This is the first in a series of "catch up" posts. xo
Hey there, world. Did everyone have a nice holiday season? Having a happy new year so far? Ready for some new posts? I hope so, because we've got a lot of catching up to do. (Well, I guess in this blogger/reader relationship, I'm really the only one who needs to catch up. But I would love for you all to come along for the ride.)
You see, I've got a lot of photos and recipes stacking up in my computer that I've never posted here. I've wanted to, I really have! But I have been pretty distracted the last couple months, and something had to give. I almost let all those would-be posts slide, seeing as how some of them aren't exactly timely any more. Hello... cranberries? In January?
There are many things to love about living in California: the great weather, the diversity of people, the beautiful scenery... and for those of us who like to cook, the abundance of local, fresh food, and the relatively easy access to the people who produce it. Where I live, here in the northern part of the state, that's especially true. A quick thirty minute drive, and you're standing in the middle of a lovely family vineyard. Just a bit farther west are two of the country's premier wine-growing regions. Keep driving, and before you know it, you'll find yourself in one of my favorite "food" cities, which is rumored to have more restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States.
Oh, hello. How was your Mother's Day weekend? Yeah, I know. Mother's Day was like, two weeks ago. You were expecting some recipes before that weekend, perhaps? That would have been nice. But since we didn't even plan our own Mother's Day brunch until that very morning, it was pretty unlikely that I would have been able to help you out with yours. Not that I don't love you all - I do. I really do! But since I am half of the "last minute couple", well... sorry. Advance blog planning is just not in the cards. I'll work on that. Pinkie-swear.
In the mean time, let's talk about eggs benedict. Without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite brunch foods. When it comes to eggs benedict, I am an equal-opportunity eater. I love the traditional, with Canadian bacon. I love the Scottish, with smoked salmon. I love the Florentine, with spinach. I love, I love, I love eggs benedict. So when Mother's Day rolled around, that was the one dish I wanted to make.
When I was 21 years old, I packed up a U-Haul trailer, drove north from Arizona, and moved to San Francisco. I only knew one person in the Bay area - my boyfriend at the time, whom I broke up with not long after arrival - and he didn't even live in the City, but rather, thirty miles down the peninsula in Palo Alto. The rent on my apartment was $525 a month, and on my meager salary I could barely afford it. But for that sum I was able to live in a refurbished studio on the top floor, with hardwood floors, high ceilings, a claw-foot tub, and a big bay window. Even better, my building was within walking distance to work, and it was smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
At the time, I was fresh out of college and pursuing a career in fashion. I felt fortunate to have landed a job in the buying offices of the classic San Francisco retailer, I. Magnin. My first boss at my first "real" job was a man named Greg, who was the head buyer for men's furnishings. He was smart, witty, impeccably groomed, and - like many of the men and women with whom I worked in that industry - possessed of a wonderfully flamboyant personality.
Spring has been coming and going around here lately. She shows her pretty, sunny face for a few days, then beats a hasty retreat for a few more, leaving chilly, gray rain in her place. Luckily, Spring has been visiting mostly on weekends, which gives us all a chance to revel in her warmth.
And when the weather turns warm, I love to cook and eat outdoors. Way back in January, when we were still firmly in the midst of winter, I saw this post from Lottie + Doof about Jim Lahey's pizza crust.
It's the holiday season, and you know what that means.
Cookies! When I was little, Christmas often meant that it was time for my Italian grandmother to whip up batches of her favorite old-world treats with her daughter in-law, my mom. Sometimes, there were pizelle - literally, "little pizzas" in Italian. Grandma would pour anise-scented batter onto a hot pizelle iron, which when pressed together around the sizzling mixture would result in lacy, round discs that were so crispy and light, they fairly shattered in your mouth.
My brother's favorites, as I recall, were an Italian riff on jam thumb-prints: rounds of cake-like dough flavored with almond, with a dollop of sticky red jam in the center. I favored Grandma's spice cookies, which bore no resemblance to the ginger-and-molasses variety most of us are used to seeing. The Italian version is soft and dark, baked from a dough of allspice, cinnamon, raisins and chocolate, the little mounds iced with a white, powdered-sugar glaze. Dad's choice? I remember him liking them all, but he often reached for the Sicilian cookies called "cuccidati," pockets of butter-colored cookie dough filled with a mixture of dried figs, dates, nuts and spices. As for my mom and my sister, always "struffoli" - Grandma's honey cakes. Always. Truth be told, we all loved those little fried footballs of citrusey cake soaked in honey. I don't know how she did it, but when Grandma made struffoli, she was able to find a perfect balance of sticky, crispy, and pillowy in each one-inch bite.
So with Christmas in the air, my mind naturally wanders back to my mom's kitchen, and the image of my tiny (4' 10") Grandma churning out dozens and dozens of sweets. Yep, it's that time of year. Time to bake