27 December 2012

Persimmon Breakfast Cake

Persimmon Cake with Tangy Whipped Cream Topping

This year my favorite Christmas present was getting to come back from Korea to spend Christmas in Santa Barbara with family--my parents, my sister and her kids visiting from the East Coast, and my brother.  It was a special time, with me and my siblings all together for the holidays for the first time in years.

We enjoyed breathing in the incomparable sea air, smelling the refreshing smell of the chaparral, walking by the beach, resting by a crackling fire, cuddling with the little ones, and taking in the beauty of the family garden and of the Santa Barbara good life.  Here in our garden alone we've got pomegranates, oranges, and tangerines in full season, with persimmons on the out and next year's avocados just coming in.

With my nephew and new little niece along, my sister asked if we could incorporate one of her new family traditions for her kids--having a birthday cake on Christmas day in celebration of the Christ Child's birthday.  Since I'm the designated baker in the family, and since I'm usually responsible for preparing Christmas brunch, I thought I'd make her a more wholesome cake that would fit in at the breakfast table rather than as a dessert for later in the day.  And didn't it turn out to be a delicious and festive birthday cake!  Hearty from the whole wheat flour, low in fat and yet moist from the persimmon purée (thanks to my mom for prepping our persimmons!), and topped with a tangy, fluffy topping of non-fat Greek yogurt and whipped vanilla cream, this a cake you can feel good about indulging in, whether it be breakfast or any time of day.

Wishing you a very happy holiday season and all the best for a healthy and prosperous new year!

Persimmon Breakfast Cake

Persimmon Breakfast Cake with Fluffy Cream and Yogurt Whipped Topping
Adapted from David Lebovitz

For the cake 
2 cups (280 g) whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cups (210 g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (4 ounces/110 g) melted butter
1 2/3 cups (415 ml) persimmon purée
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup (60 ml) brandy

For the whipped topping
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup non-fat Greek yogurt 
1/4 cup (25 g) pecans, toasted and crumbled

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease a 10-cup (2.5-liter) Bundt cake (or other shaped baking pan) with butter.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and granulated sugar.  In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, persimmon purée, eggs, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and brandy.

Make a well in the center of the flour, then add the persimmon mixture and gently stir just until everything is moistened.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool 10-15 minutes until cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.  Invert the cake onto a cooling rack and let cool completely, then transfer to a serving plate.  (Can be made ahead; wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature 2 days or refrigerated if stored longer.)

To make the whipped topping, place the heavy cream in a chilled bowl and beat on high.  Just as soft peaks begin to form, add the vanilla and sugar and continue beating to mix in thoroughly.  Place the Greek yogurt in another bowl, then gently fold the whipped cream into the yogurt in 3 separate additions.

Just before serving, spoon the whipped topping over the cooled cake and garnish with crumbled toasted pecans. Leftover frosted cake will keep for a day at room temperature or longer if refrigerated.

26 November 2012

Easy Thanksgiving Liver Paté

Thanksgiving Liver Paté 1

Well hello everyone!  I sheepishly admit it has been quite a while since I've last posted here...and oh, how I've missed it!  The past half year has been an utter whirlwind of adventure, traipsing about the world for work, from Korea to Singapore to Germany to New York, with welcome breaks every now and then in California.  I've seen countless national treasures throughout Korea, sat next to rock stars, met with world-renowned doctors, switched companies, been thwacked in the nose by a Hong Kong waiter, leveled up a time or two in my frequent flier program, and eaten my way around Taipei.  It's been a life-changing season of discovery and growth, no doubt about it, and it's been a life that just six months ago I'd never have dreamt of experiencing.

Thanksgiving Liver Paté 3

With so much change, travel, and cross-cultural immersion in so short a time, I've been all the more grateful for the chance to return to my parents' home in Santa Barbara to catch my breath, rest, and celebrate Thanksgiving with my family this past week before I return to my new home and new company in Korea.

Thanksgiving Liver Paté 4

And though it's been a while since I've been able to do much cooking, once I got into the familiar kitchen, with all my favorite cooking tools at my fingertips, I slowly warmed back up (okay, getting burned by the oven a couple times in the process) and figured out I hadn't forgotten how to cook!

Thanksgiving Liver Paté 6

One of my favorite things I made this past week was this easy liver paté.  Do you ever wonder what to do with the giblets after cleaning your Thanksgiving turkey?  My family's never really been into the giblet gravy thing, so we often end up tossing these odds and ends.  But when I saw the gorgeous, plump liver from our turkey this year, I had the sudden urge to transform it into a luscious paté.  Foie gras might be out of the picture here in California right now, but there's nothing stopping you from making a tasty (and may I add, a very nutritious) poultry paté!

Thanksgiving Liver Paté 7

While many patés rely on animal fat for a smooth and glossy texture, I forgo much of the fat here and instead add a generous amount of soft-cooked onion.  You'll love the flavor and the fact that this paté is good for you through and through!

Easy Thanksgiving Liver Paté

Scant 1 Tbs. butter
1/4 onion, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup raw poultry livers
2 Tbs. brandy or cognac
finely ground sea salt and black pepper
finely ground nutmeg

In a small skillet, sweat the chopped onion in butter until translucent, then add the raw liver and sauté until cooked through (I kept the lid on for the sweating and for the sautéeing to help things cook evenly through).  Add the brandy and stir, raising heat to boil off alcohol and evaporate all liquid.

Transfer the liver mixture to a small blender (or narrow bowl--as I used an immersion stick blender to more easily blend this small volume) and blend until smooth.  Season to taste with finely ground salt and pepper, and a smidgen of finely ground nutmeg.  Cover the paté and refrigerate until chilled.

Serving suggestions: This easy liver paté is delicious eaten simply spread on slices of baguette.  But you can add marinated artichokes, pickles, or other briny vegetables alongside for a tasty appetizer, or you can include a generous layer in your next sandwich (I'm thinking it'd be fantastic as a part of these banh mi sandwiches)! :) Yummy pate in about 15 minutes!

03 September 2012

The kongguksu that won me over

I've always thought Cicero's proverb "cibi condimentum esse famem" is pretty true, and when discussing the flavors and merits of a meal, I'm wont to comment that "hunger is the best sauce."  Hasn't it been your experience, too, that after eating a really big multi-course meal, whatever comes at the end of the meal has to be truly amazing to get glowing approval from your taste buds?  There have been only two instances in my life where the last dish stood out to the point that set me raving over it.  The first was a fried rice with uni sauce served after a huge dim sum meal at Koi Palace in Daly City several years ago, the second, which I want to tell you about today, was this 콩국수 (kongguksu) that I ate in Busan a few weeks ago.

The meal started gently and innocently enough at first, with a light dish of shredded raw skate and vegetables in gochujang sauce.  (The colors and flavors were beautiful, but texture-wise it was quite shocking how crunchy raw skate is!!)

What followed, then, was a feast of (g)astronomical proportions, including crispy-fried green mountain vegetable and tiny, crispy-fried crabs (just as tasty as popcorn!), various namuls (gosari, hobak, and kongnamul), abalone (전복) and other mollusks, fried slices of ojingeo soondae (오징어 순대, rice-stuffed squid)... 

...as well as gungjung ddeokbokki (궁중 떡볶이), kimchi dubu (김치 두부, pan-fried tofu with kimchi-pork stir fry), a couple of types of broiled fish, hongeo samhap (홍어삼합, a triumvirate of steamed pork, kimchi, and fermented skate), various fried "pancakes" (전), and several other dishes that I simply cannot remember now.

Not realizing how many courses this meal was going to be, I'd eaten well past the point of satiety (I couldn't not try everything that came out to the table!) by the time the second-to-last dish was presented.  And when I saw what it was, I thought no problem, I don't even like kongguksu anyway.  You see, I had had kongguksu before, thought I knew what kongguksu was like, and thought I could just politely taste this for show and then not bother with the rest of it.

But, after loosening the nest of noodles in the chilled soybean milk sauce, tightly twirling a few strands of noodles thickly coated with ground sesame powder and cucumber slivers around my chopsticks, and carefully transferring the bundle to my mouth, things changed.  This kongguksu was nothing like I'd experienced before.  I actually liked it!  No, I loved it!  I spooned up some of the thick, cold soybean broth made just moments before in-house.  With an amazing texture and nutty flavor from the bean and sesame combination, I could not help but finish the whole bowlful.  Forget that I'd already eaten a huge feast and this kongguksu was enough to be a meal on its own; it was that good.  I am officially now a fan.

Accompanying the kongguksu course was some of the best chonggak kimchi I've ever had...young white Korean radishes with their green tops on.  Crunchy, slightly sour from the fermentation, and fresh and spicy, the chonggak kimchi perfectly accompanied the creamy, soft and chewy noodles.

Yes, the kongguksu and chonggak kimchi combination was truly spectacular, standing out even after all those dishes that were served.

If you're ever in Busan and looking for a fantastic meal from start to finish, I recommend heading to 통나무 하우스 ("Tongnamu House," or literally "Log House"), at 210-11 Oncheon 1(il)-dong, Dongnae-gu, Busan, South Korea.

16 August 2012

Korean broiled mackerel and seaplant set lunch

In June, work took me to Seoul for a week.  You can bet I took the opportunity to visit some places that I'd missed on my trip there last summer!

Besides seeing Chandeokgung and Jongmyo (hurray for getting to see a UNESCO world heritage site!), I had the chance to spend a morning at Gyeongbokgung, a palace with extensive beautiful gardens but buildings sadly destroyed over the centuries and now in various stages of reconstruction.  The cool, overcast weather was a welcome relief from the soaring temperatures even at that point in early summer, and I had a lovely time walking through the gardens and seeing some of Korea's national treasures, like the chimneys of Amisan.

Afterwards, I stopped by a little restaurant tucked away in a quiet corner near the Samcheong-ro and Sajik-ro intersection and enjoyed a fantastic 해초고등어 (haecho godeung-eo) set lunch of broiled mackerel and fresh sea plants (plus the customary assortment of kimchi and side dishes).  Wow, that meal was definitely one for the books--I'd say it ranks among my top favorites from the whole summer I've spent here in Korea.

The ajumma serving my meal showed me how best to enjoy the food.  First you place a wide piece of 쇠미역 (soi-miyeok, seaweed) on the plate and add a dab of 전어젓갈 (jeon-eo jeotgal, salted and fermented shad paste), then a few pieces of 꼬시래기 and 톳 (kkosiraegi and tot, delicate types of seaweed), followed by a chunk of the 고등어 (godeung-eo, mackerel).  Then you roll it up with your chopsticks and eat the bundle in one satisfying big bite!

Such a perfect lunch after a long morning of walking through the Gyeongbokgung palace and gardens!  Munching on the healthy vegetables (both from land and from sea) and the deliciously savory broiled mackerel, I sat there in peaceful contentedness on my floor mat at the low table--shoes off, of course--and I couldn't have been happier.  Well, perhaps I could have, with the addition of a few select loved ones to share the joy of the meal with me!

Since none of you were able to sit down to the meal together with me, I made sure to ask the ajumma all the details of what was on the table, so I could tell you about it.  Here's what was for lunch!

If you're ever in the neighborhood, check out Restaurant "HaeWooRi" (해우리) at 대한민국 서울특별시 종로구 중학동 14.
This 해초고등어 (haecho godeungeo) set lunch was 11,000 KRW.

10 August 2012

I haven't forgotten

A couple weeks ago, I ended up being generously provided with an apartment in Busan to use as my home base in East Asia.  While I've thoroughly enjoyed my work travel, it really does feel good to have a space to crash and feel at home in between jaunts!  One of the first things I did after getting settled in the apartment was to go grocery shopping and then cook myself a meal.  After eating out of restaurants for longer than I ever imagined I ever would, it felt a little strange to be back in a kitchen.  But the kitchen I have here is quite lovely, and fortunately, I haven't forgotten how to cook.  (I'm only partly kidding on that last bit.)

Having been eating either Taiwanese or Korean food for almost every meal since the end of June, it was a little hard though to cook something "Western," so I pulled out one of my go-to dishes, a fried rice with onions, carrot, cabbage, and egg.  Except this time, I changed it up using barley instead of rice and adding chunks of meaty king oyster mushroom and one of my favorite vegetables, soybean sprouts (콩나물).  Delicious!

I made so much that I ended up with plenty of leftovers.  So for breakfast the next day, I treated myself to what you see here: a plate of fried rice, plenty of crispy, salty, sesame-flavored 김 ("kim," or seaweed laver), and, the crowning touch, some beautiful kimchi that I picked up at the Shinsegae Food store that just opened up in my apartment complex.  Yes, kimchi at breakfast is seriously one of the most awesome things about life here.  Oh, and the views aren't bad either.

Views in and around my new neighborhood.

The guy at the kimchi counter was such a help--probably amused by the foreign girl wanting to buy kimchi, but I've got to tell you, it was item #1 on my shopping list that day.  Trying out my very limited Korean, I asked for a few different types, and, whether it was out of fear that I'd not really like it and regret my purchase, or out of pride as the kimchi-maker, he made sure I tried each one before buying, telling me to say "ah" and then personally popping the kimchi straight into my mouth.  He also made sure I understood that he made the 배추김치 (Napa cabbage kimchi) only 3 days before and the 총각김치 (chonggak kimchi) 1 month ago.  Very important details here, you know!

After weighing out and pricing the kimchi I had ordered, he tucked in a few extra pieces as "service" (meaning "on the house").  I ended up getting a couple other items on that same trip as "service," but if you had seen the grocery bill, you'd realize they could definitely afford it.  With prices like what they charge, it's much cheaper to just go out to eat at a restaurant!

연근들깨무침 (yeon-geun deulkkae muchim)
Crunchy lotus root, cucumber, and carrot slices in a creamy deulkkae sauce.  One of the side dishes I was given as "service."

Something I've come to love about grocery shopping in Korea is how the staff here say "lass es Ihnen schmecken" whenever you pick something out from their grocery department and add it to your basket.  Okay, so they don't literally say that, but they do say something in Korean that means the same thing: "may it be tasty for you."  I can understand it when they say it, but I don't know how to actually say it myself.  Any of you, my readers, know what they might be saying?  I often feel like a baby, learning language first by listening comprehension.  I suppose if I continue to live in Korea, after a couple years maybe I'll be able to start speaking!  Who knows...

Sorry I haven't got a recipe this time...but just fry up the ingredients I've listed up above in a little sesame oil, and season to taste with soy sauce.  And (though it's more Chinese-style than it is Korean), I like to use a little oyster sauce for the saltiness, and black pepper for some kick.  Absolutely fantastic when you wrap up a bite of it in a piece of kim!

29 July 2012

Blueberry Pizza: Inspiration from Korea

Korea has been an amazing place for food.  The local food, of course, is what has been the real treat, so I rarely eat at an international restaurant.  However, on the few occasions I've eaten Euro-American dishes here, it's been fun letting my conception of these dishes be stretched and expanded by the Korean culinary sensibilities.

Take this blueberry pizza, for example.  Delicious, Italian-style thin crust pizza, drizzled with a sweet salad dressing (in place of any sauce), a thin layer of melted mozzarella, then a lovely salad of micro greens on top, finished by a crown of soft cheese (which in taste and texture resembled a cross between ricotta and mascarpone) and fresh blueberries.

No recipe today, just a little inspiration from Italy via Korea.  ♥

What are some of your favorite Korean twists to non-Korean food?  I have yet to see this, but I think a spicy tomato-seafood spaghetti with some kind of kimchi (or maybe spicy dried radish muchim?) in the sauce would be a fantastic thing!

15 July 2012

A Japanese Breakfast in Taiwan


I may as well come right out and say it.  With the huge changes in my life the past couple months, the Apricosa I have been creating is also going to be feeling some change.  I've been a little shy to embrace this change, mostly because I don't want to disturb the clean, unhurried format of focusing on one homemade dish in each post.  Yet living overseas and out of a suitcase makes this kind of blogging impossible.  My reluctance also stems from the fact that I had to leave my nice new camera behind at home for safe-keeping, and thus most photos I end up snapping fall short of the standards I want to uphold for Apricosa.

Every now and then, though, I find a moment with beautiful light that my point-and-shoot simply cannot mess up.  Serene moments...so precious.  These are moments I think I can share.

When I get back to a rhythm of normalcy, there will be time and space for lots of fun food styling and the peaceful approach that I've treasured here.  For now, though, I'll have to shed the Apricosa style a bit and be real with what I have through the lens of my point-and-shoot.

. . . . .

Travels have been broadening.  I had a week in Taipei, then a week in Seoul, and now the past couple weeks in Busan.  Work has kept me terrifically busy...I feel like I've been on "The Unofficial Tour to East Asia's Best Hospitals," and it's been exciting getting to meet and work with doctors and scientists who are passionate about revolutionizing cancer treatment.

When I'm not working, I'm generally thinking about where to find my next meal.  Restaurant dining has its ups and downs--I get to try tons of great food that I'd never find in the States, but I am missing the creative outlet of making something with my own hands.  There have been ups and downs in my life beyond just the food too--fascinating sights and experiences, but also overt and hidden stressors that come with the territory of life and work abroad.  Here, on Apricosa, I'm just going to focus on the highlights!

One of the highlights for me truly was my first stop of the journey, in Taiwan.  What a lovely, restful hotel I was privileged to call home for a few days.  Quiet, unobtrusive service, comfortable rooms with fantastic amenities, and a view of Taipei 101 from my room.  One day, with a big day of hospital visits ahead of me, I scheduled an early breakfast from room service (instead of venturing out for breakfast as I shared in an earlier post) and selected the Japanese breakfast.

What arrived was a feast enough for two, with a beautiful array of colors and shapes, flavors and textures.  Dipping my spoon into the miso seaweed soup, I discovered gorgeous, hearty chunks of salmon.  And arranged about in individual dishes were prawns on a bed of cabbage salad, cool soft tofu topped with dried bonito threads, luscious egg and nori roll, broiled salmon, chicken teriyaki, and the list goes on.  I certainly don't eat this way every morning, but my, what a treat!  So much fun to eat, and so pretty to look at in the morning light.  And so much fun to take pictures of.  It was an Apricosa morning, that's for sure!


03 July 2012

The Red Carpet

Take one look at these gorgeous glasses and you'll want to pick one up and take a sip.  Today's fancy-pants drink is The Red Carpet, the old-school predecessor to the Cosmopolitan.  Simple yet absolutely elegant, all you need is a little vodka, cranberry juice, and lime juice--here using Rose's lime juice, as its sweetness helps to mellow out the tart cranberry.   Shake with ice, and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Before heading out of the country for my Asian adventures, I had a lot of fun rediscovering classic mixed drinks, and this Red Carpet from a 1956 issue of Gourmet magazine deserves to go into your repertoire.  Really, getting the phytochemical benefits of cranberries has never been so easy or so civilized.  Plus, it adds a beautiful and festive splash of color to any party--try The Red Carpet this week as a part of your Fourth of July celebrations!


Given my busy work-travel schedule (and the fact that I haven't been able to bring my nice camera along with me), I haven't been able to keep up with regular posting, and I sure am missing getting to be a part of the lovely give-and-take of the food blogging world.  But get excited, because one of these days I'll be posting more about my food finds from my travels here in East Asia!

It's just another regular day of work for me today, but if you're celebrating, I wish you a happy 4th of July!  Blessings on you, my dear readers!

The Red Carpet 
Makes 1 serving
From Gourmet, October 1956

2 oz (55ml) vodka
1 oz (22 ml) full-strength cranberry juice
1 teaspoon Rose's sweetened lime juice. 

Pour all ingredients into a shaker half full of cracked ice and close shaker.  Shake vigorously for 10 seconds and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

26 June 2012

Breakfast in Taipei: 阜杭豆漿

I had a fantastic breakfast last week in Taipei.  Part of it was because I had just walked 45 minutes to find the restaurant, part of it was that the food was just downright delicious of itself.  My friend Christine, who knows exactly where to go and what to order, recommended  阜杭豆漿 (fù háng dòujiāng) as a must for breakfast during my time in Taipei.  And if you haven't heard, Taiwanese breakfasts are a category of eating you have got to experience if you ever are fortunate enough to get to Taiwan!

阜杭豆漿 is known for their dòujiāng (fresh, hot soy milk), of course, but also for their other breakfast items, from rolled egg-omelet-type dishes (蛋餅, dànbǐng)  to條 (yóu​tiáo, long fried pieces of dough that are broken up and dropped into salty, fresh hot soymilk called 鹹豆漿, xiándòujiāng).  I ordered 厚餅夾蛋 (hòu bǐng jiā dàn), a thick bǐng, or griddle bread, that is folded to sandwich scrambled egg and green onion and then brushed with a lightly sweet glaze and sprinkled with sesame seeds.  To go with this, I ordered sweet 豆漿 (dòujiāng), which came hot and steaming in a bowl with a spoon.  The soymilk was absolutely delicious, sweetened with some sugar, and as it cooled, a milky skin formed on the surface, which was a lot of fun to spoon up and eat.  With hungry bites I ate up that hòu bǐng and drank all my dòujiāng, then headed back to the hotel (this time by subway) for a day of work.  Christine, thanks so much for the awesome breakfast tip!

I loved my week in Taipei...the land of cute take-out boxes closed with rubber bands and handed to you in little plastic bags, 牛肉麵 (beef noodle soup), and  Taipei 101 (speaking of cute little take-out boxes....).  I'll be popping around Asia for the rest of the summer on business, and I look forward to sharing more of my food adventures with you!

If you're interested in checking out 阜杭豆漿 (fù háng dòujiāng)--and if you're in Taipei, I think you should!--put the address, 北市忠孝東路一段108號2樓之28 (華山市場2樓), into Google maps and go.  It's located next to the Shandao Temple Subway Station, and it has a second floor location.  Go up a few steps to enter a street-level, indoor market (during the morning most of the individual market stalls will be closed), then head right and up the stairs.  At the top of the stairs, turn right and you'll enter into the restaurant space.  Hours are 5:30 ~ 10:30am.  I went around 8:30am on a weekday and had no wait time at all, even though they were doing lively business, but Christine says the lines are insane on the weekends.


You'll order (sorry, no English menu), pick up your order, and pay at the counter up front, then carry your tray off and look for a table.  Bus your own tray when you're done at stations located throughout the restaurant.  For a great blog post and pictures of the exterior and other dishes available, check out this blog post (in Chinese): http://yukiblog.tw/read-1097.html .

19 June 2012

Cherry picking and a life coming to fruition

I've long wanted to go cherry-picking here in the Bay area, and finally, this past weekend, I was able to go with a small group of friends.  We had a blast, despite the sky-rocketing temperatures, gathering pounds and pounds of fruit and enjoying the sweet, juicy cherries in the shade of the trees.  And these trees, as I think about it, have been marking out the twists and turns that my life has taken in the past season.

Not quite three months ago, I drove past these cherry trees in breathtaking bloom on my way up from Santa Barbara.  I was on a trip, an exploratory trip to the Bay Area, doing some legwork and networking to launch my job search into high gear.  Driving through Gilroy, I was stunned by the drifts of pink and white blooms alongside the freeway.  As many times as I'd made the trip along the 101 when I was an undergrad at Stanford, I don't think I ever caught the cherry orchards at the right time of year to see the gorgeous display.  The beauty of it all this past March made my heart sing and filled me with hope that that particular trip would be a success.

It was not--at least, not as far as I could tell.  Returning south a week later, I was feeling discouraged.  Discouraged not only because it seemed like all my leads had fizzled out, but also because I felt there was no possible way I could find a job that would bring together all the disparate bits and pieces of me and my dreams in a unified whole.  After a week of conversations and job hunting, I was uncertain what I should do next and whether I even had the emotional energy to keep pouring myself into the search for a job that I didn't think could exist.

About a month later, I drove through Gilroy again, this time on my way to San Francisco for an interview.  My sister's encouragement to keep looking and a serendipitous internet search had led me to a job posting for a position that was such a perfect fit for me, it seemed too good to be true.  A position that would require international cultural fluency.  That would require my science and education background.  That would give me an opportunity to share with medical staff around the world about a revolutionary, hope-giving cancer therapy that is just starting to get noticed in oncology circles.  That would make a beautiful difference in people's lives.  In Gilroy, the cherry blooms were gone, but little fresh green leaves were just budding out.  We Germans would say that "die Bäume schlagen aus."  Hope was springing up again!

The interview went well, but I entered into a time of limbo, not knowing what would happen next, whether I would be chosen as the candidate.  A few weeks and a second interview later, the word was in: I had been offered the job!  And on my last drive up from Santa Barbara to officially take up the new job responsibilities, the trees were loaded with ripe, plump, and beautifully red fruit.  Indeed, mirroring nature, my own search for a job had reached fruition.

Today, I arrived in Taipei.  Yes, this San Francisco-based job has sent me to one of my favorite places on earth.  After a few days here (with jaunts to Tainan for meetings), I head to Seoul and after that to Busan.  And then here and there and back and forth.  I'm humbled and thankful for this gift of a job.  Right now my language-learning-loving brain is thrilled at seeing all the signs in Chinese characters, hearing the familiar cadence of Mandarin, and recognizing that I understand a LOT more than I did last year.  For my first meal here, I found an awesome Buddhist vegetarian restaurant (古彿素食) around the corner from my hotel, and it was such bliss getting to dig into my beloved purple five-grain rice (五穀飯) again!

Yes indeed, the harvest is being pulled in, and my heart wells over with gratitude.

Simply delicious, simply healthy:
Fage 0% Total Greek yogurt with freshly-picked cherries

31 May 2012

Orecchiette and Sauteed Vegetable Salad

This dish came about in such a delightfully simple way, and I'm so excited to share it with you!  Stopping by my favorite produce store on the way home from errands one weekend morning, I found a ton of great veggies that had only moments before been placed on the bargain shelf.  Organic swiss chard, ears of fresh sweet corn, bulbs of fragrant fennel.  Seeing this lovely variety of colors and shapes there on the shelf like that, I was inspired to keep them together and make them into a warm pasta salad for lunch.  Adding chunks of golden-sauteed zucchini and shavings of good Parmigiano, this was a fresh and healthy meal with fantastic flavor.

I loved digging into a big bowl mounded high with this warm pasta salad.  I made it with orecchiette, which are little thimble-shaped pastas (or hat-shaped, or ear-shaped, choose your favorite description) that are so much fun to eat when they get nested inside each other for thick chewy bites, or when chunks of sauteed veggies get scooped up in the cup of each pasta piece.  My mom remembers watching her grandmothers make this kind of pasta by hand, even getting in on the fun herself sometimes, using her thumbs to create the little ears, or orecchiettelli, as they called them.  Though I imagine a homemade pasta would be heavenly here, fortunately the store-bought kind has its own charms as well.  And if orecchiette aren't available at your store, small pasta shells or farfalle (bowties) would be a good alternative.  This dish would be perfect for a light lunch or supper, or as a side to something like a nice grilled steak.

This random collection of veggies really turned into something beautiful.  Thank you, bargain shelf, for your inspiration!  I am going to be so sad not to have you in my life!

Because yes, it is official.  I am moving out of Santa Barbara by the end of this week and am heading up to San Francisco to start my new job.  My dream job.  Working Stateside and in East Asia to support clinical research and bring hope and help to people.  It's been a whirlwind of change, and I'm not sure how things will look when the dust settles, but this I know:  I am so excited.  In so many dimensions of life, this feels like the right step to make.  And to top it off, this job means I will be going back to Taiwan and Korea soon!  You know, I can't help but look forward to the food, the people, the sights, the smells, and the sounds!

Orecchiette with swiss chard, zucchini, fennel, and corn
Makes 2 main-dish servings

1 cup (uncooked) orecchiette pasta
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 small fennel bulbs, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 zucchini, cut into half-moons
1 bunch swiss chard, roughly chopped
1 ear corn
salt and pepper to taste
shavings of Parmigiano-reggiano

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large non-stick pan over medium high heat.  Sautee the diced fennel until soft and caramelized, adding the garlic near the end of cooking time to soften the garlic without browning it.  Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.  Add the zucchini and sautee until deep golden brown, transfer to the fennel.  Add the swiss chard to the pan and cook, covered, until wilted, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.  Return cooked vegetables to the pan to heat through.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, and cook the orecchiette according to package instructions.  During the last 4 minutes of cooking, add the ear of corn.  Shave the cooked corn kernels into the pan of vegetables, then add the cooked, drained orecchiette.  Toss pasta and vegetables together and season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.  Mound into serving bowls and sprinkle generously with shavings of Parmigiano-reggiano.

22 May 2012

A season of goodbye-ing

I'm in a strange new season of goodbye-ing.  No, I'm not saying good by to you, but rather suddenly now to my hometown of so many years.  I hardly have had time to process the fact that I probably did my last C. elegans experiment a couple weeks ago, that I'm actually nearly done with my dissertation, and that I'll be graduating into the realm of doctor-hood in a matter of a week.  And now on top of this, things are looking more as if, for the next season of life, I will be leaving my home and moving to a new city and to the world beyond.

In the midst of the craziness of work and negotiating logistics, I've been so grateful to savor the peaceful moments, getting to connect with dear friends and enjoy Santa Barbara.  I've been going out for walks and runs up in the foothills whenever I can manage to squeeze it in, breathing in the fresh air scented with the fragrance of the chaparral, soaking in the sunshine and the views of the city and ocean spread out below.  I've been meeting up with friends for delicious meals and heart-to-heart conversations.  And last weekend I had the opportunity to visit one of my favorite vineyards in Santa Barbara wine country, Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez.

On a special insider's tour of the winery (thank you thank you to my professor and his friend Dan Gainey!), I and a fun group of people let our scientific and wine-loving selves out and experimented with various blends of Gainey merlot, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon.  After mixing and tasting, we were gifted a bottle of our own personal blend, and then headed over to the vineyard's picnic area for a delicious lunch under the oaks.  The weather, the view, and the peacefulness of the place could not be beat.

Thinking about the future and all the new changes that will be happening so soon for me, my friend Karen and I mixed up our own special blend and named it "à l'avenir."  The future, filled with unknowns and adventures, is certain to hold many challenges, yet at the same time I look forward and see a future of beauty and promise.  So with both bitter and sweet feelings, I am starting to say good-bye to this chapter of my life and am looking ahead with excitement to all that is to come!

The Chinese readers among you will probably have noticed that I've added an upside-down 福 to my wine label.  Yes, yes, you can say it...你的福倒了... and indeed I believe it has!

13 May 2012

Of Obangsaek and the Desperation Dosirak

When life gets stressful, I start cooking.  And it's Korean food that I've been turning to of late: food that is healthy, satisfying, and stimulating.  Food that is steeped in history and connects me to that which is beyond me.  In these past few weeks, I've been through times of great peace but also times of great pressure.  And as the pressure built up to an unmanageable pitch this weekend, I went nuts in the kitchen and prepped up some dosirak (lunchbox) dishes for the coming week.

Tomorrow's dosirak:
계란말이 Gyeran mari with kim (Egg roll with laver)
어묵 볶음 Eomuk bokkeum (Spicy fried fishcakes)
기장밥 Kijangbap (Steamed rice and millet)
브로콜리나물 Broccoli namul (Garlic and sesame-seasoned broccoli)

In this lunch, I tried to pay attention to 오방색 (obangsaek), the philosophy of the five colors.  Each color (black, blue, red, white, and yellow) represents one of the five elements of the universe (water, wood, fire, metal, and earth, respectively), and according to Korean tradition, a meal with obangsaek brings together all the forces of the cosmos.  By eating such a meal, the diner is in harmony with the world, and the food brings nourishment and wellness on more than just a physical level.

Black - Kim (seaweed laver)
Blue - Broccoli, Green pepper
Red - Gochujang sauce
White - Rice, Onion, Garlic
Yellow - Millet, Egg

Now I'll just try and take a few more deep breaths and remind myself that this season will also pass...

기장밥 Kijangbap (Steamed rice and millet)
Makes 3-4 servings

1 cup short-grained rice
1/4 cup millet

Wash short-grained rice in several rinses of water until water is clear.  Drain rice, then place in a small cooking pot.  Add the millet, then add 1 1/4 cups water.  Cover pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes until rice and millet is tender.  Fluff steamed rice and millet and serve hot.

05 May 2012

No-Knead Homemade Ciabatta Bread

Finishing one's dissertation isn't the most carefree of times, that's for sure.  But to let you in on something, I think my German work ethic, or my deeply ingrained stick-to-it-iveness, or whatever it is, has been playing out a little too strongly for my own good.  In the weeks that I've been plugging away at work so intensely, life just hasn't felt complete.  When I pulled out my camera a couple days ago for the first time in weeks, it hit me.  The cooking, the capturing of beauty, the chronicling and sharing with you--all of these are the vital things that I've been missing so much.  As I shot these pictures, I realized that, even in busy times like these, even in times of major life transition, it is important to stay engaged with the all the joys of life.  It's what makes the busyness worthwhile.  It's what feeds our soul and strengthens us to press on.  It's what reminds us of who we are, even when circumstances around us are changing.

The other day, I had a break in my experiments and was able to come home on the early side.  Besides wanting to get out of the house to enjoy the all-too-rare a treat of being outdoors during daylight hours, I knew for certain that I was going to take advantage of this afternoon home by starting up a batch of no-knead bread for breakfast the next morning.  I'd made it once before, with absolutely fantastic results, and I had been waiting for the next opportunity to make it again.  It's hard to beat hot, fresh-baked bread in the morning!  Maybe it's all those childhood memories of waking up to the smell of bread in my grandfather's bakery, or maybe there's just something inherently happy about a piping-hot loaf of bread.

What draws me to this bread so much is its crunchy, crackling crust on the outside and the soft, fluffy crumb on the inside.  It reminds me of a good ciabatta bread, and I love eating it still warm from the oven.  Smeared with some soft honey and with a cup of tea alongside, it made for a wonderful breakfast.

But it gets even better.  Friends, the method is SO incredibly easy--the active work involves only about a minute of mixing, a couple minutes to put the dough in the oven, and then a minute or two to cut the gorgeous, crusty loaf and munch it down.  You just need to figure out when you want eat fresh-baked bread and then start the dough 15-19 hours ahead of that.  I was curious when I first heard of no-knead bread--I'd never made a yeast bread without kneading it--and fresh, homemade bread with this degree of effortlessness seemed almost too good to be true.  But this disarming video convinced me to give it a go, and truly, no deception here, this bread is easy to make and oh-so-good!  One thing I would note is that having an enclosed baking environment at the beginning is key; covering the bread and subsequently trapping the emitted steam essentially simulates the effects of a professional steam-injection oven, producing a nice, springy bread and a fantastic, crunchy crust.

My sister has gotten into the habit of making most things from scratch, be it sauerkraut, yogurt, or bread, but with a little three year-old running around, time is always an issue for her.  Given how streamlined this recipe is, I knew she'd love it, and it's now a go-to recipe in her weekly bread-baking schedule.  If you don't have an oven-proof, lidded pot, you might like my sister's modification to the baking process: she's been using a pre-heated pizza stone with a foil dome to cover the bread during the first half hour of baking.

No-Knead Bread
From Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups water (room temperature)

Place the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl and mix a few seconds until thoroughly combined.  Add water and stir a few seconds, pulling the ingredients together until you form a dough.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature 15-19 hours.

After dough has risen, and before moving on to the next step, place a heavy, oven-proof, lidded pot into the oven and pre-heat your oven to 500 F.  Turn dough out onto a floured surface and fold the dough in thirds, bringing the opposite sides together at the center.  Turn 90 degrees and repeat the folding for the other two sides.

Place dough seam side down onto some wheat bran, then invert (seam side up) into the pre-heated pot (diameter of pot should be at least as wide as the diameter of your dough).  Cover immediately with hot lid and back 30 minutes, covered.  Remove lid and bake an additional 10-20 minutes until bread is golden brown under the wheat bran.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly before slicing and enjoying.