Monday, February 25, 2013

How to have a near perfect day


-One perfect, sunny day in the Bay
-One free, open day with no agenda
-Two* bicycles
-Two* adventurous spirits
*= can be multiplied exponentially in equal ratios of bicycles to adventurous spirits. Adventurousness is essential.


-Mix well to combine all ingredients
-Ride bicycles to Chrissy Field with sandwiches and a (surprise!) bottle of Anthill Farms Pinot in tow.
-Cycle halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge and decide on a whim to go all the way into the town of Sausalito
-Grab a quick refresher beer at Bar Bocce
-Catch the last ferry back to the Ferry Building**
-Repeat as often as humanly possible!

**=Full Moon is an added bonus

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Quick Camp Trip to Santa Cruz

DH and I had been hankering to go camping for quite some time so when this past weekend presented no obligations or invitations, we jumped on the opportunity.
Santa Cruz is arguably the easiest area from the Oakland area for an impromptu camping trip so to be somewhat adventurous, we opted to give Big Basin State Park & Campgrounds in Boulder Creek a shot. 
Big Basin is a gorgeous, redwood-riddled park and the town of Boulder Creek is an adorable town in the mountains just NE of Santa Cruz. Boulder Creek is particularly nostalgic to DH as he spent several summers working at Camp Harmon, an Easter Seals camp for the developmentally and physically handicapped.
DH, dwarfed by the redwoods
The one problem with Big Basin SP is that it is capital C-O-L-D COLD in February. That the weather would be cold camping in Northern California in Winter was a given, but there was no preparing us for how cold it actually was. It was 39 degrees when we arrived just after dark and only got colder from there. For all intents and purposes, it was freezing. And we were miserable.
The next morning, we made the executive decision to move camp. 
After cooking up some Nepenthe pancakes and New Orleans style chicory coffee, we packed the car and headed to New Brighton State Beach & Campgrounds just outside of Santa Cruz. We'd camped there once before and couldn't have been happier to return to bright sunshine and warmer conditions.
After setting up camp, we headed straight for the beach, mere footsteps away, to read and soak up the sun. From there, we headed into town to check out Soif, a wine bar and shop friends had raved about. In fact, Soif's wine list (and pricing) was remarkable. 
We picked up some fresh fish & spinach and headed back to start dinner. After recently preparing Jerusalem's risotto style barley, it struck me as the perfect camping recipe. 
Simply sautee celery & shallots in butter & oil, mix in pearl barley, bay leaf & smoked paprika until coated then add passata, chopped tomato & veggie broth and bring to a boil. Bring the heat down to a simmer, cover the pot and within a half hour, you'll have a delicious barley risotto. While the barley is cooking, dry toast caraway seeds in a pan then mix with feta cheese to top the barley. The feta-caraway adds a lot to this dish.
For the fish, sautee finely sliced lemon & garlic confit (with oil), add in the cod and a bit of white wine e voila!, fish is complete.
Lastly, make a quick lemony-shallot vinaigrette for the spinach and throw cara cara oranges & marcona almonds into the mix for a near perfect salad.
The next morning we opted to explore downtown Santa Cruz in lieu of a lingering breakfast at the campground. After cappucino's at the always outstanding Verve Coffee Roasters and sandwiches at Zuccoli's, we happened upon Well Within, a day spa featuring private rooms with a soaking tub, cedar sauna, shower and lounge space for the same price as a campsite. On a whim, we booked the room for one hour. It was arguably the best hour of the weekend. There is nothing quite like a hot shower after camping for a few days; unless of course you add a hot tub and sauna to the mix, then it's pure bliss!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Cooking Jerusalem #2; The Dinner Party

Whenever friends come to visit, we eat out. There have been a few exceptions to this but it is rare. So in an overall effort to eat in more, I opted to cook a meal for friends in town this time around. And what better menu to feature than one hand plucked from my new favorite cookbook, Jerusalem.
It was a Sunday so we took advantage of the Oakland DMV Farmer's Market and stocked up on produce.
Sunday is a great day to buy produce and the second worst day to buy fish (Mondays being #1). Luckily though, Whole Foods had whole mackerel that had been caught the day before. Not ideal but it would have to suffice. More about that later...
To start, I made the butternut squash & tahini spread and sliced Acme's dark Jewish Rye to go with. Ottolenghi suggests drizzling date syrup & sesame seeds over the spread but I opted for molasses as it's a little deeper in flavor (annnd I didn't have a clue where to procure date syrup in time!).

Next came the Mejadra, the one dish both Ottolenghi & Tamimi agree is the most comforting dish of the entire cookbook. After having eaten Mejadra, I'd have to agree emphatically. Not only is this dish ingeniously simple...'why hadn't I ever thought to combine lentils and rice!?', but it is also healthy and deep in flavorful spices (coriander, cumin & turmeric to name a few). This trifecta of simple, healthy & flavorful is further improved by topping it with crispy fried onions. A scoop of labneh mixed in with the mejadra sends this dish over the top!
Mackerel is a polarizing fish. Because it is a 'fishy' fish and somewhat oily, people either hate it or can't get enough of it. Marinating it in harissa and serving with a Moroccan-inspired orange, olive & golden beet salad luckily left everyone wanting more mackerel! The acid of the salsa cuts the fattiness of the fish perfectly.
While the deserts in Jerusalem are nothing short of persuasive, it being January DH insisted we prepare his favorite dessert, the winter citrus tart from another favorite cookbook, the Big Sur Bakery cookbook.
It would be a tragedy not to take advantage of the citrus bounty this time of year and this winter citrus tart celebrates the season's most plentiful fruit. Paired with almond cream, the  citrus in the crust, the marmalade and the fruit slices sings. One of these days, I will make this tart for brunch as it goes perfectly with coffee the next morning. 
Jerusalem, the dinner party ought to be a regular occurrence!