carry on my suitcase so I wouldn't miss my connecting flight and had to throw three jars of it away at the airport. So sad.

Ps. Remember the Disney movie Moon Spinners with Hayley Mills? Well, apparently it was supposed to take place in Crete. I used to watch it when I was little, and I just bought it on Amazon to watch again!

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Ok, so the last couple of weeks have been absolutely insane!

August 16: My sister Skypes us from Chania, Crete (Greece, that is), and informs us that she is getting married...to her Greek boyfriend...in Crete...within a month.

August 23: The day is set for September 12th, we begin planning, freaking out, and buying plane tickets. Somewhere in all of this (I think shortly after the tickets were bought and there was no going back), I began to relax and ride the wave. After all, I was going to Greece, yo!

September 8: 6:30 am I board a plane to take a flight to Philly, then to Athens, then to Chania. 24 hours later, I am hugging my sister, meeting my new brother in law and his family, and being offered food.

Yes...the food. I could spend a month's worth of blogs telling you about my experiences. How wonderful the family was, how much love there is between my sister and her new husband, how gorgeous and warm the Mediterranean is, how the Greek language was nearly impossible even though I'd studied it for three years in college....

But this is a food blog. You want to hear about the food. And you will. Because I can't stop thinking about it.

I have been all around the US, Canada, and Mexico. I have also been to Tokyo, Jamaica, Ireland, London, and Paris. Hands down, this was the best food I have ever had in my life. My sister's new Greek family owns an Italian restaurant in the Venetian harbor in Chania called Veneto. This is where we ate every meal (did I mention for free?). These people just love to feed you. They give you twice as much as you ask for, and then try to give you seconds...and thirds....and most of the time I took it.


Everything was fresh, local, hand picked out by the restauranteurs, made with love (even the phyllo dough was hand made), and abundant. We had fish soup, rabbit stew, lamb in 10 different ways, more fish, and a ton of fresh fruits and vegetables (by the way, now I know why I
hate tomatoes. My palette somehow knew that they were all wrong. The tomatoes there I
loved!) The grapes tasted like candy. And ooooh the wine! Each glass was absolute perfection. And it never ran out.

And this was just the regular, every day food. For three days around the wedding we celebrated and feasted. It was literally the best of the best. Even my mom, who has viewed me as an insufferable food snob for the past few years finally said to me, "Now I know what you are talking about when you refer to good food!"

September 15: We came home. I think we are all a little lost now. We were first off very sad to say goodbye to all our new beloved family members. Also, there is a true hole. In my stomach. I have not known what to eat, because I know nothing will measure up. I made Raj take me to a Sicilian restaurant last night.

I am trying to be inspired, I really am, but at this point I am only discouraged. Even I, who thought I knew what good food was, had no idea until now. And it's literally on the other side of the world.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

It's that time again.

Last year, this very same thing happened. The weather, as though it knew it was September 1, suddenly felt cooler and was undoubtedly rainier. The difference is that while last year I was singing the praises of fall, this year I don't want it to come! I wonder how this is, since last year we barely even had summer as much as we had a few fairly warm days. Perhaps the two full months of sun awakened the Southern Californian in me enough to get used to the good weather again- and take it for granted, even.

Not to mention the summer produce this year has been awesome. I have been practically living on peaches, nectarines, and blackberries the past couple of weeks.

At least I can bake again. Today I wanted to make blueberry coffee cake. I thought it was the perfect compromise- the coffee cake part seemed to be warm and cozy, while the blueberries are still fresh and summery. The recipe I found called for vanilla extract and walnuts. I replaced these with almonds and almond extract, since I don't like walnuts and almonds were my only other option. I knew it would work, because it's similar to the way we did coffee cake when I worked at Whole Foods. And work, it did. It was delicious. Oh, and relatively low fat, too.

Blueberry Coffee Cake
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour or regular whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8-inch square cake pan with cooking spray.

Whisk together the all-purpose and whole-wheat flours, the baking soda and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the granulated sugar, cinnamon and almonds. In a large bowl, beat the brown sugar, butter and oil until fluffy. If necessary, use the back of a spoon to press out any lumps in the brown sugar. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until fully combined. Beat in the almond extract and yogurt.

Add the flour mixture in 2 batches, stirring until just combined.

Spread half of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle half of the nut mixture over the batter and top with the blueberries, gently pressing them into the batter. Spoon the rest of the batter into the pan, smoothing the top. Sprinkle the remaining nut mixture over the cake, pressing gently. Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool slightly and then unmold and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack. Cut the cake into 2-inch squares.