At the moment, I’m wrapped up in thoughts of cocktails and caftans as I prepare for a 70’s cocktail party photo shoot. I figured what better place than Thermidor to spark inspiration.

If you were around in the 70’s, Thermidor is not only a big slice of nostalgia, it’s got that wonderfully sleek style that makes a girl want to slip on her Pucci caftan….

sip cocktails…

…and nibble into the night on things like chips and caviar with crème fraîche and smoked trout,

pommes dauphine with lobster butter,

braised oxtail croquettes with horseradish cream & chives.

Moving on to a perfectly pan crisped sole almandine with fresh gnocchi bathed in a prosecco-almond sauce.

Let us not forget the eponymous Parker House roll with just the right amount of sea salt.

There’s nothing like butter fried cake with crème fraîche ice cream and a berry coulis for dessert.

Absolutely everything was delicious, down to the tiny, lemony madeleines that came with the tab.


I lived in this village in Mali, West Africa nearly twenty years ago. I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and that experience forever changed the way in which I view my life and the world. I think about my Malian friends often, and especially at Thanksgiving. I am so incredibly grateful for all they taught me about finding joy and laughter throughout every day.

I thought I’d share with you all a little food diary from my visit to Mali this past summer.

This breakfast porridge is called ‘moni.’ It’s made with millet flour that’s rolled into little tiny balls. It has some tang to it from the millet and because we were guests, a little sugar was added (which makes it much better!)

All cooking starts with water, pulled by hand from a well.

For those with enough means, they will take their grain to the village mill.

And those who don’t, pound it the traditional way: by hand with a mortar and pestle. That pestle, by the way, weighs about 20 lbs (9 kilos) and takes hundreds of strokes to grind the grain.

Once it’s ground, the next step is winnowing and sifting the grain.

You may know of the legendary Baobab tree. It’s leaves are the primary ingredient for the traditional sauce.

The other principal ingredients in the sauce are okra and tomatoes — and a Maggi cube (eg bouillon cube).

After cooking the bajeezus out of the millet, you get a texture something akin to hyper-stiff polenta and it’s called ‘toh’ — pronounced like your big Toe. If the name isn’t unappetizing enough, the sauce seals the deal. To eat toh, you take a handful — with the right hand only, please — dip it in the slimey okra/baobab leaf sauce and pop it in your mouth. Mm-mm-good.

The soft food allows everyone from infant to elderly (the toothless ends of the life spectrum) to eat the same meal. It’s all very practical.

During the dry season, gardens yield other delicacies, like sweet potatoes.

For villages flanking the banks of the Niger river, fish is part of the diet. I was fortunate to live in one of these villages, though I must say I did not count myself so fortunate when the fish ended up cooked in the toh sauce.

This gorgeous fruit is called ‘tabacoumba’. I have absolutely no idea if there’s an English name for it. Anyone?

And these are beautiful, ripe melons plucked fresh from the vines. Sadly for you, in my bliss among the mango trees, I failed to capture the absolute rapture of biting into the best mangoes on the face of the planet (mental note to self duly registered).

No afternoon is complete without a round of tea– 3 cups, to be exact. The first is very strong and bitter….and gradually getting lighter and sweeter with the subsequent rounds. Sharing tea is a matter of heartfelt hospitality, and that is an area in which Malians excel.

My time living in Mali left me forever cognizant of the opportunities I have been given in my life, particularly education. If you’ve noticed that my posts have been a little less frequent of late, it is because I launched a non-profit this year called Mali Kalanso.

We’re building a school so the children in these photos can have the opportunity to get an education, break the cycle of poverty and create their own destiny. I’d like to invite you to join us in making a difference.

To contribute and help spread the word, visit Happy Thanksgiving!

Salt + Chocolate

I’ve got a thing for salt, so when Michael Recchiuti told me he was doing a chocolate and salt workshop with Mark Bitterman, I signed up as soon as I could logon (I’d have signed up instantly using my iPhone, but, well, that means AT&T and we know how well that’s working out…) Little did I know when I signed up for the workshop, that I’d be greeted with this refreshing, sparkling vermouth cocktail garnished with a grapefruit peel twist and a chamomile-infused fleur de sel-glazed rim.

This Sutton Cellars is some seriously sumptuous vermouth!

A slideshow of the salt harvest process in Ghana ran on the wall as we gathered in the space at Recchiuti Confections.

The first course was a savory rosemary & olive oil cracker topped with aged manchego, basil, a drizzle of evoo and sprinkled with a caramel-y fleur de sel.

Course Two was a layered pumpkin cake, milk choc crémeux (using Michel Cluizel Papua New Guinea 55%) and salted struesel topped with Bali kechil salt — a clean, bright, mild box textured salt…one that I actually happen to have in my personal collection!

Course Three: this almond-free, cocoa nib ‘flour’ macaron was THE best chocolate macaron I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting — and I’ve pretty much tried all the best Paris has to offer. The cocoa flavor was incredible. The little pipette was filled with burnt sugar, cocoa nib and grappa for infusing as we wished. The miniature white chocolate salt cellar housed the finishing touch: cocoa-infused fleur de sel.

Course Four: these little cassia cinnamon bonbon’s were served in combo with sauteed apples….

….in tiny cones and were eagerly washed down with freshly brewed pumpkin ale.

Course Five: the flight included three Japanese salts new to me (left to right): Moshio sea salt, Shinkai deep-sea salt and smoked Shinkai — all in their own, custom chocolate salt cellars. We dipped the chocolate caramel squares into each of the salts and cleansed our palates with the tarragon syrup laced grapefruit granita. Yeah, it was a rough afternoon!

Despite the overload of decadent goodness, we forged ahead to the sixth and last course: a truly fantastic pain au chocolat by William Werner of the much-anticipated Tell Tale Preserve Co. Michael concocted the decadent white tube of house-made gianduja and Mark paired it with a Halen Môn smoked sea salt, making the whole thing a little nugget of hazelnut/chocolate heaven.

I rolled on out of there on a chocolate & salt high, well-informed, fully entertained with a copy of Salted under my arm and eager to see what Michael Recchiuti comes up with for the lineup of 2011 workshops!

Knead Patisserie & Local: Mission Eatery

I’ve been horribly remiss in not sharing my adoration of (er, obsession with) Local: Mission Eatery and Knead Patisserie. It’s a little gem in the heart of the Mission bustle on 24th St near Folsom in SF. Yaron Milgom is the brainchild of the venture and the über-talented husband and wife team of Jake and Shauna Des Voignes make the perfect flavor team: Jake on savory and Shauna on sweet.

Both are classically trained, so everything’s prepared with the utmost attention to detail and technique.

And their dedication to providing ‘local, humane and housemade’ eats is genuine. On their one day ‘off’ each week, Jake and Shauna head to their family farm in Lodi where they tend to an enormous garden that supplies produce for the restaurant.

Knead Patisserie is tucked away in the back of the space — except when the cart is wheeled out front weekdays for early morning commuters to get their breakfast pastry fix.

In addition to her signature fleur de sel chocolate cookies, Shauna creates all kinds of temptations like chocolate pot de crême smores filling that comes in individual little jars alongside homemade graham crackers. Then there are the pommes d’amour tarts (puff pastry, pastry cream and caramel), almond twists, fruit preserves and all kinds of new surprises all the time.

And there are the lemony madeleines!

The menu changes with market availability and as of a couple months ago, dinner’s now a regular affair. So now you can grab brunch, lunch and dinner.

And for those who have a cookbook obsession but don’t have the space to store or inclination to purchase an entire library, can check out a broad collection by joining the cookbook lending library.

This roasted potato sandwich with garlic ricotta, pickled shallots and dandelion greens is the first thing I ever tasted at Local: Mission Eatery. It was to-die-for!

And the cream of corn soup seasoned with taragon and filled with hunks of dungeness crab is obsession-worthy (I order it any time I see it on the menu).

I love pickles but am particular (there’s something new!) These farm-fresh, quick pickles were exceptional: crisp and the flavors shone through. The fennel was particularly memorable.

I’ve craved this masterpiece often: toasted Knead brioche topped with a slow-poached egg, creamed corn, tarragon and topped with thinly sliced, just-picked summer squash. Heaven!


Fremont Diner is a gem of a find tucked on the side of Carneros Hwy between Sonoma and Napa. It’s a perfect roadside stop up in wine country, open for breakfast and lunch – 7 days a week.

Before being lovingly renovated, I zoomed passed this roadside shack a hundred times without stopping….and almost bypassed it accidentally when I went looking for it. It’s a joy-filled place that feels like you’ve stepped back in time.

The menu board changes with the daily availability of ingredients and may seem a little intimidating at first glance — mostly because it’s filled with so many delectable options. The entrance area is chock-full of childhood edible road-trip memorabilia (Abba-Zaba anyone?).

Every little detail is tended to…(okay, so maybe the cash register doesn’t count…)

The kitchen is open to the dining room and, should your lil’ ole heart desire, you can pull up a stool and sit ringside right at the counter. As you can see, while it may be a diner, it’s far from being a greasy spoon (or ‘greezy’ as my grandma used to say).

They sell their own seasonal preserves and such, like these pickled cherries seasoned with bay, chili and cinnamon.

And for any of you looking for a good source of freshly rendered lard, this is your spot!

The menu offerings I tried were are homey renditions of comfort food. And with the high quality local, sustainable, small farm ingredients, you can be certain your to-die-for pulled pork sandwich is made up of only the best stuff. I haven’t yet made it in for breakfast, but from what I can judge, I just might be dodging an addiction. Seriously…biscuits & gravy, grits, hash, donuts…need I say more?

(How sweet is that pitcher….!?!)

Nothing makes me happier in the middle of a foggy San Francisco summer, than finding a place to be outside in the warmth of Sonoma. Here you can sit outside at one of the aqua painted picnic tables and enjoy your grub roadside — whichever direction you’re headed.

Sons & Daughters

Sons & Daughters opened in June 2010 and with it came a dose of NY style and creativity. The black awning caught my eye as I buzzed by one day and the inventive menu posted on the website enticed me to take a chance on a place with virtually no press. I am oh-so-glad I did! You’ll see why….

The space used to house the former Cafe Mozart for 30+ years on Bush St. @ Powell. The interior was transformed by one chef’s mom, Debbie McNamara, into a sophisticated but unpretentious space. The lounge area is chic and cozy — a nice place to relax with a glass of wine while waiting for a table.

This little amuse of compressed melon, avocado cream and pink peppercorn definitely announced I was in for a treat from the two young chefs, Matt & Teague. They met in culinary school and between the two, have cooked in a variety of kitchens around the globe. The melding of refined technique and diverse cuisines shines through.

Bonus points for the butter presentation and Maldon salt sprinkle.

This foie torchon, accompanied by a peach gelée, was melt in your mouth, velvety, divine.

My Japanese foodie friend, visiting from Tokyo, was effusive about the lobster carpaccio–and that’s saying something. It was dusted with toasted and dehydrated lobster roe & dill, drizzled with lemon juice & lobster butter, and garnished with sturgeon caviar.

‘Herb salad’ does not do this creation justice. The salad portion is a tumble of freshness: shaved fennel, radish, dill, chervil, chives, edible flowers dressed in champagne vinaigrette. The rest is a totally unexpected play on curds and whey, with fresh curds and quinoa hidden at the bottom under a whey froth dotted with Eucalyptus oil.

Between courses, the change of flatware is ported in vintage cigar boxes — entirely suited to the sophisticated surroundings that include original signed prints by Swiss photographer Hans Gissinger, taken for La Conversation – a stunning cookbook by French chef Marc Meneau.

Have you had lamb loin cooked sous vide in hay? Neither had I! I highly recommend it- particularly with veggies tossed in a feta chimichurri!

The chefs switched up everything between visits. This time, the beautiful scallops were served with Maitake mushrooms and veal tea, and garnished with purslane, nasturtium and smoked sea salt.

I think this dish may just be the ultimate in comfort food: risotto, marscapone, shaved black truffles and a soft egg. And this is just the right amount.

If you don’t like to think about where your meat comes from, the squab dish is not for the feint of heart. For fans of squab, the confit leg in particular, is swoon-worthy. The super smooth beet puree and huckleberries were great companions.

A lil’ intermezzo of plum slivers….

And a nice version of a latent discovery for me this year (at Frances): date cake! This one w/ crême anglaise, whipped sweet cream and ripe, juicy blackberries.

(The dark chocolate truffle cake with mint ice cream was devoured as soon as it hit the table).

Alas, the mignardise….bruléed pineapple bites. A nice little bit of punctuation to an elegant and satisfying meal.

There’s a groovy wine cellar downstairs and while they’re still working out the deets, it’ll likely be a fixed chef tasting menu.

I still can’t figure how they’re able to serve such gorgeously crafted food for such affordable prices. But I’m not going to question it. I’ll just keep enjoying. Upstairs or down, I suggest you book your table now while you still can!


There’s a new artisanal creamery down in Dogpatch (San Francisco, that is). The two pastry chef owners, Ian Flores and Annabelle Topacio, are the couple behind the recently opened Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous. After roaming the pastry kitchens of the great Sherry Yard in LA and Maui and baking across the bay at one of my fav bread bakeries [Firebrand], I count us lucky they decided to open shop in SF!

I became a fan on my first visit. Everything about the place is home spun and leaves me feeling good about my ice cream experience. Seriously, how could you not fall for a place with a sign like this hanging on the door?

They make their own delicious, caramelized and crispy cones and the generous scoops of Mexican coffee and Earl Grey flavors I’ve had (so far), prove these kids know how to make a full-flavored base and spin it just right.

Flavors rotate by season and inspiration. There’s lots of creativity and care in the flavor profiles but nothing outrageous here. The high quality ingredients are principally organic (with chocolate being the main exception). It feels like the modern version of an old school mom n’ pop shop.

I’ve got a fondness for peanut brittle (my mom made some killer brittle back in the day). And you know me and my love of packaging….I’m all about these simple, hand written labels on canning jars filled with homemade brittle.

There are bits of nostalgia all around….does anyone else remember the days when glass milk bottles like these were delivered to the steps outside the kitchen door? (Please say yes!)

I dig the space….it’s airy and open in a way that invites community — the way ice creams parlors should. It’s a great place to meet up with a bunch of friends and walk away with a good ol’ fashioned ice cream high.

And you can walk away also feeling good about your experience being a little lighter on the planet.

Eat + Drink @ Russian River

I couldn’t agree more with the web address imperative:
The new little gem of a bistro in Guerneville, CA on the Russian River, boon eat + drink is enough motivation for me to hit the Armstrong Redwoods trails more often

— especially, now that I know there’s a place serving great grub and a nice glass of (local) wine at the end of the day!

Like its sister property the boon hotel + spa (just around the corner), the decor is simple, clean & modern.

Our server was sweet, friendly, eager to please and absolutely adorable — no photo available.

I do, however, have photos of the fab food we ate, including this creamy burrata with beet pesto and lightly salted, grilled bread.

The flash fried polenta sticks w/ marinara were super crispy, light and buttery.

The chilled cucumber buttermilk soup was just perfect for a balmy evening.

I love all things salad in summertime. This one has all of the essential elements: garden-fresh, tender greens + creamy Pt. Reyes blue + sweet cherries + toasted pumpkin seeds and a slightly tangy tarragon vinaigrette.

If you haven’t tried a braised pork belly that’s been flash fried as the finishing touch, I suggest you do so post-haste! (Yes, even YOU, my Jewish + Muslim + Vegetarian friends who make the exception for bacon).

Good ol’ Humphrey Slocombe ice cream is one of the few imports to the restaurant (all the way from SF). It tops not only these warm fresh fruit cobblers, it adorns the already anointed ‘signature’ fudge brownie with sea salt with their McEvoy olive oil ice cream.

If you’re in the area, follow the imperative to eat + drink at boon! And if you aren’t nearby, I suggest you consider a road trip.

PDX – The Food Cart Edition

If you aren’t familiar with the burgeoning food cart scene in Portland, let me just tell you, it’s really something. There are 300+ mobile eateries set up, mostly, in ‘pods’ throughout the city. Each pod is typically set up in a parking lot with hookups to electricity and water. Unlike in some cities where food cart vendors are always on the run and the only way to track them is through Twitter feeds, these carts are officially sanctioned by the city (hello, San Francisco bureaucrats, are you listening?) There’s even a Food Carts Portland website where you can find eats by location, food type, breakfast/lunch/dinner, new carts, etc. It definitely made it easier to track down good grub. I’m just sayin’!

The rains had retreated, so I sought out coffee streetside at the Spella Caffe cart @ SW 9th & Alder.

The boys were super friendly and even offered a place to sit when we returned later in the day to sample some of their neighbors’ lunch fare.

If you like chicken, we need to talk Nong’s Khao Man Gai! Not only is Nong a dynamic personality, she sells out of her amazing chicken & sauce every day. It’s abundantly clear why: like all great street food vendors, she does one thing and she does it exceptionally well.

Nong’s khao man gai is just like you’d find on the streets of Bangkok. It’s poached chicken served on rice made with the poaching water and seasoned with herbs. But it’s her sauce that’s the ticket–it’s got garlic, soy bean paste, lots of ginger, Thai chilies and vinegar. I went back twice during my stay and one of my friends, the fabulous cookbook author Andrea Nguyen, was known to sometimes indulge twice in one day!

The next gem of a find was a little taco cart standing solo just a couple blocks away on SW 3rd. This adorable paint job caught my eye. Seriously, how could you not love the stoplight!

Not only was my chicken taco muy rica, it was the perfect antidote to the Stumptown Coffee/Voodoo doughnut combo racing through my veins.

Some friends invited me along to explore the lively late night pod @ SE 12th & Hawthorne and am so glad I rallied. It was Friday night, so the carts were surrounded by folks out celebrating the beginning of the weekend.

It’s hard to imagine a more classic drinking food than Poutine. For the uninitiated, poutine has it’s origins in the greasy-spoons of Quebec and consists of good ol’ fashioned pommes frites topped with fresh cheese curd and gravy (personally, I like mine with a dash of vinegar, too). The kids at Potato Champion most definitely have poutine wired!

It’s easy to see why the girls at Perierra Crépereie &c have a consistently long line of eager customers for their sweet and savory crépes. You’ve gotta love a crépe cart that does a ricotta, Italian plum and honey combo.

The crépe I ordered was supposed to come with plantains and, truth be told, I was a little disappointed when I saw the bananas. But the dulce de leche (part of the original order) clearly made up for it since we devoured the whole thing.

Whiffies pie cart wins for most entertaining signage — most of which is done by a dedicated fan base of patrons cum artistes.

The owner, Greg, serves up just one thing at his cart: fried pocket pies. He does both savory and sweet, keeping some favorites but otherwise changing the menu daily to keep the intrigue high.

The selection of the eve was a chocolate, coconut and almond pie — an Almond Joy of sorts. Delish! The pie dough is made by hand and the pies are fried in a soy-based oil so you can feel better about the fried part of what you’re ingesting (worked for me!)

With all of the incredible food choices, it’s a good thing Portland is such a walkable city. I’m already looking forward to going back and exploring more. If you have any suggestions for me of good eats, please send ’em my way.

PDX Food Scene

I had the good fortune to spend half of last week at the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) conference in Portland, OR. It’s been several years since my last visit to PDX when there were a whopping *two* hot new restaurants in town. These days the food scene is bursting at the seams (as was I by the time I left). It was fantastic meeting colleagues, making new friends and catching up with those I hadn’t seen in awhile; exciting to have friends nominated for (and win!) cookbook awards; and it was an absolute blast exploring the local food scene with food biz buddies.

My first day out I found a fab little modern home/office/life accessories store called Canoe. The style maven owners have a keen eye for all kinds of wonderful things from around the globe, including my rad new cast iron spice grinder. Can I just say how much I love the no sales tax thing in Oregon!?!

Since I’d gotten up well before dawn for my flight that morning, I ventured just around the corner to Cacao for an afternoon chocolate fix where hot chocolate ‘shots’ are on tap….little espresso cups filled with rich, liquidy chocolate heaven. I chose a spiced choc shot but you can also opt for a flight of three different hot chocs. I was familiar with most of the confectioners in the case but didn’t know the locally handcrafted chocolates by DePaula Confections–what a find! The fleur de sel caramels (one of them with coconut – yum!) were silky smooth with just the right amount of sweet, salty and bitter.

Dinner led me to Clyde Common for some seriously great grub! I was so convinced I couldn’t get any sort of decent shot of the first course, I neglected to capture the most tender & tasty broccoli rabe with housemade Coppa, crispy fried egg and lemon dressing. I only got daring after tasting the pasta course of buckwheat cavatelli with nettles (yes!) in a super buttery, light cream sauce & sprinkled with toasted walnuts. Forks were feuding over it!

I have an entirely unproven hypothesis that it was my friend Cory Obenaur at Blue Plate in San Francisco who started a movement with his signature grilled romaine 10+ years ago. The Clyde Common version that accompanied a succulent grilled steak, perfectly poached egg, aged balsamic and shaved piave was great. The whole dish was definitely my kinda main course!

Then there was the rhubarb parfait I just couldn’t pass up…and the then de rigeur (as in truly and seriously necessary) digestif. It was one I didn’t know, made from myrtle. I was pleasantly surprised — and, thankfully, it did the trick!

The next morning started off with some Stumptown Coffee in the lobby of the Ace Hotel. My friends and I hopped into the photo booth there in the lobby to mark the occasion. Word of warning: four adults in a photo booth early morning after a late night does not a lovely picture make. On the contrary, my latte was lucious, beauteous & creamy. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that owner Duane Sorenson was awarded a special IACP award for his bike project in Rwanda. Unfortunately, Duane wasn’t able to accept the award in person as he was in Amsterdam, opening a ‘coffee shop’ (mmhmmm….).

After my morning caffeine upload, I felt fortified to walk to the first breakfast stop: Voodoo doughnuts. This place is incredibly popular and has a plethora of hyper sugary & kitschy options, all displayed in a constantly circulating case by the register.

My pick was the maple bar with crispy strips of bacon laid on top. If you’re a fan of old-school maple bars and of bacon, you might just want to make the haj to Voodoo — they’re open 24/7.

My heroines, the Pixie Retreat girls, arrived to save the day at lunch time with this incredible (raw & free of sugar) picnic lunch for me. I felt revived — and redeemed! [Clockwise from upper left: Sin Bun with dates, walnuts and vanilla bean icing in the little cups; tangy kale salad w/ sesame seeds and avocado; chocolate caramel cups; candy bar (for the following day!) and flax/multi-grain bread] If you live in Portland and enjoy eating clean healthy food, these girls who can hook you up like no other.

On to dinner at the stellar Nostrana restaurant. It was a phenomenal parade of food and I was so engrossed in conversation with the fascinating people around the table, I failed to pull out my camera — sorry! Suffice it to say that the locally-procured, regional, Italian fare put out by chef Cathy Whims
leaves no question in my mind as to why she’s a James Beard finalist again this year.

My last day in town, I went to the Portland Farmer’s Market. Wow, what a gorgeous location and what a bevvy of vendors. I’m pretty sure at least a couple hundred of us conference goers were among the crowd, but the local community came in droves.

Spring flowers were everywhere and this spectacular basket of lilacs was one of the first things I saw.

The urban planning profile for Portland allows the principles of farm to table to thrive since farmland literally abuts the city limits. The produce is out of control!

I don’t imagine you’ll believe me, but seriously I don’t normally drink coffee. PDX is a coffee town and when in Rome…Café Velo is renowned for their drip but the barrista advocated for the pressed coffee that day. It was really lovely, bright coffee — and supercharged, so kept me going til I got home that night.

These wood fired bagels from Tastebud are ‘Montreal style,’ which means they’re smaller, denser and, I dare say, better! Just one more incentive to venture to Montreal. In the meantime, I’ll be getting my bagel on at Tastebud on the west coast when I’m in Portland.

The number of bakeries in the area must be close to a 1:1 ratio with artisan coffee roasters. There were so many at the market it was almost impossible to choose. This display by ’The Tart Lady’ dba Market Gourmet sucked me in. I walked away with two little pecan tarts that are sitting patiently in the fridge, waiting to be delivered to my folks.

And the fleur de sel chocolate chip and citrusy shortbread cookies by Two Tarts Bakery got devoured by newly devoted SF fans!

I watched the line swell at Pine State Biscuits.

Despite the incredibly enticing biscuits and a queue the length of which would potentially allow my hunger to percolate again, I knew that I just could…not…eat….one….more….thing!

**photo of Cathy Whims by Basil Childers for Portland Monthly magazine